Exposing Students to Different Career Paths in Music
Jimmy Brandmeier, Student Workshop Presenter
Capital Times columnist Doug Moe said of Jimmy Brandmeier, “Every once in a while, a bold face name in the entertainment industry slips into Madison under the radar, like Jimmy Brandmeier did six years ago.” Jimmy Brandmeier’s deep-rooted music industry experience combined with his passion for guiding students in music and life spawned the seminar “Be Who You Are Inc. Your Life in the Music Business – The Fundamentals of the Music Business and the Fundamentals of Life.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A music student’s ultimate calling may be an unpredictable combination of interests and experiences that unfolds over time – a composite of curiosities, likes and attractions, fused to form a purpose and place impossible to see in advance. Early awareness of different career paths like music supervision, could save students decades of trial and error. This article explores the field of Music Supervision, with John McCullough and Robin Kaye – two ‘A-List’ music supervisors in Los Angeles.
John McCullough was the music supervisor for TV shows such as, That 70’s Show, Joan of Arcadia, Dawson Creek, 3rd Rock From The Sun, Northern Exposure and The Wonder Years. Robin Kaye supervised TV shows such as American Idol, The Singing Bee, Nashville Star, Miss USA and the Nobel Peace Prize Special.
My conversation with John McCullough focused on music education. We discussed the benefits of supplementing core music curriculums with music business classes; reflected on how the big three high school music programs may only represent a small piece of the student’s full calling; the “why” of exposing music students to different music careers and a few suggestions on “how” to do it.
Jimmy: Why is it important to expose students to the business side of music?
John: Because you can have all the talent in the world, but not know how to make a living from it. During high school and university I spent 12 years sitting in a practice room… Then it was “Now what!”
Jimmy: Were you part of the music education program in high school?
John: Yes, I was in the high school band, choir and marching band – then went on to get an undergraduate degree from Syracuse University and a masters degree in Percussion Performance from USC.
Jimmy: Did your experience in high school band and choir prepare you for your career in music supervision and publishing?
John: For the music side yes – for the business side no.
Jimmy: What were your goals as a percussionist?
John: I wanted to become a professional studio musician. The reason I went to USC was to try and get into the recording studio world.
Jimmy: When did your awareness of music supervision begin?
John: There were a lot of people in the recording booth during the recording session I was part of. I wanted to find out what all those people did; It looked very interesting to me. So I pursued a part-time job with a company that was doing music supervision.
Jimmy: Would you have majored in something other than percussion performance if you were aware of other music business careers and opportunities?
John: You know… probably! I probably would have tried to do something that was a combined business and music major.
Jimmy: You can’t go into something if you’re not aware of it.
John: Right. One thing that was completely eye opening to me when I got to California – that there were professional composers that make a lot of money composing music for film and TV.
Jimmy: Why was that so eye opening?
John: I had never heard of that.
Jimmy: How’d you hear about it?
John: Being a percussionist on a film scoring (recording) date with a hundred-piece orchestra. I thought, who are all these other people? You’ve got the composer, you’ve got the music editor, you’ve got the recording engineer, you’ve got someone in the booth reading the score, you have orchestrators, you have the copyist who had to copy down the music. I wasn’t aware of any of that side of the process and business.
Jimmy: How did you make the transition from percussionist to music supervisor?
John: I started doing music supervision part time. My first big show as music supervisor was Cagney & Lacey. Then from there, as a freelance music supervisor I went on to the TV show The Wonder Years. You’re making me feel very old.
Jimmy: Did you continue doing session dates as your music supervision career took off?
John: It’s funny. That went away rather quickly.
Jimmy: Did that bother you?
John: No. And it still doesn’t bother me.
Jimmy: That in itself is interesting.
John: Yeah, I find it real interesting. It came to the point one day I said – “I’m not going to practice today” – and then I didn’t practice the next day – then the whole thing just went away quickly.
Jimmy: Did you practice a lot before that?
John: Oh every day, at least a few hours! But I never had a clue about this whole other picture. The business side of music just fascinated me and still does.
Jimmy: Besides being an A-List music supervisor, you just completed teaching a music business class at California Lutheran University. Any “best practice” ideas for high school music teachers?
John: First of all, I have a new found respective for all educators after teaching that class. Teaching is an extreme amount of work – and incredibly rewarding! There are hundreds of YouTube videos of legendary music business professionals discussing their roles in the music business. One idea would be to take 10 minutes each week to play and discuss one of the videos with students.
John: Also, if possible, set up a consistent program of guest speakers and make that part of the curriculum. For my music business class, I brought in guest speakers from all sectors on the business. What I found with my class who were half business majors and half music majors – they’d come up after class and say, I had no idea about that, especially the music majors. Their heads were spinning. Try and give 25-35 percent of your focus to the music business side.
Jimmy: How can teachers and students keep up to date on an industry in constant flux?
John: There are many online resources – website – blogs – articles – trade publications – that can keep you very current with what’s going on.
John’s evolution from percussionist to music supervisor is similar to Steve Jobs early love for calligraphy. Jobs loved calligraphy, but didn’t force his entire identity into the box being a calligrapher. He had no idea of how calligraphy would unfold into a piece of his big picture later in life. He just knew he loved it.
There are many diverse pieces that make up the picture of who our students are. Forcing an identity based on one piece of their talent, divides the sum of their talent, cutting off the whole of their potential.
