Interview with ANN KLINE, music supervisor for the TV shows ER, Third Watch and The West Wing - Mar 19, 2002
"If you don't own 100% of the publishing and masters, you need to know that it can be cleared immediately."
Ann Kline is a music supervisor at John Wells Productions, a Los Angeles-based company that produces feature films and TV shows including ER, Third Watch and The West Wing. Kline is responsible for finding the music for the shows and clearing the necessary licenses.
How did you get started in the film, TV and music business, and how did you become a music supervisor?
I started as an attorney at the William Morris Agency, working with a lot of the same legal issues that face a music supervisor, copyright, licensing, performance rights, etc. But the job didnít have a creative aspect, which I missed, so I got into music supervision 5 or 6 years ago.
What qualities are needed to be a successful music supervisor for TV shows?
The job deals with so many different issues. Thereís the creative aspect of picking different music and artists, and then thereís also the whole business side, which involves negotiating fees and rights. The most important thing is being able to determine what the producers and directors want, understand what theyíre feeling and find a song that fits.
What experiences have been important to you in developing your skills as a music supervisor?
TV is very different from film. In films you usually have a lot more time to develop relationships with the artists and directors and you tend to work with the music as the film progresses. In television itís so quick that, a lot of the time, the most important thing is being able to predict what kind of song they will be looking for and clear the rights in advance. Sometimes you only have a day to clear a song, due to shooting schedules and post-production, and it could be for a very important scene in a very important episode. A big lesson I have learnt is to be prepared in advance for any possible scenario.
What are the creative challenges when selecting music for a TV show?
As I mentioned, time is a huge factor. Sometimes thereís a song you really want, but that you probably wonít have time to clear. Perhaps it has a lot of writers, so youíre going to be dealing with a lot of publishing companies, or the management is on tour and wonít be able to get back to you overnight. So itís great to have a stable of songs that you love, and which are pre-cleared. Itís also good to work with independent labels, and even unsigned artists who you know you can reach at any time and who will help you work within your budget.
Who are the people you work with when deciding what music will be used?
In television, itís usually the executive producers who have the final say. Sometimes the writers call me when theyíre writing an episode and ask for ideas, and then a director might call me when theyíre shooting an episode and ask for ideas. And then youíll work with the editor while heís putting it together and give him ideas. But in the end, the producers will sit down and watch the show and itís really going to be whatever they think works and what they like.
What resources do you use to find music for the shows you are working on?
I talk to people at all the different record labels and publishing companies. They check what Iím looking for and I check what they have coming out. Then I talk to different writers and artists that I know, and I let them know what our upcoming story lines are.
Is the Internet something you use when it comes to finding artists and music?
A lot, yes. I use it for research purposes: to find out who controls rights, to listen to music and to find artists. Often, Iíll hear a song on the radio and then go to the artistís website to hear more. I might find unsigned artists too. That definitely happens and it's one of the most gratifying parts of the job, when you find an artist who isnít signed and isnít that well known, and you give them a nice placement on a show. All of a sudden 30 million people are going to hear their music, something which perhaps only a major label artist can aspire to.
How do publishers and record labels go about placing a song of theirs on a show that you are working on?
They call and ask if Iím looking for music for any scenes, and what the story lines of the show are. They then send me what they think might be appropriate. They also send out bimonthly samplers of upcoming releases. With TV, since you know exactly when the show is going to air, itís easier to tie in with music thatís being released at the same time, whereas a film may not be released for a year. You have to consider that the music youíre listening to now might be overused by the time the film comes out.
What advice would you give people who submit music to you?
Understand the legal and economic constraints of television.
The clearance issue - If you donít own 100% of your publishing and masters, you need to have spoken with the people who hold the rights, so you know it can be cleared immediately.
The price constraints - With television itís not a lot of money. Music budgets are usually pretty tight.
On a creative level, itís helpful if you have some knowledge of the show. If you know that Third Watch is action-drama and are familiar with the fact that we us a lot of electronica, you could say, ďYou use Fatboy Slim and The Crystal Method, I have similar music that you can use less expensively and the rights are cleared.Ē Or if it was ER, ďYou use a lot of singer/songwriter kind of music, as well as ballads. Following the story line, it seems like one of the characters will leave at the end of the season. I have this beautiful song that I think might work. If youíre interested, I can clear it for you immediately.Ē
How often do you feature music from unsigned artists?
