SynchAudio is proud to be the partner of Midem 2017’s Global Sync & Brands Summit, and to bring you this series of interviews. Like the beginning of a great story, it was a cold and rainy day In LA and I was excited to meet with Tony Scudellari at his Sony Pictures Television headquarters in Culver City and to interview him for midemblog’s music supervisor series.
Tony started out with Columbia TriStar Television in the early ‘90s working in the TV music department. He curated music for various television programmes and worked on shows such as Mad About You, Married With Children, Party of Five and The Nanny. Tony also worked on soundtrack recordings for Mad About You and Party of Five. Later he joined with music supervisor John McCullough to work on television shows and indie films. At the same time he ran an independent record label and three music publishing companies. His work as a music supervisor during the 1990s included servicing such shows as Dawson’s Creek, That 70’s Show and 3rd Rock From The Sun among many others, including the Academy Awards nominated documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. In 2005 Tony joined Sony Pictures Television as Senior Vice President of Television Music. In that capacity he oversees music strategy for the Sony’s television and digital programming. He is responsible for hiring composers and music supervisors for various shows while for some projects serving as the music supervisor.
midemblog: What makes a track ‘sync-able’? How can you tweak a track to improve its chances of getting synced?
Tony Scudellari: Ideally, a track is “sync-able”if it fits the scene, has the right tone, lyrical content, tempo and helps enhance the overall musical voice of a show. And of course, if that track is something we can afford! How we can tweak a track depends on the permissions we are granted from the rights holder/s. Because of today’s technological capabilities, there are so many different ways we can tweak/edit a track to fit, but again, we would not do so without the appropriate approvals to do so.
> What recent sync projects are you the most proud of, and why?
I recently finished music supervising James Franco’s completely original reinterpretation of the MOW Mother May I Sleep With Danger – which included Shakespeare, lots of blood and beautiful lesbian vampires. Like his filmmaking, the music had to have a very unique voice. Part of that was achieved by having James Iha as the composer, who I pitched and James came through with an outstanding score. For 3rd party music, we had an extremely small music licensing budget. For temp, our picture editor cut in a great song to a montage that served as the film’s coda. Unfortunately, to license that song that fit so well, it would have cost us 10x our whole music budget. But, it provided us with an opportunity to create a new, original song for the film which, in the end, turned out to be even better than the original song – and all at a fee well within our budget.
> What are the best ways people should pitch songs to you?
I prefer to audition music via a playlist or downloadable sound files containing the appropriate metadata, such as song & licensing contact info. Pitches should be specific to the project and not a matter of throwing anything against the wall, hoping it will stick. My preference would be to have people reach out when a project is specifically looking for something or once you have an idea of what the direction will be.
> What are the worst ways/tactics to avoid?
Among the worst are: not being prepared or knowing what the project is. It’s your responsibility to find out what projects supervisors are working on. It’s a waste of a supervisor’s time (and, yours) to pitch music that is inappropriate. For example, if I’m working on a project that uses hip-hop as its musical foundation, don’t pitch me a folk song for the project. It’s common sense, but you have no idea how many people lack that common sense. The fastest way to getting me to not use your music is to tell me something is an easy clear and I find out out it is anything but easy. For example, two of the songwriters don’t get along; or there are co-publishers who will not pre-approve the fee you quoted me that you can deliver to license a song.
> Targeting is key when pitching your song. What are the key specifics to bear in mind when pitching for:
– TV ads – the pitch should go to the network’s promo department, not the studio producing a show/MOW/miniseries.
– TV shows – Again, know the show you are pitching for; do your research. Ask key questions, like whether the budget will accommodate major releases or indies or music libraries. When you receive a creative request for music, be as swift in your response as possible – chances are you are being asked under a tight deadline. But also, only supply what is asked. You will get more callbacks and requests if you are honest and say you don’t have a style rather than send something that does not work. Sending music for the sake of sending loses you credibility in the eyes of a music supervisor.
> Netflix and Amazon in particular are producing more and more creatively different shows right now. Does this bring a whole new set of opportunities and challenges for music supervisors?
In a word – Yes. And you can add a whole set of other content providers as part of question – places like WGNAmerica, Hulu, Crackle and Sony Playstation, also are receptive to showing interesting programming.
