Indie hub Jamendo is reporting 50% growth for its music licensing platform. 5000 of the 40,000 indie artists that have uploaded music to the platform have licensed a total of 200,000 tracks.
Jamendo is a worldwide community of independent music. 40,000 artists have uploaded more than 500,000 tracks to stream and download for free. Jamendo generates fair revenue for them by licensing their songs for commercial use (film, TV, advertising, in-store background music) through its marketplace Jamendo Licensing.
For those wanting to license music, the company offers a “one-click purchase” of cleared, perpetual rights on every work. Jamendo also offers low cost background music stations for retailers.
International clients include Mercedes-Benz, Benetton, Burger King, Greenpeace, ING Direct and Valentino.
“The real strength of Jamendo Licensing lies in its comprehensive offer: a great diversity of high-quality music provided by a dedicated worldwide community of composers in a time and cost-effective way, benefiting both artists and customers,” says General Manager Emmanuel Donati.
Direct-to-fan subscription services like Patreon can be an excellent and fulfilling way for artists to make a living of their music, but when done incorrectly can also be a potentially career ruining disaster. Here we look the top ten best ways to insure you get what you want out of Patreon.
I’m posting this piece today in honor of my good buddy Pepper Coyote and his shiny new Patreon. It’s about time! Are you thinking of jumping on Patreon or Bandcamp or some other straight-to-fans subscription system? Righteous. It’s exciting and fulfilling, but could also kill your career entirely. (Paying attention now? Good.)
I’ve been doing this since 2008… FIVE YEARS before Patreon was even a thing.
Most people don’t know who the fuck I am, but that’s okay… In the Big Music Business World™ I’m nobody, but I’m still paying my bills the same way I have been since 2008: a straight-to-fan subscription system. Yeah, five years before Patreon was even a thing. If you want to keep your fans happy without burning yourself out or pissing people off, I’ve got ten tips to consider before you start taking people’s money:
1. DON’T BE A SUPERHERO.
When I started Matthew Ebel dot net back in ’08, I thought I could write, produce, and release two new songs and a live concert recording every month until the end of time. With that kind of release cycle, how the hell was I supposed to book shows, do road trips, promote my act, sleep, have a social life, and create EVEN MORE content for my non-subscribing fans? What happens when I get the flu? Nobody has that kind of time or energy unless they’re Prince (he’s still writing new tunes daily, I guarantee it). The resulting burnout nearly ruined my interest in music entirely. So…
2. DO MAKE UP A MENU.
Obviously your number one asset’s going to be new original singles, but what else can you offer the kind of superhuman fans who’d sign up for monthly payments? Live recordings? Private webcasts? Postcards? An annual members-only bacchanal in your backyard? Write down anything you can think of. Now write down how frequently you think you can deliver each of those goods. Which leads me to…
3. DO TEST THIS SHIT OUT PRIVATELY.
Seriously, you need to practice the routine of delivering goods that other people would actually pay for on a monthly basis. Do it for six months to a year at least, see what kind of output you’re capable of before you embarrass yourself (listen to the voice of experience here). Here’s an idea: Plan an album release for sometime next year, then spend the next 12 months writing and recording a new song every month with whatever other cool goodies you’ve got on your menu. See what you can actually keep up with, then use all those goods as perks for your album pre-order packages next year.
4. DON’T OVERESTIMATE YOUR FANS.
The sales geeks know that 1% is considered a good conversion rate for an email list (meaning if you’ve got 1,000 people on your list, 10 fans are actually going to buy the new album). For something that’s not just a sale but a commitment, don’t be surprised if it’s more like .1% of your fans that actually get on board. It’s okay, the rest of ‘em still love you, but come on… we’re all afraid of commitment. Set your expectations so you’re pleasantly surprised, not rudely disillusioned.
5. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE YOUR FANS.
