Digital Production Buzz
August 21, 2014
[Transcripts provided by Take 1 Transcription]
Tom Seufert, Creative Director, Visual Music
Grover Crisp, Executive Vice President, Asset Management, Film Restoration & Digital Mastering, Sony Pictures Entertainment
Hunter Williams, Executive Producer, Production Music Association
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Larry Jordan: And welcome to The Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for creative content producers covering media production, post production, marketing and distribution around the world. My name is Larry Jordan. Our co-host, the ever handsome Mr. Mike Horton, has the night off.
Larry Jordan: Our program tonight focuses on the business of making music. We start with Tom Seufert. He’s the Creative Director of Visual Music. This is a music boutique featuring new emerging artists and elite composers and songwriters. Tom is also a musician in his own right, though tonight we’re going to concentrate on how to market music for media.
Larry Jordan: Then Grover Crisp is the Executive Vice President for Asset Management, Film Restoration and Digital Mastering at Sony Pictures Entertainment. He joins us tonight to talk about archiving media, restoring films and an annual two day event that starts tonight, called The Reel Thing, which showcases the latest technology and the results of that technology in restoring films.
Larry Jordan: Finally, Hunter Williams returns us to our musical theme. Hunter is the Executive Director of the Production Music Association. Production music has undergone a quality transformation over the last ten years, much of it led by the PMA. Tonight, Hunter talks about the business of music publishing and an event they have coming up in September that looks at the challenges and future of the music publishing business.
Larry Jordan: Just a reminder that we’re offering text transcripts for each show, courtesy of Take 1 Transcription. Now you can quickly scan or print the contents of each show, as well as listen to it. Transcripts are located on each show page. You can learn more at take1.tv and thanks, Take 1, for making these transcripts possible.
Larry Jordan: It’s the middle of the summer and everybody’s getting ready to have one more day off before all the kids go back to school, so there’s not a whole lot happening. But the big news this week is that Apple updated Final Cut Pro X to version 10.1.3. They also upgraded Compressor and Motion. This upgrade was principally a bug fix.
Larry Jordan: They didn’t have any new features released, but the bugs were significant, including some Blu-Ray writing errors and some copy and paste attribute functions that if you have no upgraded to the 10.1.3 version and you’re running 10.1 or 10.1.2, the upgrade makes a great deal of sense. I recommend you get it if you’re editing on a reasonably recent version of Final Cut 10. If you’re still on 10.0, then finish the project you’re on before you upgrade to 10.1.3.
Larry Jordan: Give us a chance and say hello, visit us on Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com. We’ve got a team of researchers that are having a great time looking up stuff to talk about on Facebook and Twitter. We’re working together to come up with a list of interesting films to show you or trivia from the industry, famous quotes from directors, producers and editors around the world and we have a great time as we talk about what we’re planning for the week, not only in terms of articles and information, but just fun breaks to give you a sense of taking a deep breath and enjoying the strangeness of the industry, as well as announcements from other companies to keep you informed on new tools that could be beneficial to you.
Larry Jordan: You can find out more at digitalproductionbuzz.com, which is our Facebook address. You can visit with us on Twitter, @DPBuZZ. We love hearing from you and we especially love the comments that you give back. You can also subscribe to our weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com – that’s our website. Tori puts this together every Friday morning and has a great time trying to figure out what to share with you in the weekly Buzz newsletter for an inside look at both our show and the industry.
Larry Jordan: I’ll be back with Tom Seufert after this.
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Larry Jordan: Tom Seufert is the Creative Director of Visual Music, a music boutique featuring new emerging artists and elite composers and songwriters. Tom was originally a recording artist for Epic and Ariola Records and now he markets and produces media and music for all media. Hello, Tom, welcome.
Tom Seufert: Hi Larry, how are you?
Larry Jordan: We are talking to someone who’s got more talent than I do. I am doing great.
Tom Seufert: I’m not sure about that. You have quite a resume yourself.
Larry Jordan: Ah, none of it’s true, I make it all up every Monday morning and try to just find more impressive things to write, really. Tom, what got you interested in music in the first place?
Tom Seufert: I have to say, with a lot of people in the ‘60s, it was really the music scene in the ‘60s with the Beach Boys and The Beatles and all that. Prior to picking up a guitar at 13, I thought I was going to be a fine artist. I was painting and drawing and trying every medium and then, when music came, I just dropped that like a hot potato and now when people ask me to draw, I just draw at the level I was when I picked up a guitar, which is 13, and it’s not too cool. But it’s fine.
Larry Jordan: Well, picking up a guitar, I mean, I’m guilty of that too, but there’s a big difference between playing in the bedroom and playing with people listening. When did you decide to become a professional musician?
