Six months ago, William Morris Endeavor formed a film-music department and within a week landed Hans Zimmer as a client.

The arrival of a new composer rep didn’t send shockwaves through the industry. Zimmer’s unexpected departure from Gorfaine-Schwartz Music, arguably the town’s most powerful composer agency, did.

Six months later, WME’s Music for Visual Media department boasts nearly two dozen clients, including industry legends (Burt Bacharach, Ennio Morricone, Paul Williams), respected veterans (David Newman, Randy Edelman, Joel McNeely), top videogame composers (Garry Schyman, Sean Murray, Mike Reagan) and a handful of intriguing young up-and-comers (Henry Jackman, Ludwig Goransson, Atli Orvarsson) — not to mention Zimmer and this year’s Oscar winner for “The Social Network,” Trent Reznor.

What industry vets are asking is, what’s new here? Is WME attempting to design a new, 21st-century business model for media composers? And will it cause the other agencies to retrench or otherwise alter their own methods?

WME execs aren’t talking. Zimmer, now its highest-profile composer client, also declined comment. But the business has been abuzz for months about the potential impact of a new composer rep and the degree of client defections from existing agencies that might occur.

Heading up the department is Amos Newman, whose four-year sojourn at Gorfaine-Schwartz included a close alliance with “Slumdog Millionaire” composer A.R. Rahman and, before that, work at various record labels; his father is veteran songwriter Randy Newman.

An early consultant to the division, and now a client, is composer Alan Elliott, who helped launch the composer-union movement and now heads the Composers Guild of America.

Observers speculate that WME’s ability to package projects, given its list of high-profile actors and filmmakers, may be attractive to composers — especially, as one high-placed studio exec says, “frustrated composers who don’t think they’re getting enough work and blame their agents.”

In addition, a film-music arm may offer a new bridge into movie work for WME’s star-studded list of contemporary music clients including Lady Gaga and Kanye West.

WME is quietly trumpeting its “unique, proprietary digital delivery system” as a means of providing high-quality music for its composer submissions — “full, 44.1K lossless quality sound while remaining completely secure and non-downloadable.”

Variety asked several studio execs, other agents, composers and other veteran observers about this new twist in composer representation. Most studio execs expressed curiosity about the new division without offering opinions about Newman’s prospects for success. But his diverse background, which included A&R duties and artist liaisons at record labels, was cited as a plus.

As for Zimmer, sources say he was looking to leave Gorfaine-Schwartz for at least two years and the new WME division occurred at the right time. “To the uninformed, it looks like some sort of strategic coup,” noted one observer.

“Hans already does so much more than score movies,” says a rival agent. “Mike (Gorfaine) and Sam (Schwartz) could not make him a mogul. (WME CEO) Ari Emanuel could make him a mogul.”

Zimmer, currently finishing “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” already has “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Madagascar 3” on his agenda for next year. Some already think of him as a mini-mogul — five of his composer associates from his Remote Control studio in Santa Monica have joined him at WME: Jackman, Orvarsson, Lorne Balfe, Heitor Pereira and Geoff Zanelli.

A source close to WME says that the agency will offer options to “the composer who wants to do more than just compose. That doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be movie or TV producers, it can mean that they want an expanded social-media presence,” which is part of the WME strategy.

And with a client list that also includes such cutting-edge electronica artists as Carmen Rizzo and Sebastian Akchote, young filmmakers whose “points of reference, musically speaking, are more Radiohead than Korngold” might feel a closer kinship, the source says.

Former Activision game-music exec Adam Levenson has signed on as a consultant, and that is expected to bring added credibility to the game-music side.

“The one thing that WME brings,” says one composer, “is all this vertical integration. WME packages films, so they will know about projects well before anybody else. It will be an opportunity to make a pitch, or at least reach out to a director. It increases the odds, offers an extra potential edge. If it comes off, it could be good for the clients.”

Music for Screens: Fall 2011

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