Owner of the newly formed company, Hear It – Clear It Music Supervision, Dominique Preyer, is an experienced music supervisor with a background in music publishing and songwriting. As head of the music department, he has music supervised over 35 films as well as serving as executive producer and producer on two short films. Dominique has an in-depth knowledge of music clearance & licensing, copyright law, licensing agreements and many other administrative responsibilities.
WOODY: How long have you been a music supervisor?
DOMINIQUE: Going on 5 years last month.
WOODY: What was your first project? Was that a film or tv show?
DOMINIQUE: Actually it was a short film, The Spin Cycle which had a pretty good festival run. My wife was the screenwriter and our production company co-produced it with director Chris Ohlson of 824 Pictures.. At the time I was more active in my music publishing. I had this background of music licensing and that kind of activity and music supervision, at that time, wasn’t even on my mind. And then we went through a screening of the 1st cut with the director and the editor. The editor had picked the song It Must Be Love by Don Williams. And the song fit perfect but we needed to clear the rights to it. And that right there is the genesis of my music supervision. I went into it with the, I’m a publisher, I know what to do. It just was a different side of music licensing and I was so intrigued. I immediately started looking for other films to work on and it grew from there. Publishing faded to the background. Our catalog slowly diminished as the reversion clauses were coming due and everything was reverting back to the songwriters. I just didn’t have the time to deal with the publishing. I was just overwhelmed with films and licensing. That was the moment – in the editing room.
WOODY: So your background was as a music publisher. What did that work entail?
DOMINIQUE: I would get submissions from songwriters and bands looking to get their songs cut by other artists. I would listen to the music that they would send me. I would make the decision whether I would become publisher of their song and pitch to the A&R departments at RCA and Sony and various artists in hopes to get the song cut by one of these big country stars up and coming in the community. That was the gist of my publishing experience at the time. That was a very difficult and competitive venture for me because I was an unknown music producer in the Round Rock Austin area. In the Nashville area publishers were walking right up to the A&R dept at Mercury and Sony and others. It was discouraging. So when music supervision came into my vision it was something positive, something that I could do that didn’t involve someone else’s career and I gravitated to that. The publishing companies are still active; in fact, they are like a sister company to the film production company we have. If we need someone to write specific music to one of our films that we work on then our publishing company will handle the publishing and the administration of the songs, but that is a very tiny part of the business.
WOODY: Are you a composer or musician yourself?
DOMINIQUE: I have been songwriting and playing instruments since I was a child, and when I was in my late 20′s I really wanted to take my songwriting to the next level. I bought a $2000 keyboard and a 4-track recorder and I just started taking years and years of wanting to write music to the forefront of my life. I started writing music and lyrics, and putting them together and, sadly enough [LAUGHS], performing the vocals on [the compositions]. My excuse was, It was just to get the idea across, I was not bragging that I was a singer. But I had a couple of songs played on the radio in San Antonio in 1989, so I honestly wanted to be somebody, not as an artist but as a songwriter. I wanted my songs to be recorded by other artists. I would send my songs to publishers just like writers do to me, but this was back in the late 80s and early 90s.
WOODY: So this was prior to you getting into publishing yourself?
DOMINIQUE: Yeah. Well, what happened was I ended up moving to Nashville, back in 1993 and I was there for eight years. I left San Antonio, and went to Germany to visit my brother for four months, and when I came back to the states I didn’t have anywhere to go. I wanted to start somewhere new and I told my self I would either go to New York or Nashville. And in my decision I figured that Nashville would be more my scene, so I moved to Nashville and shortly after that I was working on music row at Mercury Records. There I would just immerse myself in what the A&R folks were doing and try to learn as much as I could, and I learned a lot about how the record industry works from the inside, from the Mercury Records point of view. Shortly after that, across the street was Acuff-Rose Publishing and I ended up getting a job over there working in the copyright department. I was fascinated by the phone calls and faxes that would come in from film production companies wanting to license music from their enormous catalog. That germinated in my head for about four years until finally in about 2002 I moved back to Texas, and that’s when I decided that I wanted to pursue publishing and I started two publishing companies, one affiliated with ASCAP and one affiliated with BMI. And that’s how that launched. But my own music writing kind of fell to the wayside when I was in Nashville. I had a roommate, who was an artist trying to make it and I saw what he was going through and the doors closing on him – and he was leagues ahead of me. I thought, There is no way I’m gonna make it as a songwriter. But I still write lyrics to myself right now, when things come to mind I have this box that is just full of lyrics and I’ll jot things down. I figure one day, when I get older [LAUGHS], I’m going to get me another studio just for my own pleasure.
