We conclude our January review of the best posts on MIMO in 2013 with an important series of interviews that should be especially helpful to indie singer-songwriters and composers. In recent years, song placements for media have become a major possible outlet for DIY musicians who might not otherwise get their music heard, and some indie musicians have built successful careers around such placements. Last fall, Jeff McQ interviewed several music supervisors and publishers on the topic of song placements and music publishing–interviews that are well-worth revisiting. Below is the first installment of a two-part interview with Heather Gardner of Vapor Music. –Ed.
With the expansion of cable and satellite into hundreds of channels, the rise of Internet video, and a boon of new films and television shows over the past few years, the demand for song placement and licensing has exploded right along with it. Full-time music supervisors for corporate media entities have become nearly as important to the industry as label A&R reps have been, as they are always looking for opportunities to place music into commercials, television shows and films.
In many cases, music supervisors are working with lowered budgets, and they can’t always afford to spend millions of dollars for permission to use a current Top-40 hit in their programming. This has opened the field wide for indie musicians, producers and composers, many of whom have discovered the ability to supplement their incomes and gain valuable exposure by licensing and placing their songs. For those who do this, it’s good money, and it’s quick money—and many indie artists have found themselves in front of a larger audience as a result.
If you’re a serious DIY musician, you owe it to yourself to learn the dynamics of song placement, synchronization and licensing—which is why we have begun this new series, “Indie Musicians, Publishing and Song Placement.” MIMO is talking to a number of music industry professionals who are willing to offer valuable advice to indie musicians looking to get into this field. For our first installment in this series of interviews, we talked with Heather Gardner, Head of Music Supervision and Licensing at Vapor Music. She had a lot of things to say that were very helpful—so much, in fact, that we decided to break the interview into two parts (part 2 will be posted tomorrow). We think you’ll find Heather’s input to be very valuable, and we’re grateful to her for being willing to sit down with us.
MIMO: Can you tell us your role at Vapor Music, and if you don’t mind, a little background on how you came to that role?
Heather: Sure. At Vapor Music I am the head of music supervision and licensing. Vapor is a full service boutique audio facility located in Toronto, Vancouver and recently in London, England. We have a couple of offices. We do full-service audio solutions for advertising and for film and television. Part of the company does original composition, sound design, voice direction, and we have a full studio. We mix all kinds of radio and television advertisements and handle all the audio. Our licensing department grew organically out of that and out of our clients’ desire to have a license track on some of their projects. Since then, it has grown not only to include advertising projects, but television and film. We have done some video game work in the past.
My job is to find the best music to fit our clients’ needs and also handle all of the licensing process to make sure all of the rights are cleared, making sure the contracts are done, cue sheets, and all of that jazz. As for how I got into it, I was a piano player growing up. I thought that is what I wanted to do with my life. Very quickly upon going to university for piano, I realized that I did not want to be a performer, I did not want to spend eight hours a day in a practice room holed up. I wanted to enjoy my university experience, and that just wasn’t how I wanted to spend my time. So I switched more to the business side and realized that I had always had a passion for that as a kid…I realize I was always fascinated by which music was placed in television shows. That was for me a huge tool of discovery [in] trying to find new bands and new artists, people I heard in different television programs, and not really realizing there was a job in it or that’s what I wanted to do. After going to school, I ended up interning for Vapor actually, and since then have had the opportunity to move up in the company and take on more responsibilities. As of a couple of years ago, now I am running our licensing department.
MIMO: What television film commercials and so on have you licensed for? Anyone we would know?
Heather: We did a global Samsung spot for the Galaxy IV-S earlier this year; it kind of played in different amounts in different countries. In the UK they played it a lot. It’s been on the web everywhere else. I love it in that it was a huge spot, which is exciting. We do a lot of Canadian national advertising campaigns and Canadian adapts of U.S. advertising campaigns. We just did a Nissan commercial, we’ve done a lot of car company work, we’ve worked with Wal-mart, McDonald’s, and a whole bunch of other brands. As for television, I’m currently working on Season Two of the comedy series called Seed, which actually just got picked up to air on the CW in the United States, which we are really excited about. I’m also working on a mini-series for our Canadian Broadcasting Corporation network up in Canada, and then doing some films.
MIMO: Wow, there’s a lot going on.
Heather: We do a little bit of everything, and we are always excited to take on new projects and use different kinds of music.
MIMO: Song placement and licensing is a big deal, an open field right now, especially for Indie musicians. Do you have a specific niche of type of music that you are looking for when you are thinking about song placement? Any genres that you lean toward?
Heather: The thing is it’s never my call. We are the broker between our client–whether that’s an advertising agency, a television producer, a film producer–and the music. We can definitely offer insight into music direction, but we never make the final decision, and usually that team comes to us with their musical vision and it’s our job to execute that musical vision. Of course, your personal taste comes into play a little bit, but my job is to put my personal taste aside and find the best music for a project. It really varies. We just used Russian hip-hop in one of our feature films. Not something I’d listen to in my free time, but my job is to find good quality Russian hip-hop within their budget that is licensable. We really are all over the place.
MIMO: So it just depends on what you need at the moment?
Heather: Exactly. For Seed, we need a lot of funk, neo-soul, kind of like your Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae-type feeling, but we are on a lower budget for that one, so we are dealing in the independent world of those artists, which is really exciting to be licensing people who are not on major record deals.
MIMO: That’s a great segue into the next question. How does an independent artist make the connection to you? Is it better to be represented by an agent or a publisher, or are there channels by which they can reach you guys directly? What would you recommend as the best or most reliable route for an Indie musician to start gearing themselves towards song placement in a company like yours?
Heather: There are a few ways to do it; there’s no one surefire way to get a placement or to get someone’s attention, because the truth is, we get a lot of music every day. I think the best bet as an independent artist, before trying to find an agent or find a licensing representative, is to watch a lot of television to find where your sound fits in and then watch the credits. Every credit has their music supervision credit. Go on IMDb or Google that person, and see if you can find their contact information. A direct pitch that’s specific is far more likely to get read in someone’s inbox than a “Hey, here’s my music,” that may not have anything to do with what that person is looking for.
MIMO: When you say a direct pitch, are you recommending targeting a specific piece of music toward a specific program?
Heather: Yes. So let’s say you are watching… we’ll use Seed for example, because that’s what I’m working on. And you hear the songs playing in that sound a lot like what you make, you would say “my stuff would fit in here perfectly”, then watch the credits, see my name, Google me, find my contact information on our website and say, “I watched Seed and I think my music fits in really well with the neo-funk soul vibe you are using. Here’s a link where you can listen and download”, as opposed to an email that said, “Here’s my music. What are you looking for?” We really, unfortunately, don’t have the time to respond to everybody and get back to blanket pitches. That being said, we do work on such a variety of projects that we are happy to take music that isn’t specifically on what we are working on because it might be with the season, or we may not be looking for that at the moment, but then an ad campaign might come through that uses what you were going to send to me.
A licensing company is also great. We do rely on those filters a lot, and people who are trusted, because we do get so much music. So when we are looking for something specific, I will send an email out to a network of people that we have established relationships with and let them know I’m looking for something specific, give them our budget and terms and ask what they have that would work.
MIMO: So as far as a fast-track approach, the best open door would be one that you can see that’s open. If you know that company is looking for this kind of material for this kind of project, then that is a great way to at least get your foot in the door and get known.
Heather: Exactly. You start a conversation.