This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Deborah Mannis-Gardner, Owner/president, DMG Clearances.
Shazam can’t hold a flicker of light to Deborah Mannis-Gardner in identifying music.
Her extraordinary audio dexterity comes from her love of hip-hop and rap as well as from securing clearances of music for film, samples, and video games for close to three decades.
As president of DMG Clearances since 1996, Mannis-Gardner clears at least 100-150 samples per month.
Of late, she has handled clearances for Eminem, Drake, Black Eyed Peas and Lil Wayne albums; and in recent years for projects anchored by Jay-Z, DJ Khaled, Kendrick Lamar, Boy Wonder, Everlast, J. Cole, Snoop Dogg, Tyler, The Creator, Black Thought, Brockhampton, Quest Love, the Roots, Frank Ocean, and Macklemore to name a few.
Today Mannis-Gardner also works exclusively with Rockstar Games, clearing music usage for gaming’s top franchise Grand Theft Auto, as well as for The Warriors, Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noir, and Max Payne.
She also handled film music clearances for Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator”; Curtis Hanson’s “8 Mile”; “In Her Shoes,” and “Lucky You”; The Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”; Richard Linklater’s “School of Rock”; and Josh Fox’s “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change.”
Another feather in her creative cap was handling Grand Performance Rights clearances for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway mega-hit, “Hamilton.”
Earlier this year, Mannis-Gardner was named as a partner and advisor to the Swedish digital music company Tracklib that is streamlining sample clearances for the global marketplace.
DMG charges flat rates, starting by doing research at a minimum of $150 for the first hour, and $100 for each additional hour thereafter. Stage One for clearances, which includes submission of requests, and negotiating fees and terms, is $325 to clear publishing, and $325 to clear master rights. With Stage Two, which commences after quotes are secured, and the client has approved fees, there’s a fee of $325 to wrap up publishing and $325 to wrap up master rights. Also available are fees for each stage for feature films, TV, video, Interactive and multimedia, commercials usage, and a fee for rush services.
Why flat fees for your services?
I want someone to have a definitive dollar amount of what my services are going to be. So, if it’s sample clearances, and they’ve got 8 samples to clear, and it’s both publishing and master, they know that equation is 8 times 2 which is 16 times $325, and they know that is $5,200 for Stage One of my services. Boom, it’s a set rate.
Stage Two is almost the same.
It might not be. Let’s say they decide to replay a song, and let’s say that with the sample there’s an issue, and they decide to pull it. That is why I broke (fees) into two stages because some stuff never makes it to Stage Two. But, if they want to do the whole film project or an advertisement we take what their budget is, and then we come up with a flat fee for my services. It can range from $2,000 to $30,000. It’s more of who do I want to work with and then working with their budgets.
What do you now have on your front burner?
Currently, I’ve got 25 albums that are in the Stage One process of me clearing. I just gave (VP) Janice Shreve a list of 15 albums to put into Stage Two to wrap. On synchronization on my wall, I’ve got a couple I can’t talk about; a documentary of a ‘60s icon singer; a CNN limited series; and then I’m working on stuff for True Religion, New York & Company, Ciroc, Honda Civic, and Facebook.
Finally, I have 25 projects that are in wrap-ups; from Pocket Games Pundit, the film “Famer of The Year”; and the documentaries “It Was The Music,” “Kate Nash: Underestimate The Girl,” “American Trial,” and “The Jazz Ambassadors”; and there’s “Tales” (created by Irv Gotti) which is a TV show we are working on for season two. And we have some PBS stuff we’ve done with the Black Eyed Peas, and the Foo Fighters.
In addition, you are also working on the documentary “It Was The Music” centered on celebrated sideman Larry Campbell, and his singer wife Teresa Williams; the film “Spinning Gold,” the story of Casablanca Records; and “China Kid Blues,” a film by writer/director Wesley Du about a fatherless Chinese boy who seeks the help of an embittered blues musician to teach him to play the blues.
Then there’s also stuff that I’m not allowed to tell you due to my NDA (non-disclosure agreement) that are just goosebump worthy.
You and your staff are doing so many things simultaneously.
Yes. While we are also doing this paper stuff, we are all looking for songs for people who say, “I want to sample this but I don’t know it off the top of my head.” There’s a 65% chance, I will know what it is off the top of my head.
What staff does DMG Clearances have?
I have a team of people. Deborah Evans in New Orleans is doing synchronization clearances; Janice, in Easton, Maryland, does all of the contract wrap-ups; and Rachel Lefkowitz (senior director) in Dunkirk, Maryland does sample clearances. Here with me in Hockessin (in Delaware) is Kris Kielich (manager) who just joined the company, and he is in training to do clearances.