Since 2008 I have been consistently surprised by the dedication of some of my super-fans. I’ve had people drive from Florida to Boston just to have beers with me at my annual Beer Bash. Some of my supporters have spent literally thousands of dollars on me over the years because something I did in the studio touched them in a meaningful way. It won’t take you long to figure out who’s just supporting you and who’s a born-again believer. So with that in mind…
6. DO KEEP THE BELIEVERS HAPPY.
Once you’ve made the commitment, your sole purpose is to keep those super-fans happy enough not to unsubscribe. Fortunately, though most of us artists are total shit in the analytics and marketing departments, a subscription makes it crystal clear who your top customers are. What are you doing to make them feel special? When’s the last time you started a conversation with them that wasn’t just a comment thread on your blog?
7. DON’T FORGET THE REST OF YOUR FANS.
One of the things that nearly killed me was exclusivity. Think about it… if I’m releasing two songs per month for paying subscribers only, that means I have to create even more songs to share with people who have never heard of me before. Hiding all the best goods behind a pay-wall may make the subscribers feel special, but you’ll never grow your fan base like that. For example, one of my perks was a members-only after-party after shows. By changing it to a members-get-in-FREE after-party, the non-members end up paying for all the beer while they hang out with my most ardent evangelists for a few hours. Win-win.
8. DO SOME DAMN ACCOUNTING.
Sure, most of your goods are likely to be digital these days, but even those cost money. You’re obviously paying a percentage to the credit card processor and Patreon, but what about band members and the mixing engineer? Then there’s the physical goods like postcards, shirts, and even the beer at the after-parties. Postage may seem easy, but how many of your fans are in Germany or South Africa? At the end of the day, you have to make a profit, so make sure you’re pricing your subscriptions with enough breathing room to pay for the goods and your rent. Make some coffee and a spreadsheet and work this shit out before you sign anyone up.
9. DON’T BE AFRAID TO EXPERIMENT.
Use your devoted disciples to your advantage. By sending my Officer’s Club new songs a few months before I share them with the rest of the world, I get all kinds of feedback on mixes, arrangement, and even lyrics. Those that pay for the annual goodie bag have helped me decide which shirt designs I should bring to live shows and which should stay exclusive (or just should have stayed on the drawing board). Most fans I’ve met are thrilled to be a part of the great music laboratory, even knowing they’re the guinea pigs. Be honest with them and they’ll give you the most usable feedback you’ll ever get.
10. DO THINGS THAT AREN’T MUSICAL.
Like I said in #5, I hold an annual Beer Bash for my top-tier supporters. Why? Because I love making beer. It has nothing to do with my albums or stories, but it’s something I can share with my fans. Think about it… have you ever tried Dave Grohl’s homebrew? I haven’t either, but it would be fucking awesome. I’d pay for that privilege. Maybe you’ve got a sense of style that could turn into monthly fashion/makeup tips, or you make cool trinkets with an Arduino and LED’s that could turn into a monthly how-to video. I’m betting you’re good at something besides music, so start using all your talents.
Now Do It.
If you’re ready to take the plunge, great! If you’re still scared, don’t worry… there are plenty of us around to help you. Just ask! Now get started with Patreon!
“Music will play a much larger roll in messenger this year,” promised Facebook’s head of the Messenger platform David Marcus on stage Tuesday during Facebook’s F8 developer conference.
Spotify is now full integrated into the Facebook Messenger app, the social media giant announced on Tuesday. Full Apple Music Messenger integration will follow “soon.”
When enabled, users can play a song within Messenger without leaving the app or chat. Users with subscriptions will be able to play the full song, while non-subscribers will get a 30 second preview.
Earlier in the day, we learned that Spotify was launching a Facebook Messenger bot that lets friends share music within chats. The bot includes search, recommendations, sharing a 30 second song clip within Messenger, or launching Spotify to hear the full song.
With Facebook ramping up hiring in its music department, exactly what music’s “larger roll” in Messenger and on Facebook actually appears to still be a work in progress.
Apple’s hugely popular Garageband recording app is now free for all iOS and masOS users. While notable, the change may not have a major impact given that both have been free for the last five years with hardware purchase.
iMovie, Keynote, Numbers and Pages now also free for all iOS & macOS users.
UPDATED: Spotify has launched a bot for Facebook Messenger that lets friends share music within chats. The bot includes search, recommendations, sharing a 30 second song clip within Messenger, or launching Spotify to hear the full song.
Spotify has created a bot for Facebook Messenger that lets friends discover and share music within chats.