WOODY: The urge to write music doesn’t go away. I started out as a songwriter and musician, and came to Hollywood for all that, too. Twenty-five years later I’m not going to be discovered, but you know, maybe one of my songs will.
DOMINIQUE: Exactly, and that was my whole point there, I didn’t want to be the famous guy, I just wanted someone to record my songs. Back then, Billboard magazine was like my Bible. I would always look at who the songwriters were on the charts, and think to myself, one day my name is going to be up the in the parenthesis – right there as songwriter. So, that gleam was in my eye.
WOODY: So let’s talk about what happens once you have been brought on board a feature film. What steps at that point happen for you as a music supervisor?
DOMINIQUE: Well, it really depends on what point I come on board. There’s pre-production, there’s production when they are actually shooting the film, and post-production. Some directors have no musical vision, and some are very music savvy. So that also plays into what my role will be. If I come in, for example, in pre-production, I’ll get a copy of the script. I love reading the script, and then highlighting certain scenes where I feel that, a song needs to be here, or score here. Find out, not necessarily what song needs to be where, but just that, a song needs to be there, and then I will compile it on my worksheet. When I have a meeting with the director we’ll share notes and we go through that. Then as the film is being edited and the scenes that should have music are actually ready to view, that makes it much easier to make a decision what song will actually fit each clip because you can actually see it. You get a feel for the characters and how the dialog is delivered. So the process just goes on until post-production, and usually the songs, if they are actually picked, go to the editor. The editor then drops songs in on the scenes and then once the editor puts together a rough cut then we can all sit down together and take a look at it. I usually run with that copy and try to make decisions with the director. And usually right off the bat I’ll say, This song is a great song, but with the music budget you’ve given me, there’s not enough money to license that song, so we are going to have to find a replacement. Then I go out to all my music resources and say, This is the song that we have in the scene, this is the scene, I need something that we can afford that is comparable to – whatever song we had originally chosen. And I get bombarded with submissions and I filter through them and I find two or three that I feel that the director might like. I will cut them into the scene myself, send a Quicktime to the director and editor and then have them take a look at it and if they like it then the editor will get a copy of the song. I am not an editor I just do the best I can to get the musical idea across in the scene. So that is if I come in during pre-production.
WOODY: It must be a difficult process if you come in and they have already temped the music, because I have worked with people and they bring in their film and they are using Blur, and the Rolling Stones and the first thing I say is, what are you going to do about these music tracks? Because you are going to have to get the rights to these songs? But they always think that everything is fine, and then they sell their film and they come back and say, We have to find new music, and I say yup.
DOMINIQUE: Yes, that is the frustrating part for me. Because immediately, what you just said is exactly what goes through my head and what comes out of my mouth, and then I get the look on their face, and I know, Oh boy, we’re in trouble now. So there are times when I try to convince them, You know, this is the prime time now to place the song, before we get to that point where we are back peddling, struggling, and stressed out. I have even found replacement songs for a film I am doing right now for a song that I think is not going to make it in the final distribution process. I know that they are going to come back to me, and I don’t have time to be stressed out, I have got a ton of other projects. So when I get some free time, I will go through those tons of CD’s I have, and go through Myspace, so that when that time comes I am ahead of the game. The worst situation for me is, I get a call, email, or I meet someone at a networking mixer and they say, Yeah man, we’ve got like two weeks to get these songs cleared, and one of my biggest questions is, Why did you wait? Then I negotiate my fee, and I get the information from them, and the majority of the time they still don’t make the deadline. Because the publishers are not going to rush for one specific film.
WOODY: For a festival clearance, or something like that?
WOODY: So ideally you would like to get involved with them with a script in pre-production, would that be right?
DOMINIQUE: For me, that would be the ideal situation. Because I am there at the very beginning, I can make suggestions early on, and especially in the case where they have on camera performances where I have to clear the song before they even shoot the scene. So getting involved early on makes my life easier, it makes my job easier, and it makes things less stressful for the directors and the producers etc., and I like it more from a creative standpoint.