With your life so taken over by music do you ever turn off while watching films or playing games?
When I go to movies my son Curtis sometimes gets mad at me because I tap my leg. I guess it’s because I am calculating how much money that they have spent on each song. We saw “Suicide Squad” (2016), and it was song after song after song, and I walked out with my head spinning. Curtis was like, “Could you just stop counting?” I’m always listening and watching. Curtis plays games, and I’ll keep track of music. I’m also watching all of these TV commercials, and listening to all this music. I have been screaming in the house all this week about Prince being used in a Capital One commercial (a Capital One commercial aired during the Emmys’ TV broadcast featured Prince’s ‘”Let’s Go Crazy”), and Capital One has also used Michael Jackson (‘The Crew’ Song.”)
How do you approach finding music for something like the Eric Garner film, “American Trial,” which is astonishingly moving?
Well for stuff like that, it’s not finding samples. I do sample clearances. That’s my love. But I also seem to be really keen into doing documentaries as they have to find music that evoke the right emotion. The songs that the producers actually wanted for the ending, we were not able to secure. So now what we are doing is that we are listening to a lot of music that has the right message, that evokes the right emotion. So when you leave (the theatre) that song is going to remind you of the story, and the film.
(Though a grand jury opted not to indict the police officer who killed Eric Garner using a chokehold during his July 2014 arrest, “American Trial,” directed by Roee Messinger, stages a mock trial of what could have happened, had the jury’s decision differed.)
That’s the role of a film music supervisor as opposed to someone overseeing sample clearances. Two different types of work.
They are two different types of work, but I do both, and I love both. To be honest, I love sample clearances more than anything. I love the challenge of it. I love the technique, the style, and the beauty. I love sample clearances. Conversely, I love music placement in documentaries, and in films. I think that for films, I’m not saying that it’s easier, but you do have larger budgets to work with. My budgets are really small.
Of course, you have amassed credits and relationships over time, but how do people generally find you for projects?
(Laughing) I think my name is written on a lot of bathroom stalls.
Is it because people know to come to you for certain things like hip-hop?
I think that it is. I do. No one wanted to touch this genre of music in the beginning. That’s how I ended up going into film and television because most of the music supervisors, and most of the production companies, and the studios were like, “Oh my gawd, this is just so difficult. We are concerned. Are we going to get all of the rights? What about samples?” That kind of opened the door for me years and years ago. Because I love this music, and I deal with it every day, and I listen to everything. I do think that it’s word of mouth but I always do wonder, “How do you know to come to me? How do you know to call me? How do you know who I am?” I have come to find out that everyone just knows my name. So that when a situation arises that requires my type of skill, they know to call me. It’s really weird.
People know your past work, and if they want what you do, it’s “Get Deborah.”
Yeah, and I don’t turn anybody down, and I also give free advice. So, if they don’t end up hiring me, I’m still there to make sure that people are doing the right thing.
The independent music supervision sector has exploded over the past two decades.
It is a growing field, and not everybody knows what they are doing.
While it’s highly competitive, and while there’s a lot of work, music supervision is not as lucrative as many think.
No. Mmm-mmm. no. The Eric Garner thing I’m doing for free. You take one look at it, and you are like, “Oh my goodness.”
You felt that you had to be part of that.
Exactly. I’m working with (executive producer) Ralph Richardson.
Let’s be clear about what constitutes a sample.
Well, there are two parts to it, If it’s a sample. One part is if it’s a master use. If you have lifted something from someone’s existing recording and incorporated it into a new song, it is a sample which requires clearing both the publishing and master rights of the original source. Whether it’s one word “hey” or if its scratching or something, or if it’s an 8 bar musical loop. If you lifted it from the original recording, it is a sample. The secondary term is interpolation which is a replay or a re-singing of the lyrics or the replaying of an instrumental portion or the same melody it is only an interpolation. Then it is only on the publishing side of it that (requires negotiating).
With the use of a master recording, rights have to be cleared for the rights of the master, and the song copyright?
Starting in the ‘70s, hip-hop was the first popular musical genre based on sampling. It is the one musical genre in which a sample is part of that culture. You can’t imagine hip-hop without samples.
Meanwhile, there are not that many music supervisors specifically doing hip-hop and rap sample clearances.
No, there aren’t a lot of people. A lot of people who started at the same time I did—I started in 1990—have dropped out. There are a few people that have popped up trying to do it . It’s not a position where you are getting a lot of credit. If anything you are getting a lot of blame. Artists will be upset if the samples weren’t cleared in time. Meanwhile, I’m screaming behind the curtain “Well, if you had given me more than 24 hours, there wouldn’t have been a problem.”
So many albums are released as labels are still scurrying around seeking clearances. Or you have to secure 20 samples on an album with a few days of being released. That often happens.
