Stewart Copeland regaled the crowd with stories of first getting into film scoring with Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumblefish. LOS ANGELES, CA—The Production Music Association (PMA), originally founded in 1997 by a group of about 10 composers and publishers to advocate against the proposed performance royalty cap on music used in commercials, promos and announcements, held its first annual conference in mid-September. The organization, which has grown to encompass more than 550 production music libraries, presented a two-track program—one creative, one business— during the day-long, sold-out event in Century City, CA.
Three-time Emmy Award-winning composer Jeff Beal got proceedings underway with the opening keynote. Production music has gained such respect that the New York Philharmonic dedicates an entire week to film music, he observed. “It’s a great storytelling device for visual media.” Beal played early sketches from his score for House of Cards, tracing their evolution into the finished opening theme. The line is blurring between film and TV, he noted, and a series that can be binge-watched on Netflix is essentially a 13-hour movie that demands a different approach from the composer. “You don’t want to be overly repetitive,” he cautioned.
Stewart Copeland presented the afternoon keynote, regaling the audience with stories about producing commercial music and first getting into film scoring with Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumblefish. Describing the love/hate dynamic within The Police, he said it was “like a Prada suit made out of razor blades.”
“I’m the worst session player. I don’t take direction. I don’t remember anything. I attack the drums with a blind fury,” said Copeland, who often hires a drummer for his commercial music sessions.
A masterclass on getting a professional sound on a limited budget offered the audience some useful tips. Independent composer Robert Navarro recommended saving processing chains as presets within a session in order to save time in the future. “You’ve already spent time mixing this great cue. If you write new guitar to a chain you’ve already spent time making sound fantastic, it’s going to sound fantastic, as long as it’s the same type of song.”
Panelists, asked to name a favorite, inexpensive piece of gear that has changed the way they work, offered a wide range. “It really comes down to your ears and listening,” said Derek Jones, chief engineer at music house Megatrax.
Navarro named the Universal Audio 6167 preamp: “I can’t say that this is not expensive, but it changed my productions. It’s amazing.” Greg Townley of New Era Music leans toward distortion boxes and saturation, and singled out Vitamin as a go-to plug-in. Bryan Hofheins, COO at Warner Chappell Production Music, speaking as a producer and musician, said, “Pro Tools has been huge for us; it changed our lives. Every plug-in that I hear, I like.”
“Too much gear can kill creativity,” warned Townley. “Composers think it’s all about the compression and the EQ—just write music.”
Jones also advised, “Even if it’s a small room, try to get acoustic treatment before you run out to spend tens of thousands of dollars on converters and crazy mics.” Without treatment, he said, “How do you know that all the stuff you bought is even giving you a great sound?”
“We’ve actually increased our license rates for several networks this year for promos,” announced Joe Saba, co-founder of Videohelper, during a panel on enhancing the value of production music. Commercials present a great opportunity, he said. “Five years ago, a lot of the agencies would turn their noses up at production music. We are finding that our tracks are being mashed with big-name artists; we’re able to get a good number for those tracks. It enhances the status of what we’re doing as a group.”
“I don’t believe that the television industry is nearly as strapped for cash as they would lead us to believe,” said Aaron Davis of MusicBox. “There’s been an intentional campaign to always cry poor. One of our biggest strengths is the ability to just say no.”
“Don’t be afraid to educate your clients,” said panel moderator and composer Joel Goodman. “It costs money to make music. How can you give it away or undersell it?”
A panel on reality television revealed that the genre is very reliant on production music. “Every episode is wall-to-wall music,” said music supervisor Joe Brandt. “A typical hour episode might have 42 minutes of content and 41 minutes of music. We don’t have the budget for in-house composers, so we have to use music libraries.”
Discussing trailer music, Brad Goldberg of N87 Creative said, “Non-linear editors have turned trailer creation into a musical process. You have so many tracks and all the effects available. Editors today start with music. The whole thing is about rhythm and building emotion.”
Moderator Yoav Goren of Immediate Music asked his panel what sync rates trailer music is able to command. “Certain people are paying up to $80,000 for a custom score,” reported music supervisor Natalie Baartz of Scorebird Music. “We had someone go and record something live at AIR and I think they got $300,000. I’ve also worked with independent companies that tell me the whole budget for the trailer is $6,000. And you need an intro cue, a middle and a back end, and the sound design for that.”
“It’s a reflection of the movie business,” said music producer, editor and supervisor Guillermo de la Barreda. “There are the big blockbusters, or the small, small indies; there’s no middle anymore. So we try and concentrate on the big blockbusters!”