Music Supervisor Mara Schwartz
Based in Los Angeles, Mara has been selecting and licensing songs in films, television shows, videogames, commercials, trailers and interactive media. Her prior roles included Senior Director of Creative / Film, Television, Advertising and New Media at music publisher Bug Music.
What recent projects have you been working on?
Mara Schwartz: I am completing work on various TV shows and since the writer’s strike has come to an end, we’re continuing work on every possible front including films, commercials, video games, and trailers. We even place songs in stuffed animals that sing and dance!
Most recently I placed a song called ‘Hey Hey, Yea Yea’ in an E-trade commercial and music in two commercials in the Super Bowl (they are the commercials with the babies on computers.) The ads were awarded the #1 spot by a number of the critics, so I was pretty excited about that. I selected a band called “The Martians” who are still pretty much an up-and-coming act, which turned out to be a big deal for them so I was delighted to be part of that.
Having placed music in commercials, could you tell us what makes a song great for placement in advertising?
Mara Schwartz: As far as advertising placements, nothing gets licensed more than a positive, non-specific song. Exactly like the song I licensed with The Martian in the E-trade commercial called ‘Hey Hey, Yea Yea’. That’s general, it’s positive, that can apply to any situation you want out there.
Another one that I placed was a campaign for ‘Progressive Car Insurance’ and the song was called ‘This Is How Life Should Be’ so that’s how general and non-specific you’ll have to be if you want to get placements and commercials all the time.
People come to me with really good songs and they have girl’s names in them and stuff like that and I say “well that’s fine – I heard your album, but because of the girl’s names in your song it’s going to be ruled out for any scene that does not have the goal with that name in it. So if I were to pitch it, I’m kind of taking a chance.
At the same time I should mention, that all kinds of music get licensed all the time. There are certain songs that I have from our clients that are about drug problems and things like that and they end up getting licensed in commercials. You can never tell, but I think that it’s there. I think if someone really wanted the song to be licensed they should try to pick out their most positive non-specific song, as far as commercials just to have the greatest chance of getting something.
What changes or impacts are you observing in terms music placement opportunities?
Mara Schwartz: With the advance of (1) new media and popularity of TV shows sold on (2) DVDs, new music placement opportunities are created.
In terms of (1) new media, many TV shows are looking to add some kind of an online component and we receive a lot more requests for an all media approach. The internet is just another format that we need to work with. And I think it’s kind of the case of establishing what an internet broadcast is going to be worth. For example, one could argue that when you use a song in a TV show versus on the internet for promo purposes, it’s not really the same as when it’s used on T.V., or is it? So you have to figure that all out.
I’m used to handling these new media licenses as we deal with a lot of people who are producing internet shows. Clients understand that they have to pay for the use of the music and just because it’s a different format doesn’t mean that the same rules don’t apply.
In terms of (2) DVD sales, TV shows that once used to be cancelled and never heard of again, now have a second outlet through DVD releases. That is, even if the show did not do very well in the ratings many still end up going to DVD. And it’s certainly easy to predict that they’re going to need music for the DVD.
For example, there are shows that only aired for half a season and got canceled, yet still had enough following that would make it worth to put the entire season, including the unaired episodes, onto DVD.
Sometimes I get excited when I get a new recording from our song writing clients and they have a song that sounds a lot like another song, and part of me is thinking it’s a perfect sound alike, even though I’m sure that the client really would not like it if I said, hey this a perfect rip-off of, what’s the song; ‘Hey Jude’ or something like this that doesn’t clear that often, but it might help if they can get a placement out of it.
And how much is your personal love for songs and artists that you place. I mean I’m sure your placing stuff that could care less about?
Mara Schwartz: Well, I mean I try not to place anything I wouldn’t love, honestly. I love a lot of the music that is placed and a lot of the bands I’ve signed because I loved them before they became well-known. Sometimes I think”I’m got to get this band” even if they are not known.
But usually some bands I love get plenty of placements on their own. As an example, when I go out of Montreal… most of the supervisors love some specific bands there already as well. But then you know once in a while we have a band that just hasn’t gotten the attention that they should and I think sometimes my enthusiasm can kind of carry over a little bit.
Like with a band called The High Strung who are on Park The Van Records who are just awesome. They kind of have a really cool retro vibe… I don’t know if you have heard them. Well I just love them and they got this neat… I like they was there retro and indie mixed together and kind of like The Who bass line. They’re just not that well known yet, and so I figured a lot of times I have a lot of enthusiasm for the ‘High Strung’. I can kind of get people excited about a band that they might not pick up the CD if they don’t know the band, but otherwise my enthusiasm might help a little bit. I actually did get them placed on that new Eva Longoria show, yeah ‘Over Her Dead Body’, so someone did pick up on the enthusiasm.
You mentioned it is commonplace for an artist to suddenly be picked all over the place once they’ve been placed once. Is that right?
Mara Schwartz: It does happen a lot, yeah it’s kind of a snowball. I just placed a ‘Golden Smog’ song in the opening of the title of a film called the ‘Sunshine Cleaning’, which they played at Sundance in front of Amy Adams and it didn’t sell at Sundance, but I have a feeling it probably will sell within the next year, just because Amy Adams is really gorgeous and the song is really, really good and it has never been licensed before in anything ever.
