Wednesday, August 12, 2015

LA Sync Mission part 2: 10 tips from music supervisors

By Emmanuel Legrand

As music synchronisation becomes an increasingly important part of today’s music industry, understanding how the system works, especially in the Mecca of syncs, Los Angeles, is paramount. It’s even better if your understanding comes from the decisionmakers themselves. In part two of this three-part story on the US sync market, here are 10 tips gathered in LA during the 11th Sync Mission (July 13-17) organised by the BPI, the MPA and UKTI from comments made by over 60 music supervisors and sync specialists.

[This story was initially published in Music Week]

1. Know your rights! 
Knowledge starts at home: make sure you know what you can license. Before attempting to approach any music supervisor - whether you are the owner of a recording, a publisher, a songwriter, a manager or an appointed licensing agent - make sure you own or represent what you claim you do. If you are the owner of a master that has multiple samples, make sure each one of them is cleared. Ditto with multiple songwriters. That’s the safer way to build a catalogue that you can shop around with the perfect guarantee that you have 100% of the rights. A song only 95%-cleared is a source of problems if the remaining 5% disagree with the deal, so it is paramount to make sure that everything is cleared, and by that, supervisors really mean everything. A lawsuit from whoever owns the uncleared 5% would be a disaster for the supervisors, who could jeopardise their relationship with the studio or the producer of the show, and for the company or person who provided the track. “What you want to hear is that people own the song completely,” said Andy Ross, music supervisor at Cutting Edge Group. “Just be accurate: Do say when you do not have something. We do not want to be sent inaccurate stuff.”

2. Involve your writers and composers
Working with the understanding and the accord of the artists is paramount. Labels and publishers have to discuss these issues with their composers and artists before even thinking about pitching music for syncs. Artists have to understand what it entails, and they also have to be on cue when a request for a sync comes their way. Their rapid reaction will also determine the chances of the sync succeeding. And yes, it is normal for artists to want to know more about what the topic of the show is about, how their music is placed and how it will be used.
Jason Alexander, president of Hit The Ground Running recalled working on an episode of CSI when it was decided that a song by Sigur Ros would be perfect for a long scene where the music would have been the only sonic presence. “Sigur Ros asked for a clip [of the scene], so we sent it and then... fingers crossed! Eventually we got their final approval. It is a testament of the show that bands accept our proposals.”
Studios and music supervisors are also keen to get approval from music creators for material that can be used in delicate situations. In Breaking Bad, which dealt over and over with drug issues, artists had to be on board. “Once [a track is] selected, we always made sure that it was cleared, but also that the artist is OK with the connection to drugs,” explained Thomas Golubic, music supervisor at SuperMusicVision (pictured, above), who worked on such shows as Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Manhattan, Grace And Frankie, Halt and Catch Fire.

3. Try to pre-clear master and publishing
Supervisors like one-stop-shops where the rights are bundled through the same person, or at least pre-cleared with all the rights-owners, so that within minutes of getting the green light to use a song, the material can be sent. If you are the publisher of a track and taking the lead in the sync process, it is advisable that you also try to clear the master beforehand. For two reasons: a) it is a gain of time, especially if the window to close the deal is small; and b) what if the owner of the master or the performer are not ready to license their music? This makes the licensor look bad, and could jeopardise its relationship with the music supervisor. Majors could certainly provide onestop-shops for every project but music supervisors insist that they have options. “If I end up using repertoire from just one publisher it can be cool but not sustainable in the long term,” said Maya Halfon, music supervisor at Microsoft.

4. Publishing tends to lead the pitching game
Because of the complexities of copyright ownership with music publishing, music supervisors prefer most of the time to deal with publishers, especially if they have also pre-cleared the masters. “We tend to license publishing first and then master because usually masters come in line with the publishing,” explained British-born Sarah Webster, founder and music supervisor at Saraswati Music Supervision, who worked on the movies Pitch Perfect 1 and 2. “On Pitch Perfect, we were dealing with some 60-70 songs, and some had [up to] 15 publishers.” So the onus is usually on publishers to guarantee that the rights are cleared.
For Thomas Golubic, music supervisor at SuperMusicVision, “the more leg work you do on copyright, the better for us. If we like a song and then hear that you have not cleared the samples that may be in the song, it does not help.”
In addition, some situations may require a change of lyrics, and that falls under the remit of publishers. “We always ask approval to have lyric changes,” said Webster.

