Studio #15 Madeline Dowling of Marmoset Music
William: What’s a music supervisor do at Marmoset?
Madeline: We represent 600-700 artists, and we get clients who come to us and say, “We need something that sounds like Mumford and Sons” or, “We need something that sounds like The Black Lips.” And we sort of comb through the roster of artists, and make suggestions based on their creative brief. Sometimes the brief is as little as, “We just need something uplifting and anthemic that will inspire the audience.” I also specialize in stuff that’s not on our roster, so if the client is like, “I really just want Mumford and Sons, I don’t want something that sounds like Mumford and Sons,” I can do the legal and negotiating part of that, and I can also just make suggestions like, “Well you can’t afford Mumford and Sons, but here’s these 10 other bands that are cool and sound kind of like them and you can afford.”
William: As a music supervisor are you a musician yourself?
Madeline: I played in a lot of bands in college, and high school, and haven’t done too much of that since then. I do a little bit of dabbling in my bedroom studio sort of setup, and have played in a couple of friends weddings, but nothing serious. Every once in awhile too I’ll sing on a commercial that we make here at Marmoset.
William: Is it a commercial for Marmoset, or is it a national commercial that uses music?
Madeline: Yeah, it was a project that we worked on for a client. It was a Canadian insurance company. I was singing the role of woman hosting a dinner party.
William: I’ve actually heard some music that we’ve licensed for podcasts on, like I think it was a V8 commercial.
Madeline: Oh, wow.
William: This was like a year or so ago. I’ve heard the theme music for one of our shows in my day job that actually, I’ve just heard it on TV and it was part of a commercial. I think it was a V8 commercial.
Madeline: That’s funny.
William: Tell me a little bit about the company just in general. How you guys started, and kind of just the genesis of it. As we were mentioning before we got started recording, I heard about you first through working with Wistia, which is a video hosting company. I downloaded like a free sound pack, and at the time I was looking for music that would help me just kind of really extenuate the products that I’m working on. It was almost fate because it just came like right … I just, I happened to go to Twitter, I saw a link go out. Wistia is also read good at their marketing, so they sent me an email also to coincide with this tweet, and then I saw there was a free sound pack. I downloaded it, and I thought the quality was amazing. That’s how I came to know about you guys. How did you get started? Just give me kind of the overview of the company.
Madeline: Marmoset started about six or seven years ago in a basement. It was two dudes. The leader of my team, Eric Nordby introduced Brian Hall who is sort of a man about town in Oregon in bands, and composing, and really sort of just interested in making music for his living. Introduced him to Ryan Wines, who has a history of sort of creative entrepreneurship working more on the business end of music, and the two of them met and they had this shared experience of a lot of their friends were getting older, and starting families, and still wanted to create music, but were having a hard time figuring out how to transform that passion into paying their bills. They started Marmoset as a way to support artists who wanted to make a living from their art, but do it from home.
It grew from that to we’re about 40 people in a pretty large office in South East Portland.
William: What’s with the name Marmoset?
Madeline: From my understanding it is just, well it’s a monkey who is really a social animal focused on community. And also it was a highly Google-able.
Madeline: Google-able word, so community and equity are the reasons behind it as far as I know.
William: I follow you guys on Twitter, on Facebook, and I’m always seeing that you’re doing stuff in the community. You’re hosting events, you’ve got artists that come in, give performances. Can you just talk a little bit about what that’s like? And what kind of attendance do those things draw? Do you find that people are really interested in coming in and listening to that music, or coming in to check out your guys’ studio?
Madeline: You know, Marmoset has this list of sort of core values and at the top of that is taking care of our people, and that means our team who work here, and artists we represent, and the clients that we do music for, and also just like the people in our physical community, and our artist community. That’s sort of at the center of everything we do. We have a lot of events here like we have artists education events, where they’ll come in and sort of get a demo from our in house composer about tips and tricks he uses to work on projects, and just some sort of best practices along the way. We get … You know, run out of chairs very quickly for those, and those are mostly just people in the community who some are on our roster, some are not. It’s just an important thing that we like to do to give back.
We also do this really cool thing called, “AVEC.” Where we pair a cool composer with a filmmaker, and they … The filmmaker makes a video and then gives it to the composer, and they get a week to spend with the video composing something. And then everyone sees it live for the first time with the composer performing it with the screen, the film going on behind them. That’s really a wonderful melding of the artist communities from both filmmakers, and musicians, and spectators, and it’s really cool.
William: That is really cool. Do you video that so that people can watch it after the fact?
Madeline: Yeah, I believe that exists somewhere, but I unfortunately don’t have that information inside my brain right now.
William: I’d love to listen to some of that stuff, or just get pointers from people that are making music. I just find that stuff fascinating. Is it available to … So is it available to the public in that you don’t have to necessarily be like a practicing musician, or?
Madeline: Yeah, anyone can show up and attend the events we host.
