Getting Record Deals Part Two


Matt Hirt, 11-year TAXI member with tons of film and TV placements, whose music can now be heard on TV virtually every day.

Steven Corn, Co-founder of BFM Digital, former V.P. of Megatrax and, past TAXI A&R team member.

Tanvi Patel, President, Crucial Music, former V.P. of One Music.

Danny McCloskey, President, Songs With Vision, current TAXI A&R team member.

Matthias Weber, former TAXI member, current member of the TAXI A&R team, and a successful film and TV composer who has worked on The Shield, The Sopranos, and Baywatch, written songs for Chris Daughtry, Stanford A/O, done lots of commercial work, had an Emmy win in 2003 and a National Songwriting Award in 2004.

Michael Laskow, Moderator.

I'm reading Matt's response to a guy who was complaining on the TAXI Forum that he was nearing the end of his first year with TAXI and hadn't gotten a deal yet. Your response to him was, "Spending 10 years of your life to get to the point where you can enjoy the rest of it making a living at what you love to do most... That certainly doesn't seem like too much to ask. Well, not to me anyway."

So I did some math, and I'm not exactly a rocket scientist when it comes to math, but hang in there with me. If we've got anybody with a calculator in the room who is a rocket scientist, do the math with me.

First year of TAXI, $300, the next nine years you renew at $200 means a gross investment of $2,100 in TAXI membership fees over a 10-year period. If you make eight submissions per month over 10 years, that would equal $480 a year, or another $4,800 for the 10-year period. Let's say you also join TAXI Dispatch—which is our quick turnaround film and TV thing—that's another $150 a year for nine years, figuring you didn't join Dispatch until your second year of membership because you wanted to get a feel for the way we work.

So, altogether, you have invested $8,250 over 10 years, or $825 a year. If you made nothing your first year, $10,000 in your second year, $20,000 for each of the next two, $30,000 in the fifth year, $40,000 in the sixth year, $50,000 in the seventh year, $60,000 in the eighth, $60,000 again in the ninth year, and $75,000 in the 10th year, that means you have generated for yourself $365,000 over 10 years. So is that realistic, a kind of a realistic arc—10 grand, 20 grand, 30 grand...?

Matt: It probably starts lower and goes up quicker. You probably don't make 10, you probably make like two, then three, then five, then 10, then 40, and then 80. But overall you're in the ballpark.

So if my math is correct, that would mean a total return of investment of 4,424 percent on 10 years, meaning an annual return on your investment of 440 percent. How many people in the room would buy a house, a car, or a diamond ring, or anything that you've got a pretty good shot at a 440 percent return on your investment? Matt Hirt is who I'm talking about.

Steve: The numbers might be a little ambitious. But the simpler way of looking at it in my opinion is you just described an investment of $80 per month in your business. $80 per month! How many people here have cable? Raise your hands. Anybody pay more than $100 per month for cable?

People drink Starbucks every day on their way to work.

Steve: How many people read the newspaper instead of reading it online? $80 a month... Come on!

Danny: I spoke to a lawyer last week who always tells the story about how 20 years ago he was doing a film and the track that they wanted was just cost prohibitive, so he decided to write a song for the film. He admits that if he was walking down the street and ran into this song that he wouldn't even recognize it. But, over the course of 20 years, for a song that he gave to the film for free, he's made $75,000.

Steve: There are a lot of stories like that. Twenty years ago I did one minute of music for a Hanna Barbera cartoon show. I just got a check for that one song for $185. Almost 23 years ago. And I did it on a Porta-studio four-track cassette recorder! I've probably made $10,000 to $15,000 on that one cue. And that was with just one placement. The best part is that I only had 20 percent of writer's share. I didn't even have all of the writer's share on that track. I would've made five times that if I had all of writer's share.

We get calls like this all the time. "You guys forwarded me to a production music library or a boutique publisher, film, and TV related. I can't believe that they want to take 100 percent of my publishing and only leave me with the writer's share. So, I showed it to my music attorney in Peoria and he said, 'This contract sucks.'" Tell them what the deal is Tanvi.

Tanvi: Well, the deal is that we've got overhead and we've got to keep our doors open to be able to pitch your music. It's a partnership, it's a 50/50 partnership. You get half the money on everything we bring in. And we have expenses, we have high rent, we have employees that have to live in Los Angeles and have to be paid so they don't have to eat at McDonald's. It's a partnership, basically.