WOODY: Since the movie process takes so long – from script to screen can take an unbelievable amount of time do you have a variable fee schedule for that? Like if you got involved in a project and you were there all the way through versus getting involved in a project a month before they finish?
DOMINIQUE: I have been in both situations. I have film right now, Conflict of Interest, which I think back in March of 2008 I came on, script in hand, started reading the script, and listed out requests for particular tracks that I thought would work. The entire film was shot, and the executive producer wanted the entire film to be complete by the Presidential election, because it was a political thriller. We were in post a month before the election, and it was just, completely, not right. And they decided that they were not going to release it yet, and keep working on it. They went on a three month hiatus, hired another director who re-shot 79 pages of an 84 page script, and we just had a test screening last Thursday. They interweaved the new footage with several scenes of the old footage. I had all the license agreements for the music ready to go out for signatures, but I didn’t send them out because I didn’t know what songs were going to remain in the film. Well, none of the songs that I found remained in the film. So I am pretty much starting over. So to answer your question about my fee structure, sometimes it varies, but I try to do either half up front and half upon completion of my job, or one-third in pre production, one third in production and when I finish it’s the final third. On this film, I was looking at my Quickbooks last night, and the one for Conflict of Interest is going on 294 days from the day I sent out the original invoice. I also did the Overbook Brothers. I met with the director and one of the producers and they said, We’ve got 30 days to clear all this music and it was like, Bam, bam, bam, every day. We hit the deadline, 30 days and it was done, in and out. And those are good. I like those.
WOODY: I was going to say, that’s probably better.
DOMINIQUE: The director had already picked the songs, but he had put some forethought into it. He didn’t go for the top tier artists, or the top ten songs, he found Indie artists on Myspace. So when I came onboard I saw a couple of them were upper tier indie artists, but I was still able to negotiate. In fact I came in with, I think, $250 dollars to spare on budget. There was a lot of negotiating and working with artist management, and the artists themselves. But it worked out great, everyone was happy. The director was happy because he didn’t have to go out and find more money and he had his songs in the film. One song we couldn’t use, they were hard balling us, and we did find a quick replacement for it and it was a done deal. 30 days.
WOODY: If someone finds a few tracks for a production are they then the â€œmusic supervisor?
DOMINIQUE: That’s probably one of the biggest misconceptions out there, and it’s getting worse in my opinion. People think that because they find a song that works well in a film that they are a music supervisor. And that is, to me, a music provider, someone who has provided music. I have a blog myself, and I wrote about the real role of the music supervisor, and the bottom line is, about 30% of [a music supervisors job] is the song selection, the creative side. The administrative side takes up about 70%, and sometimes more. So a music editor usually has a great ear, and finds a great song, pops it in there, and the director likes it. But they don’t have the relationships with the publishers and the record labels to get in there and do the negotiating, the licensing and the clearing; all of the administrative side to music supervising. The music supervisor brings the whole pie to the table, and anyone else who just finds music is only bringing a slice of the pie to the table.
WOODY: I would like you to go into the 70% a bit more deeply, because in a way I always thing of the music supervisor as a music producer. Not in the sense of a record producer, but a producer in the film sense of a producer. In that context, you are fulfilling all the producing functions for that music, you are finding the music, contracting the music, budgeting the music. People have a misunderstanding about music supervision, they don’t have a firm understanding that a great portion of the job is contracting, and negotiations, and budgeting, and clearance and so on. Can you elaborate on that?
DOMINIQUE: Yeah definitely, and before you even get to that point of negotiating etc., you have to find out who even owns the music. In today’s music world, it has been so diluted that you can’t even go to ASCAP and look up a song and see who actually owns it because it might say, Bob’s Music Publishing. Well, Bob’s Music Publishing is administered by Universal Music Publishing Group. So you have to dig down until you get to the company that administers 100% on behalf of all the other music publishers. So just getting to the right person, that can give you the contact information, that you can send your license request form to is a big hunt. And it’s not always right there in plain sight. A lot of people will go on ASCAP and BMI and see that publisher name right there and think that that’s who they have to deal with and a lot of times it’s not. Even sometimes, where the songwriter is from the UK and you have a US production going on, it might say Warner Chapel Music Ltd. and they are in the Performing Rights Society in the UK; plus you still go through Warner Chapel here in America and they do the approval through their sister company in the UK.