William: Okay, awesome. How do you select artists now? I know that you have a huge catalog of music, and I’m not sure … I think you mentioned it at the very be … At the start maybe, before we started recording that there were like 700 artists that you work with. What’s the criteria that you’re looking for in an artist? Because I know we have some musicians that listen to this show.
Madeline: We have an A&R team that is constantly reviewing the requests we get to look for, “Are we getting requests for rock and roll that’s really horns heavy? Do we not have enough of that?” They’re reviewing the requests we get, and identifying the gaps, and trying to fill them. And they’re also identifying trends in music. At one point there was songs with whistles, was like everywhere. We want to identify trends before they’re played out, and make sure we have that kind of music to fulfill the requests. We’re looking for music that really tells a story, and has a lot of energy and movement. It needs to be changing a lot, and evolving because when there’s longer form projects, it needs to hold the interest the whole time. Sometimes the music is test with holding the interest of a piece, so not just the same four on the floor beat for three minutes is going to work for that kind of thing.
We have a … For people who would like to submit to Marmoset and be considered for our roster we have sort of an email setup for that as Community@MarmosetMusic.com.
William: I’ve spent a lot of time kind of browsing the site, looking for musics that’s much longer in length because sometimes like you’ll have a monologue that you’re talking, and yo want music underneath it but like the same … I’ll find something that I like that’s like two minutes long, but what I really need is something that’s like five minutes long, or six minutes long, or something … Or maybe it starts off one way but then it gets, like the dynamics change, and it makes it so it’s hard to kind of talk over.
William: I can see that would be an issue. What are some of the other criteria that you would look at for finding music that’s good for licensing?
Madeline: 75% or more of what we license is instrumental. A lot of times we’ll get bands reaching out to us who don’t have instrumental versions of their tracks just because they didn’t print the stems when they were making the record, and don’t have access to the open files. That’s sort of the big bummer for us, so print your stems, and print instrumentals.
William: Can you elaborate on stems?
Madeline: Sure. Stems are like the individual instrumentation broken out, and you can sort of get as elaborate or as simple with them as you want. Sometimes people will break out just … You know, there will be one wave file that’s all the drums, and if people are getting real crazy then they’ll be like, “Okay, here’s my toms file, here’s my kick file, here’s my snare file.” But generally it’s the different elements of the song broken out into their own audio files, and those are useful for things like if there’s voiceovers, especially in podcasting, sometimes the frequency of a particular instrument can be competing a lot with the voice of whoever’s speaking. Being able to have that level of control between elements of a song is really useful.
It’s also really useful for editing. For example, if you need the song to be a lot shorter, it’s useful to have all the pieces isolated of a song so that you can create an ending that’s just the piano, or ends with just the kick at this one spot, and just removing all the other elements gives you a lot of control in sort of making the music work for you. We don’t have stems for every song, but we have stems from a lot of them, and we’ll always make an effort to ask the artist if stems are available. Sometimes some of our … In the early days everything we signed didn’t necessarily have stems, but now it’s something that we like to ask for, and it’s something we look for in signing new artists.
William: What does that process look like? Is there like additional charge for getting stems I assume?
William: Oh really? Well I’m definitely going to be reaching out to you.
Madeline: If they exist there’s no additional charge. Sometimes if someone has to dig up an old hard drive to find it, it might be a little trickier. But if we’ve got them, we’re happy to share them.
William: And we were geeking out also before we started. We were talking about a lot of Gimlet stuff, some of the podcasts that are there. It seems like they make really good use of just pulling elements out of a theme song.
William: Or changing a theme song slightly, and I guess what they’re doing is they’re just using the stems for that. I didn’t even know that, that was an option. That’s awesome.
William: I’m definitely going to be reaching out to you after this for some stems.
Madeline: That’s awesome.
William: Let’s talk about podcasting. Podcasting is kind of the whole point of my show, and producing them in general. I think that people should definitely look at Marmoset if they’re looking for some music, some really great stuff. I have to admit, I was a little bit ignorant of the fact that you do, that you can reach out to your guys’ company and you’ll create music custom. I just thought it was just whatever the catalog was there, and you were just adding to it.
William: I didn’t even realize that you could do that. What’s your guys’ thoughts in general just about podcasting, and I want to talk about the fact that you have a podcasting license and kind of like the origination of that. Was there just like … Were you find there was just a lot of demand for it? How did that come to be that you supported podcasters with licensable music?
Madeline: Yeah, so there’s a couple different elements of the way we license music. We have sort of the click licenses, which you can buy a song without ever speaking to a human, and put your credit card in right then. They’re sort of these cookie cutter licenses that we got requests for over and over again, and podcast licenses were not originally included in that set. We were getting so many custom license requests of people looking for podcasts that we just were like, “All right, let’s stop doing … Let’s work smart, no hard and give podcasters who are growing in numbers everyday the chance to just buy it quickly instead of spending our time.” Which, we’re happy to spend time with clients, but if it’s the same thing over and over again, why not automate it?
Actually, I pulled some analytics and this year, 2017, we are on track to do twice as many podcast licenses as we did for all of 2016. It seems like it was a wise decision on our part.
