I wanted to repost this article from my blog because of Ben E’s comment on an earlier post. I met Bill Meadows (the subject in the interview below) when working for a music house trying to get their music placed in film and TV. Placement is very difficult but Bill offers up some great insight. Please keep the comments and questions coming.
Bill Meadows is the Executive Integrated Producer of Music,
Celebrity Talent and Public Works at the very successful advertising
agency Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. By way of being a frustrated
lawyer who offset his discontent by being in bands and DJ-ing Bill has
been working with the agency’s creatives and clients to integrate
music, celebrity and brands for the last eight years at Crispin. Bill
has placed music in far too many successful campaigns to list here.
Tell me what a day in your life is like. You do more than
just music. You’re really looking to incorporate music celebrity with
the brands the ad agency’s clients – correct?
Yes. My job involves everything related to music and then I
do celebrity talent negotiations as well. To a degree I get involved in
events with the “Public Works Team.” If the event involves music or
celebrities, or if we want to book a band or a DJ or a new venue owner,
I might get involved with that. I’d say 99% of our content has music or
sound involved with it and I’m involved in procuring the appropriate
music for TV spots, interactive work, etc., everything from national
campaigns down to award shows. There’s a creative element to working
with the ad agency’s teams that are involved, to try to find what
they’re looking for and perhaps make suggestions, but ultimately get
them what they’re looking for, because it’s their baby. I’m there to
help them and hopefully help them make their work better under their
guidance, as it’s their creative project. Certainly a big part of
everything I do is the business side to negotiating the terms of the
deal. That can be anything from hiring a music house to compose a
musical score or licensing a track by an existing artist from labels
and publishers or even stock library music.
Could you estimate what percentage of the music you use is by original artists?
I hesitate because it’s cyclical. It’s rather unpredictable.
This doesn’t exactly answer your question, but my instinct is that the
more dialogue-driven the spot is, the less chance there is we’re going
to use a known artist. I am fortunate to work at a highly creative
agency, and there is a lot of dialogue-driven content. Certainly less
than half of what we use is from an existing artist – meaning a vital,
working artist. Yes – more than 50% of our stuff is composed for the
You’ve been a musician, so you know about running around
with a demo and trying to get arrested with it. What would you say to
somebody who is an aspiring artist or an artist who is a work-a-day
artist and not a known quantity yet to get your attention?
I’ve never worked at a major label, but it’s probably not
too different. I get loads of demos and stuff in the mail every day.
I fully respect everyone that’s sending me stuff and the music they’re
sending me, but it’s just that there aren’t enough hours in the day to
give the stuff I get the appropriate attention. Blindly sending stuff
isn’t necessarily the worst thing you can do, but it’s hard to
prioritize listening to things when there’s so much coming in. I think
one comment I made on a panel last year was that basically think about
what would you do to get on the radio before? People nurture their
relationships with radio. An artist would go to radio and get
interviewed and play a song in the studio and nurture that relationship
on a personal level. I think in a way I’m contradicting myself because
I certainly may not have enough time to meet everyone personally but
there are a lot of people like me out there.
There are a lot of ad agencies and a lot of ad agencies that don’t
have music producers. Letting people out there know about you and that
you’re great is best done in person. I think touring artists should
certainly make efforts. For example, I’ve had a lot of people – even
platinum artists – perform in our lobby for people at the agency
because they want to get to know us. It’s certainly well appreciated
and starts a dialogue and a relationship amongst the parties. Even if
something doesn’t happen immediately and we don’t license a song the
next day, those people are always at the front of our mind because you
had a personal connection with them. If I were in a band right now and
my focus was to promote my band, I’d figure out where there were
advertising industry conferences and try to go play shows on site
during the day acoustic or try to play the after party and get in front
of the decision makers and influencers in the system, with reasonable
expectations of the results – not expecting necessarily that there will
be a meeting within the next week to bag a giant national ad campaign.
But starting a grassroots network of those people and staying in touch
with them and working it on a personal level is really important. So,
say you’re at a show and you’re playing at a show in Atlanta. Figure
out what ad agencies are in Atlanta and figure out who are the
creatives there – the writers, art directors and the producers or
people who have music in their titles. Try to go by there during lunch
and bring five pizzas and an acoustic set, and invite everyone to your
show that night. Put them on the guest list and send them all zip files
of your tracks. Nurture that network of people, because it’s not likely
that you’re going to get on the radio. You have a much better chance of
getting exposure through the platform of advertising and media buys
than through the platform of radio. Also, there’s nothing speculative
about the cash flow. If they like the song, in 30 or 60 days you get a
check. It’s not like, “I’m going to make an album and hopefully someone
downloads a song or buys the album.” It’s real money in your pocket.
It’s really mostly about the personal relationships and developing that
network, in my opinion.
