Suzane Bader
Suzan Bader President, DSM/All American Music Library

Interviewed by Michael Laskow

Where did you grow up?

Dayton, Ohio.

Really? You seem like the quintessential New York girl, so I thought you were going to say Lower East Side or something.

I was born in Manhattan, but I grew up in Dayton. You said "grew up!"

How long did you live in Ohio?

I moved there when I was five months old. I also lived in Florida a lot, and Tennessee and Texas.

Did you grow up in a musical family?

I was trained classically. I was a protege of Notre Dame Country Day School, which is a parochial school in Dayton. Everything we learned was music related. I never had arithmetic. I loved it. Piano was my main instrument, but I started to drift away from classical and started leaning toward pop. At eight, I was taking Hawaiian guitar lessons. I went to the guitar after piano, and that's sort of where I ended up. But I still have to go to the piano to write a chart.

What made you decide to get into the music business versus just being a musician?

I didn't know anything else. That's all I had done all my life.

When did you make the transition into the business end?

I was always involved with publishing and copyrights. As a singer/songwriter, you just know that's what you have to do. I got a job working for Scruggs Publishing in Nashville, doing all the royalties and stuff for Louise Scruggs. I also got a record deal from Bob Johnston on Columbia. Clive Davis had signed the deal. I was with Herb Pederson who did Dolly and Emmylou and all those girls — he had been producing and working with them for years. He happened to be in Tennessee at the time that I was. We played together and worked together. It was just a musical age.

While working for Flatt & Scruggs, I licensed the song "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" for Warren Beatty's movie Bonnie and Clyde. I charged a pretty reasonable rate I thought, even though maybe it was a high rate at the time. I didn't know. Not even realizing what I was doing, I made them send a telegram that they were going to pay the fee before the movie could be released. I made a huge issue out of it, and the movie was already ready to be released. Everything went great though. Everybody was happy. But Gil McKean from CBS flew down to find out who the mouth was on the phone, and he brought me to New York. So I moved to New York from Tennessee in 1969.

The wife of Gus Gabriel of Dunhill Publishing Company was Ethel Gabriel, the only woman record producer in the industry. She was at RCA at the time. The president of RCA used to have his picture taken with all the Grammys and gold and platinum records that Ethel had produced. We're talking Montavani, the Livingstons, everybody. That was it for me, because my musical background was orchestration—totally symphonic as a child. I always loved parts. I wanted vocal backgrounds. I wanted this part—I wanted that part. There were never enough tracks to record with. So I realized I would be best as a producer. I loved music, and I know music. I decided I needed to learn what makes music sound great—which was engineering—and that's where I went.

I ended up working with Jack Malcon at Secret Sound who put out Bette Midler, Eddie Murphy, Spyrogyra, and a ton of other hits. He was building a new room, so there I was there hammering and nailing. He eventually let me learn the board and how to produce records.

How did you go from being an engineer and a producer, back to publishing, and eventually into the music library business?

The business side was never a big deal until Doris [Kaufman] came. We had been in a band together. I saw her at Folk City one night. It had to be in the early Seventies. I thought she had such a beautiful voice. I said, "Gee, do you want to work together?" She said yes, and we've been together ever since.

Is that where DSM comes from? Doris, Suzan and somebody?

No, a guy at KTU radio—when it was the first dance music station of the Seventies—gave us the name "Decidedly Superior Music," which happened to be DSM. We just kept that name. It sounded corporate.

For our readers who don't know what a music library is, can you explain what it is and give some background?

A music library is just that, it's a library of music that film and television producers use as a resource when their budgets won't allow them to do original music.

I got into the business because I read an article in the New York Times that said $371 million in performance royalties went out of the country via ASCAP and BMI to all the foreign countries. That was a huge figure for American composers to have to swallow. At that time... and for the previous sixty years, England, Italy, and Spain had all this music that was being used in network television and feature films, but not the United States. Unions had a lot to do with it because so many television shows couldn't afford to pay union rates. So they used foreign music which is non-union. There are also no re-use fees. Only the composer and publisher get paid by the performance affiliates. That's it—the musicians, the artists, nothing. It's strictly a publishing deal.

