Interview with Alicen Catron Schneider/NBCUniversal TV
The Ins and Outs of Music Placement in Movies and TV Series
Featuring: Alicen Catron Schneider
Vice President, Music Creative Services for NBCUniversal Television
By Frances and Harry Date – Song Matchmakers Network
Alicen is the head of the creative music division for NBC Universal Television, which she created and established seven years ago. She manages music strategies and personnel for all Studio productions. She contributes creative music for select NBC Agency promotional campaigns, most notably the Olympics, and assists with strategic music partnerships for the multiplatform marketing of shows. Alicen operates as a music liaison between Network and Studio creative executives for stunt casting and on-camera opportunities as well as making composer recommendations for Universal Television produced programs. In addition to this, she solicits the creation of original compositions and recordings for both promotional campaigns and series episodes. Past projects include Heroes, The Event, Trauma, Lipstick Jungle, Crossing Jordan, and Monk, as well as The 60s and The 70s mini-series for NBC. Most recently, Alicen has added a music business affairs component to her plate, taking on the negotiating of composer and music supervisor agreements, as well as assisting production executives with music budget estimates for new shows and lots and lots of troubleshooting. She is a frequent panelist at music festivals worldwide on the subject of music supervision for television.
1. SMN: Alicen, before joining NBC Universal, you were an A&R assistant in the Film and Television Division of Warner Special Products and was also a college DJ for LA’s acclaimed alternative radio station KXLU-FM. How did those positions open the door and take you to NBC Universal?
ACS: It was mostly internships that I did in college combined with my licensing and creative experiences at Warner’s that led to my satisfying what they were looking for at NBC, which was someone that had diversified knowledge of our core business and the enthusiasm to take on any role regardless of how mundane it was.
2. SMN: You’re currently the head of the Creative Music Division for NBC Universal Television, which you created and established seven years ago. Could you tell us more about what that involves?
ACS: I oversee a team of creatives, clearance administrators, and some music business affairs. If the word music is spoken in the company, generally that person calls me and then I address their needs and how we can help them. We music supervise shows, promos, negotiate licensing deals, negotiate composer and external music supervisor deals, help determine proper music budgets, hire music contractors, recommend artists for on-cameras, create original work-for-hire recordings, handle all cue sheets and advise on AFM/SAG/AFTRA requirements.
3. SMN: What are the roles of the persons you interact with on a daily basis?
ACS: I interact daily with my music supervisors, clearance staff, producers, Universal TV production executives, agents, managers, business affairs, label and publishing reps and lawyers.
4. SMN: What challenges do you most often deal with?
ACS: Poor communication and not enough time, manpower or resources to give the attention that is deserved.
5. SMN: You presently oversee a team of five full time, in-house music supervisors. What are some of the shows they work on, and how do you interact with them?
ACS: They work on the Law & Order franchise, Grimm, Parks & Rec, The Office, Royal Pains, Psych, Suits, Defiance, and Covert Affairs. I advise them on troubleshooting issues that are creative as well as related to budgets and clearances. I also assist once in awhile with the creative. I’m the one that usually gets called when things go awry.
6. SMN: Are you presently working on any projects using outside music supervisors?
ACS: Parenthood and The Mindy Project have outside supervisors. We have some fall shows that we aren’t producing as a Studio (we’re just the broadcaster), and those will all be outside supervisors.
7. SMN: What are some of the new shows you’re working on this season?
ACS: We haven’t actually started on the new season yet, however, I’m slated to work on a show about Blackbeard the Pirate, and there are one or two others that I’d love to throw my hat in the ring for.
8. SMN: How do the seasons work? Are they fall, winter, spring?
ACS: They’re kind of year-round now. You just happened to ask that question in the rare three or four weeks that we’re not producing something for NBC. We’re producing our cable shows right now, so we’re in full production on Suits, Covert Affairs, and Royal Pains. All of our USA shows are in production right now. We’re about to get back into Syfy, so Warehouse 13 is about to start up. Being Human starts up in July as far as production. I have a Defiance meeting next week. And then NBC Proper will start probably–they are all on hiatus right now because they just have the up-fronts– in the next month. The new shows are staffing up right now. And then, usually by mid-July, we’re really up and rolling, except for Grimm. I believe Grimm comes back into production in two weeks, because they’re going to premiere in mid-August. We seem to produce 365 days now.
