Hitting the right notes

Here, music house heads, including Man Made Music's Joel Beckerman, MusicBox's Joel Goodman and Expansion Team's Alex Moulton and April Jaffe, sound off on what they're bringing to the table to make your shows sing.
November 1, 2009


New York-based Man Made Music and Greater L.A.-based MusicBox are among the music houses offering clients at TV production companies and networks the hybrid licensing model, which combines original, custom composition with catalog music offerings under one license. Both say the model has been an invaluable tool for producers, especially in times of cash crunch.

Joel Goodman: We probably do about a dozen shows a year like that, either series or specials. The concept has matured somewhat – in the beginning we had to educate producers but now they’re very savvy about it.
There’s a lot of flexibility in this model – so many producers and editors prefer to cut to music. Why cut to music and replace it? Why not cut to what they’re going to use? They also like getting the original music as it increases their production values. They’ll take the catalog as a production blanket and then we’ll write a small catalog of the sort of music they’re looking for based on their creative direction. But then if something comes up and they’ve got some interesting scene or a note from the network asking [for] something to be covered differently, they can call us and ask for us to score something to picture.

Joel Beckerman: We all have to be a lot smarter with every single dollar, and I think that’s one of the things that’s really driving this ‘big picture’ approach. Whereas a lot of series were, a few years ago, mostly about a composer working from cue to cue and composing every single element from beginning to end, the combination of dollars and production timetables being scrunched…producers used to have four to six weeks to work on an episode and now that’s down to two or in some cases even one.
When people just use library music, which [has] happened a lot in the last couple of years, there’s been a push back against it, as people were finding there was a lot of similar music being used for shows of a certain genre, sometimes on different networks, sometimes on different networks in the same time period. So people were saying while they couldn’t afford to score, in terms of time or money, a show from beginning to end, the show would still need a particular sound. What we’ve been able to do is come up with some original pieces in just the right points, and then have them score the rest of it with catalog music. There’s no one size fits all approach. But we’re encouraging people to take a fresh look at this and be creative and inventive in applying whatever exists for music dollars on the show.


With the music industry clamoring for any sources of revenue available, more and more artists that were off limits just a few years back are re-evaluating their thoughts on contributing music to TV, either through direct licensing of tracks or through original compositions, often created with music houses.

Alex Moulton: When it comes to the things we do with networks, either themes for specific shows or a rebrand, I don’t think we’ve ever used licensing – it’s 100% original music. That’s part of our philosophy – we feel that not only can we make a better product when using purely original music, but we can make a more authentic product that the client can call their own. One of our main frustrations with licensed music is that often the song and its theme precedes that of the brand. You can never fully extricate where you heard that song or the style of the song from the brand you’ve associated it with. And if a different brand winds up using that song three months later… there’s no longevity.

JG: About a year ago we had a meeting about what we thought would happen in the year ahead knowing that we were entering into an economic quagmire. I predicted that we’d see a lot more licensing as opposed to original music, but for us, that has not been the case. For most libraries out there, they’ve seen their licensing go down.

JB: The number of indie and well-known acts that want to get their music on TV or have a creative opportunity to work in TV has exponentially exploded. One thing I’d encourage people to do is that if there’s a particular artist that they want to work with on a show, dream big – reach out to people because more often than not people are saying yes to things that even two or three years ago would’ve seemed patently ridiculous. These people are realizing that music sells records. Our music supervisors placed a song ['More'] from an Atlantic Records artist, Tyrone Wells, in a very short little spot for Intervention, and within two days of it airing there were about 50 blogs that had been writing about this great song in the spot, trying to figure out who it was. There was a SoundScan bump that you could see the week after. They’re very happy to get these placements in shows and promos for shows. But you’ll still need somebody to help you figure out how an artist will help you work for a show.


Expansion Team has recently wrapped a variety of projects including a new sonic identity for BET-offshoot Centric, a new theme for Biography and sonic rebrands for PBS and CNN International. Man Made drafted in indie heroes Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to create a theme for ‘Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations,’ and is spreading word in the industry about its new boutique catalog, The Ledge. MusicBox has created custom scoring and thematic libraries for History’s ‘The Holy Grail’ and VH1′s ‘I Want to Work for Diddy,’ and is now exploring new methods of delivery with its iPhone app.

AM: [With PBS] we were there from the early strategy stage, so our strategists worked with theirs for about seven months before we actually got around to recording anything. It was very important to fully understand what they were trying to accomplish with their rebrand. At the end of the day, what we came up with was a musical style that had a lot to do with hearing the musicians, feeling like you were in the room with the players, and having pieces of music that would feel both big and epic, yet intimate and human.

April Jaffe: Each of the composers came from a very different background – Michael Picton works more in film and has composed for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, while one of the other composers is in a rock band and is about to go on a 50-state tour. So there are a lot of different musical sensibilities we brought to the project.

JG: We’re certainly beyond the CD at this point, which is a good thing for everyone on the planet as far as I’m concerned. The iPhone app was a very natural step for us. I was skeptical originally – who would use it? But when I was in New York recently to show it around, I was very encouraged by the response. The app is a real collaborative medium – you choose the tracks you like and they show up in your online account, and other people can send you tracks as well.

JB: The point of the Ledge is for it to be an add-on, something that covers the bases for these primetime driven shows in factual, and to cover different moods, instrumentation and styles. So it’s a great companion for the original music we create for a program. It’s music that fits different moods and pacings but doesn’t have to be signature to the series. It kind of has a velvet rope in front of it – the limiting factor for us is that it’s only being made available to folks that we’re working with on a more full-service basis. We’re trying to keep it very closely held because we don’t want the music to be overexposed.

AJ: I think that it’s a very exciting time now, because networks are realizing that music is a very important tool with which to draw people in, perhaps more so than it has been in the past. So networks are really looking at their whole brand and reaching out to different audiences than they’ve had in the past, while staying true to what their brand is.

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