Interview with Doug Minnick

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in west Los Angeles, born and raised.

How did you get started in the music business?

In my junior year of high school, I started taking classes out at Grove School of Music in the Valley. Through some kids that I went to school with, I met, James Newton Howard, who was producing a Randy Newman album at the time. One day I went by James' studio and I met Lenny Waronker (legendary producer and Warner Bros Records exec. -ed.). I said, "Can I intern for you someday?" He said, "Call me when you get to college."

So the long and short of it is, I went off to Berklee College of Music, where my main focus was songwriting. I started calling Lenny about a month after I started school. I called him for eight months without a return phone call. One day I called late, and he picked up the phone. I said, "I'm on way back from college. I want to apply for an internship." So out of guilt, he forwarded my info along to the head of personnel. I liked pop music, and pop was urban, so I went to work for Benny Medina at Warner Bros. who at the time was the Senior VP of Black Music A&R. He has since moved on to be the producer of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, manager of Will Smith, P. Diddy, J.Lo, and now, I believe, he is co-managing Brandy. He has also produced Booty Call, Above The Rim, and a bunch of other films.

What did you do for him?

During my internship, I listened to boxes of demo tapes that no one else would listen to or had time to listen to. I filled out evaluations on them. In the process of doing that, I also listened to song demos, and started meeting publishers. I was liaising with publishers as an intern, since I was the only one that would take their calls.

Were the evaluation forms for your boss?

Those were for my boss. He wanted a one-page evaluation on everything that came in.

Even if it was terrible?

Even if it was terrible, because it could be something terrible coming from a really important person. He wanted me to get as specific as I could about what I liked and what I didn't like. Being a music guy, it was pretty easy for me.

Who were some of the artists on Warner Bros. at the time?

At that time they had Chaka Khan, Al B. Sure, Roger & Zapp, Tevin Campbell, Prince, Karyn White. I pretty much started when they were at their peak.

What happened after Warner Bros?

I was there about three years, and I had just finished working with Take 6-one of my favorite groups of all time. It was about that time that I met Babyface. He was working with El DeBarge, and I was trying to get him to work with Take 6. It didn't work, but we met and became close. One day I was visiting him in the studio, and the president of Epic walked in and said, "I need to make changes on the west coast. I need to bring in an urban guy. Who could you recommend?" And Kenny pointed over his shoulder to me and said, "Him." I was sort of surprised, and that was my introduction to Richard Griffiths. About three months later, I went to work at Epic.

After you left Epic what made you decide to start Choice Tracks?

While I was at Sony, I had the opportunity to work on a couple of soundtrack projects with Glen Brunman, who is the head of the division. I absolutely loved working with Glen, one, because he's a brilliant guy, and two, because I saw what he was doing as an extension of A&R. Instead of it just being artists and repertoire, it was artists, and repertoire, and picture. I really liked looking for songs that fit a scene in a film.

I got to work a little bit on the Higher Learning soundtrack. I worked a lot on the Great White Hype soundtrack. We put Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on there, GhostFace Killa, Cappadonna. I really enjoyed working on soundtracks, and working with the music departments at film companies, and working with the directors. I thought it was incredible when you could get every party to agree on a certain song. I loved the process.

After Sony, I was presented with an opportunity to supervise the music on an independent film called The Learning Curve. It was so appealing to me because music actually played a role in the film. They shot dance numbers to certain songs and music, and we created music specifically for the film. So that was really exciting because music played such a big role, and it was an incredible learning experience for me. To this day, it was one of the hardest things I've ever done, and one of the most gratifying. From there I went on to consult on a number of other films including Fox Searchlight's White Boys, Last year I finished working on a film called The Failures, directed by a guy named Chip Hunter who did a movie with Keanu Reeves from way back.

It was in the process of doing music supervision that I realized there was a need for independent music that was not tied into any of the major record companies or major publishing companies, so that small films could clear this stuff, and clear it quickly.

I'll tell you a little sideline story which really was what convinced me that I was going to start Choice Tracks. I went back to my old bosses at Sony to clear a song for the film White Boys that I knew they had both the master and the publishing on, and I knew that they had dropped the artist, so they weren't going to release it. I pestered them constantly to get a quote. I figured they were my old employers, they would hook me up. The long and short of it is, the weekend the film debuted at the box office, I finally got a quote back from Sony, and it was for an exorbitant fee. When I saw that, I was so pissed. I had put a song in there from my friend's band that was one-fifth the price of the Sony music and equally as good. So, I thought, here's what I'm going to do now. I'm going to go find all of this incredible independent music and make it available to my friends who are music supervisors. That's how Choice Tracks began.

