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Philadelphia Speaker Series: The Soundtrack to Film and Television
On Tues., Dec. 15, The Recording Academy Philadelphia Chapter hosted The Soundtrack to Film and Television, the first winter installment of its ongoing Speaker Series. Professionals from music, television and film industries talked about the benefits, challenges and realities of connecting sight and sound, from the perspectives of the artist, record label, attorney, music supervisor and filmmaker. Rodney Whittenberg, composer and producer, Melodyvision, moderated the panel comprising Joan Bressler, Director, Greater Philadelphia Filmmakers; AJ Lambert, Film Music Supervisor (Shadowboxer and Tennessee); music placement, Mixtape; and musician; Stephen Leshinski, Executive Director, AFTRA Philadelphia Local; and Marcy Rauer Wagman, Esq., producer, songwriter, entertainment attorney, and CEO, Mad Dragon UNLTD.
Whittenberg began the discussion by covering the basics of a television show or movie’s “score” –the music in it. When writing or planning the score, rarely is the music selected entirely instrumental. Words in songs help underline the mood and emotion of the action on screen. But, added Rauer Wagman, it’s smart for a songwriter who’s pitching his/her music for consideration for film or TV to make instrumental versions of all his/her songs to allow the project’s music supervisor maximum flexibility with the music. And above all, it absolutely has to be high quality.
So how do music supervisors choose the music that goes into TV shows and movies? Lambert said frankly, “I use my taste first. A lot of times, it’s stuff I already know that’s in my extensive collection, or it’s the music of people I’ve met, whose music I like and I know I can count on. And it really makes a difference if it’s stuff I know I can clear really quickly by saying, ‘I want to use this much of these songs; I have this much money; can we do it?’” And while making trusted relationships between musician and music supervisor is very important, what doesn’t work, says Lambert, is repeated excessive follow-up. “Music makers: do not call a music supervisor asking, “Did you listen to the CD I sent? What do you think? Can you use it in your projects? Do you have any work?” Stick to calling or e-mailing once a quarter (at most) to find out what the supervisor is working on or looking for in the coming months. Any more often is bound to get annoying.
In addition to contacting music supervisors directly, there are other ways to get your music into the ears of the decision makers. Many music licensing services exist to shop your music for you. Lambert works for one called Mixtape and provides shopping and placement services to artists for a 20% commission on material that gets placed. Some of these services charge music makers per song added to their database; some charge a flat annual fee. Rauer Wagman and Lambert warned attendees to be careful of the latter. “Once they have your money,” said Lambert, “where’s the incentive to actually place it, if they’re not making any more money from you by doing so?”
Another great way to define your marketing efforts, Rauer Wagman told attendees, is to “keep tabs on what films are coming out and who’s working on what through industry publications. There are lots of magazines and online services that list local films, student films, ads asking for composers, cast, crew, etcetera.” Bressler told attendees about the Greater Philadelphia Film Office’s online listing of all local film projects and work opportunities—a great resource for both local musicians and those interested in pursuing film industry opportunities. Whittenberg advised, “The number one way to get your music to filmmakers is not by hanging out with other musicians. It’s by hanging out with film makers. Go to film festivals, screenings and other places where film folks hang out. Ask if they need any music for upcoming projects or know anyone who does. And maintain those relationships. A guy you met working on a low-budget independent film might now be doing high-budget advertising campaigns with major retailers. You never know what relationships will come in handy years down the road.”
After discussing the ways to get your music placed, the panel talked about music licensing revenue streams, to outline for attendees how they can expect to get paid. Rauer Wagman explained the difference between mechanical royalties, synchronization licensing fees, public performance fees, and print royalties (from sheet music). Bressler asked Rauer Wagman if an artist should copyright their material before shopping it around. Lambert and Rauer Wagman immediately answered, “Yes! And see a lawyer.” “Don’t be so hungry you’ll sign anything,” said Rauer Wagman and told about legal horror stories that begin sounding like a great opportunity and end with a media company owning all rights and revenue to a songwriter’s material, who end up with nothing from the so-called deal. Lambert added, “You don’t have to sign the contract they give you. Most of the time, everything’s negotiable. The person offering you the contract for your work is in charge of getting your song in their film or TV show, not looking out for your best interest. If it doesn’t look fair, don’t sign it.” Leshinski also informed attendees, “If you go on TV—if you’re performing or being featured—you should be paid. Ask what union they work with, and check with AFTRA to see if we can help with negotiations. Bressler usually refers filmmakers to Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (PVLA) for help in contract review and negotiation.
Overall, panelists agreed that the best way for music and film professionals of all levels to find avenues for collaboration is by forging and maintaining valuable relationships with other media industries professionals. Do your research and consistently deliver a high quality product. Once the deal is on the table, take time to thoroughly review the terms and fully understand what you’re getting into. Attendees left The Soundtrack to Film and Television understanding that while there are no guarantees or magic words for landing a lucrative placement for their music in a film or on television, if they arm themselves with the proper resources and focus on making quality product, the opportunities to merge sight and sound are endless.
Resources from the discussion:
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