I'm doing a new series of interviews via email with a variety of music supervisors and music publishers working in the music licensing business. The first interview is with Brooke Ferri of Black Toast Music. Black Toast Music has placed a TON of music in a variety of TV shows and Films including Six Feet Under, The Shield, CSI, The Nanny, Smallville, Party of Five, Prison Break, Las Vegas, Barbershop, My Name Is Earl, The Unit and many, many more.
1) Hi Brooke. Can you tell me a Little bit about yourself and your role at Black Toast?
I just graduated from Southwestern Law School here in LA and Passed the bar this past Nov. I have been working for BTM since November 2010. Since BTM is a boutique publishing company and music library my role at BTM is very multi faceted. I am the manager of business and creative affairs, which means that I help implement and expedite projects that involve both the business and creative side of the industry.
My chief task since I have been here has been to help launch black toast records. This has involved signing new indie bands, registering copyrights, dealing with business entities, registering songs with the PROs, putting together albums from the new bands as well as our established artists and creating compilation albums. Since I have been here I have compiled and put together 11 albums which are currently available on iTunes and other major digital distributors including albums by the hip hop acts G-$tack and St. John, the blues artist Sonny Ellis, the indie artists Kelly Pardekooper and Paul Otten and “TV Songs Vol. 1” and “Vol. 2” which feature our most requested BTM songs as heard on popular TV shows. Our third compilation album including the song from the Vampire Diaries Promo “I Will Always Be Your Baby” by Jenny and the Fentones should be hitting iTunes this summer.
Along with launching BTR and putting together these albums I listen to a lot of music artists have submitted and make suggestions to our president, Bob Mair, which artists and composers I believe would make a nice contribution to our catalog. I then meet with the artists and explain the business of how we operate. I explain the contract that they would sign with us and help them understand the terms and what it means to them. If they decide to work with us I then conference with Bob Mair and discuss what songs we’d like from this artist and or if we want the artist to write something specific for us; composers often write pieces specifically for our needs. I then draw up the contracts for signing.
Another aspect of my job is pitching music to supervisors and producers. BTM has such a great reputation in the industry that we have many film and TV clients that come to us for specific music needs. When we get a request I go through our catalog of about 4,000 songs and pull out the tracks that I think will best suit the client’s needs and send those songs to the client.
There are plenty of other aspects to my job including lots of data and lots of paper!
2) What kind of music does Black Toast primarily place? Are there certain styles of music you tend to place more than others?
We really place all genres of music. Lately, we have been placing more vocal songs than instrumental only tracks. We have also been placing a lot of blues and blues-rock and we are well known for our hip-hop and place a lot of hip-hop and rap. My suggestion really would be for artists to see what kinds of music are showing up on film and TV and that is going to be the type of music we are placing.
We are also getting more involved in trailer music which is typically big orchestral music sometimes with ethereal chanting or hybrid orchestral rock music. We are also doing more advertising music, which is almost always instrumental and often upbeat.
3) What advice do you have for musicians interested in licensing their music beyond the obvious tips like “write great music” and “produce great music”. Any specific tips based on your experience that musicians who want to license more of their music should know about?
As I mentioned above, see what types of music are popular in film and TV and try and write in that style. Also, what is very important is to pay attention to the mixes. Right now mixes tend to be very large and full so when mixing don’t do something small unless of course you are trying to replicate a certain sound, say, something from the 70’s. Either way however, the mix needs to be record quality as to that genre of music. What is record quality for 2010 arena rock is different from 1970’s folk. But “Record Quality” in the mixes is really key. My other suggestion is to be prolific and collaborate with other artists. The more you write the better your chances and the more comfortable you will be letting a piece go to a publisher who will typically want an exclusive deal with that piece of music and collaborating helps you have a variety of different sounds.
4) How much can musicians make from licensing their music? Obviously there are a lot of variables but can you give us an idea of possibilities in terms of how much musicians can potentially make?
I’m afraid I can’t answer this question with actual dollar amounts. It depends on how many songs that writer has placed and if those songs are popular. We have artists whose sole source of income is from licensing and there are others who have to have other sources of income. The longer an artist stays in the game the more money he or she will make. The artist should be aware that along with the synch fees they will get from the publisher for the use of their song in a media project, as long as the project airs on TV they will also get performance royalties from their PRO. These royalties can add up and continue for years if the spot continues to air.
5) What makes the most sense from your perspective, musicians writing music in anticipation of potential licensing needs or musicians simply writing what they write naturally and then pursuing licensing opportunities after the fact?
If a writer wants to use licensing as a way to promote their band then they should write what they write and not try to change. Licensing can be a great way to promote a new indie act. If the artist is trying to turn this into a full time gig then they have to write all types of music in all styles and pay attention to what is hot. That being said however, if an artist writes great rock, pop, indie and singer songwriter music that’s probably a good enough mixture, if they can write rap and electronic too, great, but they shouldn’t write what is too far out of their comfort zone.
6) Any final thoughts you can leave us with in terms of how musicians can successfully license their music?
First and foremost they need to understand the business so that when a publisher explains how everything works they don’t get turned off. I suggest reading “All You Need To Know About The Music Business” by Donald Passman and for those who are really ambitious check out “Music Money and Success” by Jeffrey and Todd Brabec.
7) Thanks for your time, if musicians want to learn more about your company and how they can submit music for your consideration, where can they go to learn more?