William: I’m glad to see that, that I’m not the only person out there thinking I need to have good music for a podcast. I listen to a lot of podcasts that just don’t have good, just don’t have good music.
William: It’s just, or it’s like ripped off of someone else’s stuff, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. In terms of the legal issues, are there any differences to using music in podcasts versus in other types of advertisements? Especially like a podcast like mine, which is not a commercial venture. I’m not selling anything, I’m just trying to educate people. I have to admit I’m a little bit … I don’t know as many of the legalities around the fair use of other people’s recordings and things like that as I probably should. Is there anything you can speak to in terms of just legally what you have to do if you want to use music in a podcast?
Madeline: Yeah, well I’ll start by saying I’m not a lawyer. Definitely not a lawyer. But yeah, using music in a podcast requires a license. There are … In my understanding, which is sort of all anecdotal, there are very few circumstances where you can use music without a license. Some of those are if you are discussing and critiquing a piece of music, that might fall under fair use. But the thing to remember mostly is that music licensing is extremely litigious, and even if you are in the clear, if someone comes after you, you still have to pay for all those legal actions that happen. It’s better to be safe than sorry in my personal opinion. Luckily licensing for podcasts seems to be one of the most affordable ways to license music that exists. Which might change, that used to be the same thing people said about licensing for web use, but now that web mediums are starting to surpass broadcast in many ways, the prices are sort of starting to even out a little bit, so get in while you can.
William: I wanted to ask just … Are you guys working with any podcast networks? Do you have any of the big players that have approached you and said, “Hey, we don’t have our own music staff, we want to work with you guys instead.”
Madeline: Yeah, we work with Gimlet Media a lot. We are one of the their top music providers. We provide for almost every show except for maybe Reply All and a couple others that have more scoring based stuff, but we provide a lot of music for them. That was really exciting for me to hear when I started at Marmoset because I’ve been a major Gimlet fan girl basically since the beginning. When I started at Marmoset and just saw Gimlet in some emails flying around I was like, “Holy crap, that’s amazing.”
William: That is amazing.
Madeline: I geeked out and everyone was like, “You’re a nerd.” And I was like, “You just wait, podcasts are coming for you.”
William: That answer exceeds my expectations with what you were going to say, ’cause it’s my favorite. I mean, it’s my favorite studio right now. I think the stuff they do is just ridiculously good. I guess in my mind I just figured they have their own person sitting at a keyboard with a computer, and they’re just doing their thing as they record this stuff.
Madeline: They do have some of that, I was actually at the Gimlet office like two or three weeks ago meeting with their music direct, Matthew Bowl who’s the best, and also from Chicago so we bond over that. Yeah, they have definitely like a music studio setup where I think a lot of their in house scoring happens, but then there’s podcasts like Reply All, who I know I keep coming back to. But they have Break Master Cylinder, who basically provides I think 90% of the music on their show, and it’s amazing, and it’s not in house but they do have a lot of in house capabilities that really supplement what they’re doing.
William: Let me just ask you, is there anything related to podcasting and music that you think that … Is there any information that you have that would be good to share with an audience like I have? People that want to spend a little bit of money to make something that sounds really professional, and polished, and just not the run of the mill?
Madeline: I think it’s really important when you’re sort of in the concepting phase for your podcast, to sort of figure out what you want the sonic identity to be in regards to music. Because I think a lot of the podcasts that I hear that don’t sound as produced and professional, it jumps all over the place, and there’s sort of no cohesive thread that’s tying all of the music together. Which I think is really a disservice to the content. I think it’s … If you have an idea, like, “These are some instruments I’d like to focus on,” or it could be just a genre you want to stick within. I think it’s really important to just give it a lot of thought from the get go, and sort of refine as you go along.
You can’t just be picking, I think, “I like this song, I like this song, I like this song.” I think everything should be in pursuit of servicing the vision you have for music instead of going willy nilly every episode. I think that really also gives you the equity of someone listens to your podcast and can immediately tell which podcast it is. I think that’s … Obviously the hosts voice can do that for a lot of it, but I think having a sonic vision in regards to music is really important.
William: Ironically, I found some music that I really liked and that kind of, that kind of formed the vision for what I … For my podcast. It wasn’t like the opposite way around, you know?
William: It was like I really kind of took the music, and extrapolated from there, like a whole identify for my website, the colors that I use, the vibe.
William: The way that I want to talk, that kind of stuff. I actually did it kind of in reverse from that. But that’s …
Madeline: That’s really cool to hear as a music person, that’s my dream.
William: Yeah, yeah. I think if I would have talked to you maybe three months ago, I might have gone a completely different direction with it.
Madeline: It doesn’t really matter to me now that I’m thinking about which comes first. What matters is that they inform each other, the content and the music should have a relationship that’s maybe not obvious, but makes sense.
William: Thank you so much Madeline, this has been awesome. I’ve learned so much, and I really appreciate you taking the time!
Madeline: Yeah, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks.