Music with a view – Ventura, CA

Another fantastic Durango Songwriters Film & TV Expo has passed, full of music (both live and recorded), delicious tacos and hanging out at the firepit into the wee hours.

As mentioned in the recap of my first trip to Ventura last year, it’s one of the few conferences most music supervisors genuinely enjoy and get excited about. After all, what’s not to like about spending the weekend (almost) literally on the beach? On the other side of the table, artists benefit from the fact that, unlike other events where music supervisors flee immediately after their panels, we are all staying in the same hotel for over two days, so there is ample opportunity to form real relationships. This arrangement however, has as much potential to go wrong as it does to go right. For more on navigating and getting the most out of this tricky networking situation check out last year’s post.

This year the idea for what type of follow up artists might find valuable came immediately. While the conference provides good guidelines for attendees, after a few conversations with other music supervisors we came up with a few more specific suggestions to add to help artists get the most out of their Durango experience – or really any conference in which you are presenting music to music supervisors.

1. Keep in mind why the music supervisors are there. Ok, yes it’s partly a weekend away to hang out with friends by the beach with plenty of free alcohol. But more to the point, we are looking for collaborators that will make our jobs easier and/or us look good to our clients (director, producers, showrunners, etc.) While the creative needs vary from supervisor to supervisor, medium to medium, here is what we are looking and listening for when we get into the room:

  • Great completed (i.e. mixed and mastered) songs that can be easily placed and cleared for our projects – now or in the future.
  • Great songwriters, artists or producers who could deliver a fantastic, finished original song, preferably without us needing to pair them with a producer, artist, etc. and ideally in a quick timeframe. Speed is necessary for TV, in film there is more time to vet and develop demos, songs, etc.

Respectively, most music supervisors will be more interested in hearing finished tracks than demos whenever possible. We can’t place rough versions, and rarely have the time to wait around for a track to be mixed and mastered once an opportunity arises. To this end, it’s not helpful for someone to perform live in the session rooms without being followed immediately by a recording.

If something is rough, mention that in advance – as well as the reason you wanted to present it to us (maybe it shows a different capability as a songwriter) and whether or not there is a plan for it. Which brings me to the next point…

2. Always provide context. Be upfront and clear about who you are and what you do (i.e. what you are great at) including:

  • What you are playing for us (completed tracks, rough versions, etc.)
  • What response you want from us (feedback on a rough track, to be considered for songwriting opportunities, songs ready for placements, etc.)
  • What your role in the clearance process is (do you control everything one stop, work with a label, publisher or third-party pitching company, etc.)

To expand on the last one, we expect that if you are pitching us music – regardless of the state of the track – you have some control over the licensing of it, even if another company is responsible for papering the deal. At the end of the day the goal is for a music supervisor to want to use, clear and license your song. Assuring us you can make sure the clearance process is as easy as possible is almost as important as presenting us with good music, especially when trying to establish a foundation or trust with a music supervisor. Of course, then you really need to be able to back that up when the time comes.

If you are representing someone else’s music, we assume you will be able to get the deal done for us, or at least facilitate the process. We realize you are trying to accomplish a lot in an 8-minute time frame and don’t want to expend precious seconds on chatting, but the above information is essential for us to begin building a relationship with you.

3. Have a brand – and show it off (in an authentic way). We’re all pulling long days at Durango. Spending hours in conference rooms under horrible fluorescent lights. We realize it’s a relaxed environment and you want to be comfortable when you’re in a crowded room (potentially) sitting on the floor, but as music supervisors we are hearing/meeting 18+ artists a day, and that is not including the showcases or the evening mingling in hotel rooms (not that kind of mingling. Maybe. I don’t know).Put some special care into your appearance, get a blowout, wear makeup, wear your one nice shirt, etc. What does being a music professional look like to you? I’m not saying you need to wear neon colors or crazy lipstick just to get attention, but at least attempt to present yourself that is still authentic to you – emphasis on the authenticity part. At the end of the day we all still want to work with kind, smart, real people, not your trendy outfit or ability to speak “industry”.

4. Similarly, be loud and proud about what unique skill(s) you have to offer. So often people and companies want to sell themselves at being able to fill any and all needs. Unfortunately this is rarely the case, and when many music supervisors hear “I can write in any style you need!” or “I have a wide range of songs across all genres!” they translate that to “I’m mediocre at everything!” I will much sooner remember someone who has a niche or a specialty than a jack of all trades. Can you write a (good) song and fully produce it in 24 hours? Are you fluent in Mandarin? Mandolin? Malaysian pop circa 1984? Own it!

5. Master the technology. We know you are trying to gear your music to the needs of the supervisors in the room (which you may have learned only 10 minutes prior), but you only have 8 minutes to pitch yourself and you don’t want to spend it fumbling with the CD player. The presenters that impressed us the most were the ones who had their pitch down, including a full track pre-edited with the sections of songs they wanted us to hear and/or comment on. At the very least know the exact second mark you plan to jump to for each song. To that end digital files on an iPhone or iPod will likely be more nimble to operate than skipping ahead on a CD.
For those striving to accommodate different creative needs from session to session, consider preparing more than one presentation – an easy split would be one of happy songs and one of darker songs, or a single presentation containing a couple of both.

6. Network with the music pitchers and publishers. Aim to become as good if not better friends with these people than the music supervisors. Send your post-conference follow up emails to them first. Seriously. I’ve mentioned this in previous articles, but in the long run linking up with a company to pitch your music is going to be significantly more effective in getting your music into our hands than slinging your wares on your own. At the end of the day it’s rare that I have the time to reach out to individual artists on a search, unless a good match strikes me right away. This may be a bit harsh, but why make twenty calls when you can make five and still receive the same amount of music? Most of the time myself (and many music supervisors) will reach out to a company or catalog for needs, so it benefits you to get to know as many of those places as possible and ultimately to sign with the one you feel most comfortable with and excited about.

7. If you want feedback on your music… Limit the amount of songs played to one or two, ideally almost finished, but where there is still room for tweaks. You’ll probably get more bang for your buck if we can offer notes on not just the songwriting but the production as well, which is hard to do if you play us a rough sketch of a song. Conversely, if you want notes on a song that’s already in the can and can’t be changed…how helpful is that? In those situations, the best question is to ask: do you have any thoughts on which media(s) this may work for? Just be prepared that you may get the answer, “Well because of X we couldn’t really use this at all.” Also, the more of your song we can hear (as opposed to just a chorus) the more elements we can advise on and the more prepared we can be to do so.

8. If you have gone to Durango before… You are likely already aware that many of the music supervisors also return year after year. Plan to play only your latest and greatest.

9. METADATA METADATA METADATA. I know I sound like a broken record here, and this is one tip already covered in the Durango guidelines. For the love of God though, please do not ever hand a music supervisor an Audio CD where the metadata has not been loaded into Gracenote…or put one in a bag of music being given to music supervisors. There are few things more frustrating in this line of work then inserting an Audio CD and seeing “Track 1, Track 2, Track 3….” And if you write the track titles on the CD itself, how would we easily input the song names? If you are unsure of the Gracenote process, Data or MP3 CDs will include metadata, or better yet a flashdrive, or even better yet email them a download link after the fact.

On that note, here are a few of my favorites from this year’s conference – at least those songs that I could find on Spotify. A mix of newer tunes from talented established acts and lovely people like The Sweeplings and Holley Maher, plus artists and songwriters you really should start paying attention to:

  • K808

    This is amaaaazing! Thanks for sharing

  • Thank you Amanda, so many useful tips and insights here.

  • Michelle Lockey

    Great advice! Thanks!