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Straight From The Music Supervisor’s Mouth

August 25, 2009

Confused by the music licensing world?

It can be convoluted as there isn’t that much info out there. Lucky for you, you got us on your side.

We had the opportunity to interview Sarah Gavigan, a Music Supervisor who happens to also teach a Class on the subject at UCLA and has an upcoming book coming out entitled, “How to Get Your Music Licensed in a Commercial.” (out December 09)

We were intrigued by her deep experience in licensing music and wanted her to share a little bit of wisdom with you guys. She was very cool and was more than happy to participate.

Enough babbling.. here’s the interview.

1. Can you tell our readers a little about yourself and how you got into music supervision as a career?

I was a talent agent for Cinematographers and Productions Designers in my early 20’s. After leaving ASU (as fast as I could) I wanted to get into Film Production, and I fell into Commercials and short form over Film. That lead me into being and agent and then owning my own Agency when I was 26. In 1999 I was introduced to an Icelandic band called GUS GUS, of whom the founding members wanted to direct commercials and asked for my help. Through knowing them I ended up around alot of Indie Artists and bands. It got me thinking about music licensing in advertising, which was just beginning to be whispered. So in 2000 I started Ten Music to represent Indie Artists, Bands and Labels, and became a Music Supervisor. Thievery Corporation and their label ESL were my first clients.

2. What are the pros and cons you face when working with artists who own their own publishing versus those who artists who are signed to a publishing company?

Working with artists who own their own publishing can be fantastic. It helps me to clear the track quicker and get a price that works for everyone. Publishers are only motivated to make their money back. That being said, if an artist doesn’t know very much about publishing and they have done ANY sampling, it can be a major roadblock. Sampling is the #1 reason I am not able to license a track I love. I cannot stress this enough, If you want to license music, DONT SAMPLE, or rather, sample legally. This is one very good reason to have a Publisher.

3. Could you give us a typical process for an independent artist to get their song placed?

I think the better question is, How do you get Your Music Placed?” That is an entire 12 week class (that I happen to be teaching at UCLA called How to Get Your Music Licensed in a Commercial), but the long and short of it is this:

1.) Learn how to research, always make sure that you know who you are talking to. Music Sups can be found online with good research. Same for Advertising Music Producers.

2.) Have great packaging or a great digital mailer. Looks matter. Remember – you are marketing to marketers. Tough crowd.

3.) Don’t hassle Music Supervisors, but do gently stay on their mind. Its a slippery slope.

4.) Be strategic about who you send your music to. Know what they have done in the past, let them know that and why you have sent your music to them. They appreciate that.

5.) Be organized when you send music – don’t send me a track that has no metadata on it – Register it with Gracenote and save me some time.

4. What are the current licensing opportunities available to independent artists, and what do you see opening up in the future?

1. Film

2. TV – Network and Cable Shows, now more than ever

3. Advertising – TV spots, radio, internet, web, industrial (we are seeing the biggest growth in web content)

If you look at the LONG TAIL (author Chris Anderson) theory, you can see that more opportunities for a band to license music have been created since the world wide web hit critical mass. More Films, more TV shows, and more Advertising outlets – so it’s all growing. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the fees are coming down somewhat, but my feeling is that $$ is always a cyclical issue. The next big step will be a deeper engagement on behalf of the buyer.

For example, a brand wants to use a song in their ad. The song has never been released, so they use the name of the brand to launch the track, by proxy bringing more traffic to the brand through various media outlets. Right now Music Licensing is one dimensional. That will only grow in time. 6 months ago brands didn’t even have a You Tube Channel.

5. What are the qualities/reasons you choose to place one song over another?

I make the initial choices – based on the brief I am given – but the ultimate choice is made by the client. Music Supervisors are truly, Supervisors – we make suggestions to help the Creatives make the best decision they can to carry out their vision.

6. What can an artist do to get placed on a regular basis?

First you have to have music that is placeable. Much of the music that gets sent to me is unusable. In advertising it needs to have a quick hook, have a decent build and more often than not have a simple lyrical hook: “Happy” “Love”, etc. Look at the Apples in Stereo song “Energy” that got placed in a Pepsi ad – it was written to be placed (see below for vid).

For Film and TV it is a bit more broad, you can use clean Hip Hop, heavy metal – much of that cannot be used in ads. I would say that in order to be placed regularly, you have to treat this as a business. Write music that follows trends, be diverse and make sure you set up all of your online channels to make it easy for Music Supervisors to find you and contact you. I had one very smart Music Supervisor say something simple to me once that sums it all up, “If the music is good, we will find it.”

Let us know what you got from this.. We want to keep doing interviews only if it’s helpful for you guys.
Original Apples in Stereo “Energy” song
Pepsi Music Spot featuring the song

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2009 12:15 am

    Hey, thanks for the great interview! I’d say this is the most useful thing you guys have done yet.

    As far as I’m concerned, you can’t provide too much quality info on how to get music licensed – keep it coming!

  2. Daniel permalink
    August 26, 2009 1:22 am

    This was a great interview, really helpful and informative. Thanks a lot 🙂

  3. August 27, 2009 7:32 am

    Congrats on getting this interview, guys, it was a great read!

  4. helenaustin permalink
    August 28, 2009 12:09 pm


  5. August 29, 2009 7:51 am

    Very good article. Definitely do more interviews !!!!

  6. August 29, 2009 4:48 pm

    Thanks Brad.

    How you and Kaitis doing? Haven’t heard from you guys in awhile


  7. August 31, 2009 12:17 am

    Fantastic interview. Please keep them coming.

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