Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert
How did you get into music supervision?
Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert: You know I started my career, I was a musician I grew up playing guitar. My older brother wanted to play guitar and I was like 11 years old and said, “I want to play guitar too!” It was one of those deals and I learned how to play “Two Blessings” alongside my brother with his teacher in Connecticut and I really developed a passion for it probably when I was around 15 or 16 years old and I really started to play and practice every day and got pretty decent at the guitar. Then when I realized that’s what I wanted to do with my life I moved to L.A.
I went to a music school here and just started gigging, playing in bands. I built a recording studio with a friend of mine and learned how to become an engineer. I just constantly was recording with bands and playing on their demos and doing all kinds of fun stuff like that. But then I, that life tends to wear on you and you can’t make rent. Or you’re going from a car… Actually at one point my dad gave me a car. I went from a car, to a beat up truck, to a bicycle in a matter of about four months. Because I kept needing to sell one to make rent.
So I eventually decided that I wanted to really learn more about the business that I was in, because I was always on the creative side and I felt helpless. I started interning for a promotion company. The company was called Howard Rosen Promotions. I had no idea what promotion was, I had no idea what it was about. I just went in and saw the gold records on the wall and I was kind of taken by the whole thing. Ultimately I ended up learning about it. Calling radio stations, trying to get records played and it was really exciting.
I loved it, I loved talking people into doing stuff that they didn’t want to do. I loved that I was doing that on behalf of artists who were just starting out and didn’t have anything going for them and that was really cool. At the end of the day, that job turned into I became the local guy for Columbia Records. I spent four years at Columbia Records which was great. It was an amazing learning experience as far as me getting what I went into it for. Learning the record business I learned it from top to bottom.
Then in 1998 I had an amazing opportunity, I had a relationship with a guy named Bob Cavallo, who is now the chairman ofDisney music. He got that job in 1998 and he came to me and asked me if I wanted to be the head of promotions. Which is, you know, it was…it was a really scary thing because I was a local guy had no national experience but you just don’t turn down that kind of an offer. I went into it and quite frankly made a lot of mistakes but was fortunate enough to have some successes while I was there that I was able to get some other really good jobs out of it. I ended up going to Epic after that. I ran a promotion for them for a minute.
Things didn’t work out but learned a ton just from being in that system again. Then I was going back home to Sony but at a different capacity and working in New York and just a different breed of people. I learned a lot there and then I came back to L.A and I did a few years at Capitol Records as head of promotions. That ended in 2004 and once again, we had a ton of success, it was a really good learning experience for me but after that was over, I really felt the business had…you know.
Even at Sony when I went to Epic it was during the whole Napster time and the downloading was just corroding and eroding the fun to be honest with you. From when I got into the business in the 1980’s to the early 2000’s it was kind of night and day. There’s still a good living to be made there but it’s just, business has changed and I didn’t want to go back for another tour of duty. If I could have I don’t know if I actually would have.
It was at that time that I started to look at other options and I had a lot of relationships.Obviously when you live in L.A, you end up knowing film people just through osmosis, from parties,clubs, and meetings.I ended up hooking up with this production company called Odd Lot and I do all of their music supervision and I have for a few years now. I really didn’t know what I was doing. The first job I got was a slate of Horror movies that they were working on. It was three films. The music budget was I think $25,000 per film. That was what I had for licenses, you know, for sync and masters. And mind you, I didn’t know what a sync and master was.
I knew but I didn’t know anything, how to do it, who to talk to. So I had to re-learn the music business for a second time but a whole other side of it because getting records on the radio is another life compared to negotiating with a publisher, negotiating with a record company for their master. Dealing with unsigned artists. I always find myself having to explain to unsigned artists what sync rights were when I was still fuzzy on them.
It was kind of funny but it was a great crash course and it was kind of like everything else in my career in the music business which was getting dropped into the ocean and swimming as fast as you can. Try to learn and figure it out and now I feel like I’m over that hump and the movies I’m working on now, they are 50 million dollar movies. They are bigger budget films with big stars and a lot riding on them and I feel really comfortable in that world. So now my career arc has been pretty wide.
