Jonathan Firstenberg —

Creative Director, Universal Music Production Library

(Reprinted with permission from Universal Music)
universal music production library
Emmy-winning composer/music supervisor, Jonathan Firstenberg has been recruited to lead Universal Music Production Library as the Creative Director. His background includes extensive experience in the production music library industry including roles at Zomba and other major music production companies, as well as experience in music supervision, composing for TV, Daytime Dramas, and HBO Comedy specials. Firstenberg has received Emmy awards for "Santa Barbara", "Guiding Light", and "General Hospital" (Asst. Director and Music Editor). In this new role, Firstenberg will oversee the acquisition of content for the library and promote the general business development of the company.

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Brooklyn, and grew up on Long Island NY in Floral Park and Woodbury.

How did you get into the music business?

Being the son of a passionate music lover, I spent most of my youth being introduced to a variety of music that hooked my curiosity, wonder and bliss. In my early teens, with violin and guitar in hand, I started playing rock band and orchestral gigs. I focused on composing for musical theater and the rock bands I performed in. After college I took a job with Hansen Music in NYC, and so began my career in the music business.

What brought you to Universal Music Publishing Group?

Good timing and good people. I met Tom Sturges last year at the first meeting of the NARAS Mentoring and Education Committee. Later that year I heard about an opportunity at UMPG that combined all of my music business experiences into one neat package. It's an opportunity I've been looking and waiting for.

Can you tell me what the nature of Universal Music Production Library is?

UMPL is a newly created division of the Universal Music Publishing Group. Based in Los Angeles, UMPL serves in a music production capacity utilizing the talents and artistry of UMPG writers/producers/artists.

The primary function of the division is the building, growing and distribution of the Universal Music Publishing Library. The library focuses on current music directions reflecting the contemporary discoveries and exploits of its parent company, Universal Music Publishing Group. UMPL takes advantage of the Universal Recording Studios in L.A., N.Y., Miami and Nashville. State-of-the-art recording studios allow us to offer superlative audio quality and a home for our artists to record. Not enough can be said about the advantages of recording on studio systems versus home studios.

UMPS also offers a Custom Composer Lab which utilizes the UMPL roster when specific projects are requested by new and existing clients. The UMPG Music Direction and Supervision team is another area of expertise we offer clients. With five music supervisor specialists on staff, our knowledge and resourcefulness maintains an incomparable edge over other majors and libraries.

What is the difference between a music library and a publishing company?

A music library consists of music that is composed as a "work for hire." A composer is hired to write a specific style or genre of music and paid per cue, per project or per CD. The music in a library is not commercially released; rather it is licensed to clients who are billed at either a one time use, or a blanket license rate.

In this day and age of film and TV music placements being such a hot commodity, why do you think it took so long for a "major" to create their own library division?

That's a question I have asked for a long time as well! The music library system is considered by many as the bottom of the music chain. News flash, it is thriving and growing and offers a continuous revenue stream for both publisher and composer alike.

Historically, it is called into use when budgets are tight or licenses aren't granted. Call in the library! As entertainment companies are acquired and consolidated, there is a move to figure out the best way to get the most from the acquisition product.

There is a movement underway at the majors to find new ways to produce and utilize the music within its own family, ultimately putting the squeeze on outside library sources. Following the model of established music libraries and utilizing writers, producers and artists from within, the majors capitalize on their contacts, network, name presence, talent roster, recording, legal, marketing, sales and licensing systems.

What is your role exactly within the division?

As Creative Director of UMPL, I am responsible for carrying out the vision and mission of Universal Music Publishing Group, CEO David Renzer and Scott James, Sr. V.P. Licensing for Film and Television and New Technologies. The goal is to compile and exploit a modern music library that draws on its roots and influence on the contemporary music scene by utilizing the talents and efforts of hit writers, producers and artists.

What type of music are you looking for? Are certain genres more popular than others?

In the library business it seems there is always a flavor of the month. This means you have to always prepare for the latest sound or style. To this end, a library must contain the musical alphabet. In my career, I've heard songs and cues that I thought would be impossible to use, no one would ever put this to picture or voice, and then one day there it is, the misfit becomes the one and only perfect piece for the occasion.

Will UMPL's catalog be mainly used for Universal projects or will it be outsourced as well?

The library will make a world-wide debut. However, The Universal family of broadcast and non-broadcast entities will benefit from easy access, clearance and licensing, as well as relying on music from within the Universal system.

Do you prefer people to have instrumental versions of their songs as well?

It's always a good idea to mix an alternate instrumental track of a song. This becomes a great option for editors as a song weaves in and out of dialogue. This makes the need for the track only mix a vital component to the library. Every composer/artist/producer receives Music Delivery Notes with parameters to be followed. One such request is that songs are delivered with an alternate mix including "track only."

What is the difference between production music and using "songs" as source music?

The major difference is that a pop song is recognizable unlike a song from a production music catalog. If the song is used a background in a bar, a library song can be used without much to do.

For people who are not familiar with the licensing aspect of things, can you explain what a synch and master license is?

A synchronization License gives the right to use music in a timed relation to picture in film, video, CD-Rom or Web site.

Performance License is needed if a project includes synchronized music and you plan to have an audience experience it through a public medium such as film, video, CD-ROM or theme park. The size of your audience affects the fee, i.e., a national TV broadcast is a higher fee than the same piece of music at a trade show.

A Mechanical License is used if you want to record and distribute an artist's material. This allows one to reproduce the artist's material on a CD of DVD.

What type of revenue should unsigned artists expect to derive from royalties due to placements?

This varies from one extreme to another. Much of it depends on the placements. Royalty factoring by the PRO (Performing Rights Organizations), vary from cable, daytime, primetime, News programming, syndication, etc. There is neither an average, minimum nor maximum royalty. Good music gets placed repeatedly.

The shelf life of a CD in a music library is about 50 years. The financial gains are promising when a writer sees music placed into a royalty producing broadcast that regularly files cue sheets. Revenues will increase when productions are long-lived and distributed through syndication. Commercials for radio and TV also offer a substantial royalty stream.

Is there an advantage to signing with a library over a publishing company?

They're different. One doesn't "sign" with a music library. In fact, composers often write for competitive libraries unlike the system of commercial publishing companies. If you are primarily an instrumental cue or track writer, a music library is a great place to "house" your music.

I mentioned the shelf life of a CD in a library is fifty years! The first music production libraries are still used today as they offer "period" music which is technically and often artistically difficult to emulate.

What do you personally hope to accomplish at UMPL?

I hope to inspire composers, songwriters, producers, musicians and vocalists to invest in their music efforts by placing some of their works into the library system. I look forward to representing their music and their pursuit of musical expression. Now that Universal Music Publishing Group has entered the production music library arena, I look forward to sharing the musical integrity of production music and raise the standard of influence throughout the entertainment industry.

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