Who are some of the companies and shows you've done business with as Choice Tracks?

Right now Choice Tracks is just an A&R source. I am now turning over all of the sales responsibilities to Position Music for all of the licensing and administration so I can focus purely on finding music and getting it together quickly. A recent placement that we had is a Coors commercial called "Guys Night Out," which features a track by a TAXI band called Melodrome. Most every track in the recent "Making the Video" of Brandy is from a Choice Track/Position Music compilation. We've done a lot of business with "America's Top Model." Over 24 tracks were used in that series. I heard some stuff over the weekend in both of the new "Punk'd" episodes. We just licensed a bunch of stuff for an interactive NCAA tribute DVD. I've got five tracks that are probably going on a corporate sales DVD. We have music in the trailer for Kill Bill 2 as well as The Punisher.

Can you walk us through the process of how Choice Tracks gets music to supervisors?

Choice Tracks now has two different wings. One is looking for independent songs from independent artists and putting them together by genre. And then collectively Tyler Bacon at Position Music and I decide what we're going to put on a CD. Then we market it to all of his clients—music supervisors, trailer houses, ad agencies, post production facilities, music editors, soundtrack departments, and the list goes on an on. Tyler has an extensive list of contacts that he deals with every single day. Based on his long-standing reputation in this area, he gets the music to his clients. At the same time, they'll call him on a Friday, and say, "We've gone through everything. What else have you got?" Many times, Tyler and I will get on the phone and play stuff for his clients and send them MP3s, and if something is right, we get it to them immediately.

So it starts by sending out compilation CDs to all of your contacts that you don't charge them for, correct?

No, we don't charge anyone for them. We don't charge our contacts, and the artists are not charged to be on these compilations, nor is it a recoupable cost.

Then the supervisors, or directors, or whoever, will keep the CDs on hand and hopefully refer to them when they need music?

Absolutely. So often they need things so quickly—TV in particular. They know that these CDs are 100-percent master and sync controlled, which means that we can go ahead and grant a license immediately to our clients.

If they don't find something on your CDs, you've developed the kind of relationship where they might call you anyway and ask if you have anything else besides what is on the CDs?

They call us all the time. On more than one occasion, we've gotten on conference calls, and I literally am sitting here in front of 1,200 CDs trying to get an idea of what specifically they want. They'll play me something, or tell me a group or a song, and I'll start grabbing CDs. The good thing is I listen so much, I pretty much know quickly whether or not I have something that might work.

How do supervisors usually describe what they want to you?

With the Coors situation, there was a signed band that is pretty well established that they were going to use, but they had found out that this band had done another commercial for a competing beer company. They told us the original song they wanted—something sort of blues-y and rock-y with kind of an aggressive male vocal. The second I heard the referenced song, (TAXI band) Melodrome popped into my head. This one song by Melodrome was either going to work or it wasn't—and luckily it did.

How many of these CDs do you guys send out in a year, and how many tracks are on each CD?

Currently, Position Music is putting out Volume 9 of their song CDs. We try to get out as many CDs as possible, but until we have 16 or 17 really, really, really strong songs and recordings, we don't put stuff out.

On the production music side, so far we've put out six CDs, and number 7, 8 and 9 are in mastering. Numbers 10, 11, 12 and 13 are in pre-production and will be out this summer.

What is the difference between a "production music" CD and a "song" CD?

Production music CDs are all instrumentals. The cuts are no longer than 2- to 2-1/2 minutes in length, with 30-second edits as well. This is music that is all pre-cleared—just like our songs-and we have deals in place with many of the studios where they can go ahead and start plugging these songs into their TV shows for a set fee. Once a season is over, they come back to us with a check and with the music cue sheet.

Don't people ever just take the music without paying you for it?

I wouldn't want to be them if they did. This music is our artists' babies. With me living with them for so long as well, these are my babies, too. It will show up on music cue sheets. It will show up on performance rights statements, so they really don't want to mess around.