Tom Seufert: I picked it up 13. By 15, I was in the house band at the largest club in Hollywood at the time called the Hullabaloo Club, which later became the Aquarius Theater, and I don’t know how that happened. I was hanging out with guys two and three years older than me who were in the band, and there were two or three of us that were 15 but everyone else was 17 and 18, and we opened for Neil Diamond in the season, it was a great experience. It was just there right in the mid-‘60s, in ’65, when music was just exploding and it was very exciting to be in Hollywood and wearing the high leather boots and…
Larry Jordan: Now, wait, wait, wait, wait. I’ve got to get this picture in my head. You’re 15 years old, you’re performing at a major club and your parents let you stay out past eight o’clock?
Tom Seufert: Yes. Yes, that’s because I had chaperones who were two or three years older than me and they went to the parochial school I went to, so they kind of figured that things were ok, but they didn’t know. It was one of those things. Rock and roll, you know?
Larry Jordan: Yes, the things that you got away with that you’ll never let your kids get away with.
Tom Seufert: Exactly. Exactly. There was no such thing as a play date back in those days. You just went outside and went for it.
Larry Jordan: And tried to come back by dinner.
Tom Seufert: Yes.
Larry Jordan: Tell us about your recording career, both as a songwriter and as a musician.
Tom Seufert: When I was 24, I got my first record deal with Epic Records, and that was a solo deal and David Kershenbaum produced me, and that was a very, very fun experience.
Larry Jordan: Oh yes.
Tom Seufert: I was recording that, just a fabulous studio called Producer’s Workshop in Hollywood, which later became the home of Steely Dan and some just amazing artists, and so I really lucked out because I lucked into meeting people who were fantastic engineers and fantastic people and so it was first for Epic; and then I got an album deal, I formed a band called La Seine and I got a deal with Jay Lasker’s new label, which was called Ariola America, and I was signed the same month that John Cougar Mellencamp was signed to that particular label.
Larry Jordan: An artist that we haven’t heard from since, if I remember correctly.
Tom Seufert: Well, he is having a great career and tours a lot and plays. I mean, he’s done tons of recording and he had a billion times more success than I ever had. But one of the things that happened with the Ariola album is one of the songs from the album went top ten in Holland and that got the attention of some people that worked with Ringo Starr. So Ringo Starr cut one of my songs that I co-wrote with Steven Hague who was one of the band members, and that was incredibly thrilling.
Larry Jordan: How did you get Ringo to record one of your songs? I’m sure he hears a lot of stuff.
Tom Seufert: Great publishers. Peter Berg, Jim Golden, who – God rest his soul – recently passed away, and Terry Wright. I had quite a lucrative publishing deal at the time and it was signed internationally into publishing and here in the States. So I was just walking on air there in my 20s. I felt very fortunate. I didn’t have real record sale success, but that gave me such a boost that it just kept me in music to this day because I love it so much.
Larry Jordan: Mmm, that is very, very cool. I want to do sort of a comparison of the past to the present. Give us a description of the process of recording music, say, 15, 20 years ago and then I want to talk about it currently. But give us a picture back then.
Tom Seufert: Well, I had the really good fortune to record in some of the great studios, including Sunset Sound, CBS Studios, before they closed and that’s where Simon and Garfunkel used to record, Capital. The whole thing was capturing a live performance. This was before non-linear digital workstations, so everything was on two inch and I just remember I was always in search of the perfect feel, so I was cutting and splicing two inch tape constantly. I’d have the best drummers I could get my hands on and record basic tracks and then I’d end up with a razor blade for parts of days, cutting things up, trying to get the perfect take.
Tom Seufert: I would have loved to have had non-linear back then, but it just didn’t physically exist. I learned really early on, if you didn’t have a great basic track, whatever you lay on top of that is going to kind of fall apart. It’s kind of like your foundation. It was quite different. But I really feel honored that I learned on all this great analogue equipment, all these incredible early consoles and they still sound fantastic. To this day, I still use a lot of analogue gear and microphones and signal processing as well with the digital. I love using the best of both worlds, but it was a completely different process.
Larry Jordan: Which I understand, but I want to come back to about 15, 20 years ago for a second. Putting your musician hat on, how much time is spent in the studio trying to find the best way to express a song, in other words the creative process, or the technical let’s get it recorded process? Because what I’m sensing is that that shift in where creativity comes from is different 20 years ago than it is today.
Tom Seufert: You have to go back a little bit further before there was any kind of digital recording. In that case, I would just work up demos using a TEAC four track tape recorder and drum machines and real drummers. I did a lot of work with Roger Linn after he invented the Linn Drum and the Linn 9000 and I created a library of sounds for the Linn 9000 that a lot of people ended up using.
Tom Seufert: But back then, you’d pretty much work out demos on your own before you’d go into the studio because the studios were expensive and you had to have your act together before you went in. You didn’t really experiment. Some of the big bands that were well established, they’d go in and they’d write in the studio, but us mere mortals, we had to prepare.