It does. With Lil Wayne’s album (“Tha Carter V”) we were just given a couple of weeks; and, then in the middle of this two weeks, he changed the songs that were going on the album. But we made it happen. With the Black Eyed Peas’ (“Masters of the Sun” released Oct. 12th)) we only just finished clearing all of the samples. That album, it is so amazing. And it is filled with samples, but it’s incredible. It’s really good. Their last album was filled with samples as well.
I’ll call these sampling’s “teenage years” because we are seeing more curiosity by all genres toward the creative tool.
I agree with that statement completely. Absolutely. And it (sampling) has bled into other genres of music. Michael Jackson had samples. U2 has samples. The Rolling Stones have samples. So it bled into pop and rock and alternative and everything else.
You are widely viewed as being relentless in seeking to clear music. You have a reputation of not taking “no” as an answer. A “no” is a “maybe?”
“No” is a “maybe,” yes (laughing). I say to my clients, “I’m really good at groveling and begging. One of the cool things that I got were the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” at a really low price for Josh Fox’s “How To Let Go Of The World And Love All The Things Climate Can’t Change” (2016). That was from a lot of groveling, a lot of love. (Socially-conscious documentary filmmaker) Josh was like, “I need to have these Deborah.” We had to go through Apple, Capitol, Universal, and we had to go to Yoko (Ono), and Ringo through their reps; through Paul and his daughters; and through George Harrison’s wife, Olivia.
Is that a true story when David Bowie balked at giving permission for a sample for Puffy, you got Puffy to talk to David (for “Been Around The World” in 1997 which samples David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”)?
It is a true story.
Any artist at 25 might decline having their music used in games or commercials but as they age, and with dwindling revenue from music sales, they might consider it. Acura, for example, is promoting its new 2019 RDX model with Motörhead’s rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Such commercial use is becoming more commonplace for acts.
Yeah, well you have to think about how is revenue earned for recording artists these days. It’s not in the product. The money comes from them touring, merchandising, branding, and synchronization. That is really where the money is coming from. And then, with some of these younger artists on the smaller labels doing these 360 deals, how much money are the artists seeing versus how much are the labels seeing?
People like Sean Combs (aka Puffy), Marshall Mathers (aka Eminem), DJ Khaled, Drake, and Jay-Z like to sample in creative ways. Do they work closely with you in seeking out samples?
It varies. On Marshall’s album (“Kamikaze”) there were some interpolations that he used, but he made it clear to the person who related it to me that if the quote was too high, he could easily remove it. It may be something that he wanted, but it had to be a realistic quote or he wouldn’t use it. Then you’ve got some people who want a sample, and say, “I don’t care what it costs, you just have to make it happen, and you have to clear it.” DJ Khaled has called me personally and said, “You need to make this happen.” He got me bad at the Grammys (the 59th Annual Grammy Awards). He called me on Friday night when I had already started drink tequila. When it’s Khaled, I’m like, “Whatever you want I will take care of it for you.” He said, “And I want to release it (“Shining”) Sunday night (Feb. 12, 2017) after the Grammys.” I was like, “Yeah, Khaled whatever you want,” as I then started thinking, “How much tequila have I had to drink?” because it was a Dionne Warwick sample.
“Shining” contains a sample of Osunlade’s 2013 recording “Dionne” which itself samples “Walk the Way You Talk” by Dionne Warwick (1970). A track also written and produced by Hal David and Burt Bacharach.
It was. It was but we did get it. It was not easy. We all worked all weekend to make that happen. “Shining” was the song that Beyoncé and Jay-Z did with Khaled.
One of the most controversial music copyright verdicts in recent memory was upheld in March as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled again that Robin Thicke’s 2013 “Blurred Lines” infringed the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” (1977) The ruling not only meant that the main writers of “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke, and Pharrell Williams were stuck for damages but, and this is alarming to some, is what constitutes infringement now seems stretched to question the use of other elements not strictly protected under the letter of U.S. copyright law. Do you have someone at DMG Clearances screening music for potential infringement issues?
I do have someone, yes.
Do they signal many issues?
Enough. We bring it to the client.
Any use of someone’s music in any way, whether copying, imitating or even transforming it, if their music was a source, you take the risk of releasing that to the public?
We have EO (Errors and Omissions) Insurance, and we always limit it for the client to tell us what to clear. We make it their responsibility to say, “Yeah, you are right.” I have had clients that said, “No, we disagree, and we are not going to have you proceed.”
They just want the music so bad.
Yeah. You just have to remember that interview with Vanilla Ice when he was going, “a da da da da da.”