What do music supervisors tend to need? Are there genres that are more popular than others right now?

I think it depends on the show they're working on and the demographic they're trying to reach. As an example, I think that the WB shows cater towards a younger audience, so they want what's hot today. They want the garage band sound. They want the John Mayer types. They want whatever is on popular radio. There are certain shows that lean toward hip-hop. The MTV stuff leans hip-hop. Hip-hop is making its way into even the most white bread TV shows, and ads, and trailers. I'm even hearing hip-hop grooves on HGTV. There is not a specific style, however. Choice Tracks' focus is very contemporary music. I'm only really focusing on the production music side for hip-hop.

Are the usages for production music different than the vocal music?

Here's the thing, my production music gets used all the time. However, when songs are used—and even better yet, when songs are featured—they tend to pay a lot more. The uses are much less frequent, but they pay better.

Is that both the license and performance rates?

Yes, both pay better-significantly better. The thing about instrumental music is, if you turn on TV, it's everywhere. You have to remember that vocals and dialog compete. So what's going to win? The show or your vocal? For the Coors commercial, although we sent them a song, they ended up using just the instrumental because the vocal got in the way. In that particular case, it paid the same whether it was an instrumental or vocal, but that's for a commercial.

I would think that what probably happens is the music editor on the show chooses whatever edit makes most sense for them, out of the song or the instrumental version.

Oh, absolutely. I have to tell you, I am loving what music editors are doing with some of our tracks. They are so clever. The technology is at a place now where it is really easy for them to do it.

Why are music supervisors always in such a hurry for music?

It's just the nature of the beast. There are many different parties that you have to please as a music supervisor. You have to please the director. You have to please the producers who are going to pay for it. You have to please the studio, and depending on who else is involved, you have to please the owner of the publishing and the master recording. TV turnover is so quick. Things have to be done incredibly quickly. Sometimes on films, even at the very last minute when they're on the mixing stage, I've gotten those calls where they said, "Ted, something isn't right here. We don't like the track we were going to use. Can you come down here with whatever you've got that we can make a deal on today?" As hard as music supervisors work, sometimes until you have your final movie or TV show cut the way you want it cut, you really don't know if the song is going to work. You hope it does, but you never know. That's why in a lot of these contracts, they say "We aren't going to pay for it until we know for sure that it makes the final cut." On that film The Learning Curve, we were in post-production for damn near a year, and on the last day of mixing, the director decided he didn't like the second to last song, and he wanted it changed.

Are broadcast quality recordings achievable in home studios these days?

I can't speak to the song side of my catalog, but for the production music side of my catalog, every single song in there was recorded and mixed at a home studio. And all of them are incredibly clear sonically. Yes, you can absolutely make broadcast quality recordings in your home. It is absolutely possible to do it at home, and most of my guys do. I could not afford to be in this game if I had to pay for everyone to go into a studio and record.

What kind of deals do you make with your writers? It's a publishing deal, correct?

It's a publishing deal. The bottom line is that we split everything we make for the artist, and only the money we make for the artist, down the middle. No funky recoupments, no hidden charges, or anything like that. It's just a split down the middle.

What is the best advice you can give to a writer looking to break into film and TV music?

The best piece of advice that I could give someone looking to break in-whether as a songwriter or a track producer—would be to master your gear. Make sure that you know how to come up with an incredible mix. That being said, if you don't have your songwriting chops in place, it's all irrelevant.

In terms of song titles that you're thinking of shopping to TV shows, or films, or ads, general themes in your hooks work best—better than a song called "Allison" or "I Love You Janine." Obviously those uses are pretty limited. Tyler represents "Whoop There It Is" and "Who Let the Dogs Out"—two incredible songs for licensing. They get used all the time. Songs like "Jump" by House of Pain or "Insane in the Brain" by Cypress Hill are both great songs too. "We Are the Champions" is a great song. "I've Got the Power" by Snap was used extensively in that Jim Carrey movie Bruce Almighty and in the trailers. So, anthemic, wide open themes in your hooks are great tunes. Those are the type that I look for.

In terms of the production music side, and specifically what we do—contemporary music—stay on top of the sounds in rock, and stay on top of the sounds in hip-hop and urban and pop and dance, and make sure your recordings are crystal clean. Your competition's recordings definitely are.

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