Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Movie and Television Licensing Deals Provide Exposure for Bands in St. Louis and Beyond

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2014 at 3:14 AM

St. Louis act Scarlet Tanager has had its music featured on The Real World, Dance Moms, Catfish and a commercial for GoPro cameras. - BEN MUDD
  • Ben Mudd
  • St. Louis act Scarlet Tanager has had its music featured on The Real World, Dance Moms, Catfish and a commercial for GoPro cameras.

For many kids with guitar-shaped stars in their eyes, cutting an album deal is what it means to be a successful musician. Those ten cherry-picked songs backed by a major label signify "making it" -- something that will launch them into superstardom, world tours and giant piles of money. And once upon a time, that's kind of how it was.

But the times, they are a-changin'.

These days, many musicians -- including some in St. Louis -- reach millions of listeners by licensing their songs for use in television shows, films, Web series, commercials and other avenues. Not even a decade ago, this kind of song placement often was off-limits to artists who weren't already making bank. But today, there are more ways for bigwigs to discover and use music by lesser-known musicians.

"For everyone who makes a living in music, this stuff is really critical," says Gary Pierson, partner at Pierson/Wells, a boutique law firm in St. Louis that specializes in entertainment issues. "In some ways, what's happening with songs sync-wise is even more important than sales. A record has to sell a million copies for it to be a success, but a really high-profile sync is kind of the same thing."

Pierson, who has represented major recording artists over the years, says that copyright law has a special provision requiring producers to obtain a sync (short for synchronization) license to use a musician's song in their work. And that means getting permission from the owner of the composition before playing the song during a television episode or radio advertisement.

But to nab one of these sync placements, as they're called, musicians first have to get onto a producer's radar, and Pierson says that often happens in two ways (though there are many variations).

First, a member of the production team might contact an artist directly, because he or she already is familiar with the music.

Pretty Little Empire's music has been featured in ads for shoes as well as a movie by director Mo Perkins. - KIT KELLISON
  • Kit Kellison
  • Pretty Little Empire's music has been featured in ads for shoes as well as a movie by director Mo Perkins.

St. Louis indie-rock band Pretty Little Empire is experiencing this firsthand. Over the years, the band has licensed music for New Balance shoe commercials and other brands, but recently, PLE hit a Hollywood jackpot, says lead vocalist Justin Johnson. The group has licensed five songs for the flick The Last Time You Had Fun, starring Demetri Martin and Mary Elizabeth Ellis, thanks to a longstanding friendship with director Mo Perkins that began during his film-festival days. (Johnson toured with his own 2009 film Zombie Girl: The Movie.) Johnson has shared PLE's music with Perkins over the years, and the director fell in love with the group's 2013 self-titled album.

"It wasn't until later that I found out that the woman from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia [Ellis] is in it, along with the woman from Scrubs [Eliza Coupe] and Demetri Martin," Johnson says. "Then it was even more exciting, because if a movie has people that someone recognizes, it's going to go further. It got into the Los Angeles Film Festival, which is pretty huge, and both their screenings sold out."

The Last Time You Had Fun was made on a limited budget, but Pretty Little Empire was compensated and credited for individual songs at the end of the movie. Johnson hasn't yet seen the film, but he likes how Perkins uses his music in the trailers posted online.

Preview clip for The Last Time You Had Fun.

"There was a [Web] story about the movie, and they chose a clip that had one of our songs in it," Johnson says. "They're using half the song; it plays through the whole scene, so that's really cool."

Continue to page two.

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