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In Italian News: Conversation with Toddrick Spalding

By Gianluigi D’Autilia.  This interview with Toddrick Spalding appears in the Italian publication Taxi Drivers: Cinema e Cultura Metropolitana.

What exactly is a music supervisor collective? How does High Bias Industries work?

We started High Bias Industries about three years ago when, through some shared friends in Paris, I met David Abplanalp-Estimé for lunch. At the time I was working for film advertising agency mOcean as Music Supervisor and working on trailers and campaigns for Disney, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Fox – basically all the major studios. David and I hit it off immediately – in fact, by the end of our lunch meeting we had decided that we should work together in some way or another. Shortly thereafter we founded the company with our friends in Paris, Third Side Records and sound production house Thé. At the same time, two of my best friends – who are also Music Supervisors for trailer shops in Los Angeles – were approached by Evolution Music Partners about representing the three of us as group for supervision work outside of film advertising. It was a bit of a perfect storm and High Bias was born in its original form as a partnership between David, myself, Danny Exum (mOcean) and Angel Mendoza (A/V Squad). Angel left the collective earlier this year and currently the remaining three partners work in tandem on a variety of projects. So to answer your question, all of us at the company bring in any projects we can and based on the needs of the project we split up work amongst ourselves. Whoever’s project it is – we internally call the “lead” and they are the credited as “Music Supervisor” on the project, with the rest of us acting as support as the “Music Department.”

What is the range of services your company offers?

We offer full music services support to our clients including music supervision, clearance and negotiation, music production and custom scoring, and sonic branding for retail and commercial spaces. We work on everything – film trailers, traditional advertising, independent film and television. This year my partner David launched Hyperion, which functions as a curated 3rd party licensing firm for independent artists and labels. Hyperion is currently working with great partners like IAMSOUND Records, PIAS America, Americana artist Marvin Etzioni, composer Fred Avril, and a plethora of amazing French independent record labels like Kill The DJ, Third Side Records, Favorite Recordings and more.

Let’s talk about your latest projects and what are working on in the coming months…

The trailer work I bring in has been steady during the last year and a half – I’ve worked on marketing campaigns for everything from major productions like Great Gatsby, Django Unchained, Lincoln, Despicable Me 2, The Hobbit and Monster U to small independents like Zaytoun, Dead Europe, Song for Marion and Goats. We recently completed the indie feature Pearblossom HWY directed by Mike Ott and are in the final stretch to wrap up work on The Lifeguard directed by Liz Garcia and starring Kristin Bell. On the advertising front we’ve done work for brands like Givenchy, Cool Water, Ikea, and the NBA Finals. We’re starting work on some big ad campaigns currently and are looking for the next feature to sink our teeth into. With trailers we never know what is coming but trailers usually require very fast turnarounds (often same day) so every day is an adventure.

I see you are a musician (drummer) – how did you get into the field of music supervision?

I played drums and founded the Chicago indie rock band The Detachment Kit in 1999 and the experience of touring, meeting with managers, publicists and record labels was my first real contact with the entertainment industry. When my time with the band ended in 2002, I worked at whatever jobs I could find around music. I booked shows and tours, assisted a manager, even worked as a bouncer at The Metro in Chicago. I moved back to my hometown of Los Angeles and started working doing marketing for Hollywood music venue, The Knitting Factory. Angel was working as the Music Supervisor at a trailer shop called The Cimarron Group at the time and asked if I’d be interested in being his assistant. I jumped at it even though I had no idea what the job was. As a massive fan of cinema and music I fell head over heels in love with music supervision when I discovered what the gig entailed. Shortly thereafter, Angel left for another gig and I took the reins at the company. I haven’t looked back since.

What does a music supervisor bring to a film?

It really changes from project to project. Some filmmakers have a very clear vision sonically of what they want, while others look to you to help define that. Sometimes you’re bringing emotional depth to scenes, moving it along, or defining the sound of a film and creating a world. Other times you are there to organize and make possible the soundtrack that a filmmaker has already defined. The biggest element that Music Supervisors bring besides the creative element – in my opinion – is knowledge, organization, and clarity to help bridge the gap between the filmmaker and the music industry and processes, and to provide protection for the production – basically to get all the productions ducks in a row.

When you work on different types of projects what are the most noticeable differences between supervision for television broadcast, commercials and feature films?

The two most noticeable differences to me are, one, the kinds of songs that really work structurally for the different media, and two, the production time and turnaround to get music to our clients. For instance a song that works well as underscore for a film or TV show may not necessarily build or move the right way to work for a trailer.  And a song that might be great for a promo or trailer may be too big and dynamic and get in the way of the storytelling in a film. A really big difference is that for a feature we’ll have months to craft a soundtrack or score, while on a trailer often we have mere hours to turn around something great and deliver music to a client. It gets hairy sometimes!

Is High Bias Industries affiliated with music producers and composers or do you start browsing and selecting music from scratch every time?

We have a working partnership with Thé, an amazing sound production company in Paris, as well as a vast network of composers and producers that we turn to regularly due to relationships forged over years of working in the industry. But we’re always looking for new stuff and amazing music that no one’s heard yet. And every project we start from scratch. Our motto is “the right song is the right song”  meaning that our concern is to deliver to our client his sonic vision and no matter where that music comes from. If it is the perfect song to serve a project, it’s what we push for.

How have NARIP Music Supervisor Sessions helped you do your job?

I get absolutely buried with music from everywhere. So it’s great that NARIP gives me a chance for face time with folks. It definitely gives me a personal connection with an artist or catalog and helps me to build larger networks of music resources. There are a lot of music supervisors out there and we get hit by a lot of the same people. It’s great to meet people that I haven’t yet met and diversify my resources. I’m very grateful to Tess Taylor for including me.

Do you think independent musicians/producers have good chances nowadays to pitch their songs to music supervisors and get them placed? And how can they achieve that?

There has been such a deluge of music into the market lately I’m amazed that anything rises above the white noise. “Good chances” is a stretch. I don’t think even the most major label or publisher has a “good chance,” it’s such a crap shoot. BUT I think great independent music has just as good a chance as anything else. The competition is fierce. The indies aren’t just up against the majors, but production libraries too. And the production libraries have stepped up their game sonically. I tell independent songwriters and composers all the time: focus on making amazing music and if it really is amazing – I’ll hear it. We all will. The other thing I’d say is, be nice to EVERYONE.

How challenging is it to deal with different budgets available and at the same time keep in mind the director´s personal view of the music needed for a movie?

Sometimes it’s extremely challenging but that’s what the job is. And it always works out one way or the other.

What would you recommend to a young music supervisor to enhance his career and work opportunities in this field?

I’d tell anyone looking to get into this gig to know your shit, love music, be nice to everyone, and above all be grateful – you get to work with music every day!

Editor’s Note:

Toddrick Spalding is a special guest at NARIP’s next Music Supervisor Session in London on December 10, 2012 where he will be seeking music for his current projects.  Music publishers, record execs, managers and others will present to him for consideration. Get more details now and sign up for the session here.

Sources for more info:

Evolution Music Partners
High Bias Industries
Taxi Drivers: Cinema e Cultura Metropolitana