Local Current Blog

Minnesotans with cool jobs: Maddi Frick talks about licensing music for movies and TV

courtesy Maddi Frick

From “Mrs. Robinson” in The Graduate to “Bellbottoms” in Baby Driver, songs have always been integral to movies and TV show. Behind every director there’s a music supervisor to help pick those songs, and behind every music supervisor there’s a staff that works to make sure all the rights are in place and everyone’s getting paid appropriately. Maddi Frick, a native Minnesotan now working in Hollywood, shared her insider’s view of music licensing.

Jay: Let’s start at the beginning. Where are you from in Minnesota, and how did you get into the music business?

Maddi: I was actually born in Ranier, by International Falls, but I grew up in Grand Rapids. Then I went to St. Olaf, in Northfield, and I joined the radio station there. I was at KTSO, an online radio station, and then I interned at KAXE in Grand Rapids — which is the other NPR affiliate in Minnesota. So I interned there and they hired me back to work summers, and then I graduated from St. Olaf  in 2012 and I was the co-manager there. Then KAXC hired me right after graduation to keep working there, and then I became their music director.

I loved working in music, and I wanted to do that in Minneapolis/St. Paul so I just ended up getting a temp job in Minneapolis. I was looking for a music job in the Twin Cities, but nothing really panned out for me. There were a few job postings there every year, but it seemed like everyone who were getting the jobs were 10 years older than me and I thought, well, I can wait till my mid-30s and get a job in the Twin Cities because I love living there — or I can try and get a music job somewhere else and then hopefully move back someday. That’s when I finally decided to move to L.A. in September 2015.

Did you have a job lined up when you moved out there?

I didn’t have a job lined up. I knew I wanted to work in music supervision, and Gary Calamar had always been my favorite music supervisor. He had True Blood, Six Feet Under, Dexter. I had emailed him years ago to intern during college, but he didn’t have space and I didn’t really have the resources to go out to L.A.

So I e-mailed him out of the blue, explained that I had contacted him before, he’s my favorite music supervisor, would he have an opening for an intern — and he did. So he said, once you get out here, let me know and we can see if something works out. I started interning for him immediately, and he was working on Man in the High Castle and Good Girls Revolt. I was interning on that while job-hunting and living off my savings for a couple of months.

Then you eventually moved to a full time, non-intern job?

Yeah. I only had one friend when I moved here, and she happened to work at NBC TV music, which is also owned by Comcast [along with] Universal Film. So when she saw the job listing, she sent it to me and put in a word to HR. So I’ve been at Universal Film Music [since then].

To back up a little bit — how did you become interested in music supervision? That’s a pretty specific area within the music industry.

I grew up always listening to soundtracks. My first album was The Lion King. All the Disney movies, of course, I loved, but my parents had a lot of soundtracks growing up and they were always my favorite albums. I knew all the songs front to back, even though I may not have seen the movie. So I was always attracted to that. I was 15 and I was reading a book and I was obsessed with picking the songs for the scenes in the book because I was like, this book is so good, it’s gotta be a movie someday…and I just had this epiphany. I realized it was someone’s job to put songs in movies, and I decided that that was what I wanted to be.

Then I tried to make it a little more focused. I was like, I want to be a music supervisor and I want to do that at Focus Films because I loved their movies and Pride and Prejudice was my favorite movie in high school, so I was obsessed with them. Now Focus Films is actually owned by Comcast, so we occasionally get to work on their projects.

So by the time you were out of college you already knew music supervisors. You knew who they were, and who your favorites were. You had been paying attention to the industry.

Yeah, and they get a film credit. As the film credits go by, music supervisors have their name in the film. Ever since I was in high school I would just stay through the credits until I would see whose name it was in the movie, and then I would look them up. I was just trying to remember who worked on what projects, what movies I really loved, and a couple names kept popping up. Music supervision is kind of a hot job to have these days, but it’s not a science, so it was more about trying to pay attention and then figuring out who was doing what.

When you took your internship, what did that entail? What kinds of things were you working on, specifically?

So, a song needs to be licensed to be able to be put in a TV show, so we send a lot of letters asking for rights. It’s a letter template that we have, and we input all the song information, the TV show, the movie information on this one-page letter, and so my internship was just filling out these letters and making sure the songwriters’ names were right and that their publishers and their record labels were all on the letter correctly; and then also doing cue sheets.

Every TV show or movie has a final cue sheet which is essentially a list of every single piece of music — whether it’s a song or a piece of composed score — and that gets submitted to PROs [performance rights organizations] for payment so that songwriters can get paid for their music. If a movie is played on cable, [for example], the songwriter needs to be paid for that. So the cue sheet is essentially how they tell who needs to be paid and how much, and so the the internship was also just creating the cue sheet and making sure everything was correct…and then also opening mail and sorting CDs and walking Gary’s dogs, so it was fun stuff.

