Pitching to Film and Television

Pitching to Film and Television

This interview was originally published in May, 2012.

 

Rebecca Rienks is the music supervisor at E! Entertainment. A lifelong music fan, Rebecca interned at a variety of companies and venues while she was attending  Thornton School of Music at USC, including Interscope Records, Capitol Records and The Roxy. After graduation, she got a position as the assistant to the president of the music department at Lionsgate Films, where she worked on many film and television projects, such as the Leonard Cohen documentary I’m Your Man, Crash, The Devil’s Rejects and the first Saw film. She then helped launch an independent boutique music supervision firm called Creative Control, where she was the senior creative director for five and a half years. She has been at E! since 2011.

 

 

I talked to Rebecca about her responsibilities and experiences as a music supervisor at a major cable network and how artists can prepare their music to pitch to film and television. She also shared some critical advice for musicians that want to get their music heard by the gatekeepers at film studios and television networks.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Thanks so much for taking some time to chat, Rebecca. How did you get started in the music business?

 

RR:

 

I graduated from the Thornton School of Music at USC. I was in the music business program there for about two and a half years as a transfer student. During my time there, I took a lot of different jobs and internships so I would have a lot of great experience and be in a good position getting out of school. I interned at places like Interscope and Capitol in the A&R department. I also worked in the club office and in ticketing at The Roxy.

 

Then, when I graduated, one of my professors hooked me up with the executive at Lionsgate Films. I interviewed to be the assistant to the president of the music department there and got the job. I was there for about two and a half years, and I worked on a lot of great projects, like the Leonard Cohen documentary I’m Your Man, Crash and the accompanying Oscar® campaign. I also worked on Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, the first Saw movie, a bunch of indie films and a lot of television shows. It was a time when that studio was much smaller. It is still independent these days, but it was at a different level during that time. There were only three people in the entire music department running everything.

 

That was a great job to have as a launching pad out of school. But it wasn’t as if I had aimed to go into film music. This was around 2004, and music supervision wasn’t the kind of thing that everybody talks about like they do now. It was essentially just a job that, when I got out of school, I took to really well. I had a really great rapport with the head of the department. When he finally decided he wanted to leave and move onto other things  after having been at Trimark, Artisan and Lionsgate for over a decade, I ended up leaving and going with him. We launched a company together called Creative Control.

 

We continued to work together under the independent supervision banner of Creative Control for the better part of five or so years. Only in the last year have I moved over to doing more TV.I am now the music executive/music supervisor for E! Entertainment. I oversee music concerns for the entire channel. The way we divvy things up on the cable end of the spectrum is that each person oversees basically an entire channel. So, I oversee all music concerns for E!, including promos for E! itself and the Style Network. I also handle music publishing concerns for several of our cable channels. And I oversee our work with Ryan Seacrest Productions and the team that does all our red carpet events for the Oscars, Emmys, BAFTAs, Grammys and everything else.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And does that also involve talent wrangling?

 

RR:

 

Yes and no. Essentially, we liaise with the live events team and the talent department to coordinate all the music you hear on our red carpet specials, including live music and any interstitial music that needs to be licensed or scored. It’s music supervision, but there is a talent aspect if we need to coordinate with an artist to do something live on the red carpet. It’s essentially a 360-degree job of music concerns as it relates to the E! channel.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

You mentioned you work with two different types of music. Could you estimate which percentage flowing through your hands is music that is specifically written for something on the network, and which percentage is licensed?

 

RR:

 

It really just depends on the program and the timeline. I come out of the sensibility of, “If we have this very specific need we have to fulfill, why not hire someone to create an asset for us that we can A&R from the ground up, so we get exactly what we want?” Otherwise, we have to search high and low for something that is possibly putting a square peg in a round hole. So, again, it really just depends.

 

There are instances where it makes sense for us to license whatever the hot pop track is now, or music from some kind of heat-seeking band that deserves coverage on a network like ours that is obviously focused on pop culture. Then there are times we need something to fit the sound and the style and the vibe, but we can’t afford Nicki Minaj or Katy Perry. So, we get somebody to come in  and create what we need.

 

I’d actually say it’s pretty much 50/50, because I do also help people find and secure composers for our shows, for theme song opportunities and promo music we need created. But obviously as a pop culture channel, we do a lot of licensing of pop music and Billboard-friendly music.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

I want to talk to you about licensing, because that’s obviously an incredibly important topic among aspiring musicians. But first, I’m assuming you work repeatedly with a lot of the same firms – those composition houses, etc. that create music for you regularly.

