Along with being a Music Supervisor, Kyle Merkley also coordinates everyone’s needs including music submissions, licensing administration, and all the other fun stuff that comes with music supervision. As an avid musician and the top-ranked graduate of his year in the Music Business Management Program at Durham College, Kyle possesses a firm grasp of music licensing from both sides of the fence.
Kyle has also had the opportunity to serve as a panelist and moderator on various Music & Film panels at the Northern Ontario Music & Film Awards (NOMFA) and the InSight and Sound seminar series put on by Music and Film in Motion (MFM).
Kyle is someone who lives and breaths the music industry. From musician to music supervisor, he has a great understanding of what it is to be on both sides of the fence in the world of licensing! Usually I speak with Kyle once a week so interviewing him seemed like a logical thing to do. Kyle’s interview shares lots of insight and will be a useful tool to those trying to license music in this industry. Thanks again Kyle and I am sure we’ll be speaking soon! Aaron Bethune
How did you get into the music and entertainment industry?
I started off as a musician, playing in various bands starting in high-school, and even in the school string orchestra. Later, I started getting into more mainstream music. I was in a band with Dave Moffatt of the Moffatts for while. Happened to track each other down on MySpace (remember that?) and ended up writing some songs together and playing on ET Canada. I got into music that way, kind of a do-it-yourself manner taking on management duties out of necessity and by default. I realized that this music business thing is pretty cool, so I went to Durham College for Music Business Management and from there spent some time at SOCAN as an intern, which is one of the best choices I’ve made career wise! A lot of my friends were going to labels, and without seeming money-hungry, I tried to see where the money still was. At the time, it was in publishing/performing rights. While at Durham, I spent my time assisting with and organizing member events, such as the SOCAN awards, and took the opportunity to network as much as possible. At one of the Gemini nominee reception parties, I met Ron Proulx, Owner/President of Arpix Media, who managed a few of the composers nominated for Gemini awards that year. And then it was a little bit of a lapse before we connected again. Following SOCAN, I went on to work with Melissa Syme, who manages Holy Fuck, among others. I worked primarily in the tour management realm, but also was involved in other avenues such as online and film/television/ad placements. It was a really great job and a pleasure to work with talented acts such as Holy Fuck and Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees. Ron Proulx then came back in the picture looking to add a team member and I took that opportunity to venture into Music Supervision – an area that I had never directly intended on getting into but am thankful I did.
What was the band you played with?
We were called Lights Out Love. You can probably still find some material of ours on YouTube or Pure Volume.
When you started working for Ron, what was the process of training you to the point where Ron could let you do your thing?
When I first jumped in, I really familiarized myself with a lot of legal terms and how deals are structured. Ron has an e-book called How To Licence Your Music in Movies and Television. It’s great, and gives you the right information to bring you up to speed. Having already gone to school for music business made the transition that much quicker, as I was already familiar with the terms. I became familiarized with the fees and commonalities for the shows we were working on, such as Heartland and Flashpoint, and began to better understand the current landscape of television licensing in Canada. From there I became more involved, and eventually I started handling the music searches, music editing, license negotiating and tracking, etc. Although it is perfected with time and experience, you kind of just develop an intuition for what is right and what is wrong. This is both a natural intuition and one that is taught and improved upon by being taught by experienced professionals such as Ron Proulx, Chris Robinson and Andrea Higgins. They all really helped expand my horizons and knowledge base. Right now I’m working on a Spanish series for the Food Network and there are many forms of Latin music out there; it’s so important to be very particular about what is used in a show that is based in a specific region, like Spain. Music education/knowledge is a huge part of it all, and I keep working on furthering mine.
What’s the process when new licensors approach you with their catalogs?
There are new licensors representing a catalogue coming to us all the time – new ones every day. Typically, I’ll get them to submit something for a show we’re working on at that very time. That’s a really big moment because it demonstrates if they get it, and if they do, then the relationship will really take off from there. If they submit something that’s really off the mark – I’ve had people sometimes that submit 40 tracks with only one deemed proper for the show. Sure, you could submit your entire library, but annoying the music supervisor is not in your best interest. I’ve asked people before when they have submitted things if they might have anything extra for an additional project that I’m working on. When someone comes back to me and says, ‘you know I don’t really have anything like that, thanks for reaching out.’, that is a perfect response. It’s so important to try and be as accurate as possible, and to be as honest as possible. If you don’t have it, that’s fine. But you should just say that, and avoid sending material just to see. Often I’m not reaching out to a metal label for their flamenco guitar but if we do by some chance, they can say, “Hey, we don’t have any of that stuff.”, I can say ‘great, I’ll reach out to you later when we need some metal tunes.” That’s where I stand on that. Either submit something that’s on the money or you think to be on the money or just say ‘hit me up next time, I’ll have that stuff.”
