Last week I spoke with music licensing expert Danny Benair, owner of Natural Energy Lab, a Los Angeles based music marketing company specializing in film, television & commercial placement. Before starting his own company, he served as VP of Film & Television at Polygram Music Publishing. He’s recently placed his clients’ music in ads for Dr. Pepper, Nissan, and Apple, as well as TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. Danny was kind enough to respond to some student questions during our interview:
Q: What was your “big break” in the music industry?
A: I started as a geeky record collector with parents that were gracious enough to give me a drum set at an early age. As a teenager, I went into a series of bands with record deals, and visualized myself being in bands and touring but forgot to visualize making a living out of it. Fortunately I was able to make records in bands I was happy to be in, but also by sheer accident a friend of mine offered me a job at Polygram Music Publishing, and I ended up being VP of Film and TV and was there for over 8 years until they booted me out when Universal/Seagram bought the company. Luckily I had a long contract – yay for me – and I got to sit around and contemplate my future. That was 10 years ago, pre-Myspace, pre-iTunes, when you had to be a hip music supervisor and go out and buy imports and collect CDs, and very few people were doing that. So I started my company and represented labels and artists for film, TV, and advertising, and my first client was the Beastie Boys’ label, Grand Royal, because I’d been their publisher. Then I went to England and picked up a lot of UK labels. Then a little over a year ago, my friend Sharal and I started a music publishing company, Benair Churchill, so now we’re publishing and administrating people’s copyrights.
Q: How interested are you in working with unsigned artists? Is it cheaper or easier?
A: Unsigned artists are fine if it’s something we feel we can work with. We don’t shy away from anything. Unfortunately there’s a lot of stuff out there that’s not that good, but occasionally we find someone without representation who’s really great. We’re discreet in what we sign. We may think someone is amazing, but we don’t sign them because we may be of a disservice to them, if we don’t think we can get them the attention they deserve.
Q: Besides working for a publisher or label, what other experience would be beneficial for someone who wants to work in music placement?
A: You could work for a music supervisor, or start out at the bottom as an intern in a music placement company. Realize that not everyone will land a job within 3 months. Internships are important – doing grunt work is not a bad thing. Everyone’s had to lift boxes and take out the trash and do unglamorous things, but if you’re working with people who are genuinely passionate about music and what they do, that’s as good as any place to start – just don’t intern for 10 years. I had an intern who I connected with a promoter friend of mine, and he want on to work at a major agency. He clocked his hours and worked 2 or 3 internships at once, and now he’s got a great gig. Find the right people who will give you opportunities and recommend you to other people. Don’t be there if you’re just going to be disgruntled – it’s not going to happen overnight.
Q: Besides having a good ear, what qualities do you think make someone a good fit to work in music licensing?
A: It’s a combination of things – first, understanding what someone needs. If someone says I need a female singer songwriter that has a song about“light” and “bright”, and you don’t have it but send songs anyway, then you’re not paying attention. Having good musical taste, or even better, a good musical understanding. No one’s going to knock you for not sending something, but they’re not going to like it if you send 10 horrible ideas that are nothing like what they’re looking for. Also, understand what you’re representing. Do you have the publishing, do you have the master, is half the publishing with Chrysalis Music, are you aware of what you can pitch, is it easy to clear, does the artist have issues with certain kinds of commercials? Knowing all this upfront saves you a lot of headaches. If you pitch something that has a problem connected to it, then you’re connected to the problem, and someone will remember that more than they’ll remember you. That’s vital.
Stay tuned for more from Danny Benair in an upcoming column at TheComet.com.