 

RR:

 

I wouldn’t say we go back to any one well in particular. Personally, I don’t often engage composition houses to do that sort of thing, because they are just entities with staff composers that turn stuff out all the time. While there is obviously a place for that, and I would never say I don’t use that kind of material or wouldn’t work with entities of that nature, I just prefer to work on an “artist” level. My background involved being in the music school and knowing a lot of people who were composers, musicians and in bands. So, I prefer to turn to the people that I know are accomplished musicians in a band, composers I went to school with that were in the composition department, or some great DJ I know that can do electronic music but is a DJ in Las Vegas. I prefer to turn to people on a personal level, rather than turn to companies that do this type of music as their specialty. And that’s a personal choice.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

That’s great to know. Most of my experience with music supervisors is with the advertising side. I know those guys go back to music houses quite often.

 

RR:

 

Yes. I would imagine that’s a majority of those kinds of companies’ business.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Yes. Overwhelmingly so. And that music is also overwhelmingly instrumental.

 

Let’s talk about the best way of getting your attention. I always tell people that it’s a very difficult thing for an artist with one, two, three or even ten albums to call up a music supervisor. My joke is always, “Hang on. I have to put you on hold, because I have Sony on the other line, and they have all of Western music.”

 

You’ve come up in the music business and have been at this for a while. If the roles were reversed, and you were a musician or a composer, how would you get through to people like you?

 

RR:

 

Like you said, it’s very tough. And it’s even more difficult when you’re an indie and are selling yourself. That’s why I personally think to gain traction, the best thing to do is to use an established pitch house to work your material. Because, those are the companies and people that are going to have an ongoing rapport with people like me, who will be looking for a great aggregator source that can funnel things, because I can depend on their sound and quality level. There are a bunch of pitch houses I turn to on a regular basis that represent indie labels, one-off individual artists. They all have their own process for how they vet and take on new clients.

 

That in and of itself is hard enough, because obviously companies like that have a huge roster of things they’re working. And there’s a lot to dig through with companies like Bank Robber, Terrorbird, Zync – I could go on and on.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Would you deem the ones you just named reputable?

 

RR:

 

Yes. For sure. It’s hard enough to gain the ear of someone in my shoes even going through those kinds of channels. But it’s much harder as an indie artist repping yourself and trying to make inroads. Because even if somebody like me has the best of intentions of seeking out and working with indie artists and keeping that door open, I’m still just constantly being inundated with material. And even with the best of intentions, I could never chip away at it all.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

I was an A&R guy. You often feel like you’re sitting behind a desk where dreams go to die. That’s why I am no longer in A&R, because I couldn’t stand that my job was to destroy people’s dreams.

 

RR:

 

And I know how that feels. That’s what I always try not to do. I’m very much a music fan. I come out of the indie world and grew up with friends in bands. I know how hard it is to tread that path. I have the best of intentions. Unfortunately, you can only “Paula Abdul” things so much. I try to be encouraging and present a positive picture for indie artists, while still giving them the honest nuts and bolts. But at the end of the day it’s a hard road.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

It’s very important that artists put things into perspective. And you want to be cordial and nice as a gatekeeper. But sometimes that can make people think they have an “in” with you. So, you want to be nice, but you can’t be too nice. It’s a strange thing, and it’s a hard thing to communicate that to people who are asking, “Well, isn’t your job to be nice?”

 

RR:

 

And as an artist, you’re one out of hundreds. Even if I have the best of intentions to listen, it’s physically impossible to listen to everything. I try and be encouraging with a huge, huge, huge dose of realism.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And people are going to continue to try. And they should. So, what do you look for in regards to the presentation? Are there “do”s and “don’t”s when it comes to the make-up of the solicitation email, the packaging, etc.?

 

RR:

 

The biggest turnoff is somebody who doesn’t have their own business and affairs in order. If you can’t be learned about the fundamentals of how to license your material to a supervisor, there are plenty of people who will not give you the time of day. It is not my job to teach you how to handle the business of your art. So, if I get something from somebody and talk to them, then realize they don’t understand anything about the concept of the ownership issues surrounding what they created – their own music publishing, whether or not they have co-writers, whether or not they’ve figured out their splits, all those nuts and bolts – unless I feel that I’ve found lightning in a bottle with an artist, I’m not compelled to go through the process of shepherding someone through the film and TV world. At the end of the day, everybody needs to be educated about how to manage their own art, even if they’re not trying to make inroads in the film and TV world. You need to understand the basics of how to exploit your music for your own betterment.