But I also feel that the experiences I gained from running a promotion department and making all the mistakes you could possibly make has equipped me to be a pretty decent music supervisor and working with a lot of different personalities because you’re balancing the Director, the Producer, the Assistant Director, and the Editor and there are so many little variables in there that, had I not had my prior experience I might not be able to handle it.
How did you interact with independent artists and their music?
Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert: I think I tend to keep myself off the big radar screen of like every artist in the world, knowing where I live and my address, and how to get stuff to me. Not for any reason that I don’t want that or don’t think they’re good enough but it’s just because I’m not there yet probably. The point that you’re making is a good one and I was actually in Nashville last year, there’s a big music supervisor seminar that’s put on. I met a lot of really great artists down there who have actually become friends.
You hang out with them for a weekend, you write songs with them, it’s all part of the fun, almost like a music supervisor band camp kind of thing. That’s me, I’m an unsigned artist at the end of the day. I grew up wanting that for myself I wanted to write songs and be a musician so I have a lot of empathy for artists. The only difference is that, and I know both sides because I was that but I also was an executive for a long time. The difference is that when you’re an artist, you think you’re right and the music is right and, “It absolutely should be placed, how could you not place my music? Can’t you just find a spot for it?”
You’re coming from a place of desperation sometimes and I understand that because you want your career to go. On the flip side of that, my job is not to just find a place for your song. My job is to find a song for the place and so when I’m dealing with a cue in film or whatever it is, video or TV show there is a demand. That cue has a demand. It’s a sad cue, it’s a happy cue, it’s a melodramatic cue, it’s a nostalgic cue, it’s an up tempo cue, dance, whatever it is, it’s telling you what it needs.
Then my job, once I know what the need is and I’ve agreed with the Director and Producer as to what the need is my job is to go out and find eight to ten at a time possibilities for that need. That usually is at the best a committee decision and more realistically the Director or Producer’s decision. While I’m always trying to help, it really comes down to, just like anything else you are either going to get the call or not get the call. You have to just keep moving when you don’t get the call because it’s not the music supervisor, it’s not even the Director it’s just the decision that was made.
I think that you’ve just got to learn to live with that. That’s my advice as the executive now talking saying, “Hey, live with it move on. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your song wasn’t good enough.” That’s the other thing that commonly happens is artists get really down on themselves and they want to give up. But it doesn’t mean anything it just means that your song didn’t get picked for that situation. Continue to try to do better but just move on and keep trying.
Should a songwriter try to write specific type of songs for film/TV placement opportunities?
Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert: Interesting question – I have a number of artists that e-mail me, “Dan what are you working on?” One of the things that I did for a film called
‘Suburban Girl’, it ended up being a direct to video. It was a cute little film with Alec Baldwinand Sarah Michelle Gellar it was a romantic comedy. I think the content of the film might have been a little over the general public’s head because it’s very lofty as far as literary references and stuff like that.
But it had a lot of music cues in it and one of the things I did on that movie was I actually sent down to all the publishers and all the song writers I know, the cue and what I wanted for the cue. I gave a brief description of the scene and then what kind of cue I wanted and I’d send that out to everybody. It was great, I got a lot of really cool suggestions back, and the publishers sent me tons of cues. Without getting too overbearing I’d say three at a time from each publisher, Warner/Chappell, EMI, and what not. I liked that a lot, and songwriters I noticed, and artists, were going out and trying to write stuff for that cue.
They were desperately, “What about this? What about that? What about this?” trying to fill that void and a lot of times ever since I’ve done that, a lot of artists call me and they’re like, “Can I write something for any cue you have going on?” I appreciate that but it’s very very difficult because the Producers and Directors are typically not music people. They’re just not. They are great at what they do, they spent their life perfecting their craft being a Producer, a Director or an Editor.
Typically they are not music people so when you give the demo and it’s not complete, it’s not what it’s going to be in the movie, they just can’t get there. It is more challenging and it takes more time and a lot of times I don’t have the kind of time that it’s going to take for you to write a song, record it in a demo form even though demos nowadays are great, when you get it back to me, it’s hard. I’m up for it, believe me, but it is a lot harder than having something that’s right. I guess to answer your question more directly which is, “Are there specific themes?” It really depends on the movie.
