Jon Leahy is the Music Supervisor at Aperture Music, a company that works with independent artists to license their music for use in film, television and commercials. We grew up in the same hometown in New Hampshire, and Jon has helped me to get one of my songs on a Fox TV show. I wanted to interview him to shed some light on how the licensing process works and how artists can get their music in the hands of music supervisors.
Everyone wants to get a song on Grey’s Anatomy or some other hit show. Where would you begin to market yourself for an opportunity like this?
Most TV shows these days have a dedicated music supervisor, in the case of Grey’s Anatomy it’s Alex Patsavas. She and her awesome team at the Chop Shop find music in myriad ways, but the most reliable way to ensure that they listen to your music (aside from having a hit on the radio) is to get your album delivered to them by someone they trust. Finding a professional film & TV representative to work on your behalf is a really important step for anyone who’s interested in licensing their music. Aside from being good at their job and having the respect and trust of their peers in the business, it’s also equally important that they be genuinely enthusiastic about your music.
You recently got one of my songs on to the show “Traffic Light” and I thought the process of that might shed some light on how things work in the licensing world. You said the producer was looking for a female acoustic singer songwriter for a scene where the characters are at an outdoor market. There are 1,000s of musicians that fit that description, but I popped into your head, and the producer liked the song. To me, this seems to indicate that you really need someone on the inside advocating for you. Does this mean you should try to get in as many licensing catalogues as possible, or is there an expectation that you should be loyal to one company and just try to stay top of mind with them?
You bring up a really good point– for most background music cues, there are thousands of songs that could work equally well. Once you’re willing to accept that despite the uniqueness of your art, for the purposes of licensing it is more or less interchangeable with thousands of other songs, you start to see how important it is to have a good film and TV rep. The reason your song was used instead of another female vocal folk song is because the music supervisor came directly to me when she was looking for music. We have a great working relationship and she trusts my ears, it’s as simple as that. To be perfectly honest with you, your song was probably one of ten included in my pitch to the supervisor. She most likely pulled two or three of her favorites and passed those along to the music editor who actually married the music to picture, and then the decision was made final at the mix. Regarding licensing catalogs, there are a ton of them out there and they all have their pros and cons. Exclusive catalogs tend to be more selective about what artists they rep, they’re more boutique in nature and give everyone more personalized service. They also tend to command higher fees for their artists. Non-exclusive libraries tend to just dredge as much music as possible, regardless of quality. And when it’s quantity over quality you may find that personal attention to your particular release just isn’t happening.
I recently read that a publishing company here in Portland, Oregon, Rumblefish, agreed to take on the entire catalogue of artists on CDBaby.com to represent for publishing. While I think this is great news because it signifies a leveling of the playing field, how can musicians begin to stand out in that flooded landscape?
I love CDbaby and have a lot of respect for what they’ve done with the company, but it’s important to note that CDbaby is a “long-tail” business model, meaning their margins lie in sheer quantity. Considering this, it was only a matter of time before they started offering a publishing option. I’m pretty confident that the guys at Rumblefish will do just fine with this model, but for 99.9% of their artists I don’t see it affecting their bottom line significantly. The service that we provide (and this goes for labels and publishers as well) is to serve as a filter, a level of quality control. Since music supervisors don’t have the time to listen to every artist on CDbaby, they need someone to get them to the good stuff– which is precisely what we do. If you remove that filter and just publish the entire CDbaby catalog, then what service are you providing? We’re way past the era of old-men-in-suits acting as gatekeepers– anyone can make a fantastic sounding record on any budget, and thanks to Soundcloud, Bandcamp, etc. everyone can share it with the world. And if cute kittens have taught us anything, it’s the fact that if something is great then everyone on the planet will be sharing it with each other in the next 48 hours. The flip side of losing those gatekeepers? Now we’re all flooded with terrible music. With this in mind, getting back to your original question, I think Rumblefish will be a useful tool for music supervisors only if they put their ears to work and pinpoint the best music their catalog has to offer. You mention a level playing field… well the playing field is already level and has been for a while, it’s just that some artists are stronger than others. If you want to stand out, make a great record. It’s the answer to just about every question I get from aspiring artists. It may sound trite but it’s the truth.