So there are a lot of things that you have to know before you start negotiating and get the ball rolling, and once you have identified who is the proper copyright holder for the sync rights and the napster rights, that’s when you do your license request form. That contains the production company information, the composition, composition title, the songwriters, publishers, how are you using the song, if it is going to be background vocal, background instrumental, how much of the song you are going to use– 10 seconds, a minute, the entire length, and what rights you want– America, worldwide, what media– DVD, TV, theatrical, and term also– one year only? So all these things you have to piece together, they all have be gathered up and together on one concise form, sent off, and then the clock is ticking. How long is it going to take for them to get back? You have to follow-ups many times until you get a quote. And if you have got a full $5,000 in your music budget, and you get a quote for one song on the publishing side for $5,000, then you are in negotiation mode. And right there, if you don’t have a relationship with that publisher, chances are slim to none that you are going to get that $5,000 down anywhere near what it needs to be for you to be able to license any of the rest of the songs. So having relationships with the publishers and the labels and the people that you have to deal with is key. If you do get your fee negotiated down to a favorable amount, that will allow you to have money left over for the rest of your songs.
Then if it is a major publisher they will most likely draft a license for that song, if it is an independent they will say, Can you draft a license for us? So if you don’t have the proper experience to draft a proper license, it’s not one of the forms you just download off the Internet and fill in the blanks. You have to know what’s in there, because every licensing deal is different. So that’s the next step, and once the licenses are all done, and the tracks are cut for the music the cue sheet comes into play. And putting the proper information in the cue sheet is key because the songwriters and publishers rely on that cue sheet to get performance royalties down the road. So that’s pretty much the process from the song conception to the cue sheet.
WOODY: Could you just detail a little bit the different sorts of rights that people need to acquire for a motion picture?
DOMINIQUE: Sure, you know it really depends on what their plan is from the start. If someone is going to shoot a film, and it is going to go straight to DVD, well, pretty much the only rights that they need to deal with are home video DVD rights. But if they are looking for a broad release I always try to get â€œall media worldwide in perpetuity, that way their distribution options are unlimited. However, it does cause the fee to go up. So you have to balance how much money you can afford for licensing these songs and that’s when you have to chisel your rights down unless you get a step deal, which is something completely of a different topic. I usually ask the director or producer or whoever is going to be in charge of the distribution plan, What are your plans? Are you just going theatrical or are you going to TV? and once I know that I’ll know how I’ll gear the rights that I request. If they are only planning on having it broadcast in the United States, or North America, then I just request the US only, or if they have an actor who is big in Germany I will ask US only, and Germany. Just to specify the rights according to how the production plans on releasing the film.
WOODY: So if they have some success, and their distribution model changes, then the contracts have to change as well. If this was supposed to be a DVD only release, they get a bite and all of a sudden Universal says, Hey we’re going to pick it up and run it in sixteen cities, then you have to go back and renegotiate those rights?
DOMINIQUE: That is correct. Go back to the table, present the new rights, and get a new quote and hope that either the distributor will pick up the additional costs for the music, otherwise the production company has to somehow come up with the extra money. We then revise the license agreements, we cut the new checks and then they’re good to go with the new distribution model.
WOODY: For those that don’t know, can you talk about the synchronization rights and other types of specific rights that have to be enabled for you to be able to use the music track?
DOMINIQUE: The sync rights are basically the publishing rights to the actual composition. If a song is being used in your film, synchronization rights have to be obtained. You don’t have to have the master rights, because you can do a cover song. Basically, you need permission to record that new song from the songwriter, or the artist who recorded it and licensed it to the production, or it was a work for hire and the production company might want master rights. So, the publishing rights, or synchronization rights, are something that you have to have regardless. The master rights usually belong to the record label or whoever owns the specific master recording rights. There can be many master recordings to a single composition, so whichever master recording you are using in your film, you have to find the label or owner of that specific recording. 99% of the time, publishers are your synch rights, or publishing rights holders, and most of the time record labels are the owners to your master rights holders.
WOODY: Do you recommend a certain percentage amount in terms of an overall production budget for the music clearance rights?