I don’t think there is a general theme that you should be writing all the time that is something that’s going to be more apt to get licensed than not. I suppose you could look at Grey’s Anatomy and say, “I’m just going to write songs that I think would work on Grey’s Anatomy.” Then that’s your route to go. For me, having worked on Horror movies, Romantic Comedy’s, Comic Book Adventure Movies, and Action Movies. I think that, I’ve worked with so many different types of cues I can’t say that there’s one that would be more; if you’re a writer you should be writing more because this gets licensed more. Maybe love songs.
Any differences or similarities you’ve seen between music for TV commercials and film?
Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert: Look at commercials! I’m a big commercial music junkie. I can’t even remember the commercial because I don’t pay attention to the product but the Donavan song which I thought was a Dylan song forever, I discovered through a commercial. “Might as well catch the wave” I think is the name of the song.
They’re using ‘The Postal Service Song’ in the UPS commercials. There using a song from a group, “Is this the part where we let go?” I’m trying to think of the name of that group. I downloaded it I have it in my iTunes it’s just a beautiful song. Just their sound of their record for some financial commercial. Commercials it’s interesting, they are going out and finding music just like I am in a sense. It kind of always goes back to that, “Here’s a scene, here’s a commercial, here’s a movie, here’s an end title and it needs this.” I think those needs are different.
And I guess in commercials…commercials nowadays tend to be really nostalgic they want you to feel like life is good or life is not so bad so they tend to all be in that direction. I dunno if that’s going to change sometime soon. Even the little Apple tune is really kind of nostalgic you know that little “ding ding ding” It’s a cute little tune that you can hum. I don’t know, for movies I think it’s different I think that whatever your catalog is that is yours that you’ve written, anything could be possible to be licensed and that’s the way you should look at it.
Do you ever over-champion a song for licensing that you like a lot?
Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert: All the time, I mean obviously a music supervisor is human and I have my ear and my taste. I think one of my biggest faults is that I’m sometimes too obvious in that I’m trying to champion a song. Usually that drives Director and Producer away. It’s a weird little human psychology thing, if you want something don’t want it too badly. I’ve learned that and I try to keep the songs that I really like in the hopper for as long as possible to give them a chance to be chosen and gently push them along.
Yes, absolutely and I also love the re-record thing and finding interesting ways to do songs that I’ve always liked. Especially if it’s going to be too expensive to license a Buckley or something you know, whatever the situation is. Quite frankly, I’ve found that a lot of publishers and label people will try to work with you and if you have a lot of cues they will even try to leverage in a couple of other songs and that’s all part of the business and that’s cool.
But if there’s something that I’m really passionate about or a song that I… I find myself driving down the road sometimes and I’ll think of a song that I like and think god I got to try to get that into a movie. Sometimes it’s just like that. Then a cue will come up and that song will come into my head and I’ll be like, alright I’m going to pitch this song for this movie and really try to make it happen. It absolutely plays into it if you have something that’s a favorite.
How do you seek out music? On your own from other sources?
Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert: That’s interesting because when you’re working on a smaller budget film. This is really good point and I’ve worked on a number of them; you have to find bands that are off the beaten path. You have to, because you don’t have the money to just go call up a big publisher and have them submit stuff because a big publisher has a floor as to what they are going to license something for.
Sometimes I’ll be honest with you I’ve got $500, I’ve got a grand, and I’ve got a cue. That’s for both sides of it, the sync and master. I got to do what I got to do to get this cue. I’ll go on www.MySpace.com but it can be a little bit like being dropped in the middle of a jungle. Sometimes I’ll go, you can even go on Borders and look for groups and then look in the “What else they bought” or “If you like this then you might like this”. Then you can find something that’s not heard of and go that route and that can lead you to more.
