The information in this post was gleaned from the seminar “Your Music in Film & TV,” presented as part of the MusicBC career development series, held on Saturday May 14th at the Vancouver Tom Lee music hall. Panelists for this seminar were:
- Janine Kerr- Director Promo Music services, NBC Universal Television Music
- Andrea von Foerster- Firestarter Music
- Samuel Diaz- Associate Director of Music Supervision, CBS Television
- Natasha Duprey- Director of Music Supervision, S.L. Feldman & Associates
- Rob Calder- Secret Study/Boompa Productions
Before you consider licensing your music to film and TV, you must know two things:
- Who owns the master rights to the song: who owns the recording
- Who owns the sync rights: who owns the actual song (or the publishing)
Music supervisors like to hear that you control 100% or your rights. Supervisors like when you are a one stop shop and that you can clear your music in 24 hours. If you are in a band, assign one person to pitch music to supervisors and sign licensing deals on everyone’s behalf. Make a band agreement that makes this official- supervisors might ask to see your band agreement so they can be sure of the legal dealings they are entering into.
Before you first approach a music supervisor, here’s what do you need in your toolbox:
- .aiff and/or .wav files of all your songs
- mp3s for easy emailing/downloading
- instrumental versions of all your songs
- Good communications skills- check your email frequently, everyday. Tight timelines could result in lost opportunities for you if you are a non-frequent email user. Be aware that TV has a really tight time line. Ie: a supervisor could get a call at 9am for a cut at 12pm.
- Be registered with your country’s PRO (Performing Rights Organization) so that you can collect royalties. This is Socan in Canada, or BMI & ASCAP in the U.S.
Good practices for communicating with music supervisors:
- Ask them how they want to receive your audio before you actually send it. ie: snail mail (cd), email (mp3s, links to soundcloud download, etc).
- Always put your name, band name and phone number on the actual CD as well as the CD jewel case
- Don’t send head shots or photos
- Put meta data on all tracks so that when they are ripped into itunes or onto someone’s computer, all your track information shows up as opposed to just “Track 1”
- Don’t ask for reviews – that’s not a music supervisor’s job
- Have your lyrics ready to send out in a word doc format. Put an asterisk (***) next to any song title if the lyrics are explicit in any way and note “Explicit Lyrics” directly in the song title field next to the song title. The fast paced nature of the music supervisors job can often result in songs being submitted without the supervisors having completely combed over the lyrics. No one wants to risk “Mother F(*&#er” coming out of the speakers in the next Disney movie.
- Supervisors don’t have time to negotiate price. They only have a set budget. If you push for more $$, the will move on.
How to approach the network of music supervisors:
- Research the shows they are working on and let them know that your music would be a good fit for their current show. You can find out what they are working on by visiting www.imdb.com (Internet Movie Database). On that note, a little flattery goes a long way. Try: “Hey, I saw the episode of ________ that you worked on. I loved the _____ song that you put in. My music sounds like that. Can I send you some?”
- Visit www.tvshowmusic.com to see what music has played on which TV shows. You could also subscribe for the Film & TV music guide- a magazine that comes our every 6 months or so, and lists all the music supervisors and their contact info.
- Note that there are currently only 5 music supervisors in Canada. All of these people are extremely overworked and are very short on time. Obviously this is a tight circle of colleagues, so it is critically important to remain in the good books, so to speak. Or, you will quickly find all of the doors shutting in your face.
- Don’t call them to ask if they’re interested or if they have received your stuff, etc. They will come calling only once they decide to use your music.
- Once a month, sending an update email to your supervisor(s) is ok.
- Everything you are already doing as an artist is ultimately what you should be doing to get in contact with the music supervisors. If you are building your brand properly, they will just find out about you. They are human too, and they talk amongst themselves. Keep playing shows, building a web presence, recording new songs, building a fan base, etc.
Words of advice:
- You can pitch your music yourself – you don’t need a sync agent. But, in many cases, they do have good working relationships with music supervisors and there is certainly something to be said for all the doors that they may knock on on your behalf. If you do find a sync agent (you only want one!), don’t ever pay upfront. All the music supervisors on this panel agreed that you should never pay someone to push your catalogue. They should only make money when you do
- Don’t sign away your publishing. Watch out for sync agent companies that will try to re-title your music so that they can claim a large percentage of the publishing once the song gets licensed.
- When seeking a sync agent, look at what artists they already represent. In most cases it is advisable to find a more intimate agent (one that represents fewer artistes) so that you aren’t diminished to a small fish in a big pond. Companies representing too many artists may be biting off more than they can chew, resulting in fewer placements for you, however they may also have a large roster simply because they are very successful in licensing 1000’s of songs. Find out which is the case.
- On using services like Sonicbids and Taxi for pitching your music: BAD! As previously mentioned: Don’t pay to get your music pitched.
- Anecdote from one of the supervisors (who may wish to remain anonymous on record):
This supervisor once approached TAXI looking for some country music. A week later, he received post boxes full of cassettes, CDs, Vinyl, and just about every other music medium you could imagine. It was such a messy jumble that nothing ended up getting licensed. This supervisor won’t be calling TAXI again.
- Some reputable music library companies in the eyes of the music supervisors on this panel:
- Send your tracks to multiple supervisors, but always put in the time to find out what they are working on before you do so. ie: don’t send them irrelevant songs to the nature of their work.
- If you are considering recording covers: sometimes music supervisors like new interpretations of these, especially for promos. In this case, more mainstream stuff is needed. But, the master rights & sync rights (publishing) for the song must be affordable.
- If you use samples in your recordings, make them yourself. Samples are a major headache to deal with when it comes to clearing the publishing rights for a given song. Again, if you cause a headache for your supervisor, they may not ever call again.
- There is nothing standard. What you get offered for the licensing of your song in any film or TV show depends entirely on the budget and is not often very flexible. That being said, per song budgets can range from $500-$40,000.
- Sometimes you may be asked to settle for a rate that is lower than what you had hoped for, but it is important to know that most music supervisors are good honest people and do care about your success. They will remember that you took a hit for them the next time they try to place your music and will always try to go higher for you next time.
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