(Vanilla Ice told interviewers that his global #1 hit “Ice Ice Baby’” (1989) and Queen/David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” (1981) were different because he added an extra note to the bass line. The case was settled out of court, costing Ice, aka Robert Van Winkle, an undisclosed sum, and Bowie and Queen members receiving songwriting credits.)
When you are clearing music are you keeping in mind where and how the music is being utilized?
Sometimes. I approach every situation as an individual case. You are dealing with so many different parts to it. You are dealing with the copyright holder and you are dealing with the person who wants it, and you are dealing with the person who might be paying for it. You are trying to juggle all of that stuff. To make it work so everybody is happy, and that it works out to everybody’s benefit.
What attracted you to the hip-hop and rap?
I grew up loving punk rock. In society, I was rebellious. I had the Mohawk. I had all of the piercings. I was all about Darby Crash and the Germs, the Sex Pistols, X, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Then I went into the Goth thing. I was very, very rebellious. So when I first started hearing hip-hop and rap, I thought of it as a kind of rebellious movement of music, and it intrigued me. That’s how I got into it (this side of the business). This is just a great social statement. I was like, “How is this happening?” and “How are they clearing this stuff? Who is handling it for them?”
The answer was nobody was handling sample clearances, and the industry largely viewed sampling as stealing.
Nobody, yeah. In the beginning, it was a handshake or a T-shirt swap. It was a very different world. Then when you were trying to clear other stuff, I remember 1991 or 1992 when I was trying to clear a Bob James’ song. His publishing, which was Remedy Music, was handled by Peter Paul, an elderly gentleman who had served in the war (World War II). He used to tell me his war stories. Very gruff , very difficult. “Deborah you are calling, and they stole this. Why should we do a deal? I’m not going to do this.” Over the years working with him, Peter Paul mellowed out because everybody loves (sampling) Bob James. Everybody cleared Bob James. I just cleared a Bob James sample the other day. His stuff is amazing. Just incredible. Peter softened over the years. “We have to use it, Peter.” He’d say, “We have to hear what you are using so we can negotiate a deal.” It’s sort of funny now because it’s again “What if we want to sample something? Can we do a deal without you hearing it?” And people are like, “We aren’t going to do a deal without hearing it first.” So it’s like a 180 on how the stuff was done for many years.
During hip-hop’s earliest days no major label was signing rappers. Promoters were scared of hip-hop shows, and lawyers shied away from dealing with artists and producers and labels working in hip-hop.
That’s true. Nobody wanted it. Nobody wanted to touch that.
There’s little question that Afrika Bambaataa, Marley Marl, Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons, Chuck D., Dr. Dre, Puffy, Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, and Bryan “Birdman” Williams and his brother Ronald that opened the doors at mainstream to urban music in the ‘80s and ‘90s are very smart people.
A lot of them are. Exactly. I think that they are prejudged for their lyrical content. They are prejudged by their appearance. But that’s the sadness of our country and the state of the human race that we do judge a book by its cover.
You worked for Bryan “Birdman” Williams, and his brother Ronald aka Slim (co-founders of Cash Money/Young Money) since their heyday with Lil Wayne. A long time. You handled clearances for the new documentary “Before Anythang: The Cash Money Story” that reflects the clarity of their vision and underlines just how business savvy they both are.
These guys had a really good team of people around them to help them make great decisions. I believe that (hip-hop advocate) Wendy Day of the Rap Coalition was involved in their negotiations with Universal Records for that funding. They had a great ear for music to do stuff. As much as people tried to criticize them, to put Cash Money down, look at what they did with Drake, and Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Mannie Fresh and all of these guys. They have a good ear. They know what they are doing.
People may want to hear how their sample is used, but you can’t always send the master to them. Kendrick Lamar’s third album “To Pimp a Butterfly,” released n 2015, was recorded over three years, had multiple producers on each song, and there were at least 7 unreleased versions before the album was mastered. When that happens, do you play stuff to the sample owners over the phone?
Okay, I worked on “To Pimp A Butterfly,” and I thought that what I had was incredible. Goosebumps ready. Whereas, the finished version had a more polished sound to it which was what they aiming for obviously. That was the most incredible experience working on that album.
Take the track “King Kunta” which contains an interpolation of “Get Nekkid,” written by Johnny Burns, and performed by Mausberg; resung lyrics from “Smooth Criminal,” written and performed by Michael Jackson; elements of “The Payback,” written by James Brown, Fred Wesley, and John Starks, and recorded by Brown; and a sample of “We Want the Funk,” written and recorded by Ahmad Lewis.
All of which had to be cleared without playing rights holders the final version of the track.
We didn’t have any complaints. Nobody came back and bit us on the ass. Nothing like that. Everybody thought it was a masterpiece, and it was a really pleasant experience.
Do you generally play music over the phone when you are seeking samples?