The one thing that I do like about the internet, my favorite part is the breadcrumb trail that it leaves. You can go find a group and even that’s not the one, there’s usually a trail of crumbs that you can find to what you need. I’ve found a lot of groups that way by going onto www.MySpace.com site and then looking in their friends and seeing other bands that are their friends, click on and all of a sudden that’s closer to what you need. Maybe one of their friends is even closer to what you need.
It can drive you nuts a little bit but it’s kind of fun for me because you can find other bands. www.MySpace.com is great too because the player comes up, you can listen to four songs in the player pretty quickly you get a vibe and move on.
Which song placements are you proud of?
Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert: The Suburban Girl movie had a lot of cues. And so that was challenging because it had a limited budget and it had a lot of cues. There were some things that I put in, one of the cues that I really liked was Image in Heat -Speeding cars. I put it into the scene where Bret the main character is going through a blue period. Basically she had just broken up with her boyfriend, he cheated on her and it was a bad scene. And she’s laying in her bed, she’s been in her room for days and that song was just so great and I was so happy that I thought of it.
I just thought of the song and it’s been used I think it was used in Grey’s Anatomy once before. It just came into my head as something I thought would be great for that scene. It was out of our price range, and it took, this was where my promotion experience came into play. I had to negotiate and wriggle with Sony and wriggle with…I think that’s a…I think that’s an EMI license. I had to do a lot because that was actually the year that Image in Heat got nominated for a Grammy award.
As soon as I said this piece should work and everybody agreed with me, the Grammy nominations came out and I thought I was never going to get this cue now. It was tough but we did some rambling and we did some compromising. We did some things that we had to do but I was really proud that we were able to get that.
I won’t say for how much but we got it for nothing basically, not nothing but we got it inexpensively and I was really appreciative of everybody at Sony and EMI…actually I think it might be Warner/Chappells, I’m sorry. That was a good coup for me so I guess that would be the one that I felt just great, more from a negotiation standpoint then a song standpoint.
Ever made any bad song placements?
Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert: There was a, there’s a Horror movie with Chris Kattan and Jamie Denton(Desperate Housewives).There’s a scene where they are all turning into Zombies it’s actually a Zombie Western. It’s kinda funny movie it’s called Undead or Alive’. The zombies are ripping the heads off of these cowboys. And I put inRonny James Dio “Stand Up and Shout”.And I just thought it was such a funny because the movie was meant to be a little spoofy and I thought that cue was really really great. It held it’s own.
The way it works, cues get temped in and sometimes they last and die, sometimes they last and stay, sometimes they don’t last and die and come back. I mean you’re moving the things around in post-production all the time. And the Dio cue lasted the whole time. It was about a week before we were going to mix and I was so happy that I’d gotten Dio my childhood favorite band, one of them you know along with Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, I was a rocker.
At the last minute they did a screening and it came back overwhelmingly negative that the Dio cue was in there. Nobody liked it at the screening, other people in the business so it got booted out which was fine. I accept the fact that it was my personal preference but that’s where I can’t let my personal preference get in the way of what’s right for the movie or what’s right for the common.
You know because when you’re making films just like when you’re making music I think your job is to…I’m getting on my soap box little bit here but I think your job is to, you know, create something that is an expression of who you are and saying what you want to say but in a way that the most people can access it. It’s definitely your job when you’re making a movie because there is people’s money on the line and you have to deliver a product that’s going to access a lot of people.
Music you could argue is not so much that way because it’s a different type of medium. But I still think, you know I’ve heard interviews with Sting where Sting would just blatantly admit, “I write songs to be hits. Some songs I write for myself and I always put a few songs in every record to make sure I have a hit.” I think that’s really smart, I don’t think it takes away from him being an amazing artist or incredible song writer or, you know, a creative mind. I think it just is what it is that’s just smart business in a sense.
So the Dio song didn’t stay and that was a big bummer for me but one thing that did happen in that movie which is the first movie that brought me full circle. I wrote a song for that movie and the end title of the movie ended up being my song. And that was one of those things where I kind of wrote it one afternoon just goofing around. I did recording of it, then I sent it to the Director to put up on the website because there was a website that was created before the bottom of shooting the movie. And he loved it and put it up on the website.
