Interview: Music Supervisor Amanda Krieg Thomas Talks Sync Licensing
[UPDATED] When it comes to the music industry, one of its most complicated and confusing components is publishing and licensing. Mechanical royalties, neighboring rights, performance rights organizations – for indie artists, it can seem like one big gray area!
While TuneCore Music Publishing Administration is here to help you collect worldwide royalties and answer questions, we know that one of the most tantalizing aspects of publishing is landing synchronization licenses – or in other words, getting your music placed in movies, television shows, ads, and video games. The notion of ‘selling out’ has become a relatively antiquated term for artists who want to get heard and make money.
Each month, we catch our readers up on our pitching efforts and license placements for TuneCore Artists/songwriters, but to give you closer look into the world of ‘synch’ licenses, we interviewed accomplished music supervisor Amanda Krieg Thomas (Format Entertainment). Amanda works with directors, producers and artists on a daily basis and has coordinated/supervised music on projects like Pitch Perfect 1 & 2 (Universal), Fake Off (TruTV), Grace Stirs Up Success (American Girl/Mattel), The Other Woman (Fox), and Beyond The Lights (BET), and has placed TuneCore Artists’ music. Enjoy and take notes, TuneCore Artists!
What led you to pursuing a career as a music supervisor?
Amanda Thomas: I kind of fell into it – I moved out to L.A. to pursue writing and producing, film, TV, etc. I took a job assisting the music attorney at Lionsgate with the idea that if I learned this part of filmmaking, it’d lead to other things. I did that for over a year, working with contracts and legal, and I’m so grateful to have gotten that nuts-and-bolts knowledge. I was about to leave music because I realized I didn’t want to do just the legal side, and I didn’t know if I could work on the creative side, you know, I loved music, but I wasn’t a ‘musical savant’ or anything. That’s when I got the opportunity to work assisting the Head of Film Music.
I remember we were working on a search for a movie, we were pitching all sorts of stuff, and the director had lots of ideas. I remember being in her office and her saying, “These are funny, but what would the character really listen to in this moment?” And it just clicked for me – this idea of character and story, and telling that story with music. I had studied theater and film, and I worked on a lot of musicals, so storytelling with music really resonated with me. That’s when I decided that this is what I wanted to do.
What kinds of relationships have been vital to build on both the music business side and film/TV/advertising side?
Pretty much ‘all of the above.’ I’m the type of person who says ‘yes,’ especially when it comes to meeting people. It’s made my life easier to be friends with people sending and pitching me music – it’s always saved my life. The publishers, people at labels – the joy of collaborating with people I like and respect is a big part of why I want to stay in this career field. There’s a strong sense of community.
But on the other side, the key relationships are definitely the people who are making content – films, TV shows – it’s really those people who hire me. Overall, you never know what is the relationship that’s going to get you the furthest and pay off. Be friends with everyone, and be grateful, because you never know where that amazing opportunity is going to come from.
Given your well-rounded resume of television and film, has there been a project that stands out as your favorite?
For me, there are projects that I was proud to be apart for slightly different reasons. Pitch Perfect 2 is a project I was a member of the music team for. The Pitch Perfect films are probably the biggest projects I’ve been involved in. They really valued everyone’s ideas and it was a very collaborative environment.
Also recently premiered is a TV show I worked on for 7 weeks in Georgia called “Fake Off” (TruTV). It was totally out of my comfort zone and also a combination of my weird skill sets: it was basically performance, illusion, theater and storytelling. I oversaw the creation of the tracks the teams performed to, which were largely combinations of existing instrumentals from production music libraries, crafted together into cohesive, 90-second, performance pieces. It was an amazing experience and I got to work with really cool people.
Aside from value and/or ‘buzz’ factor, what are some of the benefits of placing music by unsigned or independent artists?
Budget is certainly big. I’m still building relationships so I still work on plenty of low-budget projects. Personally, the feeling when you find an amazing new artist and the excitement when presenting to a director is great. While it’s obviously fun to place an artist I love, I don’t start with that.
I start with what the director’s priorities are – so it’s refreshing when directors are excited about lesser-known music, from a creative standpoint. Some directors get really jazzed about the unknown artists or songs no one has heard of, but some just want what they know and like.
What are some of the most common mistakes you see independent artists make when they want to approach or pitch to a music supervisor?
That could be a whole other article! First thing I’ll say is you’re always going to be better served having someone else pitch your music with those relationships in place. Focus your energy not on cold calling/email music supervisors and studio executives; focus your energy on researching the right opportunities and people who can get your music where it needs to be. It’s so much more effective to find the right team and partnerships.
It’s not a ‘common mistake,’ but I would say be open to low-budget projects. I know it’s tough because you don’t want to give music away for free (really you shouldn’t have to, again another article) – it’s a personal decision – just make sure to evaluate the big picture. Is that music supervisor working on a lot of projects? Is the long-term relationship worth it? Personally, if I’m dealing with an artist directly, I’ll remember if someone does me a solid, and I’ll call them again.
One mistake is that people get pushy and ask for a lot of feedback or follow up every week. Those are two things that make me cringe. In terms of feedback, I’m listening to it for the most part basing it on what I need at that point, so I don’t have time nor do I feel qualified to provide that. Also, research is appreciated. At least be aware of what a supervisor has worked on. You’re being polite and showing that you’ve done your homework.
How do you discover new music on your own time?
I always feel so backed-up in what I get sent, that even when I get artists and albums that come through that make me say, “Oh my God I wanna listen to that!” – it still takes plenty of time to get there. I have a lot of friends in PR or music journalism, so I tend to listen to them a lot in terms of keeping my eyes out. They’re the ones who can predict whose going to break. I love having them in my life. They’re the ones who are plugged in on who people will be talking about. Twitter also comes in handy for this; when I see an artist name pop up again and again I pay closer attention. I also discover openers I haven’t heard of and try to get to shows early when I can. It’s those fun, unexpected, discoveries that make this job exciting.