A lot of times. We did that for Drake. We did that for Marshall. We did it for Khaled. With Nicki Minaj (“Queen”) we went in person to play it for them. So yeah.
Often a major artist wants you to clear a sample, but you have someone arguing, “Now, I’m really going to make money from a major act sampling my music.” For a mid-sized artist, you could argue, “This will be beneficial to you. It might blow your career up.” I imagine you do hear those type arguments.
We hear all arguments. You just have to pick and choose what is going to work best for you.
What do you do when someone owns only 2% of a song?
I just deal with that. You have to clear that 2%. You have to clear every part of a song.
In hip-hop with producers putting together a track, then working with multiple rappers, it often comes down to who did what. What is the publishing and recording split? It can get complicated.
It’s harder when you are over 100%, and I’m dealing with that on a couple of things right now.
When you were clearing Bob James samples was it when you were working for Diamond Time in the early 1990s?
I was at Diamond Time, yeah. Diamond Time was a UK-based company that opened an office in New York on January 1st 1990. I was brought on by the U.S. representative that they had. I think they have dissolved. That was a company co-owned by Bruce Higham. I can’t remember his partner’s name.
Was Diamond Time your first job in entertainment?
My first job in the business was editing together music videos for club reels for another company in 1989 that has gone under called Telegenetics (a New York-based subscription music video service founded by Chris Russo in operation from 1983 through 1994). I was the one who used to edit the videos together. I was getting turned on to Luke Skywalker, Luke Campbell, and “Me So Horny” (by 2 Live Crew which reached #1 on Billboard Hot Rap Tracks chart, and #26 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1989). Luke Records would have cruises, and invite people in order to get them to listen to the music. It was pretty clever what they were doing. But even then we were putting together hip-hop and rap video reels at Telegenetics.
You went to RCA following Diamond Time?
RCA was in 1993 or 1994. Joe Galante became president of RCA Records, and Skip Miller (senior VP for the black music department), God bless his soul, he was A&R, and they had SWV and Wu-Tang Clan, and they were like “This is overwhelming. Can you come and handle the sample clearances in-house, and kind of be like the ‘Angel of Death’ in any marketing meeting?” Where people would come up with these great ideas, and I would say, “Oh yeah, but you don’t have the rights. You have to clear the music” or something like that. I was at RCA for a couple of years. Joe went back to Nashville, and Bob Jamieson became president at RCA. I asked if I could just do everything independently, and not stay in-house at RCA.
Why did you leave?
I was kind of bored there. Every time somebody needed something to be done I would be the one to do it. I was always looking for mental stimulation there, and it wasn’t enough. I wanted to go back on my own.
You did stay in New York.
I was in New York until 9/11.
Was 9/11 a personal wake-up call? “Maybe, I should be on the other side of the Hudson River?”
Exactly. I needed a place to raise my son. So we moved down here (to Hockessin, Delaware. He will be graduating high school this year and I am going to leave when he goes to college. I will find another place to move to.
Hockessin, Delaware. I think I once drove through the town. Cab Calloway (“Minnie the Moocher”) and his wife moved around there in the early ‘90s.
The Cab Calloway School of the Arts is right down the street. His granddaughter is our client ,and I have spoken at the high school which is in Wilmington, 9 minutes from the office.
American music publishers suffer from a legal framework that prevents the creation of a stand-alone buyer-seller marketplace because compulsory licensing gives anyone a statutory right to record a song once it has been issued. Most everywhere else internationally music publishers and songwriters can decline a license. Of course, U.S. copyright law does not give anyone a right to use samples.
Right. That’s right. Here in the States, you can do a cover of any song. Outside of the States, you can be declined. When I explain that to people they are kind of blown away. Also when I deal with Public Domain and I try to advise people on what is Public Domain is in the U.S. is not Public Doman outside the U.S. It is 70 years in the U.S.
In the earliest days of hip-hop, as I said earlier, sampling was regarded as stealing music by label owners and music publishers. Then sample clearances were assigned a flat-rate buy-out of, perhaps, $500. Today, flat-rate buy-outs are rare. Instead, the publisher behind a sample is apt to ask for a percentage of the new copyright in addition to one-off, non-recoupable licensing fee of $3,000 or more; and, while master right holders, wouldn’t be in line to receive a new copyright, they might ask to own a piece of the new copyright, and ask for a percentage of revenue from streaming and third-party licensing.
Right. On the master side, it’s evolving. It’s evolving right now as matter of fact. Currently, the labels usually get a percentage of PPD (Published Price to Dealer, the wholesale unit price of a recorded work) which usually applies to the digital downloads; or if it’s part of hard configuration or sales. It’s a royalty. Then there’s a percentage that they are going to get. So they are going to get a percentage of streaming and third-party licenses. The direction that it is moving toward is that I think labels are going to ask for this percentage, and it’s going to go across the board.
