Music Supervisor's Own Wendy Marmo
Wendy Marmo is Vice President of Music Services for MusicSupervisor.com. Her first job out of college was as the assistant to the President of Interscope Music Publishing where she got her first experience at pitching songs to artists and for film and television. She went on to work at MCA Music Publishing where she learned the fundamentals of music publishing and developed her copyright researching skills. Her position as Director of Film and TV music at MasterSource Music Catalog allowed her to work directly with music editors and music supervisors and provide them with the music they needed for their films. She has also held management positions at Priority Records and Universal Music Group where she became an expert in all forms of music licensing. Wendy and her husband Ronnie Marmo also produced a film, “West of Brooklyn”, which was released in 2009 by Osiris Entertainment.
JR: What are you working on now? What’s the most interesting part of each project — and what is the most challenging?
WM: My projects are varied in that some of them are pure clearance oriented, and some are music supervision oriented. The biggest one right now is Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 8. The great Nancy Severinson is handling the clearance, and I’m doing the licensing and trafficking of the payments and licenses. It’s very complex. The most interesting part of it is just seeing the volume of music that is used on the show. And I love the detail of what the licenses have in them – the terms and rates — making sure all the “most favored nations” clauses are taken into consideration.
JR: Some of our readers may not know that term. Can you explain of “most favored nations?
WM: MFN (most favored nations) means every publisher and master owner has to have the same terms and payments in a particular TV show or film. So I have to make sure they all match based on what everyone has quoted.
JR: What other projects are you working on?
WM: I’m working on a film “For the Love of Money.” I’m the music supervisor. This is a very creative job, besides doing the clearance. I worked with the producers from the script stage because there were songs that needed to be cleared prior to shooting because they were going to be shot on camera. The soundtrack is very music heavy and spans two decades and two different countries. It starts in 1972 into the late 80’s, and it’s set partly in Israel and partly in USA. So they wanted the music to really reflect both the time period and the culture changes. They also wanted very popular music throughout which is really difficult to do considering they had a very low budget for music.
JR: What do you mean by “very popular” music?
WM: They wanted humongous artists like The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, The Doors, The Who — and that was all in the first 20 minutes! So to replace those songs with songs that have that kind of unique feel was challenging, and exciting, sometimes stressful — and yet fun! We had to find songs that were big, recognizable, and that the producers could afford. We used some alternate masters in some cases, cover versions, or studio re-records by the original artists. Strategically we used the popular songs in places where they would be more noticeable to increase production value, and then fill in some of the more incidental cues with songs that sounded that they were from the same era or same style — but that were from less expensive unknown artists. MusicSupervisor.com has a lot of that in their catalog which I can choose from. Then we had to score the film, and that was very challenging trying to seam it all together.
JR: You’re the music supervisor on this film, so it’s different than the job you have on “So You Think You Can Dance.”
WM: Absolutely. And somewhere in the middle lies “Miss USA” that I just finished. I had to clear all of the music before the show aired. There were a lot of songs we couldn’t afford, and we had to replace them quickly and make sure they had everything they needed before the choreographers came in. I also was able to offer a few creative ideas on that project too.
JR: Could you give us an example of a “creative” idea?
WM: They had the song “She’s a Lady” that they wanted to use, but it turned out to be too expensive. The scene was a pre-recorded montage of old Miss USA episodes during the swimsuit competition. We see the 1960’s and 1970’s bathing suit styles, so I suggested “Venus” by Shocking Blue. They chose “Venus,” so that was exciting. And I managed to clear it in 24 hours!
JR: That’s great, and it worked really well against picture — in fact, in many ways better than the original idea.
WM: Yes! I thought it worked better too.
JR: So any other projects right now?
WM: Yes. I’m wrapping up the “America Country Music Awards, Girls Night Out,” show that was a televised concert of some the top ladies of country music. I’m also still wrapping up a movie from last year called “Stay Cool” which is finally going to get a release, so I’m finalizing some things on that. A lot of different projects going!
JR: Wendy, you’ve been in this game for a few years now. How have you seen things change?
WM: A recent trend I've noticed is that several of the major publishers are now handling licensing for the company's masters as well. It's certainly easier for we clearance people, but I imagine it has left some people unemployed and other people overworked!
JR: How difficult is music clearance in the business today?