Matthias: I think there's this misconception about musicians, that we are the good guys and all these evil publishers and industry people and record companies are just ripping us off at any turn. The people that I have met in the industry are all really great people. I want to work with them, I want to have a relationship, I want them to be my friends, because they are great people. They are not out to rip you off. Yeah, there are a few out there that will try to rip you off, but if you're prudent... You can't have this sort of "us" versus "them" mentality. You have to understand that if she's getting my stuff on "Ugly Betty" and "Everybody Hates Chris," I want her to have money for that. She deserves it. I couldn't get that stuff on there by myself.

A 50/50 split is pretty standard.

Tanvi: That's standard and it's very fair. I was faced with this myself a couple years ago. I'm a visual artist, and at the time I was living in Nashville and I had an L.A. agent who wanted to rep me, but she wanted to take 50 percent. I'm sitting there in Nashville thinking, "What do I do?" My heart kind of sank. "You want 50 percent?" Then I thought, you know what, how many people living in Nashville have an L.A. rep that wants to rep your stuff, who gets you a show within the year, and you sell something, and you have just made some money, and people have seen your work? How many people get that opportunity? So you can keep 100 percent of zero, or you can make a lot more money at 50 percent of something.

Am I nuts in recommending to our members that they should get as many tracks in any given year as they can, in as many reputable libraries or publishers, and just keep repeating that process over and over and over to the point where 10 or 20 years down the road, if they want to stop working, they might have enough retirement income coming in from doing that? Am I nuts? I've got all sides of the coin up there. Matthias, you are maybe more like our audience members than the other guys up there... Well, no, Matt is exactly like them actually. So you two guys. Am I nuts?

Matt: That's what it is. It's a numbers game. This is not writing a hit song that you can you can live off of for 10 years. That's not the way it is. The problem with hit songs is they're not going to be hits for very long. At some point the radio is not going to play that song anymore and those records are not going to sell anymore, particularly in the market today. Then, you know, you go from being really rich to being on "Where Are They Now?" on VH1. And when you do what we do, you have a lot of tracks, and it's totally unspectacular, not making millions of dollars off of placements, but you're getting steady income that you can rely on which is actually something that is pretty rare in the music business.

Tanvi: It's a readjustment of your attitude really. If you come at this—especially with companies like us—if you come at us with an, "I'm the next Rock star," attitude, that's not going to work. Your expectations are not going to be met. You have to come as a musician, as somebody who wants to make a living as a musician, who has some value in their work. You have to treat it like a business. When somebody does come to you with a contract, be prepared. Make sure you have everything taken care of. I get so many artists that we send a contract to who haven't registered with BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC. So that's just lost time. I'm not going to do a contract with you because it's on my conscience if you're not collecting money that's due you because you haven't registered. So I'm just going to turn you down until you make that registration and then come back to me and tell me that you've done it. Treat it like a business; don't treat it like a pie in the sky dream. Because not everybody has that "Grey's Anatomy" hit, or is the one guy who gets one placement and gets 50,000 downloads on iTunes. Yes, those things happen, but it's one in a million.

Danny: And also, if you're going to be taking a contract to a lawyer, make sure it is somebody who understands the music business.

Not just the music, but this aspect of the music business, right? The film and TV end.

Danny: Oh yeah. I seriously doubt if that attorney in Peoria was a music business attorney.

I seriously doubt if there are a lot of attorneys in L.A., New York, or Nashville that really understand production library music deals. They look at them and go, "50/50? You got to be kiddin' me." We get that call a lot.

Steve: A couple of weeks ago I spoke to a room of 250 lawyers at the CMJ Conference.

Did you take a shower afterwards? [laughs]

Steve: No. You know, some of my best friends are lawyers, but they sometimes don't know how the song gets from you to you to you, and then how ASCAP picks up the performances and distributes the monies. There are very few lawyers who know the whole chain of events.

Isn't that scary?

Steve: It's very scary. And what that means to everyone in this room is if your lawyer doesn't know, you need to know at least how to ask the questions to guide him.

But I don't want to do the work, Steve. I'm a musician. Can't somebody just take care of this stuff for me?

Steve: Absolutely. I'm gonna quote your good buddy Michael, Derek Sivers, from a class here one or two years ago. He said that everyone in that room—smaller than this, fewer people than this—should spend as much time in the creativity with the marketing and development of their business as they do with their album cover design. If they did, you might actually be out of a job Michael, because, you know, everyone would be successful.

How does somebody who's truly got the chops get the gig to score the big, blockbuster Hollywood movies? Is it enough to just be talented? Is there a progression of events that happens that leads up to it? You're right in the thick of it Matthias and you've had significant success. And you've worked with Hans Zimmer. How do you get to be Hans Zimmer? How do you go to that next level?

