EXEC PROFILE Carianne Marshall
Partner, Songs Music Publishing
As Head of Creative Licensing at Songs Music Publishing, Carianne Marshall works with artists and songwriters to place songs in film, television, video games and more. Founded by Matt Pincus in 2004, Songs is employee-owned. One of Marshall’s most recent achievements is negotiating a deal for Lorde to write a song and curate music for the latest Hunger Games soundtrack.
The Write Fit
Sometimes we have to pass on [writers] whom we’re not sure we can add value to. That’s something we think about, not just whether or not we love them. When something comes across my plate, we evaluate it from a synchronization perspective. We never know what somebody’s going to use, but we know what we get asked for on a regular basis. There might be a point in time where we love a songwriter but our plates are full.
I talked to a songwriter who once said, “I sent 30 of my songs to every music supervisor in this directory.” It’s more effective to do research: think about what television shows or video games are right. Pick your three best songs and send those. Be thoughtful about how you’re presenting music. I don’t want 17 attachments; I want a link to a couple of the best songs, and if it’s something we think might be a fit, we might ask for more.
Merging Into Publishing
In 1999, the business was changing. That was the year MCA and PolyGram merged to form Universal Publishing. I ran into a friend at a concert and she asked if I had ever thought about publishing. I knew it was time to make a move. I didn’t know much about publishing. I kind of thought it was like a bank and it didn’t seem sexy. But she gave publishing a great sell and I was interested.
Birth of the Cool
I was an assistant at Universal Music Publishing after the merger. I moved quickly to DreamWorks Music Publishing doing A&R coordinating as well as film and television placement before anybody paid attention to it. [I worked with a band that] had a hit and the music supervisor for ER wanted to use their song. She wanted to use the melody for a ringtone. [The band] didn’t want to do it, because they thought any use in visual media wasn’t cool. How things have changed!
Focusing on Relationships
At DreamWorks, it was all about the songwriters. There were only eight of us, and I got to know them really well. That’s where I fell in love with publishing and the filmfTV business. Then DreamWorks Publishing was put up for sale, so I took a job at Universal Publishing as a filmfTV exec. I had a great experience there, but I had forgotten what a big company it was. When I met Matt Pincus, he was the first person outside of the synchronization community who understood my vision for relationships and matchmaking, not sales. This is about marrying music to picture and listening well, telling a story. At the end of the day, the integrity is to the picture, not the song.
Nimbly Seeking New Opportunities
We have the ability to be hands-on and service-based because of our size- about 30employees. We’re nimble and able to navigate changes in the industry. The synchronization market changed incredibly in the last five years. We did a deal with Conde Nast Entertainment where they used our music in their online content. That couldn’t have even been an opportunity a handful of years ago.
We’re able to make the decisions that are best for our writers. A big part of our philosophy is to listen to our writers and help realize their goals. We talk a lot about what value means. We’re able to know what might be valuable right now, what might not be and how that might change. There might be a writer who has a new single, and that’s what they want us to focus on. In six months, maybe they have a different focus. What makes sense for you right now? Does it make sense to work on a student film? Does it make sense to think about a strategy in television? Do we want to just put your music everywhere?
I worked with a writer who said, “I will approve anything but a motocross video.” It’s my responsibility to make sure none of his material ends up in motocross. He was sensitive about his material being used in any programming that had a skew in alcohol. It’s my responsibility to continue the dialogue and know when things change for [my writers]. Another writer had something happen where he became sensitive to a certain subject matter. We’re able to accommodate that and not even pitch songs that our writers wouldn’t want pitched.
Sometimes, we know the budget ahead of time when we’re asked for a pitch. Many times, we’ll get a music supervisor who’ll come to us with a brief, “Here’s what we’re looking for, here’s what we can pay.” It’s up to us to know which songs will clear in that price range. The moving parts are the terms. How long will that song be used? What type of media is it? Is it online only? Are they going to use instrumental or the lyrics? We take all those things into consideration. In some cases, we might charge more because that’s what makes sense for that writer and song. In other cases, if we’re trying to showcase a particular song and help an artist with a campaign at radio, it might be perfect. If we can get a long use that people can hear in a big TV show, we’re more flexible.
What we’re trying to do with our monthly songwriting workshops is facilitate a community. The idea came from one of our songwriters. The workshops have grown and grown. My favorite part is hearing our writers and artists give each other notes and share their music. It’s a comfortable, safe place for them.
Exposure’s Great, Payment’s Better
“I got a song on a TV show for free.” That’s not necessarily great. “Well, I can tell supervisors I had my song on this show.” That’s not actually a calling card. Many times, supervisors want music that hasn’t been used before. Perhaps that’s the appeal: something new that nobody’s discovered. When I hear songwriters say, “My song was in the background of this show,” I don’t know if that’s necessarily exposure unless it was a featured use. There’s value when you know about a use ahead of time-when you can capitalize on it by Tweeting to your fans, when you can make the most of a placement. A placement in itself can be fantastic, but I wouldn’t say it’s the end. You’ve got to do it because that value add makes sense.
The Long Game
We look at writers as partners. We look at the short and long term, because we know we’re going to work with them for an extended period. If I’m going to work with a writer over the course of their career, I think strategically about what’s going to make sense instead of the dollars I’ll make in the next quarter.
The Right Placement For You
There are a lot of people pitching songs for synchronization and companies not as reputable as others. Questions to ask when you’re interviewing somebody to place your music would be, “Do you take publishing or do you take a fee for a placement?” Nobody should take publishing unless they’re a publisher. And not just where you had your clients’ songs placed but how much money you get for them. Because if they’re telling everyone they can have songs for free, that’s not helpful. Ultimately, the songwriter’s going to make the decision that feels right for them. Be smart and thoughtful and think about your goals.