Then we started messing around with it for end title and it was a little hard because as the music supervisor and it being my song, of course I’m going to be partial to it so once again I had to back off. It was in, it was out, it was in, it was out. Then it was in and being used for a fight scene in the movie so it got two uses in the film and I’m really happy about it. For me, someone who was always a musician and growing up and wanting to do that then kind of becoming an executive for a long time and then going into this to actually have something that I created end up in a movie was rewarding.
Do you ever borrow song placement ideas for music you’ve heard on another placement?
Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert: I think a lot of music supervisors probably wouldn’t admit this but they probably would tell you that they instinctively want to shy away from that because they think that it’s not the way to do it but I think that it is. A part of me thinks that it is…it is a really good way to do it. There was an opening title for this movie I worked on recently. I heard this song called Fidelity by Regina Spektor. I actually think I saw it on One Tree Hill or Grey’s Anatomy I saw it on a show and I thought wow what a great song for the opening title of this movie.
I had a conflict inside because I wasn’t the first one to think about putting that in a film or TV show. Then you had a little ego battle. I just decided a long time ago to check my ego at the door because if that song is the right cue for the movie then it should be in the movie regardless if it was on TV already or a commercial already or whatever. Typically though commercials are the last place they end up, you know what I mean?
Although I just went to the movies this weekend and I saw the Donovan song that was in a mutual life insurance commercial is in a movie now. Who cares? If it works, if it’s the right song, who cares? If it’s a popular song, who cares? I am Legend had Bob Marley all over the movie,
they licensed the whole movie with Bob Marley. We all know Bob Marley we’ve heard him a million times. It was right for the movie and it worked so who cares if you weren’t the first one to think of it.
You know, I kind of just let it go. It turns out we were unable to get that license but I had it in there and I thought it was a good choice we just financially couldn’t afford it. The only people who really care are us, the music supervisor community in a certain sense because the Directors and Producers certainly don’t care. They want the song that’s going to work for the picture they don’t care if it’s been used a million times. I thought they would but they just don’t, they just want the best song. Then what happened was, we couldn’t get the license and I actually had to find a comparable song. I ended up using Sara Bareilles, Love Song which turned out to be a big hit.
I got lucky and I looked like a genius but I just liked the song. It was the same kind of tempo and the same feel of the Regina Spektor song and it worked for the film. I look smart and all but truth is it was just really the right vibe, the same kind of tempo. In that instance it was really important because they cut the opening title sequence to the song. Almost like a music video so we kind of needed a similar tempo feel song and that song worked and it was really great. But it was a little stressful because I knew that I needed to find something comparable and that’s hard.
We went through about a week and 400 or 500 songs before I finally, you know, got to the one. I mean, honestly in hindsight I think now it’s a better choice but like I said, you know like it’s all about… It all comes back to necessity when you’re talking about music supervision and what you actually need for this scene and how are you going to go out and get it. And going out and getting it is a matter of creative, research, lots of music listening to, lots of negotiating. A music supervisor’s job, primarily, after you’ve presented the selections to the Director and gotten their feedback and they’ve made their choice or the choice has been made whether it’s all of you together or just someone saying, “This is what I want.” Then your job really begins because then you have to go get it. And it’s not just like…if you have all the money in the world you can get whatever you want but you really never do.
Even on the $50 million movie I’m working on right now, there is a limited music budget. It’s finite not infinite so you have to work within the confines of whatever it is whether it’s a thousand dollar license, ten thousand dollar license or a hundred thousand dollar license. It’s all the same.
Is there music that is off-limits for licensing?
Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert: I kind of feel like the way…I kinda feel like everything is a gain now. Led Zeppelin selling Cadillac’s. They’ve all figured out that there’s a lot of money in that, the families of the estates or the artists themselves have figured out that there is a lot of money in that. I think that advertisers and public… Any music that was popular is great. Like Warrant was great, and a-ha was great, Nirvana was great, and Black Sabbath was great. It was all at one time, part of our musical culture and our musical heritage.
