Finishing up our month of reviewing key MIMO articles from 2013…here is Part 2 of Jeff McQ’s interview with Heather Gardner, music supervisor for Vapor Music. First published last fall, this was part of an important series of interviews about song placements and synced music as an outlet for indie musicians. Check out part 1 here. Enjoy! –Ed.
MIMO: What type of sound quality are you looking for with song placements? Is it okay to send in a demo or should it be more mastered or mixed?
Heather: It needs to be mixed and mastered. Well, it doesn’t always have to be mastered if it is mixed really well. Some people may disagree and think it needs to be mastered. We’ve used unmastered versions of things before with a really good mix behind it. The only time that demos work is if I am soliciting something very specific and that demo has just been written with the intention of being used for a specific project. That honestly doesn’t happen a lot. We have such a quick turn-around rate that it is important that if I hear the song to be able to have it in two days. That doesn’t give you a lot of time to go back, and it doesn’t help me sell it to my client, either. If they listen to something and hear the demo, their brains can’t necessarily wrap around what it could be. We really do need final mixed versions that are broadcast-ready.
MIMO: So in other words, this is not a field for artist development. This is a field where you should be already somewhat developed.
Heather: It needs to be your final product that we’re getting.
MIMO: For an indie musician getting on a lower-budget project, what kind of money can they expect to make from that kind of a deal, just as a ball park idea?
Heather: Honestly, it can be anything from zero dollars. For some of our lower-budget projects we are looking at artists who are interested in donating for the publicity and those kinds of things. [So] we definitely do gratis deals, but then you’re making money off performance royalties in the back end. Lower-budget television shows can be anywhere from $500 to a few thousand dollars. That would cover all media rights, in perpetuity, across the world, for the most part. Some of the United States programs are different and do a shorter term. It all comes down to what the network and what the distributor needs. A bigger song in television or film could be thousands of dollars, and a huge ad campaign with a well-known artist could be hundreds of thousands of dollars, into the million dollar range, for a huge campaign. It is depending on where it is aired, et cetera.
MIMO: So we are not talking royalties or a piece of the pie. We are talking about a one-time fee to use that material for that purpose.
Heather: Yes. There are royalties associated with it, but that is all done through ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, and handled that way. We deal with the upfront fees, we negotiate that. Everything is a negotiation. We give you the opportunity to say yes or no based on whether you are comfortable with the use, whether you’re comfortable with the amount of money, and any huge selection of material that may come, and anything you may find objectionable.
MIMO: Do you have any other advice that we haven’t covered? What advice would you give a musician who really wants to focus in this direction?
Heather: I’d say make sure you have instrumentals of all your tracks. That is an important thing, because a lot of times we are weaving in and out of an instrumental and a vocal version, because there is dialogue and your vocal line interferes with the dialogue at one point, but then we want to bring it in later. Having an instrumental version of your track is essential. And having that done at the same time as your album tracks, so that weaving in between, they weren’t mixed differently or in a way that is audibly different when you’re trying to go between the two tracks.
Another big thing is knowing who owns every share, making sure you know who owns your masters and who owns all the publishing shares. So if you wrote with somebody, having that conversation already and having something, ideally in writing, for your sanity, as in “I own 50% of the song, this person owns 50% of the song,” is important, so that there are not arguments. We don’t want to put a song in a movie, for example, then are just about ready to sign the contracts and have a writer that won’t agree because you guys are having an argument over the splits. Make sure before you send anything to a supervisor that you know exactly who owns what. Make sure there are no [uncleared] samples. If there is a sample or it is a cover or anything like that, make sure it is clearly marked so the supervisor knows. There’s no way we can know every sample and every song that you may have covered and be able to immediately identify it. If you come out and say, “Oh, we own 100% of everything and we find out later there was some obscure sample in there that didn’t get cleared, that’s just a lawsuit waiting to happen.