The bot, which was uncovered by TechCrunch, can make music recommendations based on mood, activity or genres Users can also search Spotify to share songs, albums and playlists within a Messenger chat.
The new Chat Extensions feature can be activated by tapping on the blue “+” icon to the left of the text box while in conversation with friends to search and share music, and select the Spotify bot. Find the song and share. Find more info here.
Apple Music integration will follow, says Facebook.
Hey! Alicia Warrington here. I have played drums for a few different people. If you have kids around your house (or you are a closeted Disney fan) you might have seen me on the Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana” w/ Miley Cyrus, or on video with Selena Gomez OR back in the day, drumming for Kelly Osbourne on MTV’s “The Osbournes” tv show.
Currently, you can catch me with Detroit Garage-Rock Queens…Gore Gore Girls and with my solo DEATH METAL project,DOHRN. OH! And I also host my own YouTube web series, that starts in May! It’s called, “Heavy Wrestle“. Yeah, it’s true…I’m also a HUGE wrestling nerd. Pro Wrestling, Indie Wrestling. Just…wrestling.
Phew! Sounds like I’m all over the place. It’s always been like this, I’VE always been like this. I grew up listening to all types of music and that followed me into adulthood and into my professional career. I basically listen to everything from Dolly Parton to Lamb Of God.
Pro-Mark is my stick of choice. I use the Anton Fig model with the “Warrington Custom” adjustments. Haha. I have them double-dipped in black ActiveGrip…helps with extra stick control. And finally, I use K-Brakes…which are amazing and fit on the end of your kick legs to keep it in place. It doesn’t move ANYWHERE with these things on (and I beat the hell out of my drums).
Pandora Premium, the music streamer’s paid on-demand service, is now available to all users via the Apple App Store, Google Play and on the web. Previously, Pandora Premium had been invite-only.
To celebrate the wide availability of it’s new Pandora Premium music service, the streamer has debuted “Sounds Like You,” a marketing campaign designed to highlight its “legacy of delivering truly personalized music experiences for listeners and artists.”
“Music lovers today have more complex and eclectic tastes than ever. ‘Sounds Like You’ embodies Pandora’s unique ability to deliver a music experience completely personal to each listener,” said Nick Bartle, chief marketing officer at Pandora.
Pandora Premium Sizzle Reel
Artists From Amine to Ziggy Marley
Big Sean, Gorillaz, Miranda Lambert, Questlove, 2 Chainz, Amine, Bishop Briggs, Brett Eldredge, Daya, Halsey, Keith Urban, Kelsea Ballerini, Lil’ Yachty, Maggie Rogers, Nicky Jam, Pitbull, Thomas Rhett and Ziggy Marley all participated in the campaign by sharing their musical inspirations.
Each was photographed next to a Pandora “P” made entirely of album art from music meaningful to them as artists and as fans. The images will be featured in digital ads inviting listeners to check out curated mixtapes. The will also appear on billboards nationally and handpainted murals by MADSTEEZ in Los Angeles and New York.
Other outlets included in Pandora’s multi-channel marketing campaign include artist and influencer programs with Pitchfork and VICE’s music channel Noisey; digital shorts directed by Academy Award winner Michel Gondry; and social media activations including Snapchat lenses and geofilters, and a custom Pandora emoji on Twitter.
The campaign was created entirely by Pandora’s in-house creative and design teams. DigitasLBi San Francisco facilitated the digital and out-of-home production, as well as media strategy.
While certainly challenging, putting together a modest, multi-day festival is by no means un-achievable, provided you’re willing to put in the time and research, and are willing to work together with the rest of your DIY community. Here we review the seven steps to putting a successful festival together.
Putting together a multi-day event in your city requires a little knowledge of booking and who’s who in your local music scene, but it’s not the impossible feat some might imagine. Organizing a festival is within the reach of nearly anyone who’s willing to commit time to planning, researching, and learning.
It’s helpful to remember that DIY is never about flying solo. It’s about working together as a community. Rally friends and fellow contributors in the local scene to join your festival-organizing team. Both the event and your sanity will benefit from sharing responsibilities and the fresh, creative brainstorm that collaborating often sparks. Check out the step-by-step guide below to get started.
