Shannon Quisenberry tells the audience, “I still always try to put my favorite song first on the list—the ones that I feel like fit better. But sometimes the eighth one gets picked,” as Frank Palazzolo listens intently to her answer.
Interviewed by Michael Laskow at the TAXI Road Rally, 2018
Shannon Quisenberry is the Director of Creative Licensing and Artist Relations; THINK Music Inc. She previously worked on Austin City Limits for two seasons with artists like Wilco, Etta James, Pixies, Elvis Costello, The Shins, and The Flaming Lips, to name a few. Shannon worked in New York City at Brick Wall Management for 6 years, working with artists and producers that included Citizen Cope, Marc Broussard, The Clarks, and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Ari Hest. After moving to LA and working on Ingrid Michelson’s management team, Shannon was quickly drawn to the licensing side of the industry and started working with Platform Music Group in 2015. Now at THINK, Shannon has been an integral part of helping artists land placements, from hit TV shows (The Leftovers, Shameless, Claws, Queen Sugar, Suits, Lucifer) to nationwide Advertisements (Fitbit, Toyota, Comcast) and everything in between.
Frank Palazzolo is a Music Supervisor at Mad Doll Music. Frank began his music supervision career in the Universal Pictures Film Music department. After leaving Universal, he went on to work with KCRW DJ and Music Supervisor Liza Richardson at Mad Doll Music, where he has worked on over 1,000 TV show episodes and five films, including a win for “Best Music in Film” at the 2011 Nashville Film Festival. Some of his most notable projects include The Path (Hulu), The Leftovers (HBO), Hemlock Grove (Netflix), Scorpion (CBS), Graceland (Fox), and Rise (NBC). Frank is also a successful songwriter and producer with placements in various television shows, two major motion picture film trailers, the Orange Is the New Black Season 4 announcement promo, and a Toyota commercial that aired during the 2018 Super Bowl.
Do you put your best stuff first on a playlist you’re pitching or do you save the best for last?
Shannon: I still always try to put my favorite song first on the list-the ones that I feel like fit better. But sometimes the eighth one gets picked. I also have a lot of supervisors that don’t go out for searches at all. They like to discover the songs; they don’t want someone else’s opinion on the scene. Those are the people that I just send a playlist of my 10 favorite songs of the month. I send it to them, they never reply. Sometimes I’ll get a random request for a show that they are working on, because they discovered that song in their iTunes. It all depends on the supervisor.
"A lot of times, to be honest with you, what they’re interested in is usually stuff that’s nostalgic for them. A lot of them are putting in the bands that they grew up loving."Frank Palazzolo
As a supervisor, Frank, when you’re working with the Executive Producer-who is also called the showrunner; they are the king of the world on that show-do you get to know their personality and their tastes outside of what they might pick for the show so that you can present them with options that will appeal to their aesthetic, but maybe not what they thought they needed for the show?
Frank: Some shows, I get to learn what they are interested in. A lot of times, to be honest with you, what they’re interested in is usually stuff that’s nostalgic for them. A lot of them are putting in the bands that they grew up loving. So I spend a lot of time having to replace The Doors, and having to replace other things where everybody knows the song. And then you’re like, “Oh, crap, how do I make something as good as this?” And then you have a conversation with them and they’re like, “Oh no, I didn’t mean to use that. That was just the only thing I could think of.” And then you have other producers that are like, “No, no, it needs to be this song.” So we could try to figure them out, but it’s on a case-by-case basis. For the most part, we just learn what the tone of the show is in the first or second episode. Sometimes we make the tone, and sometimes they make the tone. But we are all honestly moving at such a fast pace that there’s a point in most shows where the executive producer doesn’t even have time to really be that specific or anal about the music that’s being used. It’s kinda like, “Yeah, I like the first one and the fourth one [on the list]. Make it happen.”
Shannon, on the pitching side, everything seems to move even faster than even two or three years ago. You get an email at 9 a.m.; “Can you have it on my desk at 4 p.m. today?”
Shannon: That’s his office [meaning Frank’s office]!
Frank: Did you say 9 a.m., 4 p.m.? You missed the boat. The ship has sailed-it’s 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
So that takes me to the next question, which is: let’s say you get 130 pieces of music in from seven different sources, and when you get to the third person’s playlist, you hear something and go, “I love it. That’s it, it’s perfect.” Do you stop, or do you continue listening and looking for something even more perfect?
