Natasha Duprey was “one of those blue-haired punk teenagers on Granville Street in the ’80s”, as she describes her youthful self. Now however she’s more likely to find the right music for a scene in a movie about disaffected youth – she is the director of music supervision for film and television for big-time music management company S.L. Feldman and Associates in Vancouver.
As music supervisor, Natasha Duprey is responsible for placing music in movies and TV shows. She worked for years on The L Word and, more recently, placed songs in an upcoming Halle Berry movie called Frankie and Alice, a reality show called Peak Season – which Duprey describes as “kind of like The Hills, but it takes place in Whistler” – an outer space romantic comedy with Ron Livingson for ABC called Defying Gravity, and at the time of the interview was helping put together the music for a Ron Sexsmith documentary from Paperny Films, Love Shines.
In between her teen-punk years and her current position, Natasha earned a degree in Communications from Simon Fraser University and worked at Gangland/Divine Industries, where she managed bands such as 54-40, Copyright, Junkhouse, and Pepper Sands, and helped run the indie label arm (Veal, DSK, Darkest of the Hillside Thickets) before becoming a music supervisor in 2003. Also, somewhere in all that she found time to dress up as Mr. Spock.
SC: How do you choose music for movies and television? What is your process?
ND: Sometimes we start with the script, and there are things written into the script – lots of times it’ll be like, it’s a dance number or somebody singing something and you actually have to clear the music and pick it before they actually shoot. But most of the time we just get a really early cut and have to figure out where to put the music. Lots of times the producers have already said “We have a montage here and we’re thinking of putting a song here of some kind”. But most of the time we’re trying to figure out someone’s taste and give them what they want. And people have trouble talking about music, especially people who don’t work in music, so it’s a little bit figuring out what they mean when they say, “You know, something that sounds like Bruce Springsteen.” What Bruce Springsteen? What do you mean? It’s a lot of deciphering their taste in music. And getting them what works in their budget. Lots of times people are like, “I want a U2 song.” You can’t afford a U2 song. You can afford the indie band down the street.
SC: I’ve talked to a couple of indie artists and it seems like placements have been a boon, especially to Canadian indie acts because they’re cheap and easy to deal with.
ND: There are two different sides to music rights, there’s the record label and the publisher, who owns the recording and who owns the song. And a lot of the time we don’t have time or the money to go through these big companies, who just aren’t willing to give as good a deal as when you just call up the band to sign off on it right away, and for less. Music supervisors want to license from one person who controls all the rights. And that’s the thing too – you can make something in your basement that sounds just as good somebody’s studio, so you don’t need to go to the record company and get these super-expensive masters. And lots of music supervisors in the States like Canadian music too, ‘cos it’s pretty good and we Canadians are easier to deal with.
Bands will get paid a fee to license your song, but then whoever wrote the song gets royalties every time that song is played. And those royalties can be pretty substantial, especially for TV series playing all over the world. I did The L Word for years and it was playing in, I don’t know, 20, 30, 40 countries, I don’t know. So you might only get a thousand dollars or five hundred bucks to license the song, but your SOCAN checks for years can be pretty substantial if you’re getting a lot of licesnes and they’re playing all over the world. I think Canadian bands are good at seeing that, they’re good at seeing the long term.
SC: How are the fees determined?
ND: As a music supervisor it’s your job to figure out where to spend the budget. So a lot of times you might be working on a film that you have a really big song at the beginning and end, like Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye or U2 or Coldplay that’s going to cost you the majority of your budget, so you have to supplement the rest of it with more inexpensive stuff. So it’s really up to the music supervisor who gets paid what, but working within the parameters of the budget that we’ve been given. Canadian TV shows have notoriously smaller budgets than American TV shows, so we have to use more indie stuff, and some of the bigger American shows, like CSI, their budgets are bigger but doesn’t mean they might not use indie music, you might just get paid more.
SC: How are the royalties determined?
ND: The royalties are determined by your performing rights society. Be that SOCAN, ASCAP, BMI, depending on where you live. What SOCAN does, and I don’t know the exact formula, but any time a show is aired publicly, they figure out the viewership. So if your show airs on NBC you’re going to get more money than if it airs on the Knowledge Network. They also look at what time of day it’s playing, and also how it’s used – like if it’s used in a montage or in the opening credits you get more money than if it’s just playing on the radio in the background.
SC: When it comes to exposure, is the right placement as good as getting on the radio?
ND: The right placement is probably better. The majority of placements are not in a significant way that you would actually notice them. But if you have a song on a major motion picture or major TV show in a montage, where there’s no dialogue, and your song is featured for two minutes or something, that’s huge. It’s huger than being played on the radio because the amount of people who watch shows like CSI is millions. There’s not millions of people listening to CFOX the one time your song is played. It’s kind of apples and oranges, a different thing. But there are lots of instances where you hear a song and you put it exactly with where you saw it in a movie. It doesn’t happen all the time. But, like Garden State and the Frou Frou song (“Let Go”), or in the very last scene in Six Feet Under, where they played the entire Sia song “Breathe Me”. Something like that is huge. Or an opening title theme – The Who for CSI, Massive Attack for House.
SC: Any placements you’re particularly proud of? Where it’s been the right song at the right moment, or really boosted an artists career?
ND: I don’t know how much feedback I get from artists. When I was working on The L Word we did some really interesting things. We also had bands on the show, Peaches and Heart and Sleater-Kinney, we’d actually work the live acts into the script. The B-52s performed. Tegan and Sara. All these cool bands that were relevant to the show’s audience. One of the bands we got on the show was [Vancouver’s] The Organ – I think it did great things for their career. Consequently they broke up, but at the time it was this really great all-girl band, and we put them on this show with this audience dying for new music.
SC: Obviously the licensing fees have lowered. Have they bottomed out?
ND: I don’t know. It’s like anything else to do with film and television and music: people are doing things