So in 1979, I actively began collecting tracks from everybody I knew. They were all record producers. I'd say, "Give me what you've got. Give me what you have sitting on your shelf. I know I can sell it." So I was collecting stuff that sounded like records because it was from record producers. I did that for ten years. Doris has a long history in the library business because she's worked at several other libraries. The library she was working for at one point licensed music from me because they didn't have what I had, which was Americana. Doris joined DSM in 1989. She resigned from the job she had.

So you had really started a music library without calling it a music library. You were just in the business of collecting tracks and licensing them.

Exactly. Licensing them to be used in feature film and network television.

So how does a library work? Who uses a library? Is it the music supervisor? Is it the director? Is it the producer?

It's all of the above, including editors, including the gopher that found your music and delivers it. Anybody could pick up your music. Seriously, our music has been used by people that walked on a set and handed somebody a CD. A library consists of, I would say, a compilation of a certain style of music so that it is easy for the listener or the user to pick out what they need. Let's say it's horror. The whole CD is horror. There is no jazz, there's no comedy. It's just strictly horror. But that's what they are looking for at the moment. That's exactly what they want. So a library is very much like a regular library. You go to the section you want to read about, and you pull from that. That's what they do with music.

So let's say a producer from CBS Television is working on a Saturday afternoon sports show and they need background music for skiing. The producer would call the library and say, "I'm looking for this type of music?"

Right. Exactly. They do. Now in some cases, for example, Wimbledon, the producer needed nine minutes of the piece because he was going to start it and stop it at the end of the segment. Which means we get on the phone and call the composer and say, "Okay you know that piece you did? I want nine minutes of it." And he comes up with it overnight.

What's the ratio of music that's already on a CD that you have in the can that gets used, versus custom jobs?

I'd say ninety percent is already finished. All of our music is sold off of our CDs. We had two series of them of the same categories. Every single piece has sold. I couldn't believe it. I'm happy. And a lot of them are writers we found through TAXI!

Are some of the tracks more popular and used more frequently than others?

Yes. That's the thing. When producers find a piece that they love, they'll use it over and over in different shows. You pray that they are going to use a guy's second and third and fourth piece, but they often stick to that one piece forever. It's like a hit.

So somebody from CBS Sports may use that piece for a skiing show, and then a month later use the same piece for a tennis show, and six weeks later use it again in a car racing show?

And for whatever else, yes. Because it works for them. That's really important. The music has to work. It has to flow with the their shots.

So part of your job I would guess is being able to hear a piece of music and know it would work with a variety of different shots?

Absolutely! I never publish anything I don't think we can sell.

How does the writer make money? How does the person who created that music make his or her money?

Well, we split it. As a publisher, you usually split 50-50. A sync license fee is 50-50, and they also collect 100-percent of their writer share of performances directly from their performance affiliate (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC). We're splitting our publishing with another company, so the writers actually get more than we do.

Give me a profile of your typical person who supplies you with music. Is a TAXI member who has three ADATs, a Mackie console and pretty good recording skills pro enough to work in the library field?

Yes.

I bet the fact that ADATs and Mackie consoles exist has probably really been a big plus for you.

A big change. A big plus. You can tell when something is done on a four track. The writer may have talent, and we even sometimes call them and say, "you know you're really good, you just need better equipment and a real studio." It's worth it to invest in yourself and your music. Take that track you just did and go in a better studio and see what sounds you come out with.

Do you think it's feasible for somebody to get library work if they've got eight tracks of digital at home, a decent console, a few good pieces of outboard, and they know their way around a MIDI system well?