WM: For those who are experienced at it, it’s simple. You request a quote, they give you a quote, you say yes or no or renegotiate, but there’s a process to it and so things move fairly quickly. I think when it gets complex is when there’re a lot of approval parties the labels or publishers need to go to. It’s not always up to the label or the publisher to decide how much something is going to cost, and often times the artists, or writer’s representation can make things very challenging and difficult. On the flip side, companies like MusicSupervisor.com have made things very easy because they have a lot of quality music pre-cleared – they control the masters and publishing on both sides. A lot of the great artists now aren’t getting record deals with the major labels, so this is where they are.
JR: In fact, even many of the older established artists who have seen record deals and their no re-record clauses lapse have gone ahead and re-recorded many of their biggest hits. We represent one library that has many of those – the San Juan catalog.
WM: Yes. And I can even go back to the original artist and they often have their own recordings of their hits that they own them instead of the label. On a recent film, I was clearing the Kenny Loggins’ song “This is It.” He had a studio re-recording, so we used that. On this movie, the San Juan Catalog had two re-records by the original artists. For “Play That Funky Music,” I spoke to the writer directly — he owns his own publishing, so of course the first thing I’m going to ask him is does he have a new master of it? He did, so I was able to license both sides directly from him.
JR: What is the secret to clearing very famous music that you wish someone had taught you at the beginning of your career?
WM: I think the big secret, which isn’t really a secret anymore, is step deals. A step deal is when you want the worldwide rights to use a song in perpetuity but you can’t afford it. Worldwide all media rights can cost anywhere from $20-60,000 or more depending on the song and the use. So, if you can’t afford to pay all of that at once, you can pay it in steps. You will do an initial payment upon execution of the license of maybe, for example, $5,000 and you can do steps at DVD release, TV release, or box office earnings as reported in the trades, and do pay bumps at each of those. Sometimes the overall amount will cost more in total than it would if you paid it all at once, but it allows you, especially on independent films, to get bigger songs. The master and song owners are willing to take the risk with you because they’ll get the money as you get the money. The downside for the producers is they are responsible for going and making those additional payments later.
JR: A well-constructed step deal has got such optimistic numbers for the producer that making an extra payment would hopefully not be too difficult.
WM: Yeah, if you’re selling 5 million dollars at the box office, I highly think you’re not going to flinch at paying another thousand dollars for the music.
JR: How did you get into this business and what were you’re first jobs?
WM: I knew I wanted to be in the record business my whole life, when I graduated from college that was the first thing I wanted to do. My first job was back in 1994. I was the assistant to the head of publishing for Interscope Music Publishing. I didn’t know what area I wanted to be in, but being the assistant to the president gave me a nice bird’s eye view on a lot of things. I really liked the publishing side. Funny though, they ended up selling Interscope Music’s publishing catalogue and they made my boss and I the head of the soundtrack department for about 6 months until they fired us all. But during that time I got very excited because we were reading scripts, and pitching songs for movies! I really liked that. I always wanted to get back there, but I spent the next 10 years working at major labels and publishers in the licensing departments. I learned a lot about clearance and I made a lot of contacts at record labels and publishers. But my dream was to always do music supervising, and so I started while I was still working.
JR: What was your first music supervisor job?
WM: The first project I supervised was my own film that my husband Ronnie Marmo and I produced called “West of Brooklyn.” It was a great training ground, because it was my movie and I was the boss so I didn’t have to worry too much about learning on the job! But I quickly did a few more films after that. I did “Outside Sales” and “Weather Girl” which were both small films. From there it’s just taken off. Then I started doing a few things for Dick Clark Productions. I left my job and started working freelance, and it was through being freelance that I connected with you (Julius Robinson) and Barry Coffing of MusicSupervisor.com. I have been working with you guys ever since and I am just happy as a clam!
JR: So are we! So here’s a basic question: what do you do about temp love a director or producer have — when they are just fixated on a pricey song that they temped in. What is the best way to nudge that person out of that idea if they can’t afford it?