5. Do your research first
The decision making process for syncs can be complex. Feature films produced by Hollywood studios do have substantial budgets, but they usually work with a score composer, and the choice of music tends to be made in the end by the director, but with the input from the producers, the music editors and the music supervisors. In the case of TV shows, the producers and the creators of the show usually call the shots. So don’t pitch in the dark. It is important to understand the shows and the needs of each supervisor to start pitching wisely. Do some research on the music supervisors, the shows, the musical feel of a show, before making any move. Try to watch the shows to get an idea of the genres of music that are featured, and how. And then try to identify the music supervisor in charge of the project.
One of the best ways to know what kind of shows they are working on is to follow their Twitter feed if they have one. “Do the research, check on LinkedIn, watch the show and know what we need,” said Jonathan Weiss, from Bunim-Murray Productions. “One of the ways to ingratiate yourself is to show that you’ve done the research.”
Don’t forget that most supervisors are passionate about music so never lose track of what they are looking for. “My favourite thing is matching the right song with the visual,” said Amine Ramer, music supervisor at States Of Sound. That’s the business of syncs: match music with visuals! And if you think synchronisation is an exact science, take the advice of Maya Halfon, music supervisor at Microsoft: “Very often it is trial and error and trial and trial and error.”

6. Check how supervisors want their music delivered
To make matters easier, each supervisor has their own preferences when it comes to the way they want music made available to them. Some like links, others work with Dropbox, but Box seems to be one of the most popular systems. And there are still a few who think CDs are a good way to discover stuff. mp3s seem out of fashion. “[If you mail me] I will look at the body of the mail and if there’s a visual aspect to it I might click, but do not send mp3s,” pleaded Gemma Dempsey, VP international at Metropolis Studio.

7. Make sure you have everything ready
Pitching a song is not only about the music and the artist, it is also about what you can send alongside a song when things are moving your way. So think about having instrumental versions, and make sure you can deliver stems (specific sections of the song, such as the rhythmic tracks or the topline). Sometimes having covers of tracks you own the rights to available can help. “When pitching for a song with lyrics, make sure you have an instrumental [version] because if we like something, very quickly we’ll come back to you asking for the instrumental version,” said Chris Jackson, VP music at NBC Universal. “And if we get a bite into something, get your stuff prepared, because, literally, if you get the call, it could well be for tomorrow.”
Thomas Golubic, music supervisor at SuperMusicVision added: “Every show is different but the more prepared you are, the better. If you also have an instrumental version, it can be handy and I can pitch it too. Stems can be useful, especially for advertising, when they want the a capella version or just the music."

8. Metadata, metadata, metadata
Many different supervisors during the Sync Mission stated the importance of metadata. It needs to be accurate, and it needs to be complete. What’s the point of sending a track if, for example, not all the rights-holders are listed? Why bother if the correct metadata is not embedded with each tracks? And it is also a crucial element to get it right if you want to get paid when the track is used for a sync. “You need to metadata your cues. We need to see an email address or that it is 100% controlled,” said Andy Ross, music supervisor at Cutting Edge Group. “If I am given something that has no info, I throw it in the bin. I have not time to fill in the missing fields.”
In addition, metadata will help feed the cue sheets that producers provide to the networks and to all the sales affiliates around the world. Erin Collins, VP, film, TV and developing media at performance rights society SESAC, said the the cue sheets were very important because they will determine the list of rights-owners. “With cue sheets, you are making sure royalties will come back through,” said Collins. “You can put in a contract that you want copy of the cue sheet that will list the name of the songs and the split.”

9. Sometimes it is better to use third party licensors.
Madonna Wade-Reed, music supervisor at Whoopsie Daisy, whose credentials include Alias, Reign and American Crime is cautious when approached directly by composers or small publishing units, as the individuals are not always aware of the licensing process for syncs. “When you do reach out to a supervisor on your own behalf, if you have already done a license with one of our peers, that reassures us,” she noted. “I do not have time to teach someone who has never done a license.”
To avoid such situations, some supervisors suggested using third party licensors, especially for smaller companies. “They have the ear of music supervisors,” said Sarah Webster of Saraswati music supervision. “If we deal with independent songwriters or publishers, we are bombarded. I prefer dealing with third party licensors, we trust them. I know that if I call someone I have something in my inbox. And if they say they own it, you know they do.”

10. Be selective with what you send
 Choose wisely the tracks that you pitch rather than sending 30-60 songs. There is always a tendency to think that more is better in that it gives a better sense of what your catalogue is about. But think about the person at the receiving end: Who has the time to listen to 30 songs? Each supervisor who spoke during the Sync Mission reminded the audience that they did not want to be flooded with music. So pick the songs that in your opinion will work the best with the project, or those that you think are your top tracks for the pitch. “The first time [you contact a supervisor] it is better to give just a link,” said Joe Brandt, music supervisor at Collins Avenue.
 A good way of keeping a line of communication open with supervisors is to have a monthly online/ email newsletter sent to all supervisors, with updates on your catalogue, highlighting one to three songs maximum that could be of interest. “Don’t send me the entire back catalogue,” said Cybele Pettus, music supervisor at Electronic Arts, whose properties include FIFA, Hockey or SIMS. “Send the best song you have now.”

More about the British Sync Mission 2015:
Part 1: Understanding the US sync market
Part 3: 10 more tips from music supervisors

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