A while back, I contacted my friend Annie Lin about doing an interview for one of my Saturday posts on NAP. She was a law school classmate of mine, concentrating on entertainment law. Before law school, I had known her as a local songwriter and solo performer in Houston. Back when I was doing a lot of solo shows, we did a few together, and she continues to perform in her new home in San Francisco. Anyway, the reason I contacted her about an interview is because she was working in music licensing and getting to do a lot of work-related travel. I figured hearing about this kind of technical insider-y stuff might be interesting.
It was long enough ago that I assumed she had forgotten about it. Turns out she was just busy. Last week she got back with me, and the result is below. While I was chatting with Annie, I also asked her if she would be interested in filling our Tuesday vacancy. She has agreed, and her first post is next week. Hope you enjoy having her perspective as a regular feature on Nonalignment Pact. Her professional bio is available here.
You just changed jobs, how is your new job different from your old one? And what is it, exactly, that you do? You moved from NYC to San Fran, how are you adjusting?
Previously, I worked at The Orchard as the director of the creative licensing department, which meant that I represented a catalog of independent music for placement in films, television, ads, web and other media. We pitched music to music supervisors, among other production folks, for placement in a variety of projects.
As the director of licensing at The Rights Workshop, I now work on the music supervision side of things. We work with filmmakers, TV producers, people who make videos and want to put them on YouTube, ad agencies to help them secure usage rights to music, footage and trademarks. Also, probably due to our location in Silicon Valley, we do a lot of work with tech startups and interactive media companies. We see a lot of innovative new uses of music out here, and it’s often our job to find a way to make rights happen so the project can get online.
The majority of my work is in music rights. Unlike many other countries, U.S. copyright law only spells out statutory royalty schemes for only certain types of music usage, like the royalty rate for the digital download of a composition. However, if you want to use a song in a television show or in a video or in a web video, there is no set fee. It’s all about negotiation, as well as a fair amount of research, chain-of-title work, etc.
You need to get permission from the holders of every piece of the copyright or copyrights you are using. All of this gets very complicated when you’re dealing with remixes, hip-hop, older material, obscure material or material that is controlled by many different parties. It can also get expensive when the copyright holders know that you don’t understand the cost of music. So when our clients need rights, we locate the appropriate parties and then negotiate and license the usage rights on their behalf.
You said you were working 12-hour days in New York…
In music licensing, it’s not unusual to come across delicate situations that can make it difficult for you to close a deal. Some examples:
- A band and its publishing company or label might be on our terms, and the band might not want to let the company close the deal. (Without naming any bands outright, I can say that I’ve encountered the latter situation several times with flash-in-the-pan major label acts – especially hair metal bands from the 80s, for some reason.)
- Former members of a band or old managers — skeletons in the closet seeking money — might come out of the woodwork the moment they find out the band’s music might get featured in a major ad campaign. (This has happened to me several times, and it’s not only ugly, but also tragic since it can prevent the band from getting a career boost, as well as some much-needed cash flow.)
- The person who controls the copyright has moved to a remote island in the Pacific. He does not have an email address, phone number or address.
- The songwriter is a very old Cuban exile who found asylum in Switzerland, but then moved to Malaga, Spain. He speaks only Spanish.
At my job in New York, we represented music on a non-exclusive basis. From the contracting end, this meant that before giving a music supervisor the go-ahead to use a song, we had to get approvals from the people who actually owned the music rights. Often, this had to be done on very short notice. And we would sometimes encounter situations like the ones I have described – as well as a host of other complications that could keep a piece from being licensed. So if you saw me online late at the office when I lived in New York, I was probably dealing with one or a combination of these situations.
Are you looking for music right now?
We also do a lot of creative work, which means there are often a lot of song searches. In the past few days, I’ve put out calls via my Twitter account looking for Latin remixes, bad-ass guitar instrumentals, and arena-scale pop-punk in the vein of Angels and Airwaves. (I could go on and one about what kind of music works best for licensing or gets licensed the most, but that’s a conversation for another time.)
That said, I’m not always on the active hunt for music for our projects. There is a lot of paperwork, and sometimes we are busy putting out fires for our producers and directors. People are always calling up and asking me if I’m looking for any new music, which is great because I do want and need to hear about new music. But they don’t always seem to believe me when I tell them I’m not looking for anything at the moment.
Sometimes I’m just not looking for anything at the moment. But it’s worth checking again in a few weeks because I might be looking for the kind of music you have then and trying urgently to find you.
You went to Cannes several times on business. How was that?
I once tripped and almost accidentally knocked over Gwen Stefani over as I was leaving the bathroom at the Ritz-Carlton during the MIDEM conference in Cannes. I’m glad I didn’t knock her over because she was carrying her son and thronged by photographers.
On my way back from that particular trip, I fell asleep at London Heathrow during a stopover and woke up to discover that my passport had been stolen, along with all of my bank cards. They wouldn’t let me back into the U.S. That was not awesome. And it was some kind of bank holiday, so I ended up being stuck in London for more than a week.
But it was also awesome! I hung out with bands, went to open mikes, went to shows and ate rice pudding. (And yes, I met with some ad agencies and did some work.)
A trip to Cannes sounds glamorous, and I can’t say that my trips there were dull. There were yacht parties. But it’s worth noting that I spent the majority of my time in Cannes in meetings and (oops) doing actual work.