Music Supervisor Ron Proulx
Music Supervisor Ron Proulx has been around the block and knows a thing or two about the music business.
As a former Music Editor, Producer, Indie Label Owner, Publicist, Negotiator, Business Affairs and General Manager, Budgeter, Composer, Songwriter, Ron has done his share of work in the industry, so much so, that he has and is writing tales about it in his own books.One of his main passions though is to tie the knot between musical compositions and moving pictures by selecting the best musical gems he can unearth.
Since 1995, music supervisor Ron Proulx has worked on over 80 films and 400 episodes of TV, and he is responsible for having licensed well over 1200 songs in these productions. Ron tells us about his projects, his song selection process and his books on music supervision and how to go about placing your songs in film and TV.
PMM: What projects are keeping you busy at the moment? Is there a lot of music you have to find? (please note the list of these projects has changed since the time of the interview and it’s best to check with Ron on what his latest projects are)
Music Supervisor Ron Proulx: We mostly work on TV projects though we’ve also done plenty of work on movies. Currently, we’re working on Season 4 of Flashpoint (CBS), Season 2 of The Listener (CTV) and a fifth season of Heartland (CBC). One key song closes every show along with 3 or 4 background songs.
PMM: Does it take a long time to find the right music? How much music do you go through?
Music Supervisor Ron Proulx: As for any music supervisor, it takes as long as it takes. You go through years of listening in the hope that at some point you know quickly what will work in a show. So it’s not a matter of listening to ten songs – you might listen to 30, 50, a 100 or 200 songs. Oftentimes we ask people that we know if they’ve got something that we particularly need – a specific song selection request.
From the responses we receive, we will bring it down to like the final three, because we don’t want to get too many choices to the producers. You listen to a ton of stuff but you’re trying to bring it down to the right size chunk for someone else to use.
PMM: Is the work similar in film versus TV?
Music Supervisor Ron Proulx:When comparing the work we do in TV to film, they are both very similar. The only big difference between TV and film is that the director tends to be much more in charge in a film and the producer tends to be much more in charge in television, at least in my experience,. The work will remain the same; it’s just the person you’re talking to that changes basically.
PMM: How do you discover new music?
Music Supervisor Ron Proulx: I’ve got MySpace up right this minute! Websites like these are really great resources. Every music supervisor is different in terms of how they like to categorize and browse for new music. Some prefer CDs and others don’t.
Actually, we prefer not to receive CD’s as it’s easier to very quickly browse music online. I don’t really care if it’s MySpace, the artist’s website or any other page for that matter that’ll allow me to peruse the music. So a short message with a link to your music online is perfect. If we like it, we get in touch, but be aware that we will usually contact you and don’t like constant follow ups, because there’s a lot to go through.
We love artists and without new artists we wouldn’t be in business. Having said that, it’s just so hard to get through it all, so I now suggest to artists to try and align themselves with a music publisher, songplugger, or broker.
The artists themselves simply cannot make enough of an impact on their own. They may get lucky one time out of a hundred, but for the tens of thousands of artists out there I think most of them are better off having a music broker representing them. In fact, over the last few years, I have found that the business has moved on to be much more “broker”-centric.
There are a lot of music publishers, brokers, and song pluggers out there that might handle 100 or 200 independent artists. We often contact these with a project brief and outline specific requirements, such as “we need a female vocal that is reminiscent of KT Tunstall” or something like that. From that we receive a link to a selection of 3 specific ideas from their roster of hundreds of artists. So it’s sort of a filter process.
We supervise quite a number of projects for independent producers so we seek a lot of independent music. We usually don’t do a lot of work for major label or publisher licensing at the moment.
PMM: You mentioned MySpace, let’s talk about the internet and technology in general…
Music Supervisor Ron Proulx: I started in ’94 right around the birth of the “good” Internet. At that time we were just at the heels of Netscape, so the Web was there, existed, was a somewhat usable version, but it was still very much the Wild West.
As the internet evolved over time, it has allowed us, as music supervisors, to deliver and share ideas and suggestions on music for use in film or TV much more efficiently. It used to be back in the day when you had to send big VHS cassettes around with a courier.
Then came DVDs and even with that I really try to stay away from. So nowadays we do a lot of stuff virtually, so you can actually send or receive a track or cut more easily.
In the last few years, of course, with the birth of MySpace particularly and other sites like it, it’s a lot easier for artists to get their music out there and therefore easier for us to hear and discover them.
Because of technology more artists are able to make their own records, which is both good and bad. The good is more artists get to make their records that are independent.
The bad is a lot of people think they can do it on their own and they don’t use a real good producer or they’ve mastered material earlier than it should be. In other words, it hasn’t been cooked enough and they haven’t really continued the songwriting process to more of the conclusion that a record company or a music publisher would have had them do. That is probably partly because there’s less pressure now.
In a sense a record label conducts the quality control or can push the artist to do her best, when the artist may have stopped before the cookie wasn’t fully cooked, so to speak. That is, someone might be a great songwriter but not a good singer, which surprises me because one of the things that people do have access to, in part due to the internet and technology, is other musicians and lots of singers and not everybody is a singer and songwriter, or engineer producer, performer. And so the advice would be to collaborate – I love collaborators; I think it’s good in all things.
PMM: Since you deal with a lot of music publishers and record labels, are there any things these type of companies still get wrong?
Music Supervisor Ron Proulx: I would have to say that the #1 thing publishers and record labels still get wrong is trying to command too much money for licensing a new artist’s song. Playing hard to get for new artists is not necessarily in the best interest of the artist, especially if it could generate great exposure for the artist.
