“JUST SEND ME YOUR CONTRACT AND I’LL SIGN IT”
Growing up I was a huge nerdy collector of soundtracks and noticed quite a number of them contained the squished bug logo of Varese Sarabande Records. Later, I volunteered to help produce some of their titles (for free… thank goodness this was prior to social media being able to berate me for doing so). This eventually lead to them offering me a gig running the label when I was about 25.
HOW TO RELEASE A SHITLOAD OF RECORDS
The first thing I decided to do was to put out A LOT of titles… almost one a week. I did this because I realized I had very little idea of what I was doing and the best way to learn was through weathering a lot of experiences.
I worked like a dog (soliciting titles, making deals, sequencing albums, designing covers, collaborating with composers… all out of a cockroach-ridden, un-airconditioned warehouse in an industrial park in the Valley next to an oxygen supply company.) While it was a lot of work, crazy hours and lousy working conditions, I had a blast doing it. I quickly realized I had no idea what would sell and what wouldn’t, so best to throw a bunch of releases against the wall and, hopefully, some would succeed.
THE REWARDS OF MAKING OTHERS’ LIVES EASY
The challenge was convincing studios to let me license their music. I analyzed and concluded the following:
1. It was unlikely I was going to earn the studios much, if any, money, so be upfront about that and don’t pretend the situation was different.
2. The lawyers didn’t want to risk having something put out by some small label that was going to lead to problems that weren’t worth it to them. So, I worked very hard to convince them that I would put out quality products that would please them, their filmmakers and their composers. This often involved losing money in redoing things to meet those objectives.
3. It wasn’t worth the studio’s legal department’s time to review and negotiate our contracts. So, I told them, just send your own contract and I’ll sign it. And we could keep doing that title after title and just start doing this automatically.
The minor differentials of what could have been gained from haggling over small stuff was of very little real value.
BUILDING ON SUCCESS
The main things I was offering the studios were great customer service, easy of deal making and not being a pain in the ass.
It worked, and soon we were grinding out about 50 soundtracks a year. I also got a distribution deal with MCA records that would definitely help our sells. Since we needed some bigger titles to feed into the system right away, we ended up intentionally paying for some “lost leaders” that we knew would lose money, but would hopefully help grease the wheels for future projects. It worked.
IT IS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
Through all of this I got to work directly with a number of my composing heroes including Goldsmith, Horner, Barry, Bernstein, Shore, Elfman, Newman, Howard, Jarre, Delerue, Broughton, Conti, Poledouris, Burwell and others. It was directly thought my experiences doing records with Jerry Goldsmith that he became my client when I left at 28 to become a full-time agent. Eventually, I ended up representing a number of other composers I collaborated with during my time at Varese.
LIFE IS AN ADVENTURE
Writing this piece, I was tickled to reminisce about this three-year chapter of my life during my mid-20’s, since I so rarely look back at it (I actually had to Google to remind myself what I had worked on). It was all so fun and challenging and interesting and new and exciting. While I am sure I have selectively blanked out several lousy parts of the experience (I vaguely remember a guy throwing an office chair at me and several composers yelling loudly about one thing or another), I am forever grateful for all the yummy memories, including meeting the mother of my son by putting out the soundtrack to Jerry Goldsmith’s LIONHEART.
I am also grateful that I have such a strong ability to “shake it off.” When you are crazy busy doing LOTS of stuff, it leaves very little time and ability to get vitriolic and dwell on each little pinprick. I am so blessed that I have never taken business things that personally and wasn’t using deals to work out my ego and sense of value.
Life really is an adventure. Your attitude towards it contributes a lot towards your experience of it.