Does the cue sheet need to be so precise as to say the length of the excerpts? Do you get paid more if there is 30 seconds of your song versus 15 seconds of your song?

Yes, so we have to be very precise, and we do it by the second. So if there’s seven seconds, we put seven seconds. So you do get paid more if it’s longer. You also get paid more depending on the kind of use. On the cue sheet we will put whether it was a visual vocal, which means someone was singing live on camera, or it was a background instrumental where it’s probably a song coming in over the speakers, no one’s talking about the song and there’s no vocals in the song, so that’s going to be paid less.

So, say you’re working on a Netflix show. It’s a Netflix show, it’s shown on Netflix, and Netflix makes the appropriate payments. But what about a case where you have a theatrical movie and that then goes to cable. Does the cable station pay the rights for that piece of music to be aired in the movie that they are now re-broadcasting?

So when people create the movie, we have to license the actual song, so that will be one payment to put music to picture and the rights we get will often include being shown on cable TV, so if it’s all media, that means that we have the right to show this movie on any type of media without there being extra fees. Where the songwriter gets paid again is essentially a royalty payment, so the songwriters are going to get like a back-end payment over time in addition to their initial license.

So an issue can arise. This is something I’ve become interested in because I’m in love with this TV show: Northern Exposure, which I’m pretty sure has never been syndicated and you can’t find it online. I had to rent the DVD through my library when I wanted to watch it a couple of years ago. and so the reason, I heard, it’s not syndicated is because the rights for the songs didn’t include syndication rights, so I believe they have to re-license the songs, and I believe NBC now owns it.

So they have to decide whether they want to pay for the same songs once again for additional rights to be able to use it in syndication, or they have to take those songs out and replace them. However they’re going to have to get the sign-offs from the producers, and I’m pretty sure the producers don’t want to change. Essentially they’re changing what was actually filmed, so that’s when, as we’re working on projects now, we want to make sure we have all the rights going forward so we don’t have to go back and relicense songs.

So now if you’ve signed an all media license for a song, they’re like, “You’re good, you paid me X amount and I will let you have my song be in your movie, whether that movie is subsequently put on Blu-ray, streaming, whether it’s in a theater, whatever.”

Yeah.

So when it does get shown on cable, and that artist gets the back-end royalty payment, is that then coming from the cable network?

So, songwriters are represented by performing rights organizations. We call them PROs, and that’s going to be as ASCAP, BMI, sometimes SESAC in the U.S.; and then globally, each country has at least one PRO. Those organizations are responsible for collecting those royalty payments. Those cable networks have to pay [for] a license with the PROs, and that goes the same for a performing venue. They need to have a license with PROs to play people’s songs in public too.

So when the owner of the rights to the music allows it to be licensed for a movie that then could be subsequently be shown on cable, they’re saying, by accepting this payment I give you the right to keep this song in this production — but that’s not saying I’ll never be paid again, it’s just saying I will be paid again by the appropriate person if they’re screening in cable, in theaters, whatever.

Yeah, and so when we’re producing something, we just worry about the initial license payment. There’s a timeline: if you’re only going to use this song for three months in a trailer that is going to be taken off the internet, you’re going to get a cheaper rate then [if you use the music] in perpetuity, and that’s what we do [for] all our films. So for the rest of [human history], we get to use your song in this movie. Then we just do the cue sheet and submit it, and then after that we don’t really deal with it. We just worry about the initial rights.

So to go back to that letter — so you’re sending these letters to rights holders. Does the letter go to one person, or do you have to write separately to the stakeholders, the label…who does that letter go to?

Every song has two copyrights on it. The first copyright is going to be the publishing or the synchronization copyright, and that goes to the actual melody. If you’re looking at a piece of sheet music, those notes are copyrighted. That’s the melody, and so that is divided up among the songwriters.

So if it’s just one songwriter, each songwriter is usually represented by a publisher. If there’s two writers, there’s probably going to be two different publishers, so we would have to send two letters for that. Sometimes we have a song with 17 writers, and there can be three writers represented by ATV, two will be represented by Kobalt, and then one is going to be represented by some lawyer on the other side of the country that we have to track down.

So a lot of the job is research in finding out who is the publisher. If you’re an independent writer, can someone sign on your behalf? It gets tricky when there’s a sample involved, because we’ll have to get the rights from the people who wrote the original sample and everyone else who wrote the new song so it all comes down to 100 percent, so we always have to make sure we have 100 percent of the song…and no song is divided equally. You can have four writers, but one writer is going to have 50 percent and then the other three writers have to split 50 percent. It’s not going to be split equally.