I’m more of a glass-half-full kind of guy, so I see more opportunities than challenges.
Challenges – With this growth of all of these content providers, it becomes a challenge to create a distinct musical voice for a series or project. When a show is direct-to-series, the window to create that musical voice can be shortened, which puts more pressure on the supervisors and composers vs. the time available during pilot season and the break between pilot season and network air to continue to work on the music.
Opportunities – Music budgets tend to be a bit better, so you have a bit more creative freedom. Having to create a unique musical voice provides more opportunities for new artists or for placement of “deep cuts.”There is also more of an opportunity for creation of original songs for in the body of a show. Because Netflix, Amazon & the on line content providers usually don’t have the same types of restriction on time, main title sequences tend to be longer, which means the Return of the Theme Song, which is something that makes me very happy. A lot of these new content providers are open to ideas on composers, so those who may be just getting their musical start in other areas (composers for video games, musicals, commercials, indie & feature films and recording artists) have more of an opportunity. I also see a greater willingness to release songs or soundtracks for promotional and marketing purposes and these content providers having a strong interest in not just monetising these soundtracks, but viewing the music as a way to market and get eyeballs to view these shows.
> What can labels do to improve their chance of achieving sync licences for their artists?
Respond quickly to requests; if asked to find a more cost-efficient alternative (or, heaven forbid, lower fees), it’s usually because we have to meet budgets. I can guarantee you most music supervisors will do all they can to find a way to make it up to you in the next use.
> What sort of deal conditions should artists/rights holders expect to obtain?
We license music in our shows for all media, worldwide, in perp, excluding theatrical, so plan accordingly. The only possible exceptions are reality shows, game shows and soaps, which ask for more limited terms with options. A common question we get is “What can we do to get our songs as a main title theme?”. Our longstanding studio policy is that we never license main titles this – all main title themes (both synch and master rights) must be owned by the studio.
> How much should they expect to make from a successful sync deal?
It really depends on the budget a show has and what the need is for a specific use. The one thing we can tell you is that we will not ask 3rd party rights holders to use music for gratis on one of our TV projects. The SPE Music Group feels very strongly about the need to pay for the use of music in our TV programming. Gratis licenses devalue music and the talent that creates it. We want people to understand the value of music and that music’s creators deserve to be paid something.
> How has your working process with the music industry evolved in recent years? Do labels, for example, now understand your needs better?
Overall, I think the music industry is pretty savvy when it comes to TV. For the past 15-20 years, they have been pretty savvy about the way this business has evolved. I think this is more of an issue for the up-and-comers who need some orientation.
> Who are the different intermediaries you work with? How do they work?
We work with everyone – labels, pubs, managers, agents, artists. You never know where a great musical idea might come from, so it’s important to listen, be receptive to others whenever possible and keep an open mind.
> How do you decide whether a project requires original or pre-recorded music?
It’s all about the proverbial balance of Art & Commerce – those kinds of decisions are made based on the creative needs of a project and the budget.
> How do you find the right composer for a given project?
There is no set, singular answer – it really depends. Sometimes the Exec Producer/s and/or Director will want to have someone they have worked with before. If not, it might be based on a creative conversation and listening to composer reels with the EPs (and, sometimes the Director) and finding the right person who can deliver that musical voice but also (ideally) someone who will be able to speak and understand the musical shorthand those EPs (and, possibly Director) might have. And of course, you still need to get studio and network approval for that composer.
> How have recent technological evolutions changed the way you work? Does streaming, for example, make it easier than ever for you to discover new artists?
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. The good aspect is that music and talent are more accessible so the exciting part is you can find those diamonds in the rough early. The challenge is that you can be overwhelmed by all this choice or production personnel can put in temp music, fall in love with it and our licensing folks find out it is hard or impossible to clear. That’s one of the areas where the music supervisor as gatekeeper becomes even more important.
> Have you already worked with brands/agencies? If so, what were your key take-aways?
Only in the area of cross-promotions between studio, networks, television projects and products. Sometimes, this can be tricky when it comes to the placement of music and the potential relationships those artists/labels may have that can be at cross purposes with what has been set up by the studio/network/production/products.
Tony Scudellari is just one of the world-leading music supervisors taking part in Midem 2017’s Global Sync & Brands Summit. More info here…