Interview with BRADY L BENTON, Senior Director of Film, Television and New Media at peermusic - Mar 27, 2002
"If you get into a temp track, you have a much better shot at getting in the final picture..."
Based in Los Angeles, Brady L. Benton is Senior Director of Film, Television and New Media at peermusic, one of the biggest independent music publishers in the world. As head of the department, he is responsible for placing music in movies, TV, and commercials, and negotiating the deals. Recent movies featuring music published by peermusic include Moulin Rouge; Americaís Sweethearts; The Mexican; O Brother, Where Art Thou? and American Pie (1 & 2).
How did you get started in the film, TV and music business, and how did you become Senior Director of Film, Television and New Media at peermusic?
After graduating from college, I worked at a talent agency for a while, and from there I went to BMI, one of the US performing rights societies. I ran their research department for 5 years, here in Los Angeles. By doing that I met everybody in the film and television community, as they would contact me to find out who owned what and how to contact the owners of the songs that BMI held. By meeting these people, I became very interested in that aspect of the business, so when peermusic expanded in 1993, I joined them.
What experiences have been important to you in developing your skills?
Itís all a matter of experience, of doing it. Being in the right place at the right time and learning from people who are willing to teach and who do the job well. I have had great mentors: my boss, Kathy Spanberger, who has been with the company for over 23 years now and who started as an assistant, working her way up to become the President, and Joan Schulman, who runs our Copyright Department, has also been an incredible inspiration to me over the years.
What sort of a team do you have at your department; how many people work there and what positions are necessary to keep the whole thing running?
In the L.A. office, in my department, thereís 3 of us: me, Ken Hauptman, and my assistant, Kim Draper. I oversee the placing of the songs into motion pictures and television as well as handling all licenses to finalize the deals, including negotiating the fees, and Ken stays in touch with all of the music supervisors, concentrating solely on pitching material. Kim receives all of the quote requests and processes all of the licenses. In addition, based at our Nashville office, I also have Craig Courier, who works specifically on pitching to commercial ad agencies.
So itís really the four of us dealing with the film and television community. But we also work closely with the Creative staff of the entire company. When we need specific songs, we go to them and say, "Look, hereís what weíre looking for. What do you have by one of your writers?" For instance, Frank Petrone, who is National Director of Creative Affairs here in L.A, not a day goes by when we donít talk to him about something that weíre doing.
What challenges do you face when placing music for movies and television?
The biggest challenge is a financial one. Itís difficult to make the money we used to make in motion pictures. So many films now are small, independent films, and they donít have the budgets for music, even though music still plays a major role in the film. The first budget they cut is the music budget, and yet itís vital to a filmís success - soundtracks are so important these days. Itís become difficult for us to get the same kind of fees that we got even six years ago. Television has been much better, keeping up with the times and realizing the importance of music. Theyíre more realistic about their music budgets.
How do you work to get your music placed in movies and TV?
We stay in close contact with all film and TV production companies and all music supervisors in town, finding out what theyíre working on and what they need. We also have a music supervisor, not affiliated with peermusic, but working out of a spare office in our building, called Julianne Jordan, and sheís been a help to us too, telling us what sheís working on, and what colleagues of hers are working on.
We feed them as much music as they need, try to give them ideas and new things they might not have thought of and that might also work within their budget. It doesnít make sense to supply them with a song thatís going to be too expensive. Itís important that it works both musically and financially.
Who are the most important people for you to keep in contact with?
I have to say no one is more important than anybody else because you never know where the next hit will come from. Just because a music supervisor hasnít had success with one of his or her films doesnít mean the next one might not be huge. Every project is important for us, even though budgets certainly have something to do with it. If itís a major feature film, weíre going to pay a little more attention to it than if itís a small independent film, even though theyíre still very important.
What are the differences in placing songs for TV shows compared to movies?
TV shows work very quickly, and they need the music right away. They usually work on a week-by-week basis; we get a call on Monday or Tuesday, we send the song to them immediately, and the license may be done by the next week. Thereís not a lot of time for thought or experimentation with different musical styles. They know what they want and they have to get it quickly. With film thereís a lot more room to try different things, because thereís more time.
What resources do you use to find openings for songs for movies and TV?
You can ask anybody; itís always about personal contact. Something we sometimes use is the Music Report, which lists productions looking for things. They are also about to launch an online service, which looks interesting. Thereís also the regular trades like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, which both mention whatís in production.
To a certain extent we use the Internet, but there havenít been a lot of production resources up yet.
How do you work to find the right song for a project in your vast international catalogue?
Itís hard! Fortunately, some of us are just music fans, so we have a vast knowledge of our catalogue inside our heads. Iím one of them, and Allan Dann in our London office is another one. People use us as resources for digging up obscure titles and older songs. We also send out e-mails to all of our offices when a specific request comes up and have them submit ideas.
If you find a special song which is almost right for a movie, do you have it re-written to fit exactly?
