Composers and Music Supervisors Talk Process, Problems and Importance of Networking at Billboard/THR Film & TV Conference
Composers and Music Supervisors Talk Process, Problems and Importance of Networking at Billboard/THR Film & TV Conference

(L-R): Musician/composers Michael Andrews, Will Bates, Phil Mossman, Gingger Shankar and Nick Urata; music supervisor Gary Calamar (Photo: Arnold Turner)

The key to survival is diversify. Always negotiate to retain ownership of your score when the upfront money is too low. Oftentimes the constraints of working for a director or producer will actually help the creative process. Regardless of his personal troubles or the tabloid headlines, Mel Gibson is a very dedicated director who knew exactly what he wanted with "The Passion of the Christ." He even did a bit of chanting in the studio.

These were some of the big takeaways from the "Songs and Scores: A Gathering of Musicians" panel and Q&A at Billboard's Film & TV Music Conference at The W Hotel in Hollywood on Wednesday. A group of musicians who have learned to balance their own recording and touring schedules with professional work on movies, TV and commercials talked about the unique challenges and creative satisfaction with their respective transitions.

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The "Songs and Scores" panelists were Nick Urata ("I Love You, Phillip Morris"), Gingger Shankar ("The Passion of the Christ"), Michael Andrews ("Bridesmaids"), Will Bates and Phil Mossman from Fall On Your Sword ("Another Earth"). Go Music/KCRW music supervisor Gary Calamar ("True Blood," "Dexter") moderated. Urata performed one of the songs his band, DeVotchKa, written with composer Mychael Danna for "Little Miss Sunshine."

All of the former-bandmembers/solo artists-turned-composers seemed to agree that having a deadline and some other folks in the process can actually help when compared to the slower, more solitary process of writing and recording their own work. "You get it finished a lot quicker. If you have only yourself to answer to, you can procrastinate a lot," explained Mossman. "That's one of the big differences between films and albums. Having a definite goal and something else to serve other than yourself, like a film or a director's vision, can sometimes be really helpful. It's not necessarily a restrictive part of the process."

Urata agreed. "It does get you out of your own head. You're forced to follow the story and the character's performances. In a lot of ways, that'll lead you down musical paths you never would have taken if you were sitting in a room alone with a blank page.

"The hardest thing to get used to when you're collaborating is the rejection -- when you thought one of your songs was perfect for a scene," he added.

Bates, who said he sang the entire score from "Star Wars" to his parents at age 5, said another challenge involves temp music. Oftentimes, editors and directors will get a bit too attached to the placeholder music. All of them agreed that it's important not to lose your own identity as a composer.

(L-R): Nick Urata, Gingger Shankar, Will Bates, Phil Mossman, Michael Andrews (Photo: Arnold Turner)

"I've definitely gotten fired because I said I wouldn't imitate certain things. You have to make a conscious decision to be yourself," said Andrews.

Fall On Your Sword will often lean on commercial work when times are lean with films, and vice versa. Having their own studio helps when it comes to spreading around a budget, which they said are often delivered in a lump sum with which composers are expected to hire whomever they need.

"To survive in music these days, you have to diversify a lot," insisted Bates. "It's a hustle," Calamar agreed. "Let's assume you're a fine composer. That's almost only half the job. Your networking skills and schmoozing are a big part of being successful in any business."

All of them were very encouraging to one 16-year-old aspiring composer in the audience who was there to do some networking of his own. He asked each of them about their earliest influences. Urata named John Williams and John Barry. Shankar mentioned Alfred Hitchcock's movies and Clint Mansell's work on "Requiem for a Dream." The first record Bates ever bought was Ennio Morricone's score for "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly." Mossman cited pioneering electronic composer Wendy Carlos ("A Clockwork Orange"). For Andrews, whose first movie was "Donnie Darko," he cited "minimalist weird guys in their bedroom making electronic music."

(L-R): Rajeev Dassani, Rhett Giles, Conrad Goode, Anna Granucci (all from "Watercolor Postcards"); Randall Miller, Jody Savin, Brad Rosenberger (all from "CBGB" and "The Drummer" and moderator Phil Gallo (Photo: Arnold Turner)

Earlier in the day, a panel called "How Music Rights Paved the Way for Films: Music Supervisor-Producer Partnerships" talked about movies centered around certain songs or musically motivated stories, like the forthcoming film about New York's legendary punk club, CBGB, and its colorful owner, Hilly Kristal. Whereas many films start thinking about licensing after the fact, these particular projects involved an emphasis on music cues from the get-go.

Billboard's own Phil Gallo moderated the panel, which included two groups of people working on three upcoming flicks: the Americana/country leaning "Watercolor Postcards" (director Rajeev Dassani, producer Rhett Giles, screenwriter/actor Conrad Goode and music supervisor/associate producer Anna Granucci); and "CBGB" (director/writer Randy Miller, producer/music supervisor Brad Rosenberger and producer/writer Jody Savin); the latter trio are also involved together on the movie "The Drummer," which tells the story of the Beach Boys' late drummer Dennis Wilson.

Rosenberger was working at Warner/Chappell Music when he said he presented the idea to the brass that as a publisher they were "sitting on a goldmine of stories. I found these guys and I told them about my passion for Dennis Wilson and two months later, Jody calls me back and says, 'We want to do this movie.' I said, 'What movie?' I was like, 'You're kidding!' My next thought was, 'Are they the right people to do this movie?' But when I looked back at why I liked their movies, I knew they were the right people. And then in Randy's awesome way, he was like, 'What else you got?'"

"I said, 'Dude, we don't even have a deal for this movie!' And that's where 'CBGB' came from," he explained.

(L-R): Rajeev Dassani, Rhett Giles, Conrad Goode, Anna Granucci, Randall Miller, Jody Savin, Brad Rosenberger, moderator Phil Gallo (Photo: Arnold Turner)

Scheduling conflicts with some of the actors on "The Drummer" put "CBGB" into preproduction in April, which made for a scramble to secure licenses, among other things. "I basically called up all of my peers and told them 'CBGB' was a labor of love, a film that will not be made by a major studio but that it's an important film," Rosenberger said. "When I was at Warner/Chappell, I had dealt with a lot of them. My whole thing was to look at it as CBGBs as a museum: you're walking down a hallway and you see Talking Heads, Dead Boys, Blondie. It's not about them. They're important. But it's about the guy -- it's about Hilly. It's 'Night at the Museum,' and Hilly is Ben Stiller. It wasn't easy. We're still finishing up the movie. But I don't think people are going to be disappointed."

"Watercolor Postcards" had a little bit of an easier road, licensing-wise. Laura Bell Bundy stars as Sunny, which includes several scenes of Bundy singing. She has a history with Broadway and released her debut country album through Mercury about three years ago. Granucci said Nashville singer/songwriter Andy Davis wrote many of the songs she sings in the movie and was often on-set with them. "He worked with Conrad a little bit on some things. He custom wrote the songs. The songs really paved the way for the other 18 cues that I selected and licensed for the soundtrack."