Larry Jordan: So really the creativity occurred before you even walked into the studio, then?
Tom Seufert: Yes, yes. You would have your song structure and you’d have charts for the musicians and usually I was working with a band, so we would have practice sessions and record work tapes, just to get the arrangement down. But with the advent of multi-track recording, when the TEAC four track came along I bought two of them so I could record four channels and then bounce them to a second machine while I was combining those four channels, and that’s really how The Beatles recorded all their early records before the eight track was invented.
Tom Seufert: The process is all kind of the same, it was just that you didn’t have as many options. You had to EQ things differently so that after you had lost four generations, there was still some high end left. Now, one can record on a laptop with just phenomenal software, but the process of writing something, especially lyric and melody, is still the same, exactly the same. You can execute things quicker, you can get ideas quicker now, but even back then if you had a little drum machine and a guitar or a keyboard, you could put ideas down and get a structure and then start working it up with the band.
Larry Jordan: Another thought that strikes me is, in the past – however we define that – music was much more collaborative, the whole band was in the studio at the same time, and now everything seems to be very fragmented. Musicians don’t even have to be in the same studio, they just simply share tracks back and forth.
Tom Seufert: Right, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Look at a contemporary person like Pharrell Williams. He works with a lot of live musicians. He probably does these little demos before he goes in the studio, but he’s got fantastic players that he collaborates with and I still think that’s incredibly important to do. Yes, there’s a lot of myopia creatively when people are doing everything themselves and sometimes it’s great to come up with ideas, like Pete Townshend did at the beginning of The Who’s career where he would do these little demos where he would play all the parts and then teach them all to the band. Keith Moon wouldn’t listen, though, because he played crazy stuff all the time and that’s what was great about him – he didn’t care.
Tom Seufert: Some of those early rock bands, what’s really interesting is they had these crazy jazz drummers that were playing way too busy, but that’s what made Hendrix and The Who and even the Jeff Beck group sound to interesting, because they didn’t have straight ahead rock drummers playing with them. I think there is a tendency nowadays for people just to do everything themselves, but I think you just cannot underestimate the magic that happens when you work with a bunch of other like-minded musicians and they start bringing things to your music, to your song, to your arrangement that you never even could have imagined.
Tom Seufert: That’s why bands are great. I’ve mostly been in bands through my artistic career, even if I was the sole singer or songwriter. I always loved to collaborate with great musicians and I have some really great ones that I’ve worked with in the past that I still remember wonderful times with them.
Larry Jordan: Now let’s shift up to the present, because you created a new company called Visual Music Artists. What’s that?
Tom Seufert: It’s actually Visual Music, but the website is Visual Music Artists, and what that is is a company that primarily does custom music for all media. Advertising used to be the number one thing I did. Now I’m doing so much stuff for online, but I’m very fortunate that I have three huge names on my roster, and then I have some great new young 20 something emerging artists, and then I have some phenomenally award-winning composers and songwriters. I guess the three top people that I have at the top of the food chain are Bear McCreary, I work with him. He first became known to people for scoring ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and later ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘DaVinci’s Demons’ and I don’t know how many other shows. I’m working on a huge project with him right now.
Tom Seufert: My other star composer is John Swihart, who ten years ago scored ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ and has since done tremendous work for about 40 independent films and a ton of TV shows. John and Bear both work with me primarily for advertising clients and interactive online clients. My third star is Jack Tempchin, who is the songwriter who wrote ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ for The Eagles and co-wrote ‘Already Gone’ and several other huge hits with The Eagles, and I met Jack years ago when I had a studio called Redwing Studios in Tarzana and those are my three most well known artists.
Tom Seufert: Then I have just some really incredibly talented young musicians and bands. These guys, most of them are in their 20s and they’re graduates of Berkeley College of Music and other music schools and they’re hand picked. I’ve got an incredible team. It’s very fun, though.
Larry Jordan: I was going to say, there’s no pride going here. It sounds like a great group of people.
Tom Seufert: Yes, yes. The writers that I have that are in their 30s, 40s and 50s that have got incredible experience, these have all become friends and we do things like go to the Hollywood Bowl together, and go to screenings at the ArcLight and have big dinners, or we talk shop for an hour and a half and then go in and see a phenomenal film and then take a picture at the end of it.
Larry Jordan: All right, well, let’s talk shop a little bit more. Who would hire your company?
Tom Seufert: I’m primarily hired by ad agencies. I work a lot with the Richards Group in Dallas and with Leo Burnett in Chicago. I’m working with an agency here in Santa Monica called Enso right now.
Larry Jordan: Ok, now, hold it right there. In the second half of the show, we’re going to talk with a gentleman who’s the Executive Director of the Production Music Association and clearly there’s a role of production music…
Tom Seufert: I go to their meetings. I love their meetings.
Larry Jordan: So my question is why would somebody hire you, your company, rather than just get good quality production music?
