Billboard/THR Film & TV Music Conference Day One Report: Trent Reznor, Mark Mothersbaugh, and More

Trent Reznor
Austin Hargrave

Trent Reznor photographed by Austin Hargrave on October 22, 2014 at Milk Studios in Hollywood, California.

At the Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference on Wednesday, the intersection of commerce and art was frequently met. The topic came up again and again in panels and discussions that included interviews with film composers and analytics measuring the life of a television sync.

The Maestro Award-receiving Howard Shore set a standard late in the day for inspirational speaking with a lifetime's worth of transcendent stories and accomplishments. Those included how he helped form the Blues Brothers in Saturday Night Live's early days, touring with Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane, and scoring more than 80 films and winning three Academy Awards. When asked how he does it, Shore's answer was comedically simple even though he was dead serious: he submerges himself in the source material and then takes a nap. The hard part, he said, is writing down the music that came to him through his subconscious.

Working in film and television, Shore said, has allowed him to team up with many more musicians than he would have otherwise. Whomever he calls, Shore said, will take his calls and work the sessions -- a perk surely shared by lots of the conference's industry members in attendance.

That Shore's award acceptance and interview was followed by a presentation of Shazam's analytics review and branding partnership opportunities, was an solid example of how broad a creative spectrum exists at film and television's meeting with the music industry. Shazam's head of music, Peter Szabo, showed off his company's metrics, which measure immense boosts in searches with specific television shows or ad campaigns, encouraging his audience to contact them to better enhance a sync placement with additional content, highlighting the year's top sync successes as measured by the app's use.

Some of those statistics: Shazam has 525 million global users who have Shazam-ed 15 billion times, with 14 million new Shazam-ers every month and 20 million Shazams every day. Shazam has proven its ability to discover music, be it on television, the radio, in store, or at a live concert.

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Composer Gregg Alexander of Begin Again -- perhaps best known as frontman of the short-lived late-1990s rock band New Radicals -- spoke, like Shore, about dreams in a relatable way. After shying away from the limelight, assuming much of his audience had experienced equally difficult trials in the industry, Alexander said, "Whatever our dreams are, there's this part of us where we just can't help ourselves. The love of music draws you back in."

Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo are both composers with experience as artists on the fringes of pop culture as well, and each spoke during the conference's first day. With frequent collaborator Atticus Ross as the conference's keynote question/answer session, Reznor discussed the learning curve he's gone through building three film scores for director David Fincher, the latest being this year's Gone Girl. Of his first film experience, The Social Network, Reznor said the score's "undercurrent of terror" came from his own nervousness of scoring his first film, adding, "I didn't want to screw up his movie."

The notoriously dark musician made light of his creative oeuvre later in the interview when asked whether he could create a happy-sounding score or song, saying, "There is no smiling in my head."

In a session about the composer-director dynamic, Mothersbaugh, joined by directing team Phil Lord and Chris Miller, revealed he would be scoring the duo's new Fox series, Last Man on Earth. Having worked on all of Lord and Miller's films so far -- Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street and its sequel, 22 Jump Street -- Mothersbaugh spoke to the benefits of working with directors on television and film projects, rather than with a band.

"I like the idea of working in film and television so much more than being in a band because you spend so much less time sitting in airports and more time writing music," he said.

What's more, as compared to working in Devo -- a band comprising two sets of brothers -- where he is forced to compromise regularly, his voice in composition is far more singular. He said directors will often "speak in such abstract terms," trying to related the feeling they want from his music, "you get to do what you want in music, and you just convince them that’s what they asked for."

That note of reliance on and love for artists was hit several times over the day, in various forms. Notably, during a panel on the "value" of a song and what a song sync is worth, Amy Hartman, VP of film and TV sync at Island/Def Jam, explained what it's like to work with Kanye West.

"Kanye is Kanye," Hartman said, before giving an example of the rapper's regularly changing attitude of what's an appropriate use of his work in television or film. "I've worked with him since the very beginning, and he changes his mind. We respect his wishes. What happens now could change in six months."

"We just roll along with him and try to plan things he's going to agree with artistically," she added, echoing the ongoing sentiment that art truly remains at the core of this business.


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