DOMINIQUE: I really never recommend a percentage. Usually they will know what they want to put aside for music. Once I see that number it tells me where I can shop for music or tell them what they can and can’t have based on what is in their temp tracks. There are rules of thumb out there that I’ve heard, 10% of your production budget, and stuff like that but I have yet to see that work. It’s usually the other way around. You just tell yourself, Ok I can put $10,000 on music. And that’s what you use to go shop for music. Of course music is composition, preexisting songs and it’s your composer, your music supervisor and sometimes your music editor. All of that falls under that one line item so you have to factor that in. And then once you pay the crew, how much do you have left over for the music itself?
WOODY: Do you work with first time filmmakers?
DOMINIQUE: Yes. Several times.
WOODY: And have they been surprised when you explain to them how much money it’s going to take for them to secure the rights for the music?
DOMINIQUE: Yes. They’re surprised only in the fact that now it’s reality to them. They have heard the horror stories from other people. A lot of those stories are like the AC/DC songs, the Rolling Stones songs, the ridiculous $100,000, million dollar deals. Because they hear those stories, when the small little artist where everyone knows them but they’ve never had a big song, and still his songs are demanding $5000 or in that ballpark, it is an eye opener. But still the whole world of music clearance is just baffling to most people.
WOODY:I did a picture where the filmmaker got the rights from Beck to use a song for the opening scene of his film for film festivals only. And if it sold then he would have to renegotiate the rights. He did end up selling it and was not able to secure the rights at that point and had to replace it.
DOMINIQUE: Yes, that’s exactly what happened to another film that I worked on, Yesterday with a Lie. They locked the film and only had festival rights. And they had the composer as the
music supervisor. It got to the point where they were getting broad rights for 4 songs, on average, it was about $20,000 per song in order for them to get the rights after the festival rights. So I came on board and told them that, I would try to get it down, but I didn’t think I would.
All four songs were cover songs, so I only had to deal with the publishers. I couldn’t get them down except on the one key song. But one of the artists did not want a cover version of her song used in the final film that was going out theatrically and she wanted her version in there. And as much as I tried and tried and tried, the use was denied. So they had to open up the film, pull the song out, and have another song recorded. So that is another frequent mistake made by the filmmakers.
WOODY: What advice would you have for a band, a singer/songwriter, or someone who had tracks of their own that they wanted to have placed in films but they didn’t know where to go? How would they find someone like you?
DOMINIQUE: Well, the best way is to get on the Internet and do a search on song placement, music placement. Some people don’t even know the term music supervisor, so just plug in whatever term you know. They have to do a little research and use a little diligence because it is their career in hand, and they should learn as much as they can about licensing music. The more they dig in, the more they will find terms and names and people who do what it is they need done to get their music out there. Then send an email make a phone call and inquire. Say, I have some music that I feel is very good, and I think it could be used in a movie, what do I do? I get a lot of emails. I send out a lot. In fact I have an email template, and I get these emails from either a songwriter who wants to get their music placed, or someone that wants to be a music supervisor. I just copy and paste an email and say, Hey, this is what I have been sending out, and give them some highlights and pointers to let them know what it is that they need to do to get their songs into films. And one of the important things that I always stress with songwriters is to get the administrative side of their business together. Get registered with ASCAP or BMI or whatever performance rights society is in their area. I’d like for them to get their music copyrighted. Take care of the business side so that when they get the call from me and I say, Hey I just listened to your song on Myspace and I want to use it in a film, and I need you to clear this today, we don’t have to go through all the paperwork and other stuff on their end to get their song ready. They should have their splits figured out with their co-writer – all of that side of their work should be done.
WOODY: That is terrific advice. So then they should already have their own music publishing company in place?
DOMINIQUE: They can, and it’s a choice. If they want to handle all of their own publishing and want 100% of their publishing rights they can. If they want someone else to champion their music and jockey it out there to the world and try to get placement and do a 50/50 split publishing deal then it’s their prerogative. The big thing these days is for the artists and songwriters to maintain as much control to their music as they can. But that is another thing. If you’re going to publish yourself you need to get yourself a publishing company. Get it registered with ASCAP or BMI or whoever you want to affiliate yourself with as a writer and just have your business side taken care of so when you get that phone call or that email you can jump right on the bandwagon and go. Because a lot of times, like when I had that 30 days on the Overbrook Brothers, I didn’t have time for someone to say, Oh, well let me get with my co-writer and see. We don’t even know if we are going to go 50/50 because he did more than I did. So it may be 30/70, and then it is like, move on to the next song. My thing about these new guys is to get your business together, and then get out there and learn how to get yourself played. Learn as much as you can so you can communicate with someone like me. When we start talking about sync, and Napster and cue sheet, you need to know what I’m talking about so we can have a professional conversation.