Frank: It depends on how difficult the scene is for me. If the scene seems to be pretty easy for me, I usually give them [the show’s producer] my eight favorite ideas. When it’s a little more difficult, then 10 to 12. What I will do, though, is I’ll put in a playlist and I’ll be like, “I highly recommend...” There are two different ways I deliver my playlists. I take a screen shot out of my iTunes library, and I either go in order of preference, or I just go, “Here’s the screen shot.” When it’s in order of preference, it means that I just nailed it. But it’s not really that common, because every time I kind of do that, it’s like it hurts my ego. It’s like, “They’re in order of preference,” and they’re like, “Great, we love #12.” You know, OK, I mean I still liked it; I put it in my top 12. They obviously didn’t give a crap about what I had to say about that.
Frank Palazzolo explains, "The worst thing that could possibly happen, is you thought you had 10 fantastic ideas, and then after you’re done playing them against the scene, you realize you only have one."
I would imagine that you never want to send too much stuff to somebody, because they take you less seriously, they may be less prone to reach out to you next time. What if you sent them 21 songs, and all 21 of them were really strong? Would they go, “Wow, that woman’s really got her finger on the pulse of great music,” or “She still sent me too much.”
Shannon: I normally wouldn’t send 21 songs for a scene. But if they are working on a new show, it’s the beginning of the season and they are starting to collect music for season two of whatever, I will send 20, 30. I’ve seen some searches come in at 50 songs, which I think is too many, but maybe that’s how many songs they go through, so I kind of try to do it. You’re trying to get the feel in as few songs as possible, just so it doesn’t get lost. If I send two songs for a scene, I feel like they will listen to it more just because, “OK, there are only two in here; they must actually work.” Or they think they work. So yeah, I try. I’ve done song pitches before where I’m like, “This song is perfect. Use it. Here you go,” which I’m that confident. But then other times I’ll do 10, because we have a lot of songs like that, and I don’t know which one they would choose out of those. Sometimes in my catalog we only have a couple songs that are going to fit in the scene. I do try to be very careful, because I don’t want them to think I’m just throwing everything out there. And if I do have random songs-“This might work or not”-that’s when I mark it clearly as a curve ball with a note that says something like, “This might not be exactly what you’re looking for, but if you’re running out of ideas, try this.”
So the stronger the relationship, the more prone you would be to send them a curveball.
Shannon: Yeah, I think so. I know which supervisors appreciate the curveballs, and which don’t even listen to them.
I’m not sure I understand my own question that I have written down here, but tell us about your process once you’ve got a piece of music that you think is perfect for the plot. Clearly, this question was written for Frank. Are you at the point where you don’t have to play anything for Liza [Richardson, Frank’s boss] anymore? Is she involved? Are the shows you’re working on your own thing, or do you go for her for an extra vote of confidence?
Frank: No, no. It depends on what the scene is. Sometimes there are spots that we are both collaborating on where we are just kinda like we both need to dial this in. Then there are others where I just fire away when I’m ready.
Shannon: I feel like I know what your question is. After he gets the songs and he thinks they’re good, what are the steps after that?
Frank: Like I said, I get all the music in, I go through the music and I find my top whatever. Then what I do is I take that stuff; I post in on Box; I take a screen shot of it, and then I deliver it to the editor and I give them my recommendation on it. But when I have the songs, before I do that, I have to try to them against the picture. So this is a pretty common thing, and this is a must-do. I open up the scene- whether it’s on QuickTime, or whether it’s on one of the screening services that the networks provide-and I play the songs all one by one against the scene. The worst thing that could possibly happen, which happens kind of frequently, is you thought you had 10 fantastic ideas, and then after you’re done playing them against the scene, you realize you only have one. And that’s pretty stressful. So I went through a hundred songs and I came down to one that works. So then I start figuring out why that one works. I listen to all of the rest of them again and realize, OK, maybe this one will work-now I have two. I’ve either got to go back out to all those same people with the two that work and say, “Actually, do you have something more like these?” Or I now have to come up with a way to go broader to like a whole new group of people and try again. It slows you down. People start knocking at my door asking if I can give an ETA on the delivery of the scene. And then five more scenes come in while I’m in the process of doing this. I always call it the traffic jam. I really don’t like those. But it happens.