So I don’t know that anything is off limits anymore or needs time. Maybe the boy band stuff needs a little bit of time but it was great. Backstreet Boysare great. N’ Sync are great. I’m not denying that there are… is the event and then the post event and then time to heal. I just feel like, if a commercial came out right now and it had Tell Me Why by the Backstreet Boys connected to it I think that probably would be fine because we appreciate great music that we’ve all lived through and can remember something t hat was happening to us at that time and that song was playing. So I feel like it’s all game now.
How has MTV influenced you?
Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert: MTVreally helped us all like everything.I remember coming home from school in 1981 and watching MTV every single day. My mom would yell at me for watching MTV. But I think MTV really helped me. I would never tell my friends that I liked Michael Jackson okay? But I would watch the Billie Jean videos and the thriller video was like
incredible but I would never tell my friends that I liked Michael Jackson but they were all watching. They were all liking the same thing.
The Duran Duran Rio video with the guy on the boat. It was an entertaining video and at the time I didn’t know it but now looking back I really like that song Rio. It was a really good tune. But you know, when I went out partying with my friends we wouldn’t play Rio we would play Metal Church or something hardcore. Now it seems like it’s okay, it’s okay to like everything. I think it’s a phenomenon of MTV and a sign of the times. And I think it’s awesome because you can like Chris Brown and Daughtry and Metallica all at the same time and go to all the shows. I know people who do it, just go to all the shows, and they have a blast at all the shows and I think that’s an amazing thing.
Are labels and publishers flexible when negotiating a final price for a license?
Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert: Labels are; publishers are not. [True True.] And understandably, you know? I see both sides but I tend to… music is already being devalued at a catastrophic rate and, you know, I think that the value of music needs to be preserved.You write something, you have a right to earn money from that.I think every case just has to be taken individually. If I come to you and I’ve got a thousand bucks I’m not trying to rip you off. I think a lot of times the battle is, is this fair or is this not fair. Being a music person I really always want people to be compensated to the degree that is fair for the budget of the picture, for the budget of the music, for the music budget and its just simple math. I’ve got a hundred grand and ten cues. I’ve got ten grand a cue. If I spend five grand on one cue I’ve got five extra for another cue. It’s just simple simple math.
When it comes down to it, I think music absolutely has a value but it’s hard to say this cue is this much and that’s it. People will work with you. Labels will work with you, publishers will work with you and I think that’s great. I don’t want to see it get desecrated to the point where music is free because I think that’s not right either.
Is music now more impersonal with the advent of digital music distribution?
Music Supervisor Dan Hubbert: When I was growing up too, you know, I was a big Rush fan. I knew everything about all three of those guys. I would stare at their album covers. Remember album covers went from this to this to now this. I literally would stare at the “Yes” songs album cover for hours and look at every little nuance and I knew everybody’s names in the band. I knew everybody’s names in Van Halen. Every band that I really paid attention to, I knew who Geezer Butler was. I knew he was the bass player for Black Sabbath. Now, I guess the sad part of what you’re talking about with the advent of MTV and iTunes is there’s less of that.
I don’t know… My business partners went and saw Matchbox 20last night I asked them what’s the guitar player’s name and he has no idea.Rob Thomasis all he knows. That’s kind of sad I hope that comes back some day when people actually get vested in the groups but it really is all about the songs right now. And it’s all about people liking the songs they like and not wanting to listen to the songs they don’t like.
But all of that is great for me from a music supervisor’s standpoint. I honestly still like to listen to other cuts on the records because a lot of times you don’t want to just put in the movie the hit song, you’d rather put something unique in or different in. Which is why I think Garden State was so amazing because Zach and the music people who worked on that film are all very talented, really went out of their way to put in just cool music that wasn’t necessarily mainstream and then songs from the artists that were recognizable but weren’t necessarily their biggest songs.
That’s hard to do and pull off and I don’t think anyone’s done it as good before or since Garden State that was a really good job. That is a challenge because the world is so iTunes oriented that you know about all the hit stuff and you have to go really work hard to find the rest of it. There’s so much out there that it becomes a bit overwhelming but I try to listen to as much music as I can without my head exploding.
What are you currently working on?