Occasionally, but thatís up to the songwriters. Sometimes itís not worth it, but if itís a big enough project with a lot of exposure, the writers are often very amenable when it comes to rewriting the song to accommodate the project. It happened with ďRun To YouĒ, one of our songs featured in the movie The Bodyguard. It was written and submitted for the film; they loved it but didnít think the lyrics were quite right. So Clive Davis from Arista came back to us and said, "We want to use it, but we need to re-do the lyrics to reflect more of this kind of feeling." The lyrics were re-written to their specifications, and then it was perfect. It went on the soundtrack, which to date has sold 17 million copies in the US alone.
What are the general sync licensing fees when it comes to music in movies and what are they based on?
Itís impossible to say, because there are so many variables. It depends if the song is for background use, or if itís a visual with an orchestra playing in a ballroom, or if itís a concert scene where you actually see an artist singing the song. And also if itís used for 15 seconds or for several minutes. Those things are all going to change the fee dramatically. It also depends on what rights theyíre looking for. Most films want whatís called All Broad Rights, which means a buy-out of all the possible rights to screen a film. But some productions donít have the money to pay for all that up front, so theyíll buy it in pieces, purchasing just the theatrical rights to start with, and then coming back to buy the television rights later on. So it can vary from 1.500 to 60.000$ or more.
And of course, a small demo-master by one of our baby bands who havenít got a record deal yet is going to be a lot less expensive than licensing ďStardustĒ, which we control.
What factors decide if you will grant a sync license?
Weíre pretty amenable to granting a license, but we definitely want to know about the project and how the song will be used. Certain writers have stipulations in their contracts that they donít want their song to be used in a negative context, like in scenes containing violence, drug use or alcohol abuse. For commercials we usually have to get approval from the writers or the heirs of the writers if they are deceased. Weíll need specifics on the scene, but itís rare that we actually deny use.
Do you work with your catalogue only, or do you also work with your composers writing tailor-made music for projects?
We definitely work a lot with our composers to write songs specifically for projects. Shelly Peiken is writing specifically for the new Scooby Doo film for Warner Brothers Pictures. Sometimes studios have screenings for writers, or writers will be given a copy of the script. But it also happens that they just get a description, ďHereís the story and hereís what the song needs to be about." Depending on the situation, they may get a fee up-front to write a song, or they might have to write it on spec, which is taking a chance. Theyíre putting their efforts into writing a song that might not get used at all, the only benefit being that they may get a great song out of it.
Do you sign songwriters/composers who will write specifically for the screen?
Not solely for the screen. We donít have composers who only do score music. Score composers works are usually owned entirely by the film company. So there would be no benefit to us having a score composer, because we wouldnít control the rights. Score composers donít really need a publisher but an agent.
In your experience, how common is it that the temp music actually ends up in the final movie?
Itís becoming more and more popular. What happens is that the director sees it and begins to get used to it, and it ends up getting married to the picture. If you get into a temp track, you have a much better shot at getting in the final picture; itís a real key to get into it.
How much of your music featured in movies and TV shows is generated through requests, as opposed to music you have actively placed?
It varies from season to season, as well as from territory to territory. We have such an extensive and well-known catalogue that probably half of the licenses I grant are a result of requests; the other half we have actively pursued. But while it is probably 50/50, pitches are sometimes difficult to trace. We send out an awful lot of material, and you never know who might end up listening to what and find that the material is perfect for this or that use. The request comes in, and we might not know that the request comes from material we sent them 9 months ago.
How do you think that DVD will change the relationship between music and movies? Will the complete soundtrack also be featured in the DVD release?
DVD hasnít made a difference yet and it will still take some time, because the players are not compatible. DVDs must work in your car as well as in your computer and your home system, before they can make an impact. And they might never be compatible, because hardware companies like to keep things separate. It would be a good thing for us if the entire soundtrack were to be included on the DVD, because it would bring in additional mechanical income.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the film, TV and music industries, what would you do?
1. The United States is the only country that grants a buy-out on videos and DVDs, and it was a big mistake for us to agree to that. In all other countries you get a royalty rate for every unit sold. We missed out on that; we blew it. Itís not fair, and definitely something I would change.
2. I would like production companies to be more educated when working out their budgets, to realize how important the music is, and not be so stingy with how much they allot for the music. Itís very frustrating for music supervisors and it makes their jobs so much more difficult when they have to come to us and say, "Look, this is a big film, but theyíve only given me X amount of money to work with." Itís disproportionate, and it needs to be fairer.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
There have been many highlights. One was this year, winning a Grammy for O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media Ė Ed.) Those songs helped establish our catalogue almost 75 years ago. Theyíre old songs, and to think that, in 2002, they would be featured on a No.1 album and win a Grammy for Best Album Of The Year is just mind-boggling.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
I like to take each day as it comes. Iíd like to think that the music industry will still be thriving. Right now, all the free downloading on the Internet is a hurdle we have to get over, and Iím looking forward to see how that plays out in the next 5 years. But I still plan to be here working in the music and film/television business, and hopefully still at peermusic.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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