Tom Seufert: Well, I have to say the quality of production music has just gone up exponentially in the last ten years. It is absolutely incredible, but there’s nothing that can compare with a custom score…
Larry Jordan: Now, why is that?
Tom Seufert: …by someone the likes of John Swihart or Bear McCreary or a song written by Jack Tempchin. This kind of music doesn’t exist in any library. It’s created custom. It’s kind of like why would someone go get a chair custom made for them when they can go into any store and buy a chair, even a high end store? The reason is because they want it a specific way and that’s never going to change.
Tom Seufert: Sometimes you can take a piece of production music and edit it and even customize that piece of production music, but a lot of it depends on the level that people are working at in terms of the agencies, the creative staff. We’re dealing with Mad Men here, right? So you have creative directors, and then you have creative teams with copyrighters, and art directors and everybody is very, very opinionated, and there usually is a slight look downward in terms of production music and I think that that’s kind of unfair, because there’s just some amazing stuff out there from a production music availability standpoint.
Tom Seufert: But it’s a different animal when you have something done custom and what I felt that was happening, I was losing a lot of business to production music. But then it’s started to come back in the last couple of years and, oddly enough, it’s for the internet. You would never think that wow, you’ll never make as much money doing music for the internet exclusively as you would for doing something for broadcast TV. But things are changing and I’m seeing people that have really nice budgets for internet and sometimes just corporate communication.
Tom Seufert: I do a lot of work for Proctor & Gamble and I’ve been scoring a number of videos that are never seen by the general public. They’re just basically dubbed in eight different languages and it’s to build corporate unity.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so let’s put an independent film maker hat on and let’s assume that you’re not simply paying for the film with your credit cards but you have some budget attached. Would you do custom creative work for an independent film and what would budget range be?
Tom Seufert: I don’t really deal. I’ve done some documentaries and some short form but according to people like John Swihart, who used to do tons of indie films. That market has to a large extent collapsed. At the time that ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ came out, there were somewhere between 800 and 1200 indie films coming out per year and the market just cannot sustain that. That volume went down drastically and so I don’t really deal with independent films. Number one, there’s not much money in it compared to advertising and now even online, to be honest.
Larry Jordan: Ok, so let’s say I’ve got a webisode series – take our independent film, substitute webisode.
Tom Seufert: Right, ok.
Larry Jordan: How much do I budget for some services like yours? What I’m asking is do you have to be a Proctor & Gamble to call you, or can…
Tom Seufert: Oh, no, no, no. No, no.
Larry Jordan: I’m not asking for a quote. I’m looking more for a sense of range or how budgets are determined.
Tom Seufert: Right, right. A number of my composers do indie films and they work directly with the film maker or with the producer and one of my composers had just graduated top of his class at Berkeley College of Music, came out to LA. Two years later he was working for several composers and I got wind of him and he started working for me and he said he was scoring an indie film for $10,000 and it was going to be over 60 minutes’ worth of music, and it took him about four months to do.
Tom Seufert: Usually, you can get a young composer who will do it for five or ten thousand dollars just to get the credits and get his foot in the door. Except for my youngest composers and youngest bands that I’m working with, most of the people cannot work at that kind of super low level. Even webisodes now, I worked on a project a couple of years ago that was seven different episodes and it didn’t have a huge budget but it had a pretty substantial budget, up over 30,000.
Larry Jordan: But if you were willing to spend 20 to 50,000, you could get good music?
Tom Seufert: Definitely.
Larry Jordan: All right, and where can people go on the web to learn more about you and your music?
Tom Seufert: Visualmusicartists.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s visualmusicartists.com. Tom Seufert is the Creative Director of Visual Music and, Tom, thanks for joining us today.
Tom Seufert: Thanks so much, Larry. I really enjoyed speaking with you and I hope you have a great rest of the day.
Larry Jordan: Take care. You too. Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Grover Crisp is the Executive Vice President for Asset Management, Film Restoration and Digital Mastering at Sony Pictures Entertainment, which we often call SPE. He’s also the co-organizer, with Michael Friend, who is the Director of Digital Archives at SPE, of The Reel Thing. A unique event that opens tonight that attracts technologists, archivists, programmers and asset managers, as well as people who simply love movies, television and all things related to moving image and sound preservation, which has got to be the longest introduction I have ever read. Welcome, Grover, good to have you with us.
Grover Crisp: Thanks. Good to be here.
Larry Jordan: What does an Executive Vice President for Asset Management, Film Restoration and Digital Mastering at Sony Pictures Entertainment actually do?
Grover Crisp: Ah, well, there is a lot of work that’s done in my department. The asset management part of it refers to the core assets of the company, the motion pictures, the television programs and all the components that go into making those things; the film, the audio, the video, the digital files and so forth. So my department manages and maintains the storage and the safekeeping of all those assets.