Tell me about third-party aggregators. The companies out
there like Pump Audio who is part of Getty Image and there seem to be
more of them every day. Do you ever use aggregators like that who
develop relationships because they have a wide catalogue and stuff
that’s easy to clear? Is that a viable way to get heard?
If you want the honest truth, I did business with Pump Audio for the
first time this week. I think we licensed a song from there. Nobody’s
ever promoted it to me. I’m aware they are a big entity and do tons of
business so I’m sure they must have something great going on. To a
degree, I tell people that come to me – make no mistake, I hope you
print this – I don’t hold myself up as some music industry expert,
because I’m not. I’m just an educated outsider to the workings of the
industry of selling music. But a couple people have come to me –
artists I know – and have said, “Hey, I got a publishing deal with a
big publisher. What do you think?” If someone is asking me that, I
want them to get the most attention they can from the people that are
working on their behalf. My instinct would be to assume that if you
are with big aggregator with hundreds of thousands of songs maybe you
would get lost in the shuffle and not the individualized attention that
you need to promote your music. But I don’t know that to be the case,
because as I said, I’m not on the “music industry” side of the equation.
My philosophy is, if they’re non-exclusive and you still promote yourself, sign up.
Yeah, I like the idea of non-exclusive but I don’t think you
can rely on aggregators alone. If it’s part of a number of things you
do to promote your music, then that’s the call. Perhaps it leads to
other things. Someone likes the songs, and maybe the person that
licenses it comes back and says, “You know who was great? So-and-so.”
And then they go back to it and it opens the door to a relationship.
So perhaps to that end, have a comprehensive approach with the
aggregator being one part of that.
Tell me about the decision making process. You like a song, and how
many people chime in at the ad agency? How does that decision usually
There’s a creative approval process that has multiple
levels. I might suggest certain songs, but ultimately it’s somebody
else’s creative project, I’m there to facilitate someone else’s
creative vision. My role is slightly creative and deal making and
hustling. I want to be creative, but you’re always deferential to a
creative’s opinion, because in their mind they see it a certain way or
hear it a certain way. I’m there to try to interpret what they’re
saying and to get what they want. There are various levels of approval.
When the agency has an agency-approved, internally-approved song, it is
extremely rare that the client has ever disagreed with our music
choice. There’s only one time in eight years that a client ever
brought up a discussion about music we had chosen. The only way it may
be an issue is if after we’re in the process we decide we really like
this one song that’s by a super famous artist that exceeds our budget,
and we have to go back to rework our budget and get more money to get
another song. They might push back on that because of budgetary issues,
but creatively it just never happens that a client pushes back. It’s
strictly an internal process.
Speaking of budgetary constraints, how often do you have a
call for sound alikes? How often do you conversation with someone and
say, “Hey, I need something that sounds like ACDC because I don’t have
the two million dollar budget?”
The term “sound alike” is problematic and is never a term I
want to hear anybody use at Crispin. When you’re creating a sound
alike, presumably you are trying to create something that sounds like
something you can’t afford, and you’re asking for a whole list of legal
issues. It’s a creative and legal minefield. I never endeavor to sound
just like any other song. First of all, I want to open up our minds to
different types of music and not say, “We have to have one thing.” By
the same token, you don’t know what people are going to do. If you made
the mistake of saying, “We’re looking at certain song A.” It’s really
easy for someone to go into the studio and try to rip that song off and
say, “Oh, we had this song lying around.” I don’t want that kind of
situation. I don’t want to be put in a situation where I’m involved in
trying to get close to sounding just like any other song so I do
everything I can to avoid tainting the process.
I commend you, because there are a lot of people who are in the knockoff business.
There are. It must’ve been five straight years of Coldplay
“Clocks” rip-offs on the air. How have they not sued any number of
places for ripping that song off? I felt like every time I turned the
television on, there was something with that exact same stuttered
drumbeat and piano. There’s so much music and so much great music in
every genre that is available to be licensed that there is no reason
you should have to create a sound alike. It’s creatively narrow minded
to say, “We really love this Beatles or Led Zeppelin or AC/DC song, and
we have to have that or something that sounds identical to it.” That’s
just lame and means you’re lazy and not open to listening to other
music and creatively exploring what options there are to make your spot
great. That’s just lazy. There are too many great artists that are
known and unknown and too many great pieces of music that are available
to be licensed at reasonable prices that you can get that can make that
spot great without going to the originals. It’s just lazy and lame to
rip songs off.
Are there places you look online for music? When you’re not looking for a human being, is it random Internet search, or … ?
Having been at this for a while, I know a lot of people with a lot
of great music. When I know styles of music or budgets of music or
whether we’re looking for big artists or mid-sized artists, or we don’t
care which type of artist and know what the task at hand is in my mind
people will pop up to contact.
Which archetype of person?