What about following up? How much is too much?
Timing is so important. I was working on this film for ABC Family, and there is a music producer that we have worked with before and he’s always kind of on our minds but he happened to send us a track on the day we were looking for a top-40 dance track and it sounded exactly like what we wanted. It was such perfect timing and worked out so well, but had he done so two weeks before, it might not have happened. So, part of it is luck, in terms of getting the placement, but as well, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Typically I’ll say to someone, “hey check in next month, if you have some new stuff, or keep me posted on developments.” But the biggest thing I’d recommend is saying, “Hey can you add me to your music request list?” I’m reaching out to people when I need something, so when something comes up, I’ll reach out and I’ll put together a brief, outline the fee, the rights involved, the scene, etc, and I’ll blast that out to people that I think are appropriate. You want to be on that list. You want to stay on that list. At Arpix, that’s how we operate. Anyone else I can’t comment on, but I think it’s a pretty good system.
How much new music do you find reaching your inbox?
I’ve seen a definite growth in the amount of people representing catalogues and that’s good for us, because we’re dealing with less singular entities. Now, I’ve only been in music supervision for two years but even in that time, I’ve seen a change. I know before my time at Arpix, they were dealing more so with specific bands, and in my time, I’ve been mostly dealing with what I call music brokers, people that are representing music strictly for licensing. There’s been a definite growth in that field. There are a lot of people getting into the representation of music, but they don’t quite understand the terms, and it gets scary when you’re not sure if agreements are in place to actually be representing the music. Even within bands it’s quite common to say, “oh yeah, we’re all friends, I can sign on behalf of the entire band.” and we can’t do that anymore. You want avoid a situation where the drummer would sign off on behalf of the band for a placement, and then the rest of the band will find out about it or hear it on TV, and say “oh my god, I don’t agree with this. I don’t agree with the fee, I don’t agree with the rights.” I’ve never had to deal with a situation like that, but I have heard of them happening elsewhere. So you have to make sure you understand and have proper agreements in place to be representing the music. But in terms of the amount of music coming in, there is tons of it. The challenge is that there is more great music than there are spots for great music. It’s not uncommon for great music to come in, I say “Hey I want to use this at some point,” and then that point doesn’t come for a year. So, it’s really, like I was saying, luck! It doesn’t hurt us that there’s so much music, but it can make it difficult for the artists/bands/labels/brokers/libraries to get through. Then with the internet, it’s so easy to reach anyone anywhere, I mean, we’re licensing music from all over the world, typically it’s from North American licensors, but we’ve licensed stuff from Australia, from Asia, all over the place. Everything is at your fingertips.
With all that you’re saying, how does this affect the value of music?
It probably sounds terrible to say, but you disregard so much music even if it’s good because there is just so much out there. If I do a music request for a certain thing, I could get 100-200 songs easily, as long as it’s not some kind of niche request. As for the singer-songwriter stuff, I could get three million songs. It’s so hard to stand out from that crowd, you really have to work your relationship with the music supervisor, be really accommodating of fees, of rights, have all your stuff in check. People that are getting back to me really quickly, I go back to them. Artists are often on the road, travelling, so that’s why I often deal with music brokers. The artists are off touring, playing gigs, recording, being busy musicians; In TV, there’s such a requirement for a quick turnaround. The replacement of a song in one day, you’re at a mix, and someone says “Hey we want to change this end-montage song.” You have to be able to find that song in that day, clear it, license it and then have it air next week. You have to have someone who is capable of being there and always in contact with you, to get those documents, those licenses back to you. Having great music only gets you so far, you have to have your business affairs in check. Either yourself, or someone you trust to be representing you.
What do you think it takes today to be heard above the noise?
There’s so much music out there, that’s such a tough question. For me what I hear above the noise is what stands out, songs that fit a project’s criteria. Stuff that stands out these days is whatever goes with what I’m working on, and I can’t look past that . There’s stuff that I listen to personally that might stand above the crowd because I think it’s interesting or some kind of new element that I’m not used to hearing, or perhaps because it’s a fusion of genres. Typically when I’m at work and I’m using my ears to listen for songs that fit the mould perfectly for the project we’re working on. It’s about the filter I have on my ears for that day.
Do you think people who give away their music for free are in any way going to bring down the monetary value the music has when it comes to licensing rights?
