by Robin Munson
Art and I have just returned from the Production Music Conference hosted by the PMA. The event proved to be very enjoyable and enlightening.
There were two “tracks” of lectures, one focusing on the creative side, and the other on the business. The two tracks were presented simultaneously, apart from the keynote addresses.
Unfortunately, we were unable to get to the event early enough to hear the first keynote speech from Jeff Beal. This was a real disappointment for us, as Mr. Beal is one of our favorite composers. If anyone was there for that we’d really appreciate your sharing some of the highlights. His work is so varied, extensive, and inspiring! Among his many scores are “Ugly Betty”, “Monk”, and a personal favorite, “Jesse Stone”. But reading through his bio in the PMC program, I see that this is only a tiny fraction of an amazing body of work. So sad we weren’t there! Also, unfortunately, we had to leave early to beat the L.A. traffic out of town, which means we missed a number of informative panels. Next year we will plan to be there the whole day.
We did get to attend “Trailer Music: New Trends, Modern Techniques”. The panelists, including Brad Goldberg, Damir Price, Gujillermo De La Barreda and Natalie Baartz were very knowledgeable and shared their reflections on what makes for a great trailer, which, as you might imagine, is a subject that could have filled several days of discussion. Several excellent examples were shown, all involving sound effects and musical sound effects. One of the highlights for me was the trailer for “Bridegroom”, Composer Benjy Gaither. It opened with attention-grabbing sound effects, then layered them with a very simple piano melody, very understated, and it incorporated the sound of three knocks – which we learn in the course of the trailer is the couple’s code for “I love you.” (This came up in discussion as the “signature” of the piece, (or in songwriting parlance, the hook.) In the space of two minutes I was completely immersed and wanted to watch the movie. This was the essence of the discussion. The point was made that a trailer must be more than beautiful – it must be an advertisement for the film. And one of the panelists said, “When I listen to the music I want to see the trailer.” Tall order!
There was some discussion about the business aspect of trailer music. The licensing fees paid which it turns out are pretty much all over the map. Big blockbuster films may pay as much as $80,000 for an exclusive or custom trailer, while independents may have only $6,000.00 for their entire trailer budget. And we learned that, just as with the rest of our world, the “middle” class is shrinking, so it’s probably “feast or famine”.
When music supervisor Natalie Baartz was asked what her advice would be for a composer trying to break in to the trailer business she looked flummoxed and drew a blank. That got a chuckle from the audience! But in the discussion that followed, the consensus seems to be (sigh) persistence.
The keynote with Stewart Copeland could not have been more fun! He is a great speaker, full of down-to-earth insights about the business and – oh yes – The guy can write! He also shared stories about his time with “The Police” and how he made the transition from rock drummer to film composer. His first movie score was for Francis Ford Coppola, a “small” movie called “Rumblefish”. Not too shabby! He quipped that as a drummer he “[doesn’t] take direction, can’t remember arrangements and “[attacks] the drums with a blind fury.” One of the most striking points he made was the difference between an “artiste” (which he infused with a little irony) and a “professional”. He said that the “professionals” – music creators who must shape their creations to fit the vision of the producers or the director actually learn to be better musicians – because they must.
And I think that if I had one takeaway from this conference that would pretty much sum it up. As production music creators we must be so much more than artists. We must be exceptionally disciplined and be able to adapt to the needs of other creatives. This requires a certain degree of humility and the ability to be a “team player”. Then maybe, if we’re lucky and very successful, we might be able to write that avant-garde concerto for washboard and piano.
Hunter Williams and the PMA are to be congratulated for a wonderful event and we were grateful to be there.