WOODY: What do you think of these song placement services out there, are they useful for you and the songwriters?
DOMINIQUE: There are places – Barry Coughlin has a company, musicsupervisor.com and I have been there. I know Barry, in fact he invited me to a panel at SXSW back in March, so I have been on their site looking for stuff. They put together some playlists for me to listen to. There are a lot of sites out there like that that are very helpful because I already have established relationships with them. They know me and I know them, and I can send them an email asking for some 1940′s era WWII music and then I can move on. Then I get an email just perfectly tailored to what I need. Then I click through, see if anything sounds good, if it does then I’ll put it in a folder for that particular film, and then I go back to it. There is a convenience there, that I don’t have to go listen to 200 songs, I’ve got some creative people on that end that will do that for me.
WOODY: So you don’t think that it is a waste of money for someone who is looking to have their stuff placed?
DOMINIQUE: Well on that side, I think it’s a good idea because you have someone that can expose your music. But the problem with it is that they have so much music that they can’t give your music the time that it needs. That’s why I would recommend that if you don’t, as an artist, have the time or desire to pitch your own music, I would find a publisher or a small music library that can champion your music and say, Hey, I’m going to work for this artist this week and see if I can get some placements. In fact in the FM Pro news group, or list, that was a conversation that they were having, about if anyone had any success using these types of services. Most of the people said no. So for me, I think, take some time and control of your own business and pitch your own music. If you have gigs on Friday and Saturday, let Sunday be your day that you get out there and find films that are in production, find out who their music supervisor is, get in contact, find out what they are looking for, and do it yourself. For me, that is the best route to go.
WOODY: I think you put your finger on it right there – filmmakers have the same problem. They don’t realize the business part of the show, and let that fall by the wayside. They just assume that their movie is going to be found and they are going to be the next Spielberg, or their music is going to be found and they are going to be the next Michael Jackson.
I saw a screening of Harmony and Me at the LA Film Festival, and after the screening they had a Q&A, and someone had asked specifically about the music, because the lead character, played by Justin Rice, is a musician himself. There are some live performances throughout the movie. I think some of the music was written by the lead actor, whether it was him performing live within the movie, or whether it was a recorded performance. Can you talk a bit about your involvement in that specific movie and some of the things that you had to deal with?
DOMINIQUE: Sure. First of all, this was another one of those films where I came in after the fact. The music had already been selected, and Bob Byington, the director, was very meticulous about the songs that are in the film. The highlight of everything, for me, was when I came on board I got a copy of the film. I watched it, and immediately I knew there were problems because a song that’s not in the film anymore is Elton John’s song entitled, Harmony. It was a perfect song for the film, but it was going to cost $100 per side to license it. Universal ended up denying the use because it was just wasted their time. The budget that we had available would not cover it, so that was the first song to get scrapped. The good thing is that a lot of the music in the film is by Justin Rice, who is the lead actor. You even see him performing, and you see a lot of musical performances in there. He and Bob Schneider did his song Changing in Mind.
WOODY: Is that in the wedding scene?
DOMINIQUE: Yeah, the wedding scene where they are at the piano together. Then Bob did the romantic performance to the bride. Bob Schneider has been working with Bob Byington on Bob’s songs. I did a short film, and I liked some of Justin’s music back in 2006. So Justin and I have had somewhat of a relationship prior to Harmony and Me. That is how he and Bob and I built our relationship and it made using all of his compositions, which is a majority of the film, a lot easier to work with. He is very easy going when it comes to licensing his music in these small films, especially the ones that he has a role in. That made it easier, but the bigger songs have been a struggle. The one thing that I preached to them, like I do to all the other directors or producers, is, I am playing the Devil’s advocate here, I am telling you the truth. I am not going to water it down and tell you that you might get this song. It is your job to take the truth and come back to me with a solution that I can take to the publishers and the record labels and try to make it happen. I am not I charge of your money, and I can only negotiate based upon what you have given me to work with.