Larry Jordan: So because we’re able to watch films that were shot 40 years ago is due to the work of you and your team?
Grover Crisp: Exactly. That’s where the film restoration and the digital mastering part comes in in our department, because we go back to the original film materials or video materials – whatever the program is – and repurpose it and in order to repurpose it you need to restore it and improve it. Today in the digital mastering world, with high definition displays in the home and now 4K displays in the home, the level of expectations of quality have risen so high that we continually have to go back and bring it up to those standards that people expect.
Larry Jordan: This is not a subject that most people get interested in. What got you hooked on film restoration and archiving?
Grover Crisp: Like most people who wind up in this kind of business, I didn’t start out to do that. In my college days, many decades ago, I was a film student, of course, and a lifelong film lover and a long time ago – three years ago, to be exact – I got a job working in the film vaults at Columbia Pictures and that slowly evolved over the years to where, under my department, we created a film and video preservation program that was promoted in a big way by the purchase of the studio by Sony Corporation in 1989 and it kind of took up from there. We developed our program, which is a full blown program that we have been operating for 25 years.
Larry Jordan: Hmm. The film industry is shifting from shooting film to shooting digital and, as the industry goes increasingly digital, how does that change the process of archiving films and film restoration?
Grover Crisp: Well, it changes what you need to archive but not necessarily the traditional conservation approach, which is to make sure that you first of all have what you need – the original material, whether that’s film or whether that’s video or audio or digital files – and you need to make sure that you can access it, you replicate it, you store different copies in geographically separate areas for risk management purposes and you constantly revisit it, or at least periodically revisit it, to make sure that it’s viable and you can use it. In that regard, it’s kind of a traditional process. What’s different, of course, is that all things digital change constantly, so you constantly have to adapt to what you’re going to be doing.
Larry Jordan: One of the hard parts that those of us who are working in the industry trying to create films today, must less preserve them, are wrestling with is the constant technology shift and the constant change in codecs. You must be going nuts with every six months a new codec comes out and two others have died that were popular a year and a half ago.
Grover Crisp: It seems like it’s more frequent than that, quite frankly, when you’re inside the whole production, post production workflows, because things do change. A year ago, for example, on our mastering of titles, we would finish our mastering and produce a high definition video tape. Now, we don’t do that at all. We finish and our masters are 4K files. From that, we generate things like our high definition versions for broadcast and so forth. So yes, it changes all the time but we have to adapt and in our studio we have a great core engineering team, archiving team and infrastructure that’s allowed us to kind of at least keep pace with it, if not get out in front of it.
Larry Jordan: One way you tried to get in front of it is this event you’ve got planned for tonight called ‘The Reel Thing’. What’s this?
Grover Crisp: This is a technical symposium that Michael Friend and I have been doing for 20 years. We started it as kind of a one off little presentation in 1994 at a conference of the Association of Moving Image Archivists in Boston where, for the first time at a conference like that, we actually had digital technologies on display for preservation and restoration. That was something that was brand new and not really very prevalent anywhere and that slowly developed and people liked it, so we did it again and then again and again and now we’re doing it for the 33rd time here in Los Angeles. It’s now a two day event where we are able to show full feature restorations and have a number of presentations dealing with all kinds of areas of preservation and restoration.
Larry Jordan: Now, is this just geeks talking tech? Or is this something that film lovers should see because of the film screenings?
Grover Crisp: They should see it. It’s not just film geeks, believe me. There are presentations where the technology goes over most people’s heads, but we think that’s ok too because there are people who will benefit from that and if you’re not exposed to it you’ll never understand it. But we try to have a lot of fun at this, and we try to put on, in essence, really a show. So the presentations, for example, about large format scanning and recording – that may not sound interesting, but we’re talking about films like ‘West Side Story’, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘My Fair Lady’, where you will actually see examples of this projected on a big screen and those are the entertaining components, I think, as well.
Grover Crisp: We do like the opportunity to show full restored films where restorers have finished them, and these are usually pre-mirrors. We’re showing an early silent film from Germany that’s been restored, the first time it’s been shown in this country and we’re having premiere screenings of ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ and one of Steven Spielberg’s early TV movies, called ‘Duel’, and it’ll be a lot of fun.
Larry Jordan: Where is it, when is it and what does it cost?
Grover Crisp: This particular event, which we have done every summer, usually in August, in Los Angeles, takes place at the Linwood Dunn Theater, which is at the Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Science’s Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study here in Hollywood, on Vine Street. It’s open to anyone who wants to register for it. I forget what the cost is, I think it’s about $250. I don’t get involved too much in that because all of the proceeds of this go to support the Association of Moving Image Archivists. So whatever funding comes in, they get that to support their educational programs and so forth. Academy of Motion Picture, Arts and Science’s Linwood Dunn Theater on Vine Street and Hollywood.