WM: It’s always a challenge! I think the most difficult part of being a music supervisor is being the bearer of bad news to the producers — they can’t afford what they want. I offer a plan, usually depending on the budget, saying we can get usually one, two, or three big songs, and supplement the soundtrack with other great affordable music that will fit the era or scenes or style they are looking for. For instance in the movie “For The Love of Money” one of the big songs that was in there was the Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil.” On their music budget there was no way they could have that song. Nothing would work. We tried everything and they were really hung up on it. I find the best thing is to really do the work — put alternative songs to picture, find something that gives you chills, then present it to them. For me, sending them ten songs to choose from just confuses them. They want to be told something works, and that it’s ok. For “The Love of Money” I replaced “Sympathy” with the T-Rex song “20th Century Boy.” T-Rex had a very unique feel and the same kind of macho, gritty kind of sound and worked for the scene. It was unique and totally in their budget.
JR: What is your favorite moment in the process of music supervising? Is it the first meeting, spotting, the script, editing, licensing, the premier when you get to walk down the red carpet – hopefully you get to do that now and then!
WM: My favorite part, which I have to imagine is most people’s favorite, is when you find just the right song and you put it to picture and it works. Those happy accidents where a beat falls right where the picture changes, and it works perfectly, it gives me chills and it’s the most fun part.
JR: What are the skills that someone needs to do this job?
WM: It’s a two-sided job and that’s what makes it challenging. You have your right brain people who are creative, who love the music and the film and love combining the two. These are people who search for the music and suggest ideas. But then you have to clear the music, and it’s a very rare person who gets to have their own staff to do their clearances. So then you have the left-brain that comes in. You need the relationships at publishers and labels, and to be detail oriented. You have to keep track of all the different quotes and licenses, fees, and MFN terms. You have to be a person who likes both. Also in between those two stages is figuring out who controls the publishing and masters — that can be a lot of detective work. I love that; sometimes it’s like pulling the string on a sweater and seeing where it goes. You follow the breadcrumbs until you get to the end. To me, it’s the perfect job. Some people don’t like the paperwork, but that’s a big part of it too.
JR: It’s interesting what you were saying about the detective work. I’m sure a lot of people think it’s all written down somewhere, but it’s not.
WM: Definitely not. The publishing is a lot easier to figure out than the master side. With publishing you can go to the Harry Fox webpage, ASCAP, BMI and get a basic idea of a few of the publishers. You can contact them and usually get the missing information. Finding out who controls a master is way more complicated. There is no one site to go to and search for that. I have a few tricks. I use the All-Music guide a lot, or Amazon. If you search for an album there you can figure out when the first release was that had the song on it you’re looking for. The first album — whatever label that was released on — usually will be the label that controls it now. Then you have to know where that label has ended up, because they’ve all been sold a thousand times. It can be very complicated.
JR: I’d think someone who has accumulated experience such as yourself knows a lot of this stuff. It’s still very surprising to me that there isn’t a single resource that can help. Maybe in the future supervisors will get together and create that.
WM: Yeah it’s definitely complicated. For example, a few years ago Williamson music and the Oscar and Hammerstein Catalog got sold. I found out who they sold it to by searching online and looking for articles in Variety and found that out. So now when I see something on ASCAP that says Williamson music, I know that now its Magnum Music in New York. The masters that used to be licensed through EMI Capitol in the L.A. Capitol building — all those masters are now actually being licensed through EMI Music Publishing in New York.
JR: So if you have some advice for someone that was really interested in this as a career, what would that advice be?
WM: That advice would be to start working with filmmakers with short films going to film festivals. Go to film schools and work with some of the kids who are making movies Start finding music that you want to use in the films, and then start doing your research. It takes a lot of practice to learn these things, but as you do the detective work you learn as you go. Even practice – just pick up your favorite album and look at the songs and go research online about who owns the publishing, just for fun.
JR: That’s really cool. Is there anything that you would like to add about what you do, good, bad, ugly, whatever?
WM: I love the work — the work is awesome. I have never been happier with the kinds of projects that I’m working on and what I get to do. The hardest part of doing what I do, honestly, is dealing with the different personalities. It takes all the knowledge of music and film, and all the knowledge of publishing, record labels, and all of that. But the hardest part is the psychology. You have to like to work with people, and if you can keep a smile on your face through the most difficult of situations then you will succeed.
JR: At the end of the day, you get to go see that movie, or TV show, video, or website and just go, “Wow, that is great, the music really works” — and you helped create it.
WM: Exactly, and especially when working with an independent filmmaker, you’re really helping somebody to realize their vision and their dream, which is awesome. When you get a project that is such a big project for somebody, and you help them complete it with the perfect music that brings it to life — it’s very gratifying!