And when I saw the film it was an opening title sequence and they had really edited the whole opening montage that introduces everybody in the story like, what they’re doing at the beginning of the day and it was edited to the point that the entire song was just a great placement and it’s a really, really great song.
So I was hoping that if the film ended up getting picked up and people see it, then people are going to want to know what that song is and use it for other things cause the song is so good.
Sometimes songs that are that good, for whatever reason don’t connect with supervisors or nobody has a place for them at the right time. But in this case I have a feeling like that could potentially smoke all. A perfect example is Lust for Life which before the cruise line thing was basically known as Iggy Pop kind of comeback song, but it wasn’t that well known of a song and especially because it wasn’t associated with good times and cruise lines.
But since it has been used for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line spot, there’s all these other placements that come when people are doing things that involve cruise lines and they want to promote the cruise line so they’ll want to license Lust for Life now.
It’s very weird, and another example is, I placed the song Kaboom! by Ursula 1000… at first it plays in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and then they used it for the promos in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ so now every time a ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ cast are on Oprah or some show they license that song ’cause its associated with that.
So it’s interesting how it happens, sometimes it will be an album… in fact that ‘Kaboom!’ song would be a perfect example. The first time I heard of them, I’m like I’m going to get licenses for this sort of thing all over the place. And then nothing happened for a couple of months, and then people started hearing it probably on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and now I get request for it all the time.
Some artist don’t want to come across as sell-outs if they place music on TV or commercials, is that so?
Mara Schwart: In the past five years I’ve been dealing with a lot of clients who really didn’t want anything in T.V. or film or commercials – they didn’t want to be sell-outs but one by one they almost all come around. Even people who are really, really anti-selling-out are now willing to do commercials, just because the whole perception has changed. Think back to indie rock in the 90’s where all we did was talk about who the sellouts were, like Dean Culture.
Very, very few people are unwilling to do commercials and there are some clients who won’t do commercials for certain products, because if it doesn’t match their conditions. For example once in a while we have a client who’s a vegan or vegetarian, and they don’t want to advertise any kind of meat, or any kind of food company who sells meat. So, for the most part people are pretty open to licensing for at least certain things.
Do you in terms of gaming, are you doing much of that? How is that different than placing it in films?
Mara Schwartz: Well, it doesn’t pay as well. The one thing that I do think is different is that you don’t have to match the songs to a specific scene, you just have to figure a specific playlist.
I do think It’s a little bit easier sometimes to get your song in a video game cause you don’t have those issues of people’s names in the songs, that’s ok because if there’s no name in the song that’s not going to screw you out from being in the video game and there is a little bit more flexibility.
And I like getting songs placed in video games – I just wished they paid more. They sell so many video games… I just think they should pay a little bit better. A lot of people have a different opinion than mine on that one, because everyone wants to be in video games.
Do you think fees for song placements in video games will increase eventually. As an example, the game “Halo” will gross more than a major movie. As such do think it will change, or do you think they will always be on the low end of the payout?
Mara Schwartz: How do I say this without getting in trouble? I think eventually they’ll probably want us to pay them to be in their games, that’s what I think. And their argument is that, were doing so much more promotion cause. That’s what I think, but I’m not going to say that cause I don’t want to be accused of not getting any one in a deal.
Besides earning money through traditional sources, it seems there’s a lot of pressure on music publishers to get songs placed in film and TV – do you agree?
Mara Schwartz: There is definitely a lot more pressure on the film and T.V. placement part. I mean everybody wants film and T.V. placements. Whether that’s on One Tree Hill, Supernatural or whatever show that’s in – everyone wants to get on there too.
And it’s just hard, because there is so much competition out there for film and T.V. placements.
But I definitely noticed that the amount of potential placements has grown, because so many more T.V. shows and films and commercials are licensing music now. A lot more people out there try to get placements and music supervisors are so bombarded with the submissions from everybody, it’s so hard to get placements is what I’m saying, and I just think that the pressure has ramped up a lot on the creative departments to get placements because revenues isn’t always coming in from the “traditional sources” anymore and record sales are down and people are doing self-release and so on. So I’m just getting a lot more calls from people who want their music placed in film and T.V. I try to get as many of them as I can but there’s a lot of them out there.
The internet has made it super fast to communicate – how has that helped you in getting your job done better?
Mara Schwartz: I’ll just say one thing about the transmission of information, it does make it a lot easier, for example now a lot of times when I have certain placements, I’m looking for something I don’t have quite the right thing but I have a feeling one of our songwriters might have something in their catalog. It’s something that’s unrecorded or they haven’t sent it to us, I can call him/her up and they can email me something right away, they can send it on over and I can get it to supervisor within a day, so that’s good advantages.
How many people do you sign in a year?
Mara Schwartz: You know I sign probably between 5 and 10 songwriters a year. We have several people who do signings and a lot of signings come into our business and legal departments. I tend to sign people who I think I can get film and T.V. placements.