1. Determine the Reason
You could organize a festival just for the sake of it, of course. But the most successful events are built around a mission, a purpose. Ask yourself: what’s the reason for this festival?
Consider Ruidosa Festival. This traveling event aims to highlight Latinx women musicians of all genres with a deliberate emphasis on intersectionality.
Another example of an event grounded in social purpose is MACROCK, the longstanding DIY culture fest in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Since the late ’90s, this event has promoted independent musicians and creatives while also providing a forum for education and connections through its panels and expo.
Then there’s the A3C Music Festival and Conference in Atlanta which began in 2005 as a hip-hop showcase and has developed into a massive five-day gathering complete with conferences, film screenings, art, and academic panels.
All three of those festivals have a reason for existing that makes them stand out. What’s yours?
Once you’ve figured out the mission of your fest, the lineup should come easily — or your ideal version of it, at least. Set a goal for how many acts you want to include, then start reaching out to gauge availability and interest. Don’t count on landing every band you want; your dream lineup may not be possible (yet).
One piece of advice is to book the headlining acts as early as possible. When they’re confirmed, you can begin to contact the smaller and local acts on your shortlist and create a long list of backup acts in case some artists fall through or cancel. (There’s always a few).
Budgeting for Your Acts
When building the lineup, you’ll need to consider the cost of each band or artist against what you expect to make. If you’re planning a free event, will you be able to negotiate any payment from the venue? Will you take donations? Ticketed events are a bit easier to calculate, of course.
Figure out how much you’ll charge based on the ideal lineup and multiply it by your estimated attendance, then subtract any operational costs. The result is the sum from which you can pay bands.
Don’t book more acts than you’ll able to afford, and don’t promise anyone a payment you’re not sure you can make. Some bands will be comfortable agreeing on a minimum amount with the promise that, if possible, you’ll add more. Others might not like that agreement, so this could affect who you can realistically confirm for the fest.
3. Add DJs, Vendors, and More
There’s nothing wrong with programming a straightforward lineup of bands and artists, especially when they’re really great live acts. But adding extra elements to spice things up will really help define your festival’s identity.
With your mission in mind, think about what you could add that’s not necessarily related to music or performance. Vendors, perhaps? Round up local artists and makers you think your crowd would love and have them pay you a percentage of their sales as “rent.” Not only are you giving folks another reason to check out your fest, but you’re offering a consumer-facing platform for fellow independent and DIY creatives.
This is where you can add more engagement at the event, too. A tarot card reader, a photo booth, a merchandise raffle merchandise donated by local businesses, with funds going to a charity or back to covering the festival’s costs. Think about hosting workshops, panel discussions, and educational seminars as well.
DJs Are a Must
At any show, DJs help keep the vibe lively between bands. At a fest, they can totally save you during unanticipated delays or cancellations. Opening with a guest DJ, possibly someone from a band already on the lineup, can turn a sluggish start, an inherent obstacle to the daytime section in particular, into an enthused setup for the first band. After parties, of course, absolutely require at least one awesome DJ.
+ Learn more on Soundfly: Learn how to book, manage, and promote a DIY tour for your band with our free course Touring on a Shoestring.
Keep in mind the scale of your event — how many days it will last, the number of performing bands and artists, whether not you’ll need space for vendors or other activities — when choosing a location.
The obvious options, of course, are local venues already set up for live shows. Booking several nights in a row is a big commitment for any club, so it’s important to know your potential draw to figure out whether or not the space is appropriately suited for a fest. Don’t discount the option of using multiple venues, either. You could secure a sizable spot for the full-day lineup and a smaller one for a shorter opening night, for example.
Fests don’t have to be limited to existing clubs, either. Consider other places that could work for the event. For example, if you’re booking an all-women lineup, reach out to a woman-owned business to host some of the activities.
If you’re looking to organize an outdoor festival, you’ll need permits based on your city’s laws. Do the research. Some of this information is available online, or you can contact your local office for special events to check prices and processes. It can be costly.
If your location doesn’t have a staff on the payroll to work the house equipment, remember that you might be responsible for renting the speaker system and hiring somebody to run it yourself!