Sometimes you’ll see a big pop star, they essentially will buy a song from famous songwriters and then as part of their deal, you’ll see that they get one percent of five percent on that song. So it’s a lot of negotiation. Sometimes all the publishers will agree to use a song in a film, but then they haven’t all agreed on what percentage everyone gets. So we can use a song because everyone is represented, but we may have to wait six months before we can pay them because they’re all still trying to figure out whether they get five percent or ten percent of a song.

So that’s one part of a copyright on a song. So if we’re thinking we also want to use the recording of a song, usually it’s owned by the record label, so usually it’s one letter. If there is a sample, we will often have to do a letter to both the new song and the sample song record labels. If we’re going to put a song in a movie that we are going to rerecord ourselves, we would only have to do the publishing and not the master recording.

So…we have a lot of spreadsheets. It’s a lot of numbers, it’s a lot of organization. A lot of people who work in the music industry do it to get away from numbers, but then you come to this job and it’s [a lot of numbers]. I love it because I feel I am equally left- and right-brained, so it hits my skills in a good spot. A lot of math.

Is it typically a protracted negotiation process? There’s the money end of it, but there’s also whether the artists want to be associated with a show.

Yeah. So if a songwriter has a song, they’re represented by their publisher. Their publisher will have a list of types of projects or types of scenes that their songwriter will refuse, or the publisher can have a deal set up where they have to go to their songwriter every single time and get every single use approved. [On the other hand], some songwriters are like, “I trust you guys. Try to make me some money,” so the publishers don’t need to go to them.

So that can vary, but they can say no to whatever they want — [for example] if there is nudity in the scene, or [if it’s at a party]. You know, Fifty Shades, the whole franchise can often be difficult to clear depending on what song is being synced to a specific scene.

Then a lot of people are like, if you’re a huge name, no, they’re not trying to scrape up a couple hundred dollars here, a couple thousand there. [They] say, you know what, I’m never going to be in a pilot TV show because I don’t know where the TV show is going to go; or, I only want to be in a franchise that everybody already knows about and wants to be a part of. So, they can say no to whatever they want.

In terms of those lists of must-nots that a publisher holds, are those are pretty typical? Like, no nudity, no drugs.

It can vary. There’s a musician who’s kind of famous for always being on drugs, but he has since passed, and his will states that you’re not allowed to put his songs in a scene with drugs. His descendants, who now hold his rights, are like, well, we’re going to stick with that. We’re not gonna let any connotation to drugs be [allowed with] his music even though he was famous for taking drugs. So it can be anything.

So, describe what your job is now.

I’m part of licensing here at Universal Film Music. There are five of us now. We recently acquired DreamWorks and that’s 22 TV shows that we’re working on. So now we’re both a film and TV music department, which is a rare and kind of exciting place to be. But essentially we’re working on a couple of films right now and, as my supervisors get clearance approval, I take them, I put them into a chart, and I put them into a software program just for music licensing for film.

So, we have lots of data from years past that we can look at to see, maybe we used this artist’s song for $40,000 five years ago, and now they’re going to be quoting $100,000. We can go back to them and say, in this movie we used your song before and it wasn’t this much…so it’s a lot of research. We’re always trying to save the company money, but we also want artists to be paid fairly, so it’s a lot of negotiating and making sure everybody’s happy.

Then as films lock and we can approve uses, I send out final letters, I ask for invoices, and I essentially shepherd musicians’ payments and their legally binding licenses through our department and through all the other departments to make sure everybody’s on board. Since we did acquire DreamWorks I’ve been doing all the clearance work, so I’ve become a clearance person here for TV — so all the trailers for Dinotrux or Voltron, I’ve been clearing the music for those.

Are there any things about your business that you think people would be surprised to know?

You know, I think a lot of people it’s like, oh, we get to pick our favorite songs in the movie — but that’s not how it works. A lot of times the songs that are getting put in these movies are chosen by a director or a producer, or if we know if we’re going to have a good tie-in with an artist’s new album that’s coming out and we like the artist and we like the work that they do, we’ll work with them and try and get their song in the movie.

You know, they say not a lot of people have opinions about an angle of a camera that a director may be doing or who’s going to tell the boom guy where to put his mic besides the director…but everybody is going to tell the music guy what songs to be in in the scene. Everybody’s got an opinion, and I think that kind of goes across the entire music industry.

