MIMO was present at this year’s Durango Songwriter’s Expo in Broomfield, CO, a three-day conference established to connect up-and-coming songwriters with industry pros who provide helpful information, offer song critiques, and sometimes sign deals with artists and songwriters. (Meghan Trainor is a recent success story of the Expo.) While there, we had a chance to catch up with songwriter/producer Richard Harris, himself a DSE success story, who makes a significant part of his living through TV and film song placements.
For independent artists in a rapidly changing musical and technological landscape, the area of song placements is simply too important to ignore. While streaming services are currently turning an already-volatile album sales market on its ear, media companies are constantly looking for good music to place on everything from films to TV shows to commercials to web content to video games. The money that can be made is quick, often residual, and for some full-time songwriters has frankly been a career-saver. Richard Harris is an embodiment of this truth.
A transplant from the U.K., Harris moved to Los Angeles when the band he was performing in fell apart, and eventually found his way into song production for film and television. He credits his current successes to connections he made in the beginning, coupled with a bit of luck.
“When I got here, I didn’t really have a clue where to start,” he tells MIMO. “I had some friends that helped me get started, but through various routes, I started to attend things like Taxi and then Durango, and I quickly learned that film and TV was an essential part of living as a musician.
“I got involved in several things at the same time,” he continues. “The [music] library business through Taxi, a friend of mine had successfully landed something through Taxi, and he couldn’t do the gig, so he said to me, ‘I know you could do this gig, would you take it and do it?’ So I actually didn’t get in through a listing, I got in through a friend who passed it on. So I ended up doing quite a bit of library music, and so that was kind of the start for me, really… There was several things that were going on at the same time, and they were kind of quick and easy ways to make money…so I kind of got lucky as we all do, and luck is a part of it.”
As his base of connections grew, Harris started to communicate directly with music supervisors, and found more and more opportunities for song placements, including on TV shows such as One Tree Hill, Joan of Arcadia, The Closer and numerous others. He’s also had the opportunity to write and co-write charting hits for numerous label artists like Katharine McFee, Canada’s Shawn Hook and EDM artist Cole Plante.
Richard’s experience with song placement has enabled him to expand his musical range greatly, as specific projects often request “soundalike” music in the vein of a known hit. One of his most lucrative placements was a song called “What Do You Want? (inspired by “Who Are You” by The Who) which wound up getting placed on a regular segment of LIVE with Regis and Kelly (now LIVE with Kelly and Michael), and is still played on the show regularly. Harris also comments that he’s had to develop quick turnaround times, as many projects come with a deadline: “I was probably given two weeks to do 10 songs from writing to production and mixing and the whole thing,” he says of one project, “It was pretty intense, but it helped me get really quick.”
For up-and-coming songwriters and composers who might be interested in pursuing song placement, either as a supplement to their income or on a regular basis to increase their income stream, Harris says, “Connections are the only way to do it. You can do a little bit of cold calling, but it doesn’t really provide any real fruit, I’ve discovered. You really do need personal relationships with people, and that’s why events like Durango are so important, West Coast Songwriters, another one is very good, obviously Taxi …I think it’s all about meeting people, at the end of the day, it’s nice to know the person your’re dealing with is not a complete lunatic and is good at what they do and communicates well.”
As those connections are being made, Harris also emphasizes the importance of being ready with a high-quality sample of your music. “You have to have something that’s ready to play that’s a good example of what you think you’re good at,” he says. There’s got be some example of a good recorded piece of music, because at the end of the day, if it doesn’t sound like it should be on a record, it’s gonna be a struggle, because they really do like to have high quality. And you don’t have to be in a studio that costs 2 million dollars—you can do it quite happily in Logic and make it sound great.”