"I know which supervisors appreciate the curveballs, and which don’t even listen to them."Shannon Quisenberry
So let’s say that Shannon pitched you something, and let’s say it’s $3,500 sync fee-the number that you’ve got in your mind. So you play it for your EP and the EP loves it; do you then go back once you know you’ve got a lock and that the EP wants it, do you go back and negotiate with Shannon? Or is it just like, “Hey, Shannon, I’ve got a slot for $3,500; do you have anything?” and there is no negotiation? How does that all work?
Frank: If I say a number, there is no negotiation, because what it is, is what it is. The only time that we talk money... If I go to Shannon, and I say I have $3,500 and she says, “OK, here are some songs I could do for $3,500,” that’s it. Done deal. So I go, “Showrunner, here are my ideas. You can use any of these for $3,500.” They say, “I like this one,” I say, “Great, we’ll get it cleared.” And that’s just it.
Shannon: And they better clear on my end for $3,500. So I’m sending out songs knowing that my artists are going to approve that. They usually get $5,000 for slots like that, and I will go out to the artist and say, “Are you cool if I pitch this for that [amount]? I want to just make sure, because it’s a little lower than I was usually pitch your songs for. But this is a good spot, and we really like the supervisor and we want to do him a favor.” But everything that I send in that folder [for a $3,500 placement] better clear for $3,500. If there are any co-writers on there that are repped by Kobalt or another publisher or admin company, they better clear it for $3,500 for their side, or he’s not gonna trust me with his songs for $3,500 again.
So that’s another thing for supervisors is, if Frank comes now with a request for that song that was in the $3,500 bin, and I go, “Actually, that’s gonna be $8,000 now,” he’s gonna be like, “Umm...” One, they’ll probably have to pay it, because the showrunner already loves it, it’s locked, it’s done. But they are never coming to me again for stuff.
Frank: There are situations where I have to fight about the price. Professional integrity says that if we say a number, it should stay at that number. There are situations-it’s just the way the world is sometimes-we run out of money. Sometimes we say it’s gonna be $3,500, and the showrunner goes, “I was hoping that we can get this for $2,000, otherwise we have to remove it.” And there are moments where I have to go back there and go, “I know I said $3,500, but here’s what’s happening,” and I’m gonna give the option to double down or to jump. And then they go, “OK, I guess we could do it for $2,000. This is a one-time thing.” And we negotiate it like that. But this is not a common practice, I really don’t want to change people’s fees. If I say a number, the number should stand. And if Shannon says a number, the number should stand. If she goes to her artist and the artist goes, “We don’t want to do it for $3,500; how about $5,000?” she’s gonna say, “I pre-cleared it with you guys for $3,500-what the hell are you doing to me?” So numbers are pretty strict in this game, because we really are working in a tight budget.
How often does the supervisor get to determine what those slots are going to pay? Is it a case of your budget? Let’s say you’re doing an episodic drama and it’s got five songs in it, and the budget is $40,000. You could look at that and say each of them is worth $8k, or you could say one of these is a hot indie band and it’s gonna cost me $15k. So now you’ve got $25k left for the other four... is that how it goes?
Frank: We just basically stack blocks until everything balances out. We’re like, “OK, so let’s put this here,” and then the scale starts to tip and we’re like, “Ah, crap,” and we take a little bit from over here, and we start just juggling back and forth until everything starts to even out. Unfortunately, a lot of times what happens is the indie artists and the smaller artists are the ones who have to pay the price of the show using bigger artists. Because let’s say that the showrunner says, “No, we have Tom Petty in this episode, and Tom Petty has to stay,” so the fee comes in higher than we expected, and we can’t afford the other artists. So now we have to try to get artists for $2,000 to $4,000, even though normally on this show we’ve been paying $4,000 to $6,000. So it kind of changes a little bit, then the people say, “Wait a minute-for the past three episodes you’ve been asking us for $4k; why are you now asking for $2k to $4k?” Then we have to explain that this episode is destroyed. You can go thank Tom Petty people, but we have no money for that now. So it’s up to their discretion, and they can just go, “We really can’t do this stuff for anything less than $4k.”
Read Part 3 of this insightful interview in next month’s Transmitter!