Thursday, March 26, 2009

Music Supervising in Today's World

Are you currently sitting on a back catalog of compositions that you've recorded over the years? Are they doing anything but sitting on a hard drive? Your music deserves to have a life of its own, even if you can't pull yourself away from ProTools for even a moment. So, why not put those songs to good use and start seeking avenues to license the material?

Last night I had an opportunity to attend a workshop at the New York chapter office of The Recording Academy titled "Music Supervising and Licensing in Today's World."

Linda Lorence Critelli (VP Writer Publisher Relations, SESAC, Inc.) moderated the panel. Panelists included: Jim Black (President, Clearsongs), Keith D'Arcy (Senior VP, C.O.R.E., EMI Music Publishing), Suzanne Hilleary (Founder/President, WacBiz), and Ed Gerrard (Impact Music Management).

I'm always eager to learn new things, or hear how other people work, so I love going to conferences and workshops. And even if you're already an expert in your field, then there are always plenty of new people to meet and schmooze, provided you're up to the task. Sometimes the most useful information you come away with maybe delivered by the person sitting right next to you, not necessarily the person on stage.


If you want to be a music supervisor rather than a composer/songwriter, you do need to know how to clear a piece of music. Sounds pretty basic right? But back in 1996, when I selected 3000 tracks for the NBC Olympics and cataloged them by Sport and Mood, all I had to do was search, identify, catalog and indicate edit points. I didn't personally need to execute the paperwork on all that stuff. Today, I certainly would, or someone on my team, or a business partner, would.

In other words your credentials need to be more substantial than a big music collection.

Yeah, it's true, we all gotta work for a living.


If you're on the creative side, and your aim is to get your music placed more than once, make sure it's easy to license and that there aren't any surprises attached to your work. Music Supervisors like it if you own and control your own master. And you've heard this before: Clear your samples! –Or don't use any sonic elements that aren't hand crafted and completely original to you.

Also, if you're using live musicians, make sure they sign work-for-hire agreements before they leave the session, not to mention that all and any co-composition /co-arrangement issues are well defined before you begin submitting material and calling it your own.

You may think that sneaking in an uncleared sample isn't going to hurt anyone. I've witnessed several composers use uncleared samples left and right, like sometimes for every sound on every track. In fact, I was standing next to two of them when each got served with a Cease and Desist letter for infringement. Nothing like a lawsuit to drag down the whole artsy vibe, man. So, just because someone else –even someone you respect– is willing to risk their career and reputation doesn't mean you should.

The truth is, it's not just about you and your reputation. Whatever your personal feelings about copyright laws, when you choose to skirt them, you put other people's livelihoods at stake, too.

Jim Black pointed out that one little uncleared sample can do irreparable harm to a music supervisor's career, not to mention cost a production hundreds of thousands of dollars on the back end, just because you weren't honest about your work.

Think they'll secure a license from you again after that? Think NOT.

But if you do have an uncleared sample in the master, don't let that stop you from submitting it. Just be honest about what it is, who it is, where it is, etc., –so that if your track is up for consideration, the music supervisor at least has an opportunity to clear the sample/s on your behalf, and on behalf of the project at hand.

Sample issues aside, you say your only real issue is one of creative insecurity? That you feel like none of your compositions are ready for prime time yet? Hey, if they're mixed, they're ready. When it comes to music placement there isn't any good or bad music, just the right track, and then all the rest (which are good for something else).


If you weren't at the NARAS workshop on Music Supervision last night, and you're trying to figure out what the first steps you should take to getting your music licensed, I invite you to check out the following articles from the Critical Noise archives. I'm pleased to report that everything I've previously written on the topic is still very much relevant. Given my personal experience, most of it applies specifically to broadcast promotions and the ad biz, rather than to movies, episodic television or games. But whatever your personal creative goals, I think you'll find, at least some of it, to be useful advice.

Breaking Into the Ad Music Biz (Originally posted November 16, 2007)

How To License Your Songs (Originally posted November 01, 2005)

Creating Value By Licensing (Originally posted October 01, 2005)

Too Many Notes To Choose From? (Originally published in Shoot Magazine, April 13, 2001)


Peter Weis said...

Great blog. Where you at the NARiP music in video games panel about a month ago? there was some pretty decent info at that. I was thinking on joining their organization.

Terry O'Gara said...

Peter, nope wasn't @ NARIP Music In Games, but it sounds like it was worthwhile event. And thanks for the compliment and for tuning in to this 09 post and resurrecting it in my memory. I remember in 2001 or 02 after Moby had licensed every single track of PLAY about a million times each, thinking that this was a Madison Avenue trend just about ready for its final cue. Now cut to 2011 and it's clear it's not simply a trend, but a new music industry model (or a parallel one anyway). Pretty amazing times. Congrats by the way on your own recent placement on NCIS Los Angeles. –Terry