Larry Jordan: Is there a website people can go visit?
Grover Crisp: There is. It is the-reel-thing.org and at that website you can see previous years’ programs and you can get a really good flavor of the kind of things that we’re putting on and that we’re showing and that we’re talking about.
Larry Jordan: That website is the-reel-thing.org, not .com. It’s been founded and run by two gentlemen, Michael Friend and Grover Crisp, and Grover Crisp is the Executive Vice President for Asset Management, Film Restoration and Digital Mastering at Sony Pictures Entertainment. Grover, thanks for joining us today.
Grover Crisp: Thanks. It’s been a pleasure.
Larry Jordan: Hunter Williams is the Executive Director for the Production Music Association, a non-profit group which was founded in 1997. It has over 670 members and it is the leading advocate and voice of the production music community. Welcome, Hunter, good to have you with us.
Hunter Williams: Thank you, Larry, glad to be here. Thank you for having me.
Larry Jordan: What first got you involved in music?
Hunter Williams: I started out as a kid having a keen interest in drums and banging around on everything. So I’m a musician, been a musician all my life, still play in a working band; and that led me to university outside of Nashville, where I studied music business, I didn’t study music performance but started music business, you know, the old fall back story – dad wanted me to have something to fall back on and be able to make a living – so I studied that and that took me from a career as a musician into the actual business side of things.
Larry Jordan: What got you involved with the PMA?
Hunter Williams: My background prior to the PMA, I spent 20 years at one of the three performing rights organizations here in the United States, SESAC.
Larry Jordan: Oh yes.
Hunter Williams: In my role at SESAC, I ran royalty distribution and research services and so I dealt with a lot of the PMA members on a regular basis. Those members who had affiliations with SESAC, had publishing companies with SESAC, I was usually their go to guy when they had questions about royalty statements or tracking or anything like that. So I got to know them very well and they would invite me out to their events, to speak on panels, to talk about things that we were doing at SESAC – particularly in the area of some of the technological advances that we were making – and so I got to know them really well and I became very interested in their cause, and their issues and really was empathetic towards their issues and I came to know them and it became a great fit when the opportunity came about to be part of the organization.
Larry Jordan: So when did you join?
Hunter Williams: Actually, my anniversary is this week. I’ve been there one year now, so this is an interesting time to be doing this interview. I’ve been there one year and things are really going well. We’ve got a great swathe of activities and things that we want to accomplish and we’re clipping them off at a fast pace.
Larry Jordan: Let’s go into that in just a little bit of detail. I’m a consumer of music, but the business side is not something I know real well. What does the Production Music Association do?
Hunter Williams: Larry, the Production Music Association, as you said earlier, was formed in 1997 to be the collective voice speaking to the issues unique to the production music industry. The production music industry is unique. It’s a large segment of the music industry that a lot of people don’t really know about, because so much of the music that you hear on TV is background music and a lot of that music is represented by production music companies.
Hunter Williams: Production music companies, they’re more typically known as music libraries, and what they do is they hire composers and artists to produce music and supply the music of all different genres. So they create these volumes of catalogs, and music libraries, and they own the recording rights and the publishing rights. They can go to a broadcaster, for example, and offer an efficient one stop license for both the master recording and… publishing, so it’s a very efficient way to get good quality music. It’s fast and you’re able to get a variety of styles of music.
Larry Jordan: Why can’t a network will just go to a composer?
Hunter Williams: Well, a network can and networks do, but typically when the production cycles are really fast paced and if they need a particular style of music, there’s a turnaround time to hire a composer to do that. For particular types of programs, production music provides a very fast and efficient way to find really good quality music.
Larry Jordan: But isn’t all production music like elevator music?
Hunter Williams: It’s interesting that you ask that because back in the day that was sort of the stigma that was attached to library music and I think there might have been some truth to that, back in the day. But nowadays you have some of the world’s most accomplished composers that are writing for music libraries, so the quality level of production music now is so much bigger than it ever was. They hire accomplished composers, they hire orchestras to write music. These companies definitely have raised the bar on the level of production.
Larry Jordan: So the Association’s got about 700 members. Why is an association even necessary?
Hunter Williams: Back to your point that you raised about elevator music. I think traditionally there was a tendency, because most production music, the way it’s used in… programming, it’s used as background music and traditionally there was a tendency to minimize the value of that music, just because it was background music. We saw that reflected.
Hunter Williams: One example is with the performing rights organizations, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, these are the companies that represent the rights and the royalties when music is played over the air – and traditionally the performing rights organizations weighted a background use by a featured artist. Let’s say Bob Dylan had one of his songs used in a TV show. They would weight that music higher than they would a piece of production music and so, to your question as to why is the PMA important, the PMA has worked with the PROs and has effectively gotten those values changed. We’ve seen great improvements in the weighting rules that the PROs use to achieve more balance that they’re paying. So that’s a really great example of why the PMA is important.
