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Photo from an upcoming Sessions At The Steps…Stay tuned!

Last month I had the great pleasure of chatting with Kevin from TuneCore about how I fell into music supervision, my favorite projects and more. The result of that conversation appeared on the internet early this month.

Read the full article here.

While I am grateful for the opportunity to talk (my favorite activity!) and generally pleased with how the final product turned out, I think everyone can identify with the experience of finishing a conversation and thinking, “Argh, I should have said this instead!” or “Oh that would have been a way better way to explain that”. Full disclosure, they were kind enough to let me edit the interview, but as an occasional interviewer myself, I attempted to keep at least some representation of the actual conversation, despite temptations to just re-write my more inarticulate moments.

In particular, there were two questions I wanted to clarify and/or expand upon. Initially I intended for this to be one post, but then the words started flowing and I took it as a sign to split it into two.

This week addresses some of the benefits of placing music by independent artists, when they can save a music supervisor’s life (and how to avoid complicating it).

Aside from value and/or ‘buzz’ factor, what are some of the benefits of placing music by unsigned or independent artists?

Budget is certainly big. I’m still building relationships so I still work on plenty of low-budget projects. Personally, the feeling when you find an amazing new artist and the excitement when presenting to a director is great. While it’s obviously fun to place an artist I love, I don’t start with that.

I start with what the director’s priorities are – so it’s refreshing when directors are excited about lesser-known music, from a creative standpoint. Some directors get really jazzed about the unknown artists or songs no one has heard of, but some just want what they know and like.

In the interview I mentioned budget, then pivoted to the personal satisfaction of presenting an unknown artist to a director. In retrospect, I’m not sure I effectively addressed the question.

Let me be clear, the following is not a comparison of independent versus major label artists. I don’t intend to imply that major label artists or larger companies are incapable of fitting the descriptors below. It all depends on the situation, budget, time, etc.

Also, the ability to pursue independent artists does start with the director and producer(s), in addition to the budget. Some directors only want to use artists they’ve heard of and are nervous to try something new. Some directors feel the opposite. Both standpoints can be a struggle for a music supervisor, whose priority is (at least should be) finding songs that best fit the scene regardless of the source. If a director is not interested in unknown or independent artists, and the budget can support larger, than the below is moot.

That said, here are some benefits to using independent artists that I’ve encountered in my career…

1. Budget. In my personal experience, this is the number one benefit of using independent or unsigned artists. For filmmakers who have funded their art out of their own pockets, there often isn’t wiggle room for larger fees even if they fall in love with something creatively. I’m not saying this is the way it should be, it’s just the way it is. Independent, unsigned or those signed to smaller third-party pitching companies can be flexible with fees in a way those with major company obligations simply can’t.

2. Flexibility. And not just in terms of fees. With independent or unsigned artists I have direct access to the source in the event changes are requested, with minimal or no red tape. For example, I recently worked on a movie where even after an exhaustive search I wasn’t finding any songs that fit all of the parameters needed, but many that came really close. For various reasons, these songs couldn’t be used as they were (even with standard editing); the song itself would need to be tweaked or not used at all.

Now, I will be the first one to tell you that as an artist you can absolutely say no if a music supervisor (or anyone) comes at you requesting changes to your music. Both creatively and financially this can be a huge pain in the ass, and I would have completely understood if the request was denied (bummed, but certainly not angry or hostile).

I got lucky in that most of those asked said yes, and could turn around a new version within a day or two (insert “praised hands” emoji, which is apparently just one of it’s actual names). In every situation I had at least one call with the artist directly. Had I been dealing with larger companies, not only would I probably not have even asked, but these changes would not have been possible given the budget and deadline constraints. Working with smaller companies and (mostly) independent artists, they were graciously willing and able to adapt.

3. Speed. Clearances almost always need to happen fast, so it’s helpful when the artist, songwriter and publisher are all the same person and can turn paperwork around in a couple hours (or less).

This is of course assuming that the independent artist is a “one stop shop” and owns their own publishing and master recording, and one person can sign off on both. If not, the process can be even longer and more arduous due to having to educate newer artists on the sync process. Don’t be that guy. Educate yourself (more on that in the next article).

As an artist always try to decide on writer and publisher splits as soon as possible, as well as who has the rights to sign off on licenses. Never assume the writer shares are automatically split between you and your bandmates. Never assume your co-writer (or writers) will be “cool with whatever”. Never assume that because you’re the bass player you can tell your filmmaker friend they can use the recording for free in their indie film. It may make you squirm, but always get these details in writing. You don’t want to make yourself or a music supervisor look bad when complications arise while on a deadline.

4. Enthusiasm. This is the force behind all of the above. With some exceptions as always, independent or emerging artists are more likely to get excited to hear their music in a movie or television show, tell their friends, collaborate and so forth. They really want to make it work, and are thrilled and grateful when it does. This enthusiasm and appreciation is what makes it so supremely satisfying for a music supervisor when the stars align for a great placement. It’s in those moments we remember why we do the job in the first place.