5. Find Sponsors to Offset Costs
If your fest is need of extra funding, you may want to consider sponsors. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to reach out to only big corporations, though. We’ll get into that, but first, what are you planning to offer sponsors in return?
Advertising, of course. But pitching your fest requires details and projections — potential sponsors will want to know exactly how much advertising they’ll get in return to gauge their spending or in-kind donation.
You can offer logo placement on all flyers and posters printed (the more you’re printing, the more enticing the offer for the sponsor) as well as inclusion on a prominently placed fest banner. Include them in your social media strategy, too. Work out a minimum number of posts in which they’re tagged or featured.
Are you going to sell official fest merch? You could include sponsors’ logos there too, whether it’s the back of a T-shirt, koozies, or collectible posters.
If you feel that your community is particularly supportive of your DIY festival event, let them help you build it with a crowdfunding campaign!Soundfly’s one-month mentor-assisted course, Crowdfunding for Musicians, can help you increase your chances of success.
In return, what you ultimately want is money. Free cases of booze can boost income, too. If you’re booking at a venue or any place that sells alcohol, loop in management as you negotiate the offer.
Larger companies have money for sponsorships and similar partnerships allotted within their corporate social responsibility (CSR) budgets, but they’re often hard to reach without an inside connection.
Look to companies that have sponsored other events in your city. Ask around for contact info, and give local reps your best pitch. Selling them on the opportunity for exposure to your crowd and other benefits for their brand is key.
Local businesses are another option, and one you shouldn’t overlook. Small, independent businesses tend to support other like-minded endeavors in theory and, when they can, in practice. It’s the same premise as working with a corporate sponsor. With small businesses, however, working together is also an opportunity to strengthen local culture.
Promoting your festival is not unlike promoting a show, but the pressure can easily feel overwhelming. There are more bands to pay, not to mention the success of the event, which falls on you and your organizing team. Forget future sponsorships if things go terribly, by the way. No pressure, right?
If your marketing strategy is on point, you’re more likely to hit numbers that’ll make everyone happy, from the venue to the bands to vendors and even yourself. Print at least twice as many posters and flyers as you hope to have people in attendance. Be thoughtful about where you hang them, and hand out flyers (don’t just leave stacks around bars) at like-minded shows and events. Try buying a bit of advertising time with a local radio station, too.
Boost your Facebook event early on, then again right before the fest for a final push. Check the reach-to-dollars-spent ratio to ensure you’re getting the message out far and wide. And try to plan weekly social media content in advance so you’re not scrambling to post something last minute (anything from photos or videos of the artists, press write-ups, unique content created for the festival, etc).
In all of this, create a hashtag. Come up with something catchy if you can, or simply use the name of the fest. Include it in as much promo as you can to allow attendees, bands, and other involved parties to pick up on it. It’ll help spread the word and come in handy after the event when you’re collecting photos and videos.
+ From the archive: Back when Pokémon GO was eating our attention spans alive and destroying our ability to interact with other humans, bands and venues found clever ways to market events around the game. Check out our full report on their strategy!
7. Prepare Yourself for the Actual Event
Building a DIY fest is a detailed process. If it’s new to you, it may seem overwhelming. If you stay organized, it’s more likely you’ll successfully check every box. Keep meticulous records of everything: your to-do list, agreements with anyone involved, money spent, deadlines in your timeline, and so on. Commit your time and effort to realizing the festival you imagined, and you’ll likely find organizing feels a lot more natural.
A Few Tips to Remember
Map out the itinerary of each day or night completely from start to finish.
Know the individual setup of every performer. Make sure he or she knows what gear is available and what isn’t, what time to load in and soundcheck, and of course, the time of his or her set.
Have a discussion about when payments will be made. Sometimes it’s best to do the math after the chaos is over, but don’t assume bands are okay with waiting a few days to be paid. Talk about it ahead of time.
If you’ve got vendors, plot the setup beforehand. Consider lighting for tables if the event is at night. Make sure vendors know when to arrive and who’s responsible for tables (you, the venue, or the vendors themselves).
Make sure you’ve completed any on-site advertisement obligations with sponsors. Have your entrance situation covered, be it contracting your own door person or using the venue’s.