Latching on to an identity stems from the need for certainty – need for validation – need to look good at senior graduation parties. If I’m not the next Mozart, who am I? Living with the uncertainty of letting who you are unfold naturally, feels out of control.
The set of beliefs making up the concept of our identity controls our lives and drives our actions. People struggle for years, living up to counterfeit labels hatched in high school.
Teachers have the power to expose students to all of the incredible opportunities in music – to remind them that like John McCullough, their purpose, passion and place will unfold naturally through the open channel of a curious mind. If they learn to live with uncertainty (a trait necessary for any career in music), they’ll never mistake a piece of who they are, for the whole of who they are.
Robin Kaye delved into the day-to-day duties of a top music supervisor, discussed the skill sets and temperament it takes to have a successful career in music supervision and gave tips on how students can place their original music in TV and film.
Jimmy: What is a music supervisor?
Robin: A qualified professional who oversees all music related aspects of film, television, advertising, video games and any other existing or emerging visual media platforms as required.
Jimmy: Depending on the project, you have been a music supervisor and/or a music clearance supervisor. What’s the difference?
Robin: Music clearing is the process of negotiating and obtaining permission from a publisher to use music in a film or television production. Some music supervisors just find the right song for the right scene and leave the admin to others. I do all of the above.
Jimmy: So administrative details can be challenging?
Robin: Legally loose songs are the nightmare part of the job. For example, I did the Miss USA Contest. They booked a song from an Australian group on a Friday night for a show airing on Sunday. So over the weekend we had to track down multiple foreign publishers for permission. If I didn’t have a solid network of relationships I couldn’t have gotten it done.
Jimmy: How important is cultivating professional relationships?
Robin: You have to have a lot of connections. You have to know people.
Jimmy: It’s who you know, what you know and who knows you.
Robin: Yes. Like on that weekend I had to be able to call friends at home, which I don’t like doing. If I didn’t have the relationships, I couldn’t have gotten it done.
Jimmy: How legally deep does your knowledge of copyright and music publishing have to go?
Robin: You don’t have to be a lawyer; you do have to understand the legalities of clearing.
Jimmy: Describe a typical day in the life of a music supervisor for American Idol?
Robin: Idol was like working on three different shows at three different times.
Jimmy: How so?
Robin: Auditions for the upcoming season run from May through August, at which time we’d choose and pre-clear about 5,000 songs.
Jimmy: So with 5,000 songs pre-cleared, it’s likely that a contestant would choose one of them?
Robin: If not, we’d have to clear the song on the spot or cut it. Like we couldn’t show singer Adam Lambert’s audition because the music wasn’t cleared.
Jimmy: Once summer auditions are over… then what?
Robin: Then we start the official edits where we watch the shows with the producers and the editors to make sure everything is creatively and legally right.
Jimmy: What’s the third part?
Robin: Hollywood Week! Last time we taped in Detroit and Vegas among other places. So wherever it is, we all go. Now we’re into live television and it’s a whole different job.
Jimmy: Do you work directly with the contestants?
Robin: We work with the kids to make sure they’re singing songs that are cleared, trying to get them songs they want, making sure they’re not screwing up the lyrics, in which case we’d have to edit it out.
Jimmy: What about the judges?
Robin: Steven Tyler would ad-lib a song live that’s not cleared, or Keith Urban starts singing. We’d have to clean it up.
Jimmy: How can a Wisconsin high-school student get music placed in TV and film?
Robin: I get 300 pitches from outside songwriters a day! Unless it’s someone I know, or something I’m looking for, I usually won’t listen.
Jimmy: How does an unknown high school student get you to listen?
Robin: Categorize the songs as much as you can. Send a link with all the song’s meta-data (Title, tempo, style, vibe, subject matter). If I receive songs with “specific descriptions” I may listen.
Jimmy: So do your homework, make the vibe/title of the song clear and be specific to the show’s needs.
Robin: Like the show Nashville – if they had a song for so and so to perform, you’d contact Frankie Pine who does that show and send an email saying, I want to pitch this song for this artist to sing and maybe they’ll listen “because it’s targeted.”
Jimmy: Pitch, presentation and “specificity” are important in the email?
Robin: I’ll listen to unsolicited musicians if I’ve gotten a good pitch from them. But I’ll tell you – if I get a bad pitch I’ll probably never open their emails again.
Jimmy: Were you in the band program in high school?
Robin: No, I’m not a musician; I just love music! I was biology major at the University of Idaho.
Jimmy: How did you go from biology to the music biz?
Robin: There was no live music on our campus, so me and some other music loving students started booking concerts ourselves.
Jimmy: It all started because you were starved for music in college?
Robin: Yes. One of the acts we booked was country music legend Waylon Jennings who hired me to be his director of merchandising when I graduated. My music career took off from there.
Jimmy: What college major would you recommend for someone considering a career in music supervision?
Robin: A combination of music and law – there’s a legal component to every aspect of the music business.
Jimmy: Any final words of wisdom for aspiring songwriters
Robin: If you want to place your music in TV and film, just keep plugging away and eventually someone will listen.
Jimmy: What about aspiring music supervisors?
Robin: I never chose a career path for money. I chose it for the adventure and love of music. Stay open. Work hard at whatever you’re doing now, and you’ll attract unexpected opportunities.