This past weekend my producer Gary and I finished the first of two weekend long retreats we’re hosting here in Tustin, CA. It was a long, but extremely rewarding weekend. We had a small group of just six people for this first one, but the small size of the group allowed us to spend a lot of one on one time with all of the participants and really dig in deep with everyone who attended the retreat.
During part of the retreat, the participants who attended collaborated on an original track they wrote on the spot and we ended up recording the song at the end of the first day of the retreat in Master Recording Studios, a multi-million dollar recording studio here in Tustin. We’re actually going to be shopping the track to a few different supervisors in the coming weeks and if we end up licensing it, everyone will get a cut!
My favorite part of the retreat though, was listening to music supervisor and current creative director for Songtrdr, Erin Dillion, do a real time music screening session, during which she screened three tracks from each of the participants. Erin informed us that for her job at Songtrdr she listens to, on average, 2,000 tracks a day! We were all a bit shocked by this number. I have heard of supervisors being sent up to 1,000 submissions a day, but wow, 2,000 tracks is intense!
Of course, Erin said, she doesn’t have to actually listen to all 2,000 tracks in their entirety, so she has become super efficient in determining very quickly whether or not she wants to keep listening to a track. She said the song has to grab her within the first 5 or 10 seconds, or she’s on to the next one. I know that might seem harsh, but that’s the reality of the industry. There’s a ton of music out there, it’s not all ready to be licensed, and so supervisors and executives like Erin have to cut to the chase very quickly simply due to time constraints.
During the listening sessions, it was great to see Erin’s reaction to everyone’s music. She really loved a few of the tracks, a few she was pretty neutral about, and a few others she was more critical of. One of the points she stressed is that she doesn’t really even know production lingo or how to articulate when things are off, production wise. She’s not a producer and if even if she was she wouldn’t have time to articulate to everyone why she doesn’t like their tracks or why she thinks they’re not right for licensing.
Erin’s job is more intuitive. She has a sort of sixth sense about music and what songs will work right for different projects. Her job is to find great music for the projects she’s working on, not to instruct people about how to write and record those songs. Not that she didn’t have great tips for everyone about what works and what doesn’t, but she made it clear that on a day to day basis she simply doesn’t have the time to get into why songs don’t’ work.
Here's an example of a song that Erin heard during the retreated and loved immediately and thought would work great for licensing. This one is called “Who Can Mend A Broken Heart” by Travis Nilan.
Here’s another one that visibly moved Erin, that she also loved and thought would work in the context of licensing. This one is an instrumental guitar track from Paul Armendariz called “Sparkle Hour”. Erin had an immediate, positive reaction to this one!
One of my biggest takeaways from the weekend is that in order to succeed in licensing you need to do your own research. You need to attend industry events, meet people, study the market and of course write great songs. When you’re on the outside looking in, it can be frustrating if you’re not getting the success you’re seeking. But when you learn how the business works, by listening to and meeting the people working within the music business, it all starts to make sense. When you realize the sheer amount of music industry insiders are listening to and screening on a daily basis, all the rejection and frustration musicians go through is seen in the proper context. A healthy dose of perspective goes a long way.
During the retreat, Erin shared with us a great tip about how to break through the noise and reach people like her in the business. This particular tidbit of information was a huge aha moment for me. What is it? Well, I can’t tell you…. exactly. That wouldn’t really be fair to the people who paid good money to come to our retreat and took the time and effort to be there. But what I can tell you, and this is really the gist of her message, is that you need to think outside the box. The majority of writers trying to break into the business are all doing more or less the same thing; sending more or less the same un-inspired emails, writing the same homogenized songs and trying to market them more or less the same way.
Erin said at the end of the retreat that now that we know her and have made a personal connection with her that now we can email her directly and she’ll check out our music. The more face to face networking you do, the more you’ll develop connections with peole that will be open and willing to listen to music you send them. More importantly, they’ll also tend to be willing to give you valuable feedback, that you most likely wouldn’t get if there wasn’t a personal connection.
My trips to LA and experience hosting this retreat this past weekend have reaffirmed what I’ve known all along, which is that networking and making personal connections is vital in this industry. There are a ton of musicians vying for a finite amount of licensing opportunities. But, there is a much smaller pool of musicians who are going above and beyond and putting in the real work, in terms of networking, cultivating relationships and so forth.
There are two ways to approach this business: you can be half in, or all in. Which approach best describes you?