Eight tracks is rough because you're going to be bouncing quite a bit. Things are going to be compressed. They just sound that way. But it depends upon the style of music you're writing. You might be able to do fine on it. I've released 8-track recordings of rock bands—basement bands—that were that good.

Is there anything special to know about music for feature films?

That's when you really need the very best audio quality you can possibly get. One thing that is important to do is to take your cassette or DAT or CD and play it on four or five different speakers before you turn something in. I have HD1 near field monitors. Lucas Films has HD1's, Warner Bros. has them. Big rooms have them. If you're listening on say a Yamaha speaker or something, you're not hearing what is going to come over those HD1's, but those guys are. Don't be afraid to remix if you're not sure the first or second or third time.

Is the mixing style different for film than it would be for a record? Do you have to emphasize different things?

No, it should be just commercial quality.

How many tracks would you say you have in your library now that you've built up over the last ten years?

That's a good question. Lots.

Do you think you've hit 50,000 tracks yet?

A lot more.

Do some of these tracks make money for the writer year after year?

Yes. There are tracks from 1989 that are still making money on performances. But that's the idea of it. All the people in Europe used to get the work, but no American composers ever had a chance to get it. There was only one library and that was foreign. There were no American libraries as such. Even then, there was only a small group of maybe five or six composers. I have thousands of composers here that my clients can choose from.

Is it possible for a writer who is talented to make himself a six-figure income working on library cuts?

Sure, if they write a lot of tracks and keep writing consistently for a number of years. Eventually the performance royalties will add up.

Can you give some examples of popular genres that frequently get requested by your customers?

Are you talking about songs or instrumentals?

Instrumentals.

I guess drama, dance music, comedy, sports and holiday stuff. Those are your mainstays because they're always being used.

Are most of the tracks requested instrumental, or do you find yourself getting more and more requests for stuff with lyrics now?

I've always had songs.

What lengths are typically requested on these tracks?

Well, we request at least two and a half to three minutes in length. Now, we have never sold to radio, local television, or corporate production houses that do all of those radio spots. We have never outwardly sold to any of those markets. We're strictly film and television. That doesn't mean we're not going to. We've got tons of :60s and :30s. But we haven't gone to those markets yet.

Why not?

I don't know. I just kind of stuck to film and television. There were only two of us doing this. Now there are three of us doing it, and I'm planning to expand and have a couple more people.

How can somebody learn to write and record music that is suitable for library work? There is not really a school for that type of specific knowledge, is there?

No, but you do need some sort of musical training because your compositional skills have to be as good as the best seller out there. Your chops have to be that good.

But doesn't it go beyond just being a good musician? Don't you have to understand something about film and TV?

I find that every composer writes the way they write. There is something unto them that you recognize in their style of music, and what they would be best suited for. Then you go that way with them and approach an area, like soap operas, or sitcoms, or dramatic stuff.

Do they need to know the technical terms, like about doing a buttoned ending versus a fade?

Absolutely.

How does somebody learn that terminology? Where do they learn that you shouldn't put a saxophone in a middle octave playing the melody because it would step on a voice-over guy or dialogue? Where do you learn these rules?

Well, you have to go to a commercial production studio. Ask for an internship. We have a lot of interns that come through us too. It really helps. There is no school that is going to tell you that kind of inside stuff.

What about somebody who wants to learn how to write for film? Where do you learn that?

At a music school. You learn different styles of writing. Classical, jazz, pop. By just being there you can experience different styles. Study more than one instrument. Understand what keys wind instruments play in, so that when you're writing a piece, the saxophone isn't playing a keyboard or a guitar part. Understand what you're dealing with here, instrument-wise. Know your instruments—all of them.

If there was one piece of advice that everybody who'd like to enter this field as a musician should know, what might that be?

I hope they've listened to good music—music that's sold millions. They should also read the charts, because they reflect styles that are proven. Whether you like the style or the sound or not, these are gold and platinum proven sounds. Our whole library is based on Billboard categories. They are there for a real reason. Somebody put a dollar down for them.


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