Music is a very public job because everyone loves music, everyone wants to participate in it. It’s an intimate, emotional thing so people get tied to it and a lot of people have opinions on what should be played and what music is good. That also plays out in film, in TV music: everybody on the production side has an opinion on what should be played. So it’s a lot of project managing. It’s managing people’s expectations, managing budgets, telling the director we’re not going to be able to afford this, let’s try to rein it in, all the while still [maintain] artistic integrity.

One project that you’ve worked on is the Fifty Shades soundtrack — the most recent one — and that seems to me to be an interesting example of a movie where the soundtrack is still a big deal. Is it conceived as an album and marketed as an album in addition to being marketed as a movie? Are soundtracks making a comeback?

It’s too soon to tell if they’re having a comeback, but I see a lot of pieces about music and there have been a lot of TV shows, specifically on Netflix, where people rave about the music. Stranger Things had a huge following just for the music. Financially, the first Fifty Shades soundtrack was, I believe, the best-selling soundtrack since Michael Jackson — it performed very well.

So the film company as a whole has definitely started putting more resources, I think, into the music department because they realize the value of a music soundtrack in terms of just selling the movie, but also making money for the company and so I think they’ve been a little bit more generous toward music departments because they’re actually starting to see the returns on these big-name soundtracks. So just getting Taylor Swift in on the last album to do a new song was huge and very exciting, so I think we’re a definitely in a good place right now.

Have there been any interactions with musicians or filmmakers that have been memorable?

Well, being that I work on the Universal Studios lot, we are on the lot that is on the same property as the theme park, so everything is happening here and there are celebrities coming in and out all the time. I rode down an elevator with Charlie Puth after he had a meeting with someone in the building. I saw the drummer of Blink-182, Travis Barker, like in the cafeteria. I saw Miley Cyrus. I was walking in the parking lot and I was in her parking spot, and she had to wait for me to get out of her parking spot so she could park. She drives herself to work, which is very cool.

But also I know all the songs that are going to be in the movies coming out that people don’t even know are coming out yet, and when I run into a Minnesota band I get very excited. They announced that José James was going to be a featured singer in the second Fifty Shades movie and I knew who that was and I was very excited and I had to bite my tongue. I couldn’t tell anyone that this guy from Minnesota is going to be in this movie, and he’s going to be the featured singer. When I worked in radio, I played his album on air. We championed him there, and now we get to champion him in the movies, and so every time I see someone from Minnesota come across my desk I just get very excited and very proud.

Do you think there’s any possibility you could have a job that you’re working in now in and also live in Minnesota, or is it pretty much an L.A. or New York situation?

I think it’s hard. I’ve definitely thought about it a lot long-term. The thing is that you can do a job from anywhere. All you need is an internet connection and the ability to send Word documents, for the most part. However, if you’re an independent music supervisor, you need to always be looking for your next job because it is essentially a freelance contract job. Most supervisors don’t work nine to five at a film studio: we bring you on as a special project manager for each film to guide the voice of the music.

So, to get those freelance contract jobs you need to be wining and dining. You need to be networking. You need to be meeting people and everyone you need to be meeting lives in L.A. or New York so…if you had a great base and you have contacts that would give you these contract jobs in movies and TV shows even though you aren’t in L.A. you could do the job anywhere, but it’s a hard thing to figure out.

The other side of working in film or TV is representing artists at publishers or record labels, and those companies are all over the country. You could essentially be a film and TV manager at a record label, and you would be pitching your songs to other companies. If we have a scene that we just can’t find a song for and we’re on a deadline, we’ve only got like 24 hours to figure it out, we’ll send an e-mail out to record labels and publishers and tell them the description of the scene and what kind of song we’re looking at, can you send us your submissions as soon as possible. So we can get a pay stub at this job, or on the other side of it, by living elsewhere in the country, but I think it would be tough to have this specific job elsewhere.

Looking at the experience you’re having now, thinking about being a music supervisor one day, it seems like what you would bring to that job is not just  being able to go to a director and say, I have a vision for this scene, but also sort of understanding some of the politics and economics behind it — knowing it can’t just be Beyoncé, the Beatles, Michael Jackson. There are all sorts of variables involved when you’re choosing songs to go in the show.

Yeah, that would be millions of dollars if you want to have songs by those artists. Anyone can make a playlist. Anyone can pick songs, it’s so subjective what kind of music you put to picture, but how many people can negotiate fees and maintain contacts for people in the industry and have organizational skills to put all this together and make sure you’re not missing two percent from some writer who has now gone missing in the middle of the country? So, it’s effort. It’s mostly focus and effort, and you have to be willing to put in the work. You can be really good at it, but you need to be able to have hard skills in addition to soft skills.

Interview transcribed by Simone Cazares