There are certain bands that have reached out to me and said “Hey we’re giving our album away for free.” That’s appealing to me just on a music fan side of things. I think that’s cool. I don’t see it as devaluing music, I see it as accepting the value of music. And that’s kind of my thing right now. If people can get it for free, then just give it away for free, and try and make your money elsewhere. You’ve got to use your music to hook someone in. As far as licensing fees, there’s been an increase in libraries and brokerages that are actually licensing their music for free but they’re only doing that to productions that will have a decent back-end on them – e.g. network television shows. We haven’t worked with those types of libraries, just because typically you get what you pay for. But those libraries and brokerages are out there, and if you can land something in a decent show, like a network show, sure you’re not going to get any money up front, but your SOCAN or PRO back-end cheque can be somewhat substantial. That can be worth it. Maybe it’s just ‘cause I’m younger, but I’m pretty pro giving away stuff for free, not so much in the licensed area, because if people are making money from the music, I think they should be paying for it. Either way you have to be accommodating to music supervisors’ needs and fees that he or she are working with.
How do you give music a monetary value?
Part of that comes with the clout the artist is bringing with them, which is why so much of our business is based on finding sound-a-like indie replacements. For example, a producer ideally might want to have the Arcade Fire, but the money to license them is not available in the music budget. That’s when we would come in and say, “there’s this really cool artist that hasn’t broken yet, that really sounds like Arcade Fire, and we can get them for $1000-$2000.” The way we operate is much more about finding what would work for the money we have, versus trying to determine what something is worth.
What are some things people should keep in mind while negotiating?
Make sure you’re not getting taken advantage of, and look at any clauses that involve trailer or promotional uses. Sometimes there are deals where you’ll be providing in and out of context promotional uses, and typically a lot of production companies will go out and get both. But if you’re really looking at a low amount of money, one thing you can limit back is the trailer or promotional rights. And you can limit that to in-context only. Further to that, you can look at term, how long this deal’s lasting? Once again most production companies we work for are asking for perpetuity, which means forever. So you can try and scale that back. The norm really is world for all media, which covers all production for anything that they want to do. However, to be truthful, when you’re in a band starting out you should probably agree to whatever deal you can get. When a music supervisor comes to you with a deal, it’s typically the best thing we can do. There’s rarely little room to exceed past that. So, when we’re coming to you with a fee and the required rights for the deal, that’s likely the best deal we can do. Anything beyond that becomes difficult. I think that’s something to understand – that the music supervisor, at least in my experience, is not holding back any money from you. Negotiating is often for the bands with the clout. If you’re an indie band, it’s either you want it or you don’t. When we have an independent band, or a licensor working with independent bands looking to negotiate, it’s fine to ask if there is any more money, but it shouldn’t be expected.
What are some ways to go about finding out about these projects and gigs?
One would be looking into production listings. You could be looking into things like Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, etc, seeing what’s in production and tracking down that production company. If it’s any kind of reputable production company, reach out to them and say, “Who is your music supervisor on the show? I’d love to reach out to them.” Ideally for us, you own the masters and the publishing 100%, because that makes it one-stop and really easy. From there just offer to submit your music and say you’ll love to get involved and hear more about any opportunities that may be involved in making that production. You want to monitor what’s going on, and once you reach out to the music supervisors, keep in touch with them, and be accommodating to what their needs might be. It really goes back to following up with music, and making sure that you’re conveying to the music supervisor that you understand the ownership of your music. I think I might have mentioned that briefly before. It’s just that when you are reaching out to a music supervisor, my favourite emails are “Hey here’s a link to my music, I own it 100% masters and publishing.” That’s a big thing for me – immediate explanation as to the ownership of your music.
What are some things you think people should not do?
The first thing that comes to mind is really lengthy and verbose emails. I think when I get those 3-4 paragraph emails, I read maybe 4% of it. It’s so important to be concise, to be accurate and be very communicative of what you’re saying. I think it’s important to stay in touch and quickly get back to music supervisors, so don’t be writing people and not be responding. Because if you get a response from someone in my position, you should jump on it pretty quickly, otherwise, you’ll be forgotten about. Also, don’t send CDs. I’m so against CDs. Not only for the environmental reasons, but because you spend $3 to send me a CD in packaging, and I take it and listen to it for such a small amount of time that it’s so much better to just send me the link to stream online. There are certain music supervisors that actually still work with CDs, but for someone reading this wishing to submit to Arpix, do not send one. I feel guilty when I get all these CDs. It’s such a waste of plastic and postage. My favourite saying is that I often spend more time opening and unwrapping a CD than actually listening to it.
To find out more about Kyle and the company he works for please visit:
Interview by Aaron Bethune