Nialler9's How Music Works: Can art and commerce peacefully co-exist?
In How Music Works, Niall Byrne talks to those who make a living in the Irish music industry. This week, artist manager and music supervisor Sarah Glennane
A still from Irish movie King of the Travellers: The director really wanted a Johnny Cash track on the soundtrack, and Sarah Glennane was tasked with arranging all the clearances...
Sarah Glennane: “I was struck with how I was being taught how to sell things but not about creation, and the art side were being taught how to produce things but not a lot about how to make a living"
Sarah Glennane has been an artist manager and a music supervisor (a person who clears and licenses music for use for film, TV or any visual medium) and through those jobs can count a strong knowledge of publishing and how music works on an industry level.
It began for Glennane at a marketing course at the College of Marketing and Design up in Mountjoy Square, Dublin, where business-orientated Sarah mixed with fine art students, which made the gap between art and commerce obvious.
“I was struck with how I was being taught how to sell things but not about creation, and the art side were being taught how to produce things but not a lot about how to make a living from it or to commercialise it,” she says. “I felt we should be mixed in order to learn from each other.”
A final dissertation on marketing for arts organisations led to some work in the field until she started working with the band Kíla on a part-time basis. “KIla are a cottage industry in themselves, and have created a way to function and survive while remaining free to create music however they choose and to keep ownership and control of their work. I found this to be really interesting, and crazy how much business there is in music business if you are looking after everything yourself.”
Glennane ended up managing the band for 10 years, using their independent cottage-industry model as her guide and learning about the music industry in the process through the recent industry flux.
“I became very deflated by the market and industry down turns which happened in the years I worked with the band,” Glennane says. “I saw their income plummet from the effects of people stopping to buying music.”
In between managing her “small tribe of kids”, she still manages artists such as Liam Ó Maonlaí, Nick Kelly and Rónán Ó Snodaigh from Kíla, now her partner.
Through working with Kíla and Ó Maonlaí on the publishing side (a publisher ensures an artist gets paid for the commercial use of their work) and through managing her artists on composition for film, Glennane became aware of the possibilities of music supervision and of “the creative side of putting music to film”.
“I have a very strong understanding of music publishing and licensing,” she says. “I have a strong sense of the language of music, how to talk about it both to musicians and the non-musical. I have a good knowledge of making music and the limitations there in. I have a good instinct for the money side of things,” she says. “Also, negotiating with music promoters makes you ready for any negotiation situation.”
After taking time out after having her second child while living in West Kerry in 2011, Glennane took the online supervision course with Berklee College to strengthen her supervision knowledge. She learned about the creative processes behind placing music to an image, soundmixing skills, laws and legal, copyright, contracts, licensing and negotiation.
Those skills are now being actively applied to projects here in Ireland where the industry is small and productions often lack funds for music. Recent projects include Mark O'Connor's King of The Travellers, Kirsten Sheridan’s Dollhouse and TV show The Secret life of the Shannon.
Glennane elaborates on the essential skills of a music supervisor. “Knowledge of music, knowledge of film process, knowledge of copyright, licensing and publishing and probably most importantly an ability to communicate well about music and weigh up the different requirements of a usage at the same time, creative, budget and in the context of the whole production. The key is really to work with the director to disseminate what they need for the scene and translate it into music.”
Songs on film
I asked Glennane how the process of supervising music for film works at the start.
“The first thing is to understand the music needs of the script - every film is so different. You look at what is the overall mood of the film; romance, action, thriller, drama etc. When and where is the film set? What are the big music requirements of the script? Is there live-music action, such as a wedding-band scene? Are there overt references to music? Is one of the characters taking about a song that is playing? Is there a lot of source music required, that is music coming from an on screen source such as a radio in the scene?
“You break down the musical character like that, and you prioritise. If it's say, a period drama, it might work best with a composed score and no other music, if it is a contemporary drama set in an urban backdrop with a young feel, a soundtrack of all placed music might be good, and you could be looking at a soundtrack album.
“Then you work off the budget, if you are getting a composed soundtrack, you will have most of your budget go on that. If you need a lot of additional placed music, you will need to work out how much those tracks will cost and what is left over for background score and then maybe source this from library rather than composed score. It is all a balance.”
Glennane cites the new Irish film Get Up And Go, which she worked in the early stages as an example of a soundtrack-type film. Irish music featured comes from David Kitt, Villagers, Lisa O'Neill, Jape and Adrian Crowley.
Negotiating for well-known music
Licensing songs for usage can be a difficult process in any situation so imagine what it is like to license a song from one of the biggest artists in music of the 20th century – Johnny Cash.
It was a situation Glennane encountered working on King Of The Travellers, which was made all the more difficult by it being a cover, meaning two different licenses were needed: a master recording of the Johnny Cash song and the composition license for the songwriting itself which was written by Kris Kristofferson.
“Mark [O'Connor], the director, really wanted a Cash track in the film as he is such a musical hero in the travelling community. I cleared the master recording with a publisher, but the songwriter side with a different publisher was way too expensive.
“This worked great in the scene but at the eleventh hour, the Cash estate lawyers came in with a no as they are very protective over any usages. It is impossible to negotiate with lawyers on any way of an emotional level. So I wrote to John Carter Cash, his son, and pleaded the case for the film and he managed to swing it. It still worked out very expensive and really was too expensive for the film, so I never felt fully happy with it.”
Revenue for bands
As a negotiator on both sides of the artist, Glennane is very aware of the revenue possibilities for bands in getting their music placed but while, the concept of “selling out” has become less of a stick to beat artists with in the last 10 years, each usage proposal should be carefully considered.
“I think that it is harder for a musician to make money now, so it is harder to turn down an offer - even if it is for an ad for Irish Water,” Glennane says. “I have had a musician turn down a very lucrative offer for an ad for an alcoholic beverage which they did not feel their input would serve them well as an artist. It's very difficult to say no to a year's wage, but ultimately I think they made the right decision.”
That's Sarah Glennane, artist manager and supervisor, still bridging the gap between art and commerce in music.