9. SMN: We’re always unsure with the USA Network, like Suits. It seems to start in January when the other fall shows are still going and the others are in reruns, so we never are quite sure when to submit for what.
ACS: I think what they’re trying to do is to keep the viewers tuned in constantly. We finished a Psych season last fall, and I had lunch with the composer the other day; we were talking about the big musical episode he did, which seems like it was eight months ago. I was like, “Oh yeah, how did that do?” and he said, “Oh it hasn’t aired yet. I think it’s airing on Christmas.” I can’t keep track. It’s really hard to know when, and even though we start Being Human in July, we probably won’t air those until January or February. So it just kind of depends.
10. SMN: You currently music supervise Being Human and Warehouse 13 for Syfy. What other shows do you work on for other networks, and how much interaction do you have with those other networks?
ACS: We produce Family Tree for HBO, Bates Motel for A&E, and The Mindy Project for Fox. We pretty much only interface with the producers for these. Any cross-network communication is usually conducted between our business affairs teams.
11. SMN: We were so interested in how a network like NBC also crosses over to the Syfy Network and other networks. So are you with NBC in the production side of the studio? Or how does that work when you are working with other networks?
ACS: It’s changed. I was hired as an NBC employee, but when I was hired, there was really only NBC, and since then, we have acquired other networks. General Electric used to own us, so GE started acquiring networks to align with NBC, so we added Syfy, Bravo, and USA. It just kind of started getting piled on. So now I oversee all television entities that are under NBC/ Universal. We have NBC, Syfy, USA, Bravo, MSNBC, CNBC, and Oxygen; We’ve got all the sports networks, we’ve got the Golf Channel, and Versus. Now we have, through Comcast, the E Network, Style Network, and G-4 (Which hasn’t officially been assimilated under my team yet). All of these networks are acquired and then all of a sudden you are in charge of them.
12. SMN: My goodness! How do you ever get everything done?
ACS: I don’t. I don’t get anything done! You just kind of pick one little thing to focus on at a time. We have also just added pretty extensive NBC international production, because they don’t have the same kind of resources that we have in the states, so they are asking us to assist them with the things they are producing for us that are Australian or from the UK. Carnival and Working Title are producing wonderful television that we will hopefully get to assist them with more and more in the future. I’m going to London on vacation next month and I have a meeting with a few of the NBC Uni International people.
SMN: Wow, that’s amazing.
ACS: It’s a lot to keep on top of so I have three giant dry erase boards by my desk that lists all of the projects and I try to keep track as much as I can.
13. SMN: Tell us about your role in Creative Marketing Campaigns for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics?
ACS: I think this is perhaps my 7th or 8th Olympics. I suggest songs for the marketing campaigns, the big anthem pieces as well as smaller up and coming artists for the lesser profile spots. We also look to commission original songs and identify artists to feature not only musically, but sometimes also as talent in a promo.
14. SMN: How do you go about getting songs for the Olympics?
ACS: I do a big shout out to my contacts at the labels, managers and artist reps. I hear things in my music piles; I pay attention to what comes on satellite radio in my car, a little bit of this and that.
15. SMN: There are so many different sports events in the Olympics. How do you go about providing music for all the events? Do you have different music supervisors for each event?
ACS: I send big batches of music to the producers of the spots (or their head of marketing), and they slot the songs in as they make sense. I don’t have to pitch for any one event very often.
16. SMN: The Olympics is such a grand scale. You’ve got all these different events, and then you take care of the promotions. Those are the ads of the Olympics. You must get thousands of songs for that. Do you listen with one ear for what would be good in a promotion and then funnel the other songs that you think would be good for a sports event out to other areas for placement?
ACS: We just do promotions, sporting events, basically. There is a team of editors and producers that live on the location; they sit in a giant media hall and, for a month, usually leading into the Olympics and during the games, they sit there and get the feeds, coming in constantly, of the footage of the events and things like that. And they have a vast library of thousands and thousands of pieces of music that they just slot into those segments. There is traditionally a funnel so they don’t have to worry about clearances. So they can put anything in. They don’t have to look to us for that. The only time we need to worry about what we are putting in is if the package is going to air again, if it’s going to go on the Internet, or if they have a particular piece on a specific athlete they want to run a few times, like a Ryan Lochte piece or something like that. But, because of the sheer volume of it, it’s impossible for us to deal with the day-to-days, so we’re just in the promotions. We’ll put things in events. And they have things, like they also use a lot of music libraries.