Matthias: I consider my career a work-in-progress. I make progress every day, but it's not something that happens overnight. You don't go from zero to 100 percent in 10 days or in a year or in three years. You can't skip steps. Someone said that once when I was at Berklee, and that's something I'll never forget. You just have to keep working. First of all—I'm repeating myself—you just have to have the chops and just really get the product into top shape to be competitive.

Let's assume that the quality is there already.

Matthias: Then the next step is... There are several ways of doing it. You can move out here to L.A. and start building a network. Like go to film schools; go to the film director students who might be big directors someday. Just go there and say, "Hey, can I score your student movie?" I mean, there's no money in that at all, but it gives you experience, it gives you credits.

Another way is the way I did it. I came out and I got a gig with two composers in the San Fernando Valley—Cory Lerios and John D'Andrea—who did a lot of TV stuff like, you mentioned "Baywatch" and stuff like that. So I worked for those guys, which was a great experience. I did that for five years, actually. I mean, it's like six, seven days a week, 15 to 18 hour days, so you have no family life, no social life. You actually quickly get better at what you do. That's one way of doing it. A lot of composers who have a lot of gigs need help.

Then the next step, after I did that for many years, it was like, "OK, it's great sitting in this room writing all this music." But you never have the meetings; you never sit in the room with the director and have that connection with the filmmaker. So I decided, first of all, I want to see my credit in the front and not additional music credit in the end, and I want to sit in there with the director. I don't want another composer tell me what his vision is, so what I did was I got my own network and started looking for projects that I thought... You can go to and see what's in production. There are a lot of sources for research. I'm trying to pick projects that I would enjoy working on, that are meaningful to me. So I've been successful doing that. I found this medieval epic thing that they did over in Europe, and I was like, "Yeah, that's exactly the thing I want to do." I found the director's agent in Munich and wrote her and she gave me his email. Over a year we e-mailed and blah-blah-blah...

Over a year, though? Not that you worked eight hours a day on it for a year, but a year of time. You know what? This is a perfect end-cap to the point that I was trying to make with this panel. That members get ticked off at us when they get forwarded and they don't hear back in 30, 60, 90 days, and then they wonder where their deal is, and they don't renew their membership. They give up and go home with their tail between their legs. So you worked on that for a year?

Matthias: No, actually I read about this thing before they even started casting, so shooting was like months away, let alone post-production that was a year away or even longer than that. I spent a year with the director, e-mailing back-and-forth what his vision was for the movie...

What if it hadn't panned out?

Matthias: It would have been just another one of those things that hadn't panned out. You just keep going and maybe the next one will pan out.

Even if it didn't pan out, the experience you gained in communicating with him and understanding where he was going with that film and everything, that would have made you better at communicating with the next guy to work on getting the next deal.

Matthias: Absolutely.

Steve: Just a tag on that. I go to the MIDEM conference in France every year. I'm going for my 11th year this coming year. I've done business finally with people who I met five or six years ago. It sometimes took that long after seeing them year after year after year before we actually found an opportunity to work together. Then, after that, it took time to generate money. So I don't look at the results of every year and say, "OK, did I make back my investment or cost on that particular trip?" You'll be depressed if you do that. But I look back over the last 10 years, and I look at how my business has grown from the investment I made by going overseas. But what Matthias talked about was research—effort and research. Maybe it all distills down to that. Patience. The three things are effort, research, and patience.

Matt: When I first started working for one of the big music libraries, I think the owner told me he had a file on me going back five years—five years of stuff that TAXI had sent him over the years. And he had it there, and he thought, "One day I'm gonna have the project for this guy."

Danny: And also the relationships we make. I think Tanvi was saying about "CSI," that's not the first call. That's a relationship that has developed over many, many years.

Tanvi: The company that handles "CSI," I have been pitching them for five years, and I finally got a chance to work with them. I begged them for a meeting last year. I got the meeting, they gave me a half an hour—fortunately it went 45 minutes—and I thought, "All right, now the sales are gonna come," and it took me another year. And now I'm finally placing with them consistently. So some things take five years, some things take 10 years. You have to be patient.

I want to add this before we wrap this panel up. A gentleman just walked up to me 15 minutes before we started this panel and said, "Hey, Michael, I'm the guy that told you that I had a bunch of forwards, didn't renew my membership, and a year-and-a-half later I got 20 songs picked up by 'Oprah.' "

Good things do take time, so be patient!

Did this panel help you guys [Michael asking audience, and they applaud]? Good, I was hoping it would.

Matt Hirt, Steve Corn, Tanvi Patel, Danny McCloskey, and Matthias Weber. Frankly, I wish we had four hours to keep this going because this was really good, you guys. Thank you.