Accept the fact that you probably won’t get to fully enjoy the event. Most likely, you’ll be running in circles corralling bands, replenishing merch stock, finding change for the door person, and answering variations of, “What time does X band play?”*
*Posting a schedule on social media is strongly encouraged, but you’ll be asked this question repeatedly anyway.
Lastly, when all is said and done, you’re not actually done. Pool photos from social media (here’s where the hashtag comes in handy) and share them with attendees on the event page, as well as with sponsors, bands, and anyone else involved. Whether you decide to organize a second edition or not, everyone will get a final marketing boost from the post-fest content.
Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-born writer based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She covers Latinx music and culture for Remezcla, runs a monthly queer party, and also organizes a recurring pop-up feminist bazaar. Until last year, she co-owned a mid-size venue; right now, she’s plotting a new venture. Follow her on Twitter for links to her stories, or on Instagram for (mostly) pictures of her cats.
Here BMI interviews multi-Emmy and GRAMMY award-winning composer Laura Karpman about her history-making work in the music business, as well as her passion for helping women in the industry find success, and her advice for doing so.
When little girls think of what they’d like to be when they grow up, they can add “renowned composer” to the list, thanks in part to the work, both musical and influential, of BMI composer Laura Karpman. Musically, the four-time Emmy and GRAMMY award-winner maintains a vibrant career in film, television, videogame, concert and theater music. Her distinguished credits include the hit series Underground, Kasi Lemmons’ Black Nativity, Eleanor Coppola’s upcoming film Paris Can Wait, Spielberg’s miniseries Taken, as well as the Showtime series Odyssey 5 and Masters of Science Fiction, both of which were Emmy-nominated. She has received two GANG awards, and an additional nomination for her videogame music, which has been performed by orchestras internationally. Commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Karpman collaborated with soprano Jessye Norman and The Roots on Ask Your Mama, which received a sold-out premiere at Carnegie Hall in March 2009, as well as a sold-out west coast premiere at The Hollywood Bowl. The acclaimed work also enjoyed a revival at the iconic Apollo Theater in Harlem, while the recording received 3 GRAMMY nominations, winning two. The prolific composer has now also been awarded a grant from Opera America to develop an opera with NY Times columnist Gail Collins called Balls! based on the historic tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
Influentially, Karpman is the founding President of the Alliance for Women Film Composers, has served as an advisor for the Sundance Film Scoring Lab and is the first American woman composer accepted to the Music Branch Executive Committee of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. She is also the newly elected governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Music Branch.
BMI caught up with the wave- and history-making music creator to hear her thoughts on her work, her passion to help women in the industry and her advice. Here’s what she said.
Tell us how you started out as a composer and your role in helping to create the Alliance for Women Film Composers. What gave you the idea? What were the biggest obstacles you faced?
My mother decided she wanted me to be a composer when she was pregnant with me, so I got a head start! I began writing music when I was very young and I never really thought of doing anything else. But, I did think I would be a New York new music composer. That shifted when I spent three weeks at the first iteration of the Sundance film composer’s lab. That lab changed my life as it has done for so many others. I always was interested in drama and was an avid reader of plays, but I just didn’t connect the dots between drama, music and film until I got to Sundance.
Once I got to LA, I was able to break into network television movies relatively easily. They were very few women composers scoring at that point, and I think that television movies happened for me not because my music was really ideally suited to that (I was a modernist serialist composer, after all!), but because it was something that producers and directors could imagine a woman scoring. Now, twenty years later, we get to the Alliance for Women Film Composers. The Alliance came together because of a confluence of events… our beloved Doreen Ringer-Ross at BMI hosted a lunch for women composers in August of 2013. There, I met a lot of talented and accomplished women and we all discovered that we had a tremendous camaraderie and similarity of experience. A couple of months later, Dr. Martha Lauzen, a researcher based out of Cal State San Diego, included women composers for the first time in her study of the top 250 box office films. We saw that our numbers were 2% – the lowest of any position in Hollywood, and so Miriam Cutler, Lolita Ritmanis and I got together and decided to start the Alliance.