17. SMN: What type of music genres are you looking for to place in the Olympics?
ACS: These days it’s a gut thing. We tend to be more rock oriented; however, the right message and feel will win out every time. We have roughly 100 spots for the Olympics. So we’re running promotions across all our networks; we do bigger promotions, we do smaller ones. Sometimes we do little athlete pieces. So there is a lot of content that is coming out of us for the marketing aspects of it.
18. SMN: When you’re working on the Olympics, you do everything from overseeing the clearances, working with the Music Supervisors, working with the unions and working with the composers. When do you have time to actually listen to the music that’s being sent to you?
ACS: Not very often. I mean I try. You know, I fit it in. I listen for specific pitches; lately, I’ve been closing my door so I can have some quiet to listen A lot of the times for the shows, if I’m doing a show like Being Human or something like that, I don’t have time so I’ll put my daughter to bed, and at 10, 10:30 at night I’ll sit there and go through all the pitches and listen. My shows get a lot of emails late at night. I also listen in the car. I go through phases where I’m super excited about everything that’s being released so I’ll be listening a lot. I take tons of stuff home; I listen when I cook, when I’m cleaning. You’re just kind of always listening.
Satellite radio has been really wonderful, too, because they are playing some of the really Indie things we’re getting at the same time, and so it’s helping me realize some of the things that are sitting on my desk and on my floor. I’ll hear something really interesting then I’ll go to work and kind of go through my piles and see if I have it or I’ll make a note to buy it. I’ve been buying more things lately, too. Because I don’t have the patience to wait for it or try to track it down.
19. SMN: You can hear more music on satellite radio because there are no commercials.
ACS: Yeah, it’s amazing, isn’t it? I love it. I’m obsessed with satellite radio even though I just got the bill for $168 for a re-up for the year. But I was like, “This is okay, it’s wonderful. Thank God for it. I don’t know what we would do. I mean it’s really amazing, and I’m always surprised because there are so many bands that we’ve known for years that have started really Indie that are finally starting to get some airplay, and it’s so exciting. It’s like your friends are getting heard, which is really nice.
20. SMN: Generally speaking, when you hear a song that you like and think it may work at a future time, do you let the person that submitted that song know that you have an interest in using it?
ACS: It all depends on what it is. If it’s a major priority for a label, publisher or manager then yes, because I may be competing with others for it and I want to try to preserve it for my interests as long as I can. The volume of what I like hinders me from extending this courtesy most of the time unfortunately.
21. SMN: How do you like to receive submissions. Are you a digital or CD person?
ACS: I’m a digital person for pitches but still CD when it’s a major release coming from the labels.
22. SMN: And what do you prefer? Dropbox, Box.net, YouSendIt?
ACS: I prefer Box.net. Dropbox for some reason is funky for me, and YouSendIt expires and I get so frustrated with people. I had one the other day–and it’s someone that pitches to me a lot–he sent me a reminder that my YouSendIt file was about to expire. It’s like, I’m in New York just extend it. Instead of telling me it’s expiring tomorrow, why don’t you just send me something that doesn’t expire and I’ll get to it when I’m sitting down and actually have an hour to specifically go through those pitches, which is the other thing.
A lot of times we’ll do that, where you won’t necessarily open it straight away, and I think the people that have it tracked get frustrated, like, “Oh she hasn’t opened that for six weeks.” Well it didn’t mean I’m not going to. It just means I put it to the side for the day that I can sit down and focus on listening specifically for that project. And then, what I do these days, is I’ll just do a general search in my inbox for those past email links. You know, I’ll punch in Being Human and it will bring in all the pitches that have come in from people and I’ll sit there and start going down the list. I think that’s what a lot of us end up doing unless you’re a music supervisor that only does one show.
23. SMN: What are you primarily listening for when you listen to music for a project; what gets your attention?
ACS: I listen for the feel that fits the project and lyrics that might speak to themes in the storyline or what we want to convey to the audience.
