Music for Film and TV: A Report from Hollywood Reporter/Billboard Conference
By Scott G (The G-Man)
"Forget name of this thing," one audience member said of The Hollywood Reporter Billboard Film and TV Music Conference, "it's really all about politics and money it takes to put your music in a flick." More than one attendee privately agreed.
The underlying truth of that position may explain conflicting points made by more than two dozen speakers. For example, Glen Ballard was optimistic while maintaining a healthy dose of pessimism. Mark Mothersbaugh was elated yet often reliant on quietly humorous sarcasm. Chris Douridas was excited while being realistic and determined. And so it went during two-day event held at Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood, with every panel member upbeat about many aspects of industry while acknowledging that there are lots of problems.
Good News/Bad News. The dichotomy of "good news/bad news" was handled by each presenter in his own way. Stewart Copeland (former member of The Police and now noted film and commercial composer) and Garry Marshall (director of hugely successful films such as "Pretty Woman") used humor to make their points about economic realities of business putting pressure on creative decisions.
"Every musician wants to work on 'A-level' projects," Copeland said, "but fact is that many of us in this room will most often be working on 'Swordslayer 6' where your decisions might be very different." Film composer John Debney ("Passion of Christ" and Marshall's "Princess Diaries" films) also noted how your career choices are influenced in unusual ways as you progress from first-time writer to recognized professional.
Writer/producer Ballard may be best-known for working with Alanis Morissette on "Jagged Little Pill," but he has an impressive list of credits in music, film, television, and live music. Stepping in at last minute to deliver Vanguard Address (replacing Dave Stewart, who had to remain out of country on other commitments), Ballard noted that record industry is experiencing problems, "some our fault, but some not." Of former, main cause is "releasing too many albums not worth $15 or 45 minutes of an audience's time." The primary problem that cannot be avoided by record industry is proliferation of other entertainment choices. The only way to combat this, he feels, is through creativity and quality in music.
Ballard struck a strong chord with many in audience when he noted that "Blazing creativity is rarely recognized in beginning," warning that "If imitation replaces inspiration, then we will elevate mediocrity far beyond what we've already done."
Using journalistic concept of suppression as a stepping-off point, Ballard said "we've let marketplace create a 'creative prior restraint' on what we think and what industry will accept from an artist." While calling for a total dedication to art and craft of music, he cautioned that "anybody can make a multitrack recording" but that there are "essentials: storytelling, melody, lyric, structure, and performance."
With current industry recognition that commercial radio is horrible for music, Ballard further noted that artists should not even consider radio when composing. "The minute you go into writing, if you're thinking about radio, you're in wrong place. Radio is in a different business from us. They sell advertising space and we make music. Occasionally our goals converge, but not often."
On a positive note, Ballard pointed to increased opportunities for marketing music in games and telephones. Music in phones may be an especially important market, with "millions upon millions in China alone."
View from Executive Suite. Lia Vollack is President of Worldwide Music for Sony Pictures Entertainment. A former music editor and music supervisor, she has ability to step in for hands-on assignments in addition to overseeing all aspects of film music and soundtracks for Columbia, Screen Gems, and Sony Pictures Animation. Additionally, she works with Revolution Studios, Sony Pictures Classics, and all Sony Local Language Productions.
Although she readily admits to downside of business, many of her statements were quite positive: "Artists are more committed to quality," Vollack noted, adding "Inspiration is main point up front, and then comes deal." She urged all those in profession to "aspire to brilliance."