That has come about due to diminishing physical and download sales as and everything has moved to streaming.
Meanwhile, calculating specific revenues are becoming more challenging to figure out.
It’s tangible. You know what? It doesn’t have a set value. So I think that what is going to happen by the end of 2019 is that labels are going to restructure how they are going to quote. That is one of the reasons that I’m involved with in Tracklib because they are trying to create the structure where they have pre-negotiated the licensing rights of catalogs from record labels including Tuff City Records, VP Records, Brunswick, Philly Groove, Fashion, Greensleeves, Jack Russell Music, and Daptone to name a few. There’s a whole bunch of labels that they are dealing with. The way that structure is it is a straight percentage across the board of all the revenue that is derived from that song. You don’t have to renegotiate. You know what that value is going to be and boom it’s done. That also includes Sound Exchange and Neighboring Rights, which is not in place yet.
The U.S. doesn’t have Neighboring Rights.
We don’t have Neighboring Rights in the States but I often do a lot of deals with foreign labels and if you are Jay-Z and you are recording in France or you are recording something overseas then it qualifies for Neighbouring Rights.
(The U.S. does not explicitly recognize related rights as a distinct category of copyright protection and doesn’t have Neighboring Rights. Only countries who are signatories to the Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations of 1961 pay these rights, and only performers who are permanent residents of one of these countries (or if the musical recording was made in one of the countries who signed the Rome Convention) are eligible to receive these royalties.)
How did you come to be a partner in Tracklib?
They approached me in 2017, which was a really personally difficult year for me. My son’s father took his life. So everything was a blur. They approached me. and I said, “Could you leave me alone right now?” I later met with Tommy Silverman and Pär Almqvist, their CEO, and co-founder on Nov. 1, 2017, and the vibe was just so amazing. We just really hit it off. I thought, “I need to be part of this team.” I was like, “I am in. What do you need from DMG Clearances, and from Deborah Mannis-Gardner? They pretty much said, “We need your help to reach people and to reach artists and to reach labels and to reach publishers. These are the people that you deal with every day.”
(Headquartered in Sweden, Tracklib has partnered not only with Mannis-Gardner, but also with Tom Silverman, CEO of Tommy Boy Entertainment,, Artist; and with producer/manager Steve Lobel (as Tracklib Ambassador), CEO of A2Z Entertainment
Tracklib is free of charge to preview, search for, and listen to music content from Tracklib catalogue, of 60,000 tracks. However, in order to download content, you must register as a Tracklib user, and create a user account. Once you’re registered, 16-bit WAV files of music tracks are available to you starting at $1.99, but you cannot not release them. If you plan on releasing the song, there’s a license fee structure ranging from $50 to $2,500 including a royalty share of your revenue.)
You and Tracklib are a natural fit.
And I am the one that kind of knows what is being sampled today. It really is not the same things as in the past. It’s not the Isley Brothers. It’s not Barry White. It’s not James Brown. Yes, you get a sprinkling of that, but kids are really using YouTube, and finding stuff.
Kids are using YouTube more than any other platform to discover music.
Right. So how they are digging through “the crates” is through YouTube, okay? They are a digital age (with access to streaming, and to P2P file-sharing platforms that are in part “crate-digging” sites allowing discovery and accessing of deep catalogs). So you take that, and you go over to Tracklib which is digital. I introduced Tracklib to Toby Record from All Ears Music who got in all this Chinese music. I was looking for ethnic music. I’d like to put some Bollywood in there if I can. Get some Russian music in there. Get some Japanese jazz fusion in there. That’s what the kids want to sample. They want something different obscure.
What is cool about Tracklib is that it gives you the ability to look up the BPMs, to listen to stuff, to experiment, to get a feel. You are digging through an electronic “crate” all in one spot. It’s nice that you don’t have to save the link on YouTube, and send it to DMG, saying, “Can you figure this out for me?” On Tracklib, people can push a button, do a contract and license it right then and there. This isn’t a site for beats either. These are not beats. These are pre-existing recordings, and publishing. We are expanding. In 2019, Tracklib is going to explode. We are finalizing deals on a daily basis.
A company that automates sample clearances, will this not cut into your own business?
Not everything is going to fit into Tracklib. People are always going to need my services. But for those that can’t afford my services, there’s another place where they can go for sample clearances.
Tracklib will likely appeal to emerging producers.
I have brought into the studio here these young producers like (New York City singer and rapper) LevyGrey who is on (Jonny “Shipes” Shapiro’s) Cinematic Music Group. He was literally going through the “crates” listening to stuff and saying, “Yeah, I can make something of this. Yeah, I can make something of that.” It was really exciting to watch.
