Friday Fun: An interview with Michael Eames of PEN Music Group

Friday Fun: An interview with Michael Eames of PEN Music Group

Michael Eames of PEN Music Group in Los Angeles has been a long-time SoundCloud Pro Plus user. The PEN Music Group is an independent music publisher who focuses heavily on film/TV/ad placement.

We had the chance to get a little more details about how Michael makes use of SoundCloud. He also shared a lot of really interesting insights about his work experience and also has a couple of useful tips for aspiring artists.

Read on & you all enjoy your weekend, mkay?

Michael, tell us a little bit about you, the PEN Music Group and what made you sign up on SoundCloud with a Pro Plus account.

I’m a trained musician, songwriter and composer who came out to Los Angeles in 1989 (after graduating from Cornell University with a major in music and minor in business management) to pursue a career in writing music for film & TV. But once I got out here reality set in on how many others were trying to pursue the same thing and while I continued to pursue this, I needed to do an annoying thing called paying the bills!  :)

So I started taking temp jobs in the entertainment industry while answering classified ads for music-related jobs. The first job that I got this way was being the office assistant for Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.  That was my first exposure to music publishing as they handled his solo works out of that office and every 6 months I would see the big checks he would get for all the Beach Boys songs and I wanted some of that!  :)

My next job was at a company that supervised the music for independent films and also managed film/TV composers.  They had a publishing deal with Virgin Music at the time (which is now part of EMI Music Publishing) so I got more exposure to the field then. Then lastly, a friend I’d met while temping referred me to a music publisher named Don Williams who at the time handled the Jimi Hendrix catalogue and was looking to expand his staff. At this point I was intrigued enough about music publishing where I took the job and spent 3 years there learning everything I could find about music publishing and fell in love with the field as I could combine my creative side and my business side. At the end of the 3 years, I wanted to start my own company and in April 1994 PEN Music Group, Inc. was born. 

We are a full service independent music publishing company with a worldwide presence that is known for our personalized service and attention and our efficiency at administering music publishing catalogues (which includes negotiating and issuing licenses, collecting royalties worldwide, etc.). We were also one of the first indie companies to really focus on placing music (especially indie music) in film, TV and ads. To this day, that creative focus is the main generator of income to the company.

We also look after songs that are on records by artists such as Selena Gomez (we also have her current single), A Fine Frenzy, Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus, Santana, KD Lang, Luther Vandross, Kenny Rogers and numerous others. A music supervisor friend of mine – Andrea Von Foerster – referred me to SoundCloud as she had become a fan and I was looking for a platform where we could pitch our music easily and permit supervisors to preview music before they downloaded it. I needed the Pro Plus account as we have a big catalogue and I needed the unlimited number of files option.

What’s your main use of SoundCloud in your daily work? What features do you use most and why?

We now use SoundCloud for not only pitching to music supervisors but also to power all the artist playlists on our newly redesigned website and we offer our artists the ability to use the SoundCloud widgets from our account on their social networking platforms like MySpace, Facebook, etc. We love SoundCoud! And we’ve had a great response from the users of the playlists as they love the look of it all as well as the ease of use. I also love the ability to turn on and off the download button and it’s instantaneous.

I noticed you and Pen Music represent close to 50 artists and additionally several composers and producers. What sort of artists and music styles are you looking for and what are the three main attributes you’d like to see to help making an artist successful.

We are involved with the artists on varying levels. There are some (like Sara Haze and Hypnogaja) that we have invested in and are involved in all aspects of their releases. There are others that we love equally well but that we mainly just pitch their music to film, TV and ads. Then there are songwriter/producers that we work with (like Gina Schock of the Go-Gos who has the Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus cuts and legendary producer John Farrar who worked on pretty much all of Olivia Newton-John’s hits from the 1970s) that we collect their royalties as well as pitch their known songs for use. We are always looking for new music – our main criteria as clichéd as it sounds is that we all in the office have to feel that it’s GREAT. There’s lots of just good or even mediocre music out there, but we need the GREAT music to set ourselves apart from the pack. That said, we also try to balance it where we don’t have too much of the same kind of genres so that our own clients would be competing amongst themselves for the same spots we’re pitching to. Right now, we’re especially trying to increase our catalogue in the areas of indie rock, electronica and R&B.

As to what we look for in an artist, the main thing for me these days it is has to be someone who is working hard on what they do and have the motivation and energy to put in the hard work that advancing a music career involves. The days of an artist turning their career over to someone else to do all the work on is over – with all the social networking that is needed now, the artist has to be fully engaged in what they are doing and we want to come in as the partner to compliment that – not be the sole source of activity.

We also look for artists and writer/producers who work fast yet produce high quality music. Film & TV (especially TV) moves REALLY fast and when we need custom songs or music written for something, we need to know that our clients can turn it around quickly and make it look effortless and sound incredible. That way, the music users keep coming back to us when they need music. Lastly, I would say that the artist needs to have what I feel is the “right personality” – and for me that is both someone who is outgoing and comfortable in social situations but yet someone who is also humble about what they do.  For the most part, when someone tells me that their music is so amazing and that they are the next Lennon/McCartney, it usually turns out that their music is not good at all.  But those that are more humble about it – “this is what I do and I’d really like your input and feedback on what I do so that I can improve” – are usually the ones that have the best music.  They are also the best people to have as work partners – they are open to suggestions and other opinions yet still have a secure sense of who they are as an artist and/or writer/producer.

Dealing with music and the web every day, what are the main services you use and are you still missing some killer applications to improve your work?

It’s no surprise that everything is going to the web and the mobile world. Though some music supervisors still prefer to receive physical CDs, that is becoming more the exception than the rule. And given the massive amount of music out there vying for attention, we need tools that set ourselves apart and that look visually appealing and are easy to use and interact with.

We’ve found that SoundCloud does more of what we need/want than any other service out there and look forward to working with you guys in expanding the capability and reach of the service. There are always things we’d like to do but the fun of this time right now is that no one knows what the future will be so the best ideas that are going to power the future are yet to come and we’re all going to try to be the ones to bring those to market.

You’re based in Los Angeles. How important is an artist’s location in today’s connected world? Does technology and web services affect a decision in any way?

Location is not important for the most part these days – sure, being in Los Angeles and getting the opportunity to meet with and perform in front of the licensing community definitely has its benefits.  But music supervisors’ jobs are to find the BEST music that they can find for what they need. Most don’t care where the artist is based – it just needs to be GREAT music.

The internet has definitely leveled the playing field where I feel that we now have just as much of a shot at getting the spots that the major record labels used to be the only ones considered for. Technology has become the great equalizer. But then the challenge for us all is to use that technology in new and interesting ways such that we set ourselves apart in what is now a VERY crowded music world.  You have to be seen and heard above the noise – that’s the challenge for all of us now. But the rewards can be great – financially and artistically.

Thanks for taking the time for this extensive and highly interesting interview!

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