I think the biggest obstacle we faced was just simply openly talking about sexism in Hollywood. All of us experienced it in one way or another, but didn’t feel comfortable talking about it out loud. And indeed, that has radically changed. There is a big conversation happening now and we have so many advocates – everybody realizes that there’s a big problem, and we are all putting our heads together to try to fix it.
Are those obstacles receding now that women in film are getting more exposure?
I think the obstacles are known, and they will recede, but they are stubborn.
Tell us about being the first American woman composer accepted to the Music Branch Executive Committee of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. What is your role and is the position different than what you envisioned?
I have to say I never expected to be a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures. I was so delighted to be admitted in 2015. I felt like I was finally part of something, rather than outside of something. Michael Giacchino, then Governor Charlie Fox, and Charles Bernstein put me on the executive committee in time for the membership meeting last year. They all wanted to see more inclusion in the Music Branch, and I think I was helpful in introducing them and the members of the executive committee to some of the wonderful women composers that are currently working very hard in our field.
You were also elected Governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Music Branch and spearheaded the inclusion of 12 new women to the Music Branch. That’s a historic achievement. What’s turning the tide for women in positions on Boards of this stature?
There are a lot of amazing women on the board. Real advocates for diversity including Laura Dern, Annette Benning, Nancy Utley, Rory Kennedy, Sharen Davis, Kate Amend, Kathy Kennedy, Robin Swicord (and others!) as well many men who want to see change as well. I think it’s really important to acknowledge that men are making a huge difference. Men must be partners and advocates in the push for inclusion.
Your multimedia opera ASK YOUR MAMA is based on a text by Langston Hughes and earned you three GRAMMY nominations, winning two. Why do you think it was so widely received?
I poured my heart and soul into ASK YOUR MAMA I collaborated with the legendary Jessye Norman and the iconic group The Roots. I had a brilliant and relatively unknown text by the great American poet Langston Hughes, so I think the odds were stacked in my favor. The extraordinary thing about the poem is that in the right-hand margins, Langston Hughes describes how the music should sound. It’s like getting the best spotting notes in the world from the most poetic and erudite director. I was really able to use my skills as a film composer and the musical gymnastics that we perform daily.
Tell us about your work on Underground and collaborating with Raphael Saadiq and John Legend. In what ways did you complement each other’s strengths?
Raphael and I have worked on a number of projects together. Underground is a very special show. The writing is nothing short of brilliant. The executive producers, John included, look for a sound that is really part traditional action scoring, part contemporary music, part hip-hop… It’s constantly shifting and changing. It’s a fantastic show to work on. We both feel we can really be our compositional selves. Working with Raphael has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. He calls me his professor, but the truth is I think I’m learning more from him. He brings such soul, such warmth and such a different musical perspective to my work. I just love it. I never thought I would like collaborating with other composers, but I find it totally inspiring and I hope to do more.
Tell us about Balls! your opera based on the legendary tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. How did you come up with the idea and what story are you trying to tell about the historic match?
I came up with the idea one day when I was taking a walk on the beach. I identified Gail Collins, the opinion columnist for the New York Times, as great potential collaborator. Her tone is both serious and fantastically ironic and utterly perfect for this project.
Look, this tennis match was operatic. Literally, Billie Jean was brought in on a litter like the famous scene from Aida. Obviously the idea of a woman triumphing against all odds appeals to me. I think art is a way to talk about society, and perhaps, in some small way, to change it.
What’s the most important legacy you’d like to leave?
Oh god, am I leaving already!!!??? I guess I want my tombstone to read “maximalist.” I’m not in the ‘less is more’ school. I like to write thick, complicated music. I value simplicity and clarity, but I also value conceptual thinking in concert and film music.
Legacy… I don’t want to leave things the way that I found them. I don’t want to continue having this discussion about women not having the same opportunities as men. I want to look back at this time and see that this was when it all finally really changed.
What advice would you give aspiring women composers?
Be prepared for everything and anything. Have your musical chops together, have your emotional chops together, get out there, and ask us for help when you need it.
Tell us about your relationship with BMI.
I joined BMI when I was 19 years old and a sophomore at the University of Michigan School of Music. James Roy, a fine southern gentleman, recruited me and I have never looked back. I still have my first royalty check, which I think was for two cents. And that’s my two cents!