WOODY: Right. Now if someone came up to you and said, Hey, I want to do what you do, I would love to be a music supervisor. What advice would you give them?
DOMINIQUE: Study! I would tell them to go on the Internet and Google music supervisor. There are books out there that they can read to give them the basics of everything that a music supervisor does from A-Z. There are websites that give a description of what a music supervisor does, on how to clear songs, what’s a sync license is, what a master license is. So if they really want to be a music supervisor then they are going to make the effort to learn as much as they can. Once they get a grip on the entire concept of what a music supervisor does, I would suggest going to a local mixer where people are getting together, talk to some people and find out who is shooting a film at a really low budget to bring you on. They probably don’t have any money to pay you, but you just want the experience, and you go and try to find a local band with the same situation. One with a few gigs every month and they want to get their songs in a film and they don’t care about getting a licensing fee. But, the thing about it is, what you’ll learn, is that you still have to follow procedure. Just because someone says, Yeah, you can use my song, and I won’t charge you and fee, you don’t just throw the song in the film and move on. You still have to do the paperwork. You have to do a licensing agreement. You state the in the compensation paragraph what the compensation is, and of course it has to be at least a dollar. Do the paperwork. That’s the only way you’re going to learn it.
WOODY: You go into this in some detail on your own blog.
DOMINIQUE: Yes, I have several postings on my blog. One is specifically named, So You Want to Be a Music Supervisor, and in there I go into detail about what you need to do, what you need to learn, and it points to a couple of different references that will help you to get one step closer. There are a lot of things that I have written about in my blog from three angles, from the music supervisor’s point of view, from the filmmaker’s point of view, and from the songwriter/musician’s point of view. Basically, the common thread throughout my blog, is – doing the right thing. Regardless of what side of the licensing deal you are on – just learn about it. Learn how it works so when you are in the midst of a licensing deal you know the language; you know what needs to be done. Then as a filmmaker or a musician/songwriter, if you’re in a deal and you hear something that doesn’t sound right, that knowledge that you’ve learned will cue you to say, Hey wait a minute, that’s not how it’s done. If you don’t do your homework and learn, that will go right past you and you won’t know that something happened that shouldn’t have happened.
WOODY: Let’s talk about the distinction about the music rights that you would cover versus the score, which generally is the composer. He’s been hired for the movie and is adding a dramatic through-line according to the picture edit and you are dealing more with songs that already exist. What sort of relationship do you have with the score composer?
DOMINIQUE: The director has a closer relationship with the composer during the scoring of the film because the director has his vision and knows where he wants the score to be dramatic, orchestral or something more subtle so they create that landscape together. Where I come in is I am the liaison – if the composer has an issue. He may come to me and say, Hey I’ve been talking to the producer or director about my contract, or, I haven’t been paid yet, or something like that. So on the non-creative side that I am there for the composer. On the creative side I might be looking at the film saying, Oh that montage. I’ve got a perfect song for that. And the director has just told the composer he wants that to be a very soft orchestral score to go over that scene. So we have to communicate so we know what I’m going to do versus what they are going to do so there is no overlap.
WOODY: So I would think that the director is the person you spend the most time with. When a director is deciding on the DP for instance they may go over the lighting in photographs or the style of some paintings to see that they are thinking along the same lines. Do you work in a similar fashion when meeting with a director on a project?
DOMINIQUE: Definitely, particularly if it’s time to do a song replacement. If the director already has all the music that he desires, but we can’t license the songs, basically we’ll talk about alternate bands and he’ll mention someone. I might suggest such and such band; they are a great band here in Austin very similar to what you have in the movie. And if he hasn’t heard them before I’ll get him an mp3 and have him listen to them. He’ll tell me some things, I’ll take notes, and I’ll go out on the internet and try to find that band’s music and immediately do a quick clearance check to see who owns the rights to it. I make sure that we are not going into the same problem that we had before. We do sort of paint a picture for each other musically about what her/she feels could be the right song. We listen to some things until we decide which is the best song(s) for that scene and try different songs with the scene to see which one works best.
WOODY: What do you think that filmmakers misunderstand about music supervision?