Until the success of Joel and Ethan Coen’s film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” in 2000, there really wasn’t much of a sync market available for period folk music; much of it traditional. Music in the film was a major component of the film, not merely as a background or a support. Producer T Bone Burnett worked with the Coens while the script was in its working phases, and the soundtrack was recorded before filming commenced.
How difficult was it clearing the music?
Oh my goodness. That was hard. That was my first time entering into that foray of music. So for T Bone, we actually got him the sheet music of all of the music in Public Domain. Unfortunately, he ended up using copyrighted arrangements which required us to clear a lot of music with peermusic. That was a really interesting and awesome experience. Really awesome. That was one of T Bone’s first movies. Since then, most of the stuff that he has he written and created the music instead of licensing it in.
Another difficult project was Martin Scorsese’s “Aviator” (2004) because we were dealing with music (along with an original score and songs composed and conducted by Howard Shore) that had revisionary rights for territories. So the way the world was getting split up by three or four publishers based on territory was very unique. Marty Scorsese was picking most of the music (including Artie Shaw’s composition “Nightmare”) and that was with (long-term Wes Anderson collaborator) Randall Poster who is one of the most amazing music supervisors.
How do you determine Public Domain of a musical work?
I try not to even touch doing anything in Public Domain. They usually bring in experts. I just finished doing “Red Dead Redemption 2” (an upcoming Western-themed action-adventure video game developed and published by Rockstar Games) and we were looking for music. Not that we were looking for Public Domain music, but for the timeline we needed music that was recorded I think it was prior to 1865.
(All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published after 1922 but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. Copyright protection outside the U.S. is determined by the laws of the country where you wish to use a work. Copyright protection may be 50 to 70 years after the death of the last surviving author, 95 years from publication date, or other copyright protection term.)
You have to keep an eye out that someone hasn’t updated the music.
And copyrighted the arrangement from, maybe, the original sheet music if you can even find that. That is really very difficult.
There’s the case of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” which most everyone assumed was a traditional song.
(“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” began its life in 1939 in Johannesburg, South Africa when Zulu singer Solomon Linda improvised a melody in a recording studio. The resulting song, “Mbube,” became a hit in Africa. American folk singer Pete Seeger and his band the Weavers adapted the song, giving it the new title “Wimoweh” and credited the song as “Traditional with arrangement by “Paul Campbell,”, later found to be a pseudonym used by the Weavers. “Wimoweh” became a Top 20 hit in the U.S. in 1952 for the Weavers, and then a #1 Billboard pop hit for the Tokens in 1961 as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. Solomon Linda died broke in 1962. In 2006, Linda’s family reached a legal settlement with Abilene Music Publishers who held the worldwide rights.
“Big Rock Candy Mountain is another song that people thought was Public Domain that isn’t.
(“Big Rock Candy Mountain” was first recorded by Harry McClintock, also known by his “hobo” name of Haywire Mac in 1928.)
You’ve worked on the mega-successful musical “Hamilton.” How did that come about?
The person who recommended me for the project was Dr. Lawrence Ferrara, one of the best musicologists in the country (and author of “Philosophy and the Analysis of Music: Bridges to Musical Sound, Form, and Reference” in 1991).
“Hamilton” utilizes Grand Performance Rights. Explain those rights.
Grand Rights is theatrical. It is when the music is performed in a stage production. Sometimes it is the original recordings. and we have to license the sound recordings for theatrical and these are called Grand Rights. They are restricted. They are limited. With “Hamilton” we did some amazing negotiations where we made sure that it included educational, the reprint of lyrics for all of the T-shirts, bags and crayons, books, and everything else. And then we got it for touring as well. You just have to make sure that when you are doing Grand Rights—and I do Blue Man Group also—that you include all of those additional rights. But you are not going to get sync rights which initially Lin-Manuel Miranda, John Buzzetti (from WME), and (leg rep) Nancy Rose wanted.
Grand Performance Rights under American copyright law takes in all rights to perform a copyrighted musical work that is also accompanied by drama, staging, telling a story, script, costumes, dancers, props, actor, dialogue, a script, plot, and so on excepting what is taken out in a specific contract.
Yeah. It is very, very specific. It is usually for theatrical. That is changing because there used to be a lot of shows in the public theatre. “Hamilton” started in a public theatre (making its Off-Broadway debut at The Public Theater in February 2015) so I was doing stuff for the public theatre in New York, but the budgets just weren’t there. How do you get the money to pay for the music for stuff that is in the public theatre that is the testing ground to see if it is going to go to Broadway? It can be difficult, sometimes.
In, 2017, Lin-Manuel Miranda said that playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes had written a script for a film adaptation but a film would not happen for years.
