David Steele – Composer Interview

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    Art Munson

    1.) Your name?

    David Steele

    2.) Any credits you care to mention?

    For National TV Spots: McDonald’s, Sears, Nintendo, Disney, Verizon, Alberto Culver, Proctor and Gamble, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Kentucky Fried Chicken, General Motors, Hyundai, Anheuser Busch, Kraft, Wal Mart, Honda, Toyota, El Pollo Loco, Pop Chips, Google, Fanta

    TV Shows: My Music has been on over 100 different TV shows but here a few: NBC’s Biggest Loser, Saturday Night Live, Last Call with Carson Daily, dozens of promos for NBC shows, American Pickers, The Nate Berkus Show, Honey Boo, Toddlers and Tiara’s, Flipping Out, NY Ink, Auction Kings, Extreme Cribs, Pawn Stars, Real Housewives, and many others.

    3.) How long have you been writing music?

    22 Years

    4.) How did you get started?

    I was born into this business, my father and grandfathers were first-call studio players. I had an uncle who recorded with Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, The Guess Who, Kiss and other pop acts from the 70’s. As a child, I attended and observed literally hundreds of commercial music sessions at my father’s studio. I watched the best composers and session musicians implement the art of commercial music production on a weekly basis. I joined a band, worked in an Ad Agency out of college in a major market, Chicago and that has given me a lot of insight into how the jingle business works as well as the library/stock music business.

    5.) How long have you been writing library/production music?

    Library tracks for 3 years, but music for ads or “jingle” producer since 1996.

    6.) Are you making a living wage writing library/production music?

    Yes, but it is important to point out that I also supplement my income by operating a full service recording studio where we provide complete audio production services which include Voice Over/ narration recording work in addition to music production. There are 3 of us here on a daily basis. The two other guys handle the VO work in 1 studio while I write and record tracks in the music studio. We all get involved with music and VO production in a given year

    7.) Do you care to give any general figures of annual earnings (low/mid/high 5, 6, 7 figures)?

    It’s been a roller coaster my entire career…some years I hit 6 figures for music related affairs others have been in the low 5’s. I am quite optimistic for 2013, I already have hit 5 figures and we’re only two months into the year.

    8.) Are you self-taught or have you studied formally?

    Combination of both, I have studied a ton of theory on my own, took private drum and piano lessons as a kid, teen, and young adult.

    9.) Do you work through music libraries?


    9a.) If so are they exclusive and/or non-exclusive libraries?


    10.) Do you contact music supervisors, music editors or TV production companies directly?

    Yes, but I really do not enjoy this task anymore! I used to be a cold calling machine here in Chicago drumming up business for myself as a jingle producer. It’s tough, you face a ton of rejection and just get ignored a lot.

    10a.) If so how do you approach them?

    Introductory cold calls, e-mails, e-mail links to tracks, by asking them “what are you looking for?…or do you need any music for your projects right now?” Facebook posts, connecting on Linked in. etc. etc.

    11.) How do you deal with rejection?

    Every day I am rejected, ignored, or not called back or e-mailed back. It’s just part of the business. I have been in some heated competitions for big budget TV spots over the years (with other composer’s). I’ve won a few, but lost a lot more.

    12.) How do you feel about re-titling?

    It seems to make sense from a tracking/ record keeping perspective. Publishers need to create their own unique titles to keep track of the titles they place. Songs with lyrics are another issue, but retitled instrumentals used mainly as music beds or background cues do not seem to present any problem whatsoever. An owner of a watermarking company made an interesting point, he said “a human being will always have to lay eyes on a cue sheet to verify the list of cues used in a production before the cue sheets are filed with pros, watermarking is a “policing” mechanism and it will never replace cue sheets”…I don’t know…I tend to agree with him, we’ll find out soon enough I suppose. I just do not see the PROS paying royalties based on watermarked detections.

    13.) What do you have the most success with, royalty free sites or back end PRO royalties?

    I don’t use royalty free just yet.

    14.) Any tips about writing descriptions, keywords and/or metadata?

    Copy and paste to save time! Save your track descriptions on a spreadsheet. Ideally, have someone else do that task so you can continue to write music.

    15.) Any trends you would like to comment on (YouTube Content ID, Internet Royalties)?

    Because people are consuming more on YOUTUBE, the royalties should go up for internet. I know I watch a ton of content on YOUTUBE. I love the Nat Geo docs on animals in Africa for example…lions, giraffes, elephants, etc…I enjoy those shows. I watch them on YouTube a lot.

    16.) What sort of advice would you give to someone just entering the library/production music world?

    Be patient, this is a marathon, not a race. Obviously, write a lot of great tracks. Use a lot of live instrumentation. Those tracks do better, at least in my catalog they do. Make sure you have a plan B or another job to bring home the bread and butter while you write and record. This is not a career with any guarantees and will only get more competitive and saturated over time. Know that you will probably not see any meaningful income or royalties for a good 2 or 3 years after you get accepted into a library as a contributing writer. Try to get to know folks that can just hire you to write a track for their production if you can. That’s how I did it, and really, that is exactly how libraries find their clients. They attend all industry events and parties, they network, make noise on Facebook etc. You have to be a non-stop PR machine, but you also have to write great tracks.

    And finally!

    17.) If you were not writing music what would you be doing?

    I like to cook and entertain folks…so maybe the restaurant business? I really do not know. I have been hanging out in recording studios all my life.

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