A Golden Opportunity for Music Composers
I spent most of the first decade of my “professional” life in Los Angeles trying, as most musicians do, to figure it out.
I did everything you can do that was even tangentially related to music. Arranger, mixer, engineer, producer, composer’s assistant, band member, band leader, wiring technician (my work used to adorn the walls at Electricia’s Studio Services as examples of what not to do), Auto-Tuner, singer, accordionist, literally everything possible.
To make a very long and circuitous story short, after ten years hacking away at a career in music in the big city and a lifetime studying music, I wound up with a golden opportunity that, at the time, I did not recognize as a golden opportunity – a television director wanted me to write a theme for his pilot.
So I sat down and wrote something and got some friends to play on it and the legendary Tom Marino played trumpet.
And the executives liked it and ABC liked it and now – there was this thing.
This 15 second thing, the theme to Modern Family, the “Hey Hey” theme that opens every episode, like it has every episode for 11 years – all over the world and in syndication.
Most of us spend our entire careers making music because we love it and we don’t know how to do much else. We believe in ourselves, we believe in music as an end, and we don’t imagine we’ll be massively successful. But we dream of success and we certainly hope to be able to at least hammer out a living. But it’s hard, and the golden opportunities are few and far between.
My point is: musicians don’t get too many chances.
When one of these opportunities miraculously arises, all of the mechanisms that our forebears have put in place to ensure we retain ownership and compensation for the one thing we’ve got – our intellectual property – need to be working. And they do work. We get paid for these rare opportunities. We earn a royalty. That’s it. We work our whole lives practicing, studying, figuring out how to play instruments and developing our talents just as any trained professional in any industry would.
After ten years hacking away at a career in music in the big city and a lifetime studying music, I wound up with a golden opportunity that, at the time, I did not recognize as a golden opportunity.
And if we’re lucky, we get to earn a royalty for creating something. In an ideal world this royalty helps pay for all those times when we are not getting paid – for not landing some golden opportunity, all the times when we are practicing, learning, hauling gear to gigs, hustling, just trying to figure it out.
So when someone asks you to forgo this one chance you’ve got, this one mechanism by which you could earn a real income, in exchange for “exposure”, when they “offer” you a buyout – think twice.
You deserve a royalty for your intellectual property.
You made the thing, it’s wonderful, it came from your brain and you should be paid for it, for as long as that thing you made is being used. Every time. ‘Til death +75 years. Don’t forget it.
Gabriel Mann, Composer
Modern Family, A Million Little Things, Rectify
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