Some of you may have been bombarded by e-mails and press releases about the 3-day “I Create Music” Expo held in Los Angeles and produced by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).
If I printed out all the material they’ve sent to me, it would require another trip to Office Depot to buy a ream of paper and additional ink cartridges for the printer.
While it’s nice to see so much hard work from the publicity teams at ASCAP, there is a bit of overkill in their efforts. And from reading the press announcements, there may be an element of hype in some of their material.
Let’s take their most recent press release as an example. It contains such phrases as “landmark event,” “major entertainment industry conference,” and, well, let me quote from some of their passionate prose:
“The non-stop menu of education, entertainment and excitement proved to be a recipe for success for the eager-to-learn attendees who traveled from all 50 US states and abroad, including Australia, the Bahamas, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom, to discover new technology, share knowledge and experience, develop new skills, inspire one another and celebrate the craft of creating music.”
Whew. After all that, you can imagine how thrilled some of us are just to have survived the event.
But let’s set aside the condescending reference to “eager-to-learn attendees” and focus on the positive aspects of the conference.
Networking. Yes, you could get your business card into the hands of a lot of people. On Thursday, you might have been able to bump into Jimmy Jam, Linda Perry, and Marilyn Bergman. On Friday, you could have rubbed shoulders with DJ Quik, Glen Ballard, Jeff Rona, Michael Giacchino, Marcus Miller, Jimmy Webb and Paul Williams. And on and on.
So the networking could be great. In addition to the potential interaction, there’s, um, well, that’s pretty much it.
Yes, there were panel discussions, and I’m going to present the details from one of them so you can see if you feel you’ve missed anything by not attending.
“How to Get Your Music Placed in TV, Film, Advertising and Games” was the title of the panel in question. The information presented was fascinating and often quite lively. Members of the panel presented a nice mixture of facts and amusing anecdotes. And it was consistently entertaining.
What was not covered, however, was an answer for the “how to” part of its title.
Perhaps this would be impossible since all but one of the speakers is in the business of selling their services as an intermediary between the producers of TV, film, advertising and games on the one hand, and the creators of music on the other. If they truly revealed “how to” accomplish things, they would be out of a job.
PUMP IT UP.
Only Michael Babcock, the West Coast Director of Pump Audio (www.pumpaudio.com) could directly answer some of the questions because his firm is attempting to level the playing field for independent artists. As Scott Andrew wrote about Pump on the Creative Commons Web site, “They serve as a marketplace of independent music for film, tv, and radio, representing thousands of independent artists. The thing that really makes them stand out is that they don’t assert control of an artist’s copyright, instead signing non-exclusive licenses that last for a year or two.”
The other speakers, most of whom I’ve met, are serious, hard-working, and very bright people. They are proud of what they accomplish and are well-respected in the industry. And I believe they would like nothing better than to help out the next talented composer or songwriter they encounter. But they are not about to simply hand over the reins of their firms to the artists who approach them for help with licensing.
Making the 75-minute presentation flow smoothly was moderator Michael Eames, President of Pen Music Group (www.penmusic.com), a publishing company headquartered in Los Angeles, but whose reputation for quality is global. Peter Janson of CRC Jianian in China has praised Eames, and there is an excellent interview with Eames at: http://www.bmusic.com.au/links/industry/archives/ararchiv/meames.htm
Also on the panel:
Marc Ferrari, President of MasterSource Music Catalog (www.mastersource.com). Marc has an interesting approach in that his firm effectively becomes both the publisher and the record company when representing material. Often using work-for-hire contracts, MasterSource has assembled a huge catalog utilized by a vast array of TV shows, film studios, and more.
Rich Goldman, President and Creative Director of RipTide Music (www.riptidemusic.com). RipTide, founded and run by musicians, ofers one-stop licening of music in multiple genres. They also feature rerecorded masters as well as providing access to music in private collections and on a variety of indie labels.
Matt Kierscht, Music Supervisor, Quiet on the Set, has an impressive list of motion picture, television, and music industry credits. You’ll find a brief interview with Matt here: www.globalgraffiti.com/interviews/kierscht.htm
Doug Wood, President, Omni Music (www.omnimusic.com). A composer, businessperson, and musician’s rights advocate, Wood oversees a catalog of more than four thousand compositions, and growing.
Highlights from their presentation follow.
ON FEES & BUDGETS:
Kierscht: “Normally, music is part of post production, so it’s often viewed as icing on the cake… or the last guy on the totem pole.”
Ferrari: “We get asked to license as cheaply as possible.”
Babcock: “They may spend 90% of the music budget on three songs but still have 15 slots left to fill.”
Kierscht: “Reality TV doesn’t budget music properly. This may give indie artists an ‘in,’ but it doesn’t help the industry overall.”
Eames: “Videogames don’t pay royalties except under extraordinary circumstances. They say it’s a promotional opportunity. I just laugh.”
Babcock: “It’s not the singers, it’s the songs, and how music conveys the message or the mood.”
Goldman: “Always do an instrumental version of every song.”
Babcock: “Quality, production, performance, and professional presentation are crucial.”
Goldman: “Get a release from singers and performers who work on your song recordings. You must own and control 100 percent of the composition.”
It was suggested that G.A.N.G. (www.audiogang.org) and AMP, the Association of Music Producers (www.ampnow.com) are potential sources for information and networking. Word of warning: as of this writing, the general e-mail on the AMP site (email@example.com) defaults over to Eric Kaye at The Lodge mastering facility in New York, and I can tell you right now he is totally uninterested in hearing from people who are not registered members of that organization.
From what was hinted at by almost everyone on the panel is a dirty little secret of the industry. If you make music that sounds like a well-known artist, you can get your work licensed.
Wood: “Companies often want a sound-alike track without a big payout and without getting sued.”
So, if you have a song that everybody complains sounds too much like today’s radio flavor-of-the-month, submit it for licensing. Sad, but true.
As at any music convention, there are some firms in the business of “selling hope” to unsigned artists. With a little common sense, you can spot them because they seem to be offering a way into the business for a monthly fee. Since these people were sponsors of the event, a case could be made that ASCAP agrees with this methodology.
Then there are people like the Music Business Registry (www.musicregistry.com) who offer a real and valuable service, one that is utilized by people in the industry as well as those who are attempting to break in.
Perhaps the main problem is the overall approach of the executives who put on this event. Several people with whom I spoke really disliked the oppressive waves of self-congratulatory statements pouring from the officials and many of the panelists.
It is truly offensive to have to endure phony-friendly words in the vaguely snooty tone used by those who have somehow achieved a foothold in the business as they spout tired old expressions (“this is an exciting time for indie artists…” “go out there and make it happen for yourself…” “listen to your heart…” “utilize your passion…” etc. etc.) followed almost immediately by a list of the roadblocks, locked doors, restrictions, and high walls that prevent access to all but a very few people.
Which people? Those who already know somebody who can help.
As the panelists put it:
Eames: “There are legal aspects to accepting submissions. Plus, we’re already two months backed up with material.”
Babcock: “For most situations, submissions must come via an agent or a known source. That’s what makes Pump different.”
Goldman: “The key is access. It all depends on your relationship with the studio and production people.”
Coming back to my studio after absorbing as much of the Expo as I could stand, I was motivated once again to make new music and get it into even more commercials, corporate presentations, nightclubs, DJ remixes, Internet radio stations and other licensed uses. So the ultimate result of the ASCAP Expo was very positive.
If only one didn’t have to hear all the platitudes.