DOMINIQUE: A lot of things. [LAUGHS] Probably the one thing that really gets me is the fact that they think that the music supervisor’s job is to find music. Especially when I am looking for a job they say, Oh we’ve already found all of our music. That’s when I ask them who’s doing the clearance, who’s negotiating the deals, the licensing, who is making the music cue sheets? Their eyes light up and they say, Hmmm, gee, I didn’t think of all that! So the role of the music supervisor, period, is just misunderstood in the film industry. And of course the biggest misunderstanding is of what it really costs to license a song and all of the work that goes into it. The whole idea of not knowing that we don’t just go finding songs is probably the number one misconception.
WOODY: And probably just the idea that things need to be cleared in the first place!
DOMINIQUE: Documentary filmmakers often don”t understand this. They’ll ask if I’m just going to use a few seconds of a song do I still have to clear it? Or in a corporate presentation do I have to clear it. I try to get detailed information out there about all of this.
WOODY: So tell me what you love about what you do.
DOMINIQUE: I love it from A to Z. Even when it gets complicated I see that I can come up with a solution that will make everybody happy on the film side and also on the music side. I will say that the one thing I really enjoy about being a music supervisor is getting the call or email from someone who wants me to be onboard. If they are in early pre-production and they give me a script and I go home, I read the script and my mind is focused on what a good song for the various scenes would be. Then I just take that to the end and then finally I’m sitting there with the rest of the crew and I remember the day that I found that one song. It’s the whole process from beginning to end – and all of the ups and downs to get to the end and how it all works out .
WOODY: What is it that you don’t like about what you do?
DOMINIQUE: Oh, things that frustrate me. This one film comes to mind, I just don’t like it when I have to struggle with the director. I am trying to educate the director, and they want the song no matter what, and I have already exhausted my efforts with the publishers. I don’t want to look unprofessional in the publisher’s eyes, as if I don’t know what music clearance is all about, because often the director wants me to do things that just go beyond the norm. So, the struggle with the directors is probably the least enjoyable part of dealing with what I do.
WOODY: Struggle defined how?
DOMINIQUE: An example of a struggle is when I tell the director that I have already negotiated the song that they want from $10,000 to $5,000 for the rights they are requesting, if they want it to go down anymore we will have to reduce the rights. They say, No we have to have these rights and this is all the money I have. Go back and try to get the price down more. And I say, I have already brought a 50% reduction on it. I’ll go back, but I am going to let them know that I understand their position but I have the director breathing down my neck and he wants to bring this thing down. Is there any way we can’t work something out? And when their reply comes back, No, this is the lowest we can go, we have already brought it down $5,000. And the director is still not happy with it.
So it is just stubbornness and an inability to accept the fact that what has been laid on the table is the final offer, a take it or leave it deal. It is beyond my control, and I have already put my expertise and my relationships on the line, and I have to reach a point where I don’t want my relationships to be tarnished because the director wants me to do what is beyond what has already been done. So I have to protect myself because I will be working with these record labels and publishers time and time again and almost every day I am back and forth with them with one project or another. As for the filmmaker, I might never work with them again. So I have to reach a point in my career where is say, I have done the best I can, I am not going to tarnish my relationships just to make this one deal work, when I have hundreds of deals going on right now. That is, for me, the most frustrating and difficult part of the job.
WOODY: Is there anything that I missed that you still want to cover?
DOMINIQUE: The one thing that I might add is to underline what I said earlier – that the creative side is about 30% and the administrative side is about 70%. I have become interested in Twitter. I like to see what the other music supervisors out there are tweeting about, as far as the bands that they like, and who they are listening to, because I look up to them. They are doing big TV series and the big films and the films that come in on the weekend box office that make $30-40 million. So I like to listen to what they are listening to, and get a feel for their interest in music. And sometimes I’ll watch their shows and see what music they select. That is a learning experience for me, but it’s just interesting to see. A lot of times I will listen to a link that they put up. I will go to a band website that they just listened to and like, and I’ll make my own personal assessment and say, Wow, if I would have had that song when I was working in that film it would have worked great over certain scenes. So it’s interesting to see what the other music supervisors are doing. It is kind of refreshing, and I aspire to be in their shoes, and have the experience that they have.
WOODY: Well, this has really been great. Thanks for your time, thoughts and expertise.