Lawyers, agents and money

The suits showed up tonight – Rob Messinger and Vasi Vangelos of First Artists Management and Loeb & Loeb attorney Scott Edel. Everyone’s first question: How do you get an agent?

Unfortunately, there’s no magic answer beyond scoring a film that gets attention. Vangelos recommended pavement-pounding to get your jobs; said Messinger, “The time to get an agent is when they are calling you.”

Vangelos added that it’s important to make sure you and the agent share the same vision about your career; even so, Edel noted, you should never totally give career control to the agent because “your career is your business.”

Edel focused on the deal nuances of fee vs. package. In a fee deal, a composer gets a set fee; in package deals, composers get all of the production’s music money and carve out a fee while coping with the costs associated with creating a score.

Some producers, Edel said, will try to craft a fee deal that is really a package deal – the minute the music budget goes over, it comes out of your fee. Hence, the importance of a good lawyer overseeing your contracts.

Music attorneys can also help in copyright battles: Producers may ask for the copyright, but it’s particularly valuable when you’re a fledgling composer working for little. A potential bargaining chip, Edel said, is pointing out that when movies license songs, the owner retains the copyright; why not the same for the score?

Music budgets are a comparatively tiny portion of the film’s overall costs, anywhere from 5% to 2%, often the latter. “Some studios will say, ‘We just don’t have the money,’ ” Messinger said. “So you wait for them to shoot and see what’s left of the rainy-day funds. We recently passed on a $100 million film where the studio was pleading they had less to pay the composer then on one of his previous, much lower-budgeted films.” Charity is a tough argument on a $100 million budget.

Besides, it’s good to play hard to get. “Producers respect you more if you push a composer’s money up,” Vangelos said. Messinger suggested using Filmtracker.com to arm you with budget information before initial meetings. Even so, Vangelos acknowledged it’s largely a buyer’s market: “Once SAG [strike possibility] ends, we’ll see an infusion of films, but right now – they got us.”

Finally, scoring mixer John Rodd came in with technical advice. Composers are often very hands-on early in their careers, recording with their Macs (only three composers in the in the room owned a PC), so if and when they interact with mixers, it’s important to be on the same page regarding specs and other elements. He told a story about a client who recorded at his house — specifically, in a closet. If you record at home, Rodd said, at least use the living room: “There is no EQ setting for ‘remove closet.’ You can’t beat physics – if it’s a bad-sounding room, you will not have a good product.”

Rodd’s knowledge of all things audio even extended to the minutia of headphone “aging” — often the membranes loosen up and begin to sound better, like a good wine breathing. Not so for aged microphones: “Bad mikes multiply bad sounds.”

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