Hunter Williams: We’re going to bat for these libraries and the way that their music is used to effectuate better treatment at the PROs, for example.
Larry Jordan: But a lot of music is viewed as a commodity – rip it off from the web, it’s freely available. How do you change attitudes that good music is worth spending money for?
Hunter Williams: Well, that’s one of the biggest challenges that we have and surely that’s been the case on the consumer side, you know. The attitude of free has been a problem for record labels, but we’re starting to see that attitude come into play on the professional users’ side now too. First of all, it’s got to start on the professional consumer side of music. It’s got to start with better decision making by the rights owners.
Hunter Williams: Because that attitude is out there, there has been a lot of pressure and, like I said, we’ve seen that come into play now in the minds of professional buyers. There is a lot of downward pressure on the prices of music. So what we do at the PMA is we educate and inform our members. and provide them with ideas and information on how they can implement best practices for upholding the value of music.
Hunter Williams: At the end of the day, it has to come down to the rights owner to stand up and hold the bar high and one of the biggest problems we see in the industry is there are so many people lining up for bragging rights or whatever to give their music away. So it’s one of our most important missions at the PMA is to bring particularly young up and coming composers who don’t really know what they’re giving up the information that they need, to know where the revenue streams are, know the value of those revenue streams and help them make informed decisions.
Larry Jordan: The way the organization is structured, do your pricing levels vary based upon the number of titles that have been released? Who are some of the larger organizations that are members of PMA?
Hunter Williams: The larger organizations include the production music divisions of the major publishers. So Universal Music Publishing, Warner Chappell Music Publishing, Sony ATV all have production music divisions and they’re all members of the PMA. APM is one of the larger production music libraries, one of the biggest in the world, they’re also a PMA member.
Larry Jordan: A lot of these large studios have got multiple income streams. Is there a value to a small independent publisher becoming a member of PMA?
Hunter Williams: Absolutely. Again, it goes back to the idea of having the collective voice and the opportunity to rub shoulders, if you will, with the more established players. And so many young publishers and young songwriters are looking to get into the licensing end. Licensed music for TV and film has become very attractive, particularly in a day and age where record sales are lacking, and so a lot of artists and songwriters and composers and musicians are looking to this area.
Hunter Williams: It’s very valuable if you are a young publisher looking to be in this space. It’s very valuable to be part of the PMA, again, to get the education and the information that we impart and the advocacy that we do with the PROs, but to also be in a room with the bigger players to share ideas and learn techniques and ways to properly go about doing the business.
Larry Jordan: That reminds me, thinking of rubbing shoulders and being in the same room, you’ve got a conference coming up soon. Tell us what this is.
Hunter Williams: Yes, Larry, we’re very excited, this is our first ever production music conference. It’s been a dream and a vision of the PMA for a while. There have been other conferences that have talked about music licensing, but there’s never been a conference dedicated to the production music industry. So we’re very excited to bring this to bear and that conference is going to take place on September 12th at the Doubletree Hotel in Culver City, California.
Hunter Williams: We’re expecting a great attendance and we have a great line-up of panelists, and keynote speakers and all kinds of great topics. We’ve broken it down between a business track and a creative track. So there’ll be topics on how to create world class sound on the creative side, for example, and royalty and copyright panels on the business side. So lots to discover and lots of great information that will be shared there.
Larry Jordan: So it’s more than just the business of music, it’s both the creative and the business side?
Hunter Williams: Absolutely.
Larry Jordan: Tell us about who are some of your key speakers. Anybody exciting coming to show up?
Hunter Williams: Yes, we’re really lucky to have two really respected artists/musicians/ composers. We have Stewart Copeland, who is for me and most drummers out there, a rock god and you may ask why we have a drummer being a keynote speaker at a production music conference. But a lot of people don’t know that Stewart – and Stewart, by the way, I think everybody will know this, but in case you don’t Stewart Copeland is the drummer of The Police – but Stewart is also a multifaceted instrumentalist and a composer. He’s done it all. A lot of people don’t realize that Stewart composed scores for films such as ‘Rumble Fish’ and ‘Wall Street’, he’s composed music in TV shows such as ‘The Equalizer’. He’s done compositions for video games, he’s written symphonies, ballets, he’s done it all.
Hunter Williams: We also have Jeff Beal. Jeff is one of the most respected composers in TV and film right now. Jeff is a multi-Emmy award winning composer. One of the top shows that he’s working on right now is ‘House of Cards’, which is Netflix’s premier flagship show, a very successful show. But Jeff’s written for movies and TV shows such as, ‘Monk’ and ‘Ugly Betty’, ‘Carnival’, ‘Rome’, lots of TV shows and movies such as ‘Pollock’ and ‘Appaloosa’. Jeff’s also a great musician in his own right. He comes from a jazz background and had a very successful career in jazz, having worked with the likes of Chicory and John Patitucci.