24. SMN: What advice do you have for music publishers and music licensing companies that want to place their music in your shows?
ACS: It’s important to understand the projects that you are pitching for and how they use music so you can target your pitches appropriately. Any creative will appreciate the effort and a suggestion that makes sense.
25. SMN: So, when people submit music to you, are they generally submitting it per show, or are they saying this is a brand new artist that we put on our label, and we think they have the same feel as one of your shows?
ACS: These days it’s usually an indirect pitch, like, “we have a new Train single. This is a huge priority for us. What do you think you can do to get it out there?” They may say that a particular artist is more of a Syfy fan or an NBC fan or they are looking for a different kind of audience and can we help get them exposure in that arena. I think people still think that NBC is where people want to start, because it’s traditional broadcast television, but actually a vast number of eyes are on the Cable networks so we just kind of try to find a place where we can that makes the most sense for everyone.
SMN: That’s interesting. So what about unknown artists?
ACS: We use them constantly. I mean that’s what we do in the bulk of our cable productions, because our budgets aren’t very high. I think, these days, great music is great music so the unknown artists have become extremely important to us, because we also don’t want to sound like everyone else. If we can find something really special I think our producers are savvy enough to want to feel like they are discovering as opposed to just kind of jumping on the bandwagon. The only place that having something really well known is appreciated is in promotions. I mean, sometimes, they like to launch a promo with a big song because there is still the belief that when you have a promo on the air, putting something that’s familiar in it will get people out of the kitchen and back into the living room during commercial breaks.
SMN: Familiar as far as the songwriting, artist, or a combination?
ACS: A combination like they may recognize a voice: “Oh is that Michael Bublé?” or a song. “Oh I love that song. What’s that song being used in?”, and they’ll run back into the room. So it has always been a tactic in promotions to go that route.
SMN: And it shows you the power of the media, how they can just rise to fame because of it. That’s amazing.
26. SMN: So for the people reading this article: The best way for them to submit, if they’re submitting for a specific show, which I understand is the best way to go, is what? Do they submit thinking the show is going to go into production in the next few weeks, or is in production, or just submit for the show.
ACS: I think they generally should just submit for the show, because even if we’re not in production for two or three months I still have files that I drag things into and the more I can get in there before I actually have to start pitching, the better. For instance, I’m going to start working on Being Human next week, even though they don’t need pitches until early July, because I want to build up that volume. We all pretty much have files for our shows that we’re building at any given time and if you hear something great, you drag it into the folder even if you’re not doing a pitch right then and there.
27. Do you have a favorite story of something that’s either happened on set, or something that has always been, “If I could tell one story this is what it would be about my life being with NBC”?
ACS: Well, I think that probably the biggest thing that ever came out of my career is when Warner Bros. Records came to me?–I can’t even tell you how many years ago it was–with an Enya song and the label was really concerned because her record wasn’t doing anything. I mean it was basically dead on arrival. They had been trying for months. They said, “if you can please try to do anything with this song we’d really appreciate it” and so I sent it to my promo producers and they put it in a spot for Friends. It ended up running for the entire year as, like, this main anthem. It was towards the end of the run, and Rachel was pregnant, and it was this really sentimental storyline.
It got used in promos so much that the writers of Friends ended up writing it into a storyline where Chandler was soaking in the bubble bath and, I think, Monica walked in. He was playing the song, and she said, “Are you playing Enya”? Actually, I remember when it was; it was 2001, because, it was such a poignant anthem for the time….that’s when 9/11 happened, a lot of the news stations ended up picking it up for that, and it ended up going multi-platinum. I got a plaque from Warner Bros. Records that they created for me for over 8 million copies sold so that was a pretty phenomenal example of how one thing can go so far.
28. SMN: What question should we have asked that we didn’t?
ACS: I really am a huge music fan, and I feel continuously blessed to get to do this for a living!!
SMN: Thank you, Alicen, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us.
Thanks to Frances and Harry Date from Song Matchmakers Network – a boutique one stop music publisher, music licensing, and production company. Have a question you’d like us to ask or a person you’d like us to interview? Send them to [email protected].
For more information about us, see our website SongMatchmakersNetwork.com.