PMM: When dealing with a music supervisor such as yourself, what should an artist/songwriter avoid doing?
Music Supervisor Ron Proulx: I think that what’s not useful for a music supervisor, typically, is stories about you growing up, the hardships you faced, etc. Or sending me press releases, stories and other kind of media – I don’t really care about photographs, tour dates, etc. – for me, it’s all about “the grooves” – the music. The other stuff is not really part of the process; it just doesn’t do it. Unless we’re working on a film where the producers think that having three songs from Sheryl Crow is important because her career is a big selling point for the film.
Also, a lot of artists seem to think that they have to get out there and gig, but that’s a career move as an artist, and while that’s a very important career move as an artist, to put music into film and TV it doesn’t matter to me at all.
Meanwhile, the guy who sits in his bedroom, never gets out of bed and just writes and records great songs, that’s really all he needs to do.
But if you are an Indy artist, truly an Indy artist, not an actor in a career, then it’s all about the music and being a great songwriter.
PMM: You wrote a book on music licensing into movies andtelevision. Why did you write it, who is it for and what are some of the insights it offers?
Music Supervisor Ron Proulx:
1) Why did I write it?
I wrote it because so many people asked me to explain licensing to them, and I used to tell them and then I got sick of telling them and I thought I’m gonna write this down, and I’ll never have to say it again! After putting my pen to the paper I realized that I should make a guide out of it and start to distribute it for anyone that might have an interest in licensing music in movies or TV.
2) Why this book?
This book is written unlike any other that I’ve read – and I’ve read a few! For example Music, Money And Success (Music, Money & Success: The Insider’s Guide to Making Money in the Music Business) is a an awesome book, but its written from a slightly higher vantage point than mine is. That is, my guide is written in direct answer to the question that the title has, and I don’t get off topic, it’s all about that topic.
3) Who is it for?
The ultimate user base is really someone who doesn’t have a clue about what he or she is doing and wants to know things fast, without a whole lot of other stuff surrounding it. As such the book benefits independent artists, independent music publishers, brokers, songwriters, songpluggers, or someone who doesn’t know where she should even start.
If somebody already knows how to license music, this is not a guide for them, there is no question. This book covers things such as what a master use or synchronization or festival license is, what perpetuity means and why it matters, what an option is, various deal points and much more. These are all terms and terminology that people who know the business already know, but when you start out, you may not know what all this stuff is.
It’s good for anyone who needs to deal with music publishers or with people like myself – music supervisors. For that, it’s a great primer.
Interestingly enough, I still find myself having to explain the most basic things to some people. For example, someone might ask: “Is the TV show going to own my song?” – that’s a real give away that the artist is not very knowledgeable.
Readers of my guide appreciate the no nonsense approach of the book. I am not trying to candy coat anything or to make it something that it’s not. I try to put it as simple as possible.
PMM: Can you impart us with one pearl of wisdom from your book?
Music Supervisor Ron Proulx: In short, creating a real relationship that’s long and lasting is the key. It’s so much more important than any one deal could ever be. This is a people business.
Some seem to think the most important thing about a project is the money, but I vigorously disagree and would posit it to be the “connection” you make with the people you work with.
Let’s say you’re a composer or a songwriter and you work with a writer, director or a producer, they will always look to you for input if you are easy to work with and are reasonable. But if the first thing out of your mouth is “how much?” that creates an unfavorable atmosphere and an immediate turn off to most people.
To put it another way, the guy who sells you a car hopes to sell you five cars in your lifetime, not just one. Or a real estate agent hopes to sell you not just one home but three homes because in five or ten years when you move again, if you had a good experience the first time, why would you call somebody else, you would call the first person you know that you got along with.
And my business is built on that – I have so many return clients for my music supervision services. It’s always good to get a new client; they are the hardest ones to get. But if you have a new client, that’s close to eighty percent of the battle going forward.
PMM: What can we expect from Ron Proulx in the future?
Music Supervisor Ron Proulx: I am writing a follow up to this book called ‘Zen and The Art of Music Supervision’. It is about my life and business thoughts based on my experiences as a music supervisor.
Whereas the first guide is really about the technical end of licensing songs, this book is much more about running a small business – about how to “lose the battle, yet win the war”. It’s much broader and not specifically about music licensing. The book will be interesting to people not even in the music industry, because I try to make it universal.
You can compare it to the types of books such as “The Art of War” or books from Steven Covey. It’s about common sense about doing business in the modern world. I touch on things like relationships, email, the pecking order of life, why treating the receptionist is a good idea – really the simple things that we don’t get taught in high school – how to basically conduct yourself when you are trying to grow a small business.
I didn’t go to school where I could learn about how to grow my business, yet my business has grown considerably in the last ten years. When I remember back, I started off as a guy playing in a band back in the day, so running a business was not my thing, but in fact running a business was my thin…I just didn’t know it then!
My business was running a band – and that’s a business – but a lot of people don’t think of it that way. So ‘Zen and The Art of Music Supervision’ discusses a lot of the concepts and ideas that I’ve had to recognize over the years about just being an adult.
I’m working on it now. I’d like to say that within six months I will be done, that’s my goal. But this is a much bigger deal than the other guide.
About Ron Proulx
Since 1995, Music Supervisor Ron Proulx has worked on over 80 films and 400 episodes of TV, and he is responsible for having licensed well over 1200 songs in these productions. He is an accomplished author and has self-published a book on how to license music in film and TV called “How To License Your Music Into Movies And Television”. To buy his book or to find out more, follow this link. For the music supervision company, visit the Arpix Media website. (please note this interview took place in spring 2009).