 

If you want to talk about specifics of presentation, so many of them are logical to me. Think about if you were on the flip side of the equation and were the person that was being inundated with music. The sheer volume of music that is coming into you via email with digital links and downloads, etc. – “Download this. Stream this. Click on this blog.” – is astounding. If you were in that boat, what would be the things that would make it difficult or undesirable for you to check something  out? I’ve realized more and more that people don’t necessarily think about it that way.

 

If I’m going to get things digitally, I prefer the music to be sent to me via streaming links with the option to download. If I do find something interesting and go the extra mile to download it, I end up looking later in my downloads folder and have 300 things in zip files I haven’t even unzipped yet that I’m, in theory going to go through. Even with the best intentions, it’s a lot to chip away at. But if someone sends me a streaming link, I’m more inclined to click through, listen to it really fast, then maybe download one-off songs or a folder here and there that I think meets my needs. I’d rather not have to download a bunch of stuff that I think might not be right for me.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

When somebody comes to you – and this could be even a Terrorbird or a Bank Robber – does having a reference to other stuff you’ve placed help? It would demonstrate that people have done their homework. But is it helpful when someone says, “I see that you used this in such and such a way, and that made me think you would be the person to talk to”? Does it help if they acknowledge they know the type of material you place?

 

RR:

 

Yeah. It obviously shows someone has done their due diligence to understand what is, in theory, right for me and the channel. E! has a very specific sound and style. And we’re actually in a period where we’re trying to expand that and open it up to a wider spectrum of sound than the spectrum we’re known for. But really, we have a very ingrained sense of what our channel is and what it’s about. So, when I encounter people that send me something that’s wildly off base from the kind of programming we do and the kind of audience we have, for better or worse, it reflects on how well they really know what I’m doing. If you haven’t done your homework to sell yourself, why would I go the extra mile to wade through the 10 tracks you sent me to find one potential track that might be right?

 

So, to answer your question, yes, letting me know you understand the type of material I place definitely shows you’ve gone the extra mile. We all work on lots of different things, of course. But sending something that is wildly off target and saying, “This would be perfect for you” is the fast road to “file 13” – the waste basket. Because, you clearly are spamming people.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Do you have any parting words of advice for artists?

 

RR:

 

If you’re an indie artist looking to approach film and television, I would say, first and foremost, know your business. Be educated. That’s helpful to me and to you. No one is going to look out for you more than you. So, before you even bother to try to engage with anybody on a business level, you should know your own business.

 

In terms of generalities of presentation, etc., we get such a cross section of material sent to us. You could dig around anywhere and find a ton of tips and tricks. And the thing that drives one person crazy could be someone else’s preferred method of reaching out. Everybody has their own little nuances of how they like to be pitched to, for lack of a better term.

 

That being said, there are some basic things to think about. Track listings are important. Make sure that if you’re sending someone a CD, the track titles are there. Meta data is hugely important. If I load your CD and the tracks come up as tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and there’s no artist information or contact information or album title, it’s going to have to be the next best thing for me to bother to input meta data into iTunes so I can save it. If I pop something in the CD player and it comes up with no meta data these days, I usually just toss it. And it’s an oversight that somebody is not doing their general homework.

 

If you’re going to submit a CD without artwork – which is fine, because there are demos and things of that nature – still include a paper track listing on the CD case. A lot of people write their information on the CD itself, which is fine. But maybe I want to make note of a track and I can’t, because the track titles are on the CD that is in the player.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

And by the sound of it, all these things happen quite frequently.

 

RR:

 

Yes. They’re rules of thumb for a reason.

 

There really are a ton of tips and tricks. Another one:  If you’re going to email someone a cold email, don’t send MP3s. All you’re doing is clogging my inbox. If I don’t know you and have never made contact with you before, I may or may not even open a file that you send me, because you are a complete stranger, and you may be spamming me with a virus.

 

If you’re going to email someone cold and suggest someone listen to your material, don’t send five-albums worth. Send your three or four top songs and let someone get acquainted with the kinds of songs you have, then reach out to you to get your last five albums. Don’t inundate somebody right off the bat if you’re trying to make an initial impression.

 

There are a thousand ways to go about this process. And like I said, everyone has their own way of doing things and filtering through material. It’s really interesting to see how unprofessionally some people present themselves. And I know they obviously don’t mean to do that. But you only get one opportunity to make a first impression. And when you’re competing with a bunch of other first impressions, it’s very easy for the person you’re contacting to just move on.

 

To learn more about Rebecca Rienks and the work she does, visit her professional website or follow her on Twitter.