It depends on the show. In Third Watch there are more opportunities than in the others, as it has a lot of bar scenes and music playing in the background, which makes it a lot easier. In ER it hasnít happened as much, signed artistsí songs have worked better for some reason, but we definitely consider all different types of music. When weíre placing a song, weíre much more concerned with how it works with the scene than whether or not it ties in with an artistís promotion.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
If we donít know where itís coming from and it just shows up in the mail, we donít accept it. But if somebody calls or e-mails and lets us know what kind of music they make, that theyíre familiar with the show and that they have a song or two that they think might work, then usually we welcome them to send it to us. We do want to give new artists a shot.
Do you co-operate with Warner, the record label, at any level?
Warner Television is a part of AOL/Time Warner, so we do all try to work together as much as possible. Warner Television produces the show, so they have the right to consider a soundtrack first. But we donít have to use Warner music and they donít have to put out a soundtrack for us. We use a lot of Warner artists, but we also use a ton of other major label artists, as well as a lot of independent label music. I would say that itís pretty evenly split.
How much is paid in licensing fees when it comes to music in TV shows, and what are these figures based on?
For an unsigned artist they might start at around 500 dollars, and then huge artists such as Led Zeppelin, who might not generally consider having their music used in television at all, would probably want a very large fee, maybe 50.000 dollars. Thereís no exact answer because TV shows can acquire different rights. New shows usually ask for very limited rights since they donít know if the show will go into syndication, whereas an established show like ER asks for very broad rights up front. So the fees are completely different based only on that aspect of it.
Sometimes the artist controls the rights and has a million reasons to say that no fee is enough for them to put their song in that scene. Then there are other artists who might be huge fans of the show and who would love their song to be used, regardless of the fee.
If you order a song from a writer or producer, what input do you have on the writing and production of it?
Usually just a very general input. In television the process moves so quickly that you couldnít say, "Hereís a scene. Watch it and write a song for it." You never have the time to do that. The most I could say is, "We will have a scene coming up where a young girl dies of Aids. If that inspires you to write a song, then we are probably looking for something mid-tempo with a message about love or family.Ē Itís really hard to give much more direction because we rarely see the scenes until just prior to mixing the show. So we donít really have songs written for the shows, but rather take existing material and license it.
How easy or difficult is it to obtain sync and master licences?
Not very difficult. Sometimes it takes a few days, if the artist needs to give his/her approval. Generally, artists, writers, record labels and publishers want to have their music used and exposed and are usually very reasonable and easy to work with.
Is the possibility of a soundtrack release something you keep in mind when you start working on the music for a show?
On our shows, no. With shows like Dawsonís Creek that might be more viable, but our shows are such realistic drama that everybodyís main concern is to find the right music for the scene, not to think about using a soundtrack to market the show. How the music works for the show, thatís our objective, and if in the end that warrants a soundtrack or somebody shows interest in distributing a soundtrack, then thatís a great plus.
How many songs are generally needed for one episode of a TV show?
West Wing often has no music. For ER we probably use an average of 3 songs per episode. Third Watch generally uses about 5 pieces of music.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the TV and music industries, what would you do?
The greatest difficulty arises when a song canít be cleared in time for it to be used. A more immediate clearing process would be a huge help.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
Coming to work for John Wells Productions, because it's an amazing company with such diverse projects. Itís wonderful to be able to work on shows as different as ER, The West Wing and Third Watch, and also to be able to work on incredible feature films. It has been a very productive working environment, and I would definitely say that itís been the best thing thatís happened to me. Right now, weíre doing a film called White Oleander; itís coming out in October and itís a wonderful film. It stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Renťe Zellweger and Robin Wright, and itís a really touching and interesting story.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?
Iíd like to continue working here. Every year we have new shows coming out. Next year weíll be working on a new drama called Presidio Med, and we have a bunch of films in development, so Iíd love to continue to work with John Wells Productions.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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