Barry Cleveland: Tips From the Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference

| October 28, 2011

After writing a few music cues for Warner Brothers earlier this year, I’ve been looking into becoming more involved in composing music for picture, so I headed down to Los Angeles for the Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference held at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel & Spa on Monday and Tuesday October 24 and 25.

The conference included more than a dozen panels on topics such as “The Indie Connection: Linking Composers and Directors” and “Revealing the Secrets of Licensing Budgets,” a “Speed Networking” session where each participant got three minutes with an industry figure of some sort, a series of “Roundtable” discussions on a variety of topics, and various schmoozing opportunities, including two parties.
 The venue was located on Highland Avenue just above Hollywood Boulevard.
 The “The Indie Connection: Linking Composers and Directors” panel featured Jaymee Carpenter (composer), Daniel Licht (composer), Peymon Maskan (music supervisor), Brian McNelis (music supervisor), Gingger Shankar (composer), Abe Sylvia (director), Jeff Toyne (composer), and Austin Wintory (composer) [left to right].
A lot of valuable information was presented, from facts and figures to anecdotal stories, and after a while I began to get a good sense of the current state of the business, and the lives of those involved.

Here are some bullet points from my notes:

•    While versatility is an asset, it is critical to have your own sound.
•    Study the work of other composers past and present to gain historical perspective.
•    Everything flows from relationships. Spend time around creative people and to get a break do anything that needs to be done—be someone who says “yes” rather than “no.”
•    Score student or indie films, for free if necessary, to gain experience. Sometimes those students and budding filmmakers will go on to fame and you can ride their coattails.
•    Be prepared to lose money on your first few films—spend whatever is necessary to deliver your best work. And even if the film is crappy, if your music shines, that’s what matters.
•    The more experience you have the more confidence you’ll have, so don’t be in a huge hurry—think marathon not sprint when planning a career.
•    You don’t have to have a formal musical education or understand classical orchestration—but it helps.  You should have a studio and possess significant engineering and production skills, as well as facility with synths and samplers.
•    While musical and production skills are important, it is more important to be able to empathize emotionally with the film or show—make that connection with the director or producer.
•    Remember that unlike making music as an artist, when scoring you must serve the client, and do your best to realize their creative vision.
•    Once you get hired, try to determine who is actually in charge, as numerous people will likely weigh in with demands, often contradictory.
•    The most dreaded words composers can hear from directors are “I used to play in a band” or “I used to play a little guitar,” as it is worse to have them know a little bit about music than for them to know nothing.
The “TV Networks and the Music That Defines Them” panel featured Joel Beckerman (President, Man Made Music), Steve Celi (Music Manager, Fox Broadcasting), Joe Cuello (SVP of Creative Music Integration, MTV), Roberto Isaac (Director, Music Programming, mun2), Steve Vincent (Music and Soundtracks, Disney Channel Worldwide), an unlisted additional speaker, and moderator Shirley Halperin [left to right].
•    Research the music supervisor you are sending your demo to, to see what programs/films they are working on, and if possible whether they prefer CDs, USB drives, downloads, streams, etc.. Most say that up to 70% of the demos they receive—75 to 200 per week—are inappropriate “blind” submissions. Some want press kits, and others do not.
•    Put your best piece(s) up front. No long intros. If you don’t grab them in the first 15 seconds you may not get another chance.
•    Always include metadata with demo CDs or digital files: song title, composer, publisher/writer credits and PRO affiliation, contact information, etc. Music that is easy to clear for licensing will take priority over music that is not.
•    You may have to make 100 calls to get ten appointments to land one job.
•    Most of the major music supervisors don’t listen to demos unless they come from a trusted source, such as an agent, publicist, or song plugger. (no one on the panels received music from TAXI or Sonicbids).
•    Approximately 80% of music used in film and television comes from music libraries, so consider sending demos to the more reputable ones.
 The 2011 The Hollywood Reporter/Billboard Maestro Award was presented to songwriting legend Alan Menken by Billboard Editorial Director Bill Werde.
•    Always submit any licensing or scoring deal to an entertainment attorney before signing it.
•    If you can’t afford an attorney consult Volunteer Lawyers For the Arts.
•    The current trend is toward “360 deals” that are “worldwide in perpetuity,” meaning that if Martians land tomorrow and want to use your music on Mars you don’t get any additional money.
•    Deals with music libraries vary considerably, but usually involve a fee up front and no publishing (the composer still gets the writer’s share of statutory royalties via their PRO should the music be used in a film or show).
•    Music budgets are always a relatively small piece of the overall budget. For example, a 60 million dollar film may only allocate less than $100,000 total for music, and the composer may receive as little as $10,000 (though a blockbuster may budget as much as $100,000 to a superstar composer), and if your indie band’s tune is used you are probably looking at a couple of grand.
•    A typical strategy for music supervisors is to get a big artist to agree to license a song for a discounted rate, and then use that as leverage when negotiating with lesser artists—a tactic known as “most favored nations.”
Attentive attendees seeking connections and sage advice.
Lots of schmoozing went on in the lobby between events.
If you are considering making a foray into composing music for film or television, hopefully this information will have been of use to you.

“… on with the show, this is it!”


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