Music Supervisor Q&A
TAXI Road Rally 2017
Interviewed by Michael Laskow
Music Supervisors Mason Cooper (left) and Frank Palazzolo gave out a wealth of highly useable information as audience members asked one great question after another during the Happy Hour, Music Supervisor Q&A session at TAXI’s Road Rally convention in November, 2017.
Panelists: Music Supervisors Mason Cooper and Frank Palazzolo
Moderator: Michael Laskow
Moderator: Alright… everybody who’s got a question, please come out to the center aisle and line up.
Audience Member: I was in a songwriting class this morning and it was about demoing. The question that I asked after hearing some things was, “Do you think pitches have to be mastered?” and the teacher said “no.” And I had always thought they had to be. Based on what you guys were talking about earlier, it sounded like you need them to be mastered as well.
Frank: If it sounds good, it sounds good. Just be aware of what you’re sending. If it sounds like a demo and it’s not ready to go out into the world… Basically, I prefer you to be like, “Hey, I’ve finished this and I’m done with it and never going back to it.” But just know what you’re giving us. If it doesn’t sound like it’s ready to be on TV, then it’s not. But if you feel like it’s good to go, then sure.
Mason: And mastering, which basically will take some compression and do all that, I mean, we can do that in our mix. Now we’re going to be messing with your song. So, if there are certain sonics that jump out and we need to compress it or do certain things or mess with some EQ, if we love the song, yeah, we’ll just do that. Now you’re at the hands of some other mixer that’s going to be mastering your song. So if you can master it, it doesn’t hurt.
Audience Member: This is actually a question for Frank, because I think I asked this question earlier to Mason when he was on another panel. Let’s say you are working on a period piece that takes place in the ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s. Would you be open to licensing a track that wasn’t recorded in the decade that whatever movie or TV show takes place in? Would you be open to licensing if it’s authentic to what was recorded back then, but it’s a brand-new track? Also, how often do you license backing tracks, meaning that there was originally a lead vocal on the track, but it’s just the backing track without the lead vocal, not necessarily a score or song with lyric and melody, but just a backing track without the lead vocal?
Frank: First off, if it’s a vintage scene, 98% of the time, I want it to be authentic. There’s just something about using an authentic song, and there is plenty of authentic music from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s that I have access to that I can get for a pretty affordable price. So it doesn’t do me much of a service to go and license it elsewhere if it’s not authentic. There might be a situation here and there, let’s just say that I don’t have enough money to get one of those authentic tracks. I might try to fudge it, but it’s really got to be…. You gotta have killed it. The recording has to sound legit—everything about has to sound legit—and I have to be convinced when I listen to it that it really is from the ’60s, which is pretty hard to pull off.
And to answer your second question about using songs without vocals, I very rarely license those, if at all. When it comes to instrumental stuff, I’m usually going for orchestral, jazz, electronic, world music, but I don’t need a rock song without vocals in it. If I need something like that, I’ll ask one of my well-paid composers to do it for us.
Mason: More often than not when we do end up using a track, it’s because we started looking for a song and maybe the lyrics started getting in the way, and we just maybe end up with a track. But very seldom do we look for a backing track only.
And back to the authenticity question you asked me before … The authenticity is really important. Sometimes we’ll go “period,” and we do contemporary music on purpose. But we have to make very legitimate, specific decisions with that. When I did the film Jobs, the question was with the directors, “Are we gonna go now, like contemporary, or are we going period?” Because we can’t go kinda sorta period—especially with that one which was a biopic about a guy’s life that went through those times. And his thing for me when he basically temped in about a million and a half dollars of songs, and when I came on board, I talked to the producer, and he said, “I forgot to put in the budget for licensing.” So we were about a million and a half over budget—a well-planned-out budget. [audience laughter] So I had to go and I had to work and find artists that owned their own material to make it affordable from there, because the director said, “I’m open to suggestions, but I am not open to making it fake, because we’ll get caught with our pants down.”
Frank: Maybe on a jukebox somewhere.
Audience Member: I have a question about blanket licensing. Do you see a trend that the TV shows and more networks wanting to go with some songs that are in some sort of blanket licensing because of the speed at which they can access the song, and maybe at a lower payouts, at least initially. I was just wondering what your take on that was. Is it a good or bad thing for the writer to be a part of a catalog?