When “Hamilton” turns into a film production we are going to have to go back and re-clear all of the music.
How extensive is your role in seeking music clearance for games?
I exclusively just work with Rock Stars Games, and Ivan Pavlovich (dir. of music and audio at) and Sam Houser (co-founder/president) pick all of the music for their games. I might be clearing over a thousand song titles. Then it gets whittled down to 300 that are used.
They are very hands on?
They are very hands on. I love them. One of my favorite clients. We are in touch every single day where they give me a list of songs. When they might have an idea for a song, I see if I can clear it, but then you have to see if it is going to work. You might have a great song that is not going to work for the game.
Do you get a demo of the game to see how music fits?
No, I don’t do any of that stuff. That stuff is completely protected. They have lock-down from the floor onward.
You worked on Grand Theft Auto V, the best-selling game in history, and still among the top 10 sellers. An unheard feat of ranking for a five-year-old game. Within a week of its Sept. 17, 2013 release, Grand Theft Auto V, had earned $1 billion in sales. With more than 240 songs licensed to play on 15 in-game music radio stations, it included songs written specifically for the game by A$AP Rocky, Tyler the Creator, Flying Lotus, Twin Shadow, Neon Indian, Yeasayer, OFF!, HEALTH and others.
I handle all of the Grand Theft Auto stuff. I have been working on Grand Theft Auto since San Andreas (2004). The music is always amazing, and players like my son, love the graphics and storylines.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up here in Willingham, Delaware.
You grew up in the era of “break-in” sampled records by Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman. “This is John Cameron Swayze……” (music begins).
(Laughing) Yes, he would ask questions, and he would respond with a bit of a song. I had all of those 45s like “The Flying Saucer,” “Mr. Jaws” “Mr. President,” “Watergate,” and “The Gas Crisis.” When I was a little girl I had those. My mom threw those out, and I’ve been seeking to find them again. My sister and I would be on our own. We would get a tape recorder, ask our question, and then we’d drop the needle, and we’d play the music.
How did you end up attending Emerson College in Boston?
My parents grew up in Boston. My father went to Boston Latin School, Harvard, and MIT. My mom went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst. My sister went to Smith College, and I went to Emerson. I went there for theater, and then I moved over to doing television production, and creative writing.
What did your parents do for a living?
My dad was a scientist for DuPont and my mom worked in the lab also. She left, and became a school teacher and then became a homemaker.
What are your memories of Emerson College?
Well, my teacher was Denis Leary. I had him for comedy writing for several semesters. We studied Buster Keaton. I still have all my papers with his comments that he wrote. He was hilarious, and we had special classrooms so he could smoke while he was teaching. Because he smokes the whole time. I did stand-up, but I also did writing of comedy. I left that world pretty quickly.
(After Denis Leary graduated from Emerson College 1981, he took a job at the school teaching comedy writing for five years. He also began working as a comedian at the local underground club, Play It Again Sam’s.)
Were you a punk rocker while at Emerson?
By the time I got to Emerson, I had moved on to my Goth stage.
Your parents must have loved these stages of your adolescence years
My mom loves telling that story that at 16 I went off England for a couple of weeks, and came back with a Mohawk, purple hair, and multiple piercings.
Providing music a very collaborative process, and over a three-decade career, you must have forged many enduring relationships.
I have these long-standing relationships like with Drake’s team– Mr. Morgan, Future, Noah “40” Shebib, and Lisa Donini from Theo Sedlmayr’s Sedlmayr & Associates — who are just amazing and great. They are just so professional, and such a pleasure to deal with. They are just great people. When I working with Marshall, and with Tracy McNew from Goliath Artists, and again with Lisa Donini, these teams of people are just so professional. So kind. Also working with the Black Eyed Peas, there’s a great team of Polo Molina from Grassroots Music, and lawyers Oswaldo Rossi and Jon Polk from Hertz Lichtenstein & Young, LLP.
With the trauma I went through last year with my son’s father’s suicide, everybody was, “Don’t worry about stuff.” I was wrapping up Jay-Z’s album, and I was in the middle of Marshall’s album, and Rockstar Games. I was doing all of this stuff, and my son was in Greece on a school trip. I was in L.A. at the premiere of “The Defiant Ones”…
The 4-part HBO series documentary about Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre which has since won you the 2018 Best Music Supervision award in the Documentaries or Reality Television category from the Guild of Music.
Right, and that’s when my floor came out from underneath me, and my life became a blur. But my clients were all there for me. Every one of them. My clients stepped in, put things on hold or facilitated the work themselves. My staff shut down the office, and all came to my side to be with me and Curtis. That’s when you know it’s more than just a business. My clients are like family, and they are friends.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.