Larry Jordan: What’s your goal in having these speakers talk? What do you want the audience to come away learning?
Hunter Williams: These guys being icons in their own right in their respective areas. We believe that both in their own ways will be able to talk about their approaches to their different jobs. Stewart, doing so much in so many different areas. There are so many different approaches to the types of music that he’s creating and the role that he plays, so we expect Stewart to talk about that. Talk about the different approaches and how he manages all the different areas of composition that he does. And as well get into production techniques and expectations and requirements from the people that he’s working with; and Jeff the same thing.
Hunter Williams: We expect Jeff to discuss the way that he works with directors and music supervisors. What their expectations are and what his approaches are to those different scenarios, and also the approach to composing, the different styles, everything that goes into their day to day lives as musicians and composers. Again, these guys are at the very top level and so to have them share their wisdom and insight is going to be very valuable and much appreciated by our audience.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like it’s just an incredible conference. When it is again?
Hunter Williams: The conference is September 12th at the Doubletree Hotel in Culver City, California.
Larry Jordan: I’ll get the web address from you in a second, but before we run out of time, as you’re wearing your industry executive hat, as you’re looking forward over the next three to five years, what do you see as the biggest challenges that the production music industry has to face?
Hunter Williams: One is the current regulatory structure governing performance royalties. Right now, ASCAP and BMI – the two largest performing rights organizations – are challenging the necessity of their regulatory oversight by the Department of Justice and we at the PMA are strongly in support of those challenges.
Hunter Williams: These organizations have been under consent decrees with the Department of Justice for decades and these decrees dictate that the two rate courts, set rates, if the performing rights organizations and their licensees can’t agree on terms, and I know that’s a lot of stuff that may not resonate directly with your audience, but the point is that the rate court process is an incredibly slow process, and an expensive process, and it results in delayed and diminished payments to composers and publishers.
Hunter Williams: Again, that’s probably a lot more technical information about this issue that you may want to hear, but it is such an important issue. We’ve got to get ASCAP and BMI off of those consent decrees so that they can operate more freely and negotiate fair rates, and under the current system they can’t do it and it greatly affects the livelihoods of not only Production Music Association members, but all songwriters, composers and publishers. We’re very optimistic that that will happen, but it is a challenge. We’re talking about the DoJ and we’re talking about regulatory oversight, like I said, for decades, so it’s going to be a battle.
Larry Jordan: Hunter, for people who want to keep track of the status of this battle and all others, where can they go on the web to learn more about the PMA?
Hunter Williams: They can go to www.pmamusic.com.
Larry Jordan: That’s pmamusic.com; and where can they go to learn about the conference?
Hunter Williams: They can go to the same place and on the front page of the website there’s a big PMC 2014 logo. If you click on that logo, it’ll take you to the conference information page, the registration page, all the information about the hotel, the panelists, our sponsors. It’s all right there. They can get that information from that link.
Larry Jordan: That website is pmamusic.com. The Executive Director of Production Music Association is Hunter Williams and, Hunter, thanks for joining us today.
Hunter Williams: Larry, thank you so much for having me.
Larry Jordan: You know, in listening to Tom Seufert and Hunter Williams, I’m struck by the contrast between original music created by Tom Seufert’s Visual Music and the pre-recorded production music represented by the Production Music Association, yet the key concept I get from both of them is that music is both higher quality and more affordable than ever. I was interested to hear the two contrasts in the same show and appreciate the chance to talk to both of them.
Larry Jordan: Also, thinking about Grover Crisp, who’s the archivist for Sony Pictures Entertainment, one of the challenges that we have as media creators is archiving our own material and one of the things I’ve been exploring recently in my newsletter is technology that’s been around for a while but has finally also become affordable, which is LTO tape.
Larry Jordan: I’ve discovered that there’s a whole lot to learn about archiving our projects on tape using LTO technology, not just the hardware – which I’ve already done reviews on – but the software we run with it, whether it’s something simple like a utility or a something much more complex like Media Asset Management. I’m going to be covering it in my weekly newsletter, which comes out every Monday.
Larry Jordan: You can sign up for it at larryjordan.biz and we’ve got product reviews and we’ve got software reviews, as well as a whole look at the whole industry and I encourage you to register.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests – Tom Seufert, the Creative Director of Visual Music; Grover Crisp, Executive Vice President at Sony Pictures Entertainment; and Hunter Williams, Executive Director of the Production Music Association.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot happening at The Buzz between shows. Check out digitalproductionbuzz.com. Chat with us on Twitter, @DPBuZZ, or Facebook, digitalproductionbuzz.com. The Buzz is streamed by wehostmax.com, our music provided by SmartSound. Our producer is Cirina Catania, engineer Adrian Price. Mike Horton’s our co-host. My name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
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