Moderator: Before they answer that, are you talking songs or instrumentals?
Audience Member: Songs.
Moderator: Songs, ok. How many people in the room really know what a blanket license is? Many of you don’t. Blanket license means that a show, a network, a production will say to a library, “I want to take all 10,000 tracks or songs that are in your catalog and I will pay you $20,000 a year, and I can use all I can eat.” And then the better libraries will apportion out whatever gets used accordingly, doing a pro rata distribution to the people whose music is used. There are some libraries that will sign you and put your music out there in a blanket deal, and not divvy up the money. And that sucks, so stay away from those deals.
Hey, can I buy you guys a beer or something while you’re sitting up there? It is happy hour, after all!
Frank: Sure, I’ll take one. The answer is always yes. So, you’re asking how do we feel about blanket licenses?
Mason: Rum and Coke, please.
Audience Member: I’ve just heard that some shows will—TV shows especially—will sort of prioritize or only go to catalogs that have blanket licensing, because it’s easy for them to sort of pick songs quickly…
Frank: The thing is, networks work out deals with people, so it’s not necessarily blankets that we’re doing right now, or that I’m focused on. It’s more of like pre-cleared fees that are pre-negotiated, right? So the people will hit me up and it will be like, “Hey, my library worked out a deal with CBS, NBC, and ABC, and it means you can use anything in our catalog as many times as you want for $800.” That’s cool, so yes, we might lean toward that library because of those deals. But blanket licenses for me never really come into play.
Mason: It does for me, but it is a balance of… If I’m gonna use one song from, let’s say, a library, and I can get that song for $800, I’ll not do the blanket license with them, I’ll use that one song for $800. But if I, for $1,500 or $2,500 or whatever, they say use anything you want as much as you want, here’s a deal for the season for $2,500, and I have $20,000 or $30,000 per season, I’m like, wow, I can cover a lot of really background [music] with that. Now I’ve freed up my budget, because our budgets are a puzzle that we all have to work with. You know, we have a budget, and we don’t know that there are gonna be six songs or eight songs or 10 songs in every episode. When it comes to it, we’re like, “Oh man, after episode five, I used 80% of my budget. What do I do?” So the blanket deals help us. I use them on most of my shows, because they will fill in some of the blanks and allow me to then do more for my first song needs. Very seldom do I use the blanket-library things unless they have some really great song in there. For the featured song, I might. They just want me to use their music. So I do a balance, I never use only a blanket license for my shows.
Frank: Yeah, blanket license for me is only when I’m working on like a little mini-project. So I will just contact somebody and say, “Hey, I only have $5,000, can I just riddle my 30-minute film with music because we don’t have a composer?”
Audience Member: Could you please explain the dos and don’ts on entering metadata?
Frank: Oh yeah… [laughter]
Moderator: For Frank, this subject is like porn. [laughter]
Frank: The dos and don’ts. Well, don’t put anything in the title column other than the title. I don’t need to keep fixing what the title is. It’s just the title of the song. Make sure that you have the artist’s name in the artist column. Some people have given me some great songs… I know that a lot of you are writers and not performers, so what you’ll do is you’ll write a bunch of songs and you’ll hire different people to perform your songs, you’ll pay them or whatever you’re gonna do, but then you never have a discussion with them about what the artistry is going to be for that song. So I ask you, “Who is the performer?” and you go, “Oh, we hired this girl; we paid her $1,000 to sing on it.” Yeah, but what name are you gonna put on it? You need to give yourself something to be referenced. Because when a TV producer comes to me and asks my why I’m paying $3,000 for this song, and we don’t know who’s singing it, they assume it’s library, right? So if it’s not going through a library, it has to have an artist’s name on the artist column. An album, I don’t care what the album is. Generally, I’ll ask for contact information… So album column, I don’t really care. Usually what I want in the album column is contact information. You should have your email address, you should have your phone number or both. That’s about all I really need…
Mason: The co-writers are good to have, and perhaps in the notes or comments, who controls the licensing. Even if you have two co-writers and one of them is with Warners and one is with Universal, just let us know. The last thing we need is surprises.
Frank: Yeah, the less digging we have to do [for information] from the track, the more likely you are to get licensed. If your phone number is there, or your email address is there in the comments section, and inside the metadata, it says, “One-stop; contact this person for licensing.” That looks good to me, we’re ready to go.
Mason: That artist thing is important, because I very often, even with the libraries that I use… It’s just a feel-good thing, the psychology of it… the producer wants to know, “Oh cool, indie artist.” And the artist, I don’t care what they are. It’s like, cool, someone’s trying to build their career. We love discovery. They think they’re discovering a new artist as opposed to it being a library track.
Frank: Yeah. I got like 25 songs from somebody once, and there wasn’t a single artist filled in, and I was like, “Ah, crap.” They don’t realize that if they use these, they’re only getting like a $1,000 a pop.
Mason: And I’ve talked to some libraries about that, and they say you need names on them, even if it’s the writer’s name. Just whatever.
Frank: It values it more. And I know that sometimes when people are work-for-hire, they don’t want their name because they might have a career of their own that they’re trying to establish. Have them come up with a pseudonym that they use when they sing on people’s tracks.
Mason: Of if it’s a buyout, if it’s a work-for-hire, you can make up your own name—The Laskow Project, you know?
Moderator: With my bank account’s routing number, please. [Audience laughs]
Audience Member: As music supervisors, are you guys ever involved in suggesting composers for a show, or are they usually chosen before you get involved?
Mason: I get involved 100% in choosing composers. There are different uses of… I’m curious about other music supervisors. But music supervisors are known as—and I see a lot of articles where they bill themselves as—the song finders. They don’t bill themselves as that, but I read it and go, “So, you’re song finders?” Soup to nuts, to me, a music supervisor is the head of the music department. Everything is my responsibility. I get yelled at by a lot my peers, like, “If you do cue sheets, do you charge them extra? Do you clear every song? Do charge them for a cue?” It’s like, that’s my job, so I get 100% involved in researching, curating, negotiating, spotting with… I’m in the review sessions. I’m kind of a crazy person that just gets way too involved when I should be out playing and having fun. Don’t be like me.
Frank: That’s great, I admire that. I’m more like a song finder. Because on the TV side they come to me and they’re like, “Hey, so here’s the music supervisor, here’s the music editor, here’s the composer; you guys make nice.” And we’re like, “OK, here we go.” But there are some shows where they’re like, “You know what? We had a composer for the pilot; we don’t really love what we got. We’re gonna take another crack at it, and we need you guys to give us some ideas.” But generally, when that happens on the level that I’m working at, I’ve got to go, “OK, let me contact all of my agencies and let them send their composers that they represent over and then we’ll demo them.” We did that with the show Barry that’s gonna be on HBO. We had to find the composer that was going to be in, and a lot of people tested for it. We had like 10 different composers create what they thought a scene was gonna sound like, and we went by that.
Mason: And the reason we deal with an agent… There are a lot of composers, probably here in this ballroom, and they just want to ask, “Hey, I’m a composer; can I pitch my stuff to you?” One reason your résumé matters, and it shouldn’t, is because sometimes someone is really talented, but doesn’t have the credits yet. For us to know that somebody went through the process… That’s why a lot of composers will sit at the knee of one of the big composers and assist, and ghostwrite, or whatever. If you’ve been through the process, that lets us know that… OK, we have a multi-million-dollar project that’s gonna be laid on your lap; how did you put the fires out? How did you communicate? That’s important. And very often we’ll go through agents, because that’s a curation process. So, instead of us curating you… You’re talented and you’re a nice guy, so we go to agents. So it could behoove all the composers here to find a manager or an agent—somebody that just makes it feel like they had to vet you somewhat. So if they’re pitching you to us, at least we can rely that there’s a level of quality and process experience.
Frank: Yeah, we want to know that you know what the hell you’re doing. Otherwise, it’s gonna make us look bad if we just bring somebody in.
Mason: I have to learn to talk like him. He just cuts to the chase. [Audience laughs]
Moderator: He’s from Jersey! Here’s how it goes, Mason. You’re from Connecticut, and very polite; Jersey folks are just more direct! [Audience laughs]
Don’t miss Part 2 in next month’s TAXI Transmitter!