In interest of efficiency, I trust if someone’s pitching me music,
they know their catalogue of 20,000 songs a lot better than I do.
People have organized their music and know how to navigate their
catalogue and find what I want a lot faster than I can look online at
their catalogue. In that type of situation, I’ll go to publishers or
labels or third parties. There are third-party individuals or companies
that will take a whole label’s catalogue or have ten labels they
represent. I like those people, depending on what it is, your regular
catalogues and labels. I’ll also contact bands’ management directly.
Sometimes if I know an artist and I don’t know who their management is,
but I know the artist and I will contact that artist directly. All of
the above. As you might imagine, I have thousands of CDs on my shelf.
Once in a blue moon I’ll be on the shelf looking for something, but the
reality is the person out there who’s pitching music knows their
catalogue best. If I go to them and say, “Hey, this is what I’m looking
for, etc,” and then I reach out to a number of those people I get a lot
of music in and filter through stuff and figure out what’s appropriate
and filter out what’s not appropriate. You don’t want to give a
creative too much stuff. You don’t want to give them 100 songs, because
they don’t have time to listen to it. I like to give them about fifteen
songs around, so they can rip through it pretty quickly and maybe pick
five things from that they want to put to picture.
Any parting words of advice you might have for people trying
to get your attention? How about do nots? What is the most common do
Please don’t take this the wrong way, but if you’re just
going to send me something in the mail, I have to have a reason to open
it up. If I get ten padded envelopes or CDs a day in the mail and
they’re all that manila color and there’s a printed out label with my
address on it, I need a reason to open it, not because I’m a snob, but
I get a lot of mail and while part of my job is to open mail I also
have many other tasks. If I open something and there’s a CD with a
magic marker or sharpie-written thing that says, “Bob’s Music,” it
gives me a reason to not listen to it. If you don’t take enough pride
in your product to represent it properly, it’s hard for me to spend the
energy to check it out. Present your product as if it’s the only shot
you’re ever going to make. In no way take that as that I am too snobby
or cool to listen to it. Just the sheer volume is such that you
should take pride in all aspects of your work and career. If you’re not
confident and passionate enough in what you’re presenting then it’s
hard for me to get psyched about it.
I think blindly sending mail doesn’t do anything. You need to call,
e-mail and be patient. And calling me isn’t ever annoying. I respect
the fact that people are trying to hustle and make a career. It’s not
at all annoying to me to receive an e-mail once a week or two from
someone or a phone message. I shouldn’t be the only person you’re doing
it to. You should be doing it to 100 people. I’m one guy at one agency.
I think people see it as just the fact that they got me on the phone
means they’ve reached the finish line. “I got him on the phone, I sent
him my CD … now the money’s going to start rolling in.” Maybe there’s a
letdown when a month later they say, “Hey, what’s up? You haven’t
licensed any of my music yet.” I tell everybody who I deal with pretty
much that if you’re patient with me and have an on-going dialogue, at
some point we’re probably going to hit on something.
There are people I’ve known for years that I still keep in contact
with, and for whatever reason it’s never resulted in them getting cut a
check. There are other people that have hit me up on Facebook, and I’ve
met them somewhere and had lunch, and a month later, we hit a deal.
There are a lot of factors beyond their control and my control that
determine whether or not we’re going to connect. So, work your network,
stay on top of people. There’s a fine line between it being a little
over the top and staying on people’s radar. You have to stay on
people’s radar because of the amount of people that are calling. Even
if I love someone to death, and they’re super cool, if I haven’t talked
to them in five months, it’s not in the front part of my brain to get
in touch with them.
I think another interesting thing is that some of the most
influential music people by the nature of the process are editors. A
lot of time stuff comes because an editor starts cutting some music as
part of a demo spot and it may influence the director as to where the
music goes. So, if you have any friends that are editors, definitely
give them your songs. I think one thing that’s super important too is
to have instrumentals at the ready, and also to have your stems at the
ready as well. Lyrics can be a great thing and make something really
hit, but more likely than not you have a better shot at placing
something instrumental. Don’t just try to push your version with
vocals, but have the instrumentals with them. Its’ hard for things to
sync up lyrically with a campaign, and additionally, if it’s a
dialogue-heavy spot, creatively it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have
vocals conflicting with the dialogue, because it distracts from what
you’re trying to do with the dialogue. Frequently I say, “Can I get an
instrumental of this?” And the person says, “Oh, I don’t know. I have
to find my producer” or “I have to find my engineer.” Having those
versions ready is vital. Having your stems available is also definitely
important. A song may be great for something, but there might be some
issue with timing or how it times out in a spot. You want the song to
come in at a certain point and you need someone that’s mixing it and
editing it on the sound side to hit the transitions in an exact spot,
you can’t do that with someone’s MP3 with vocals on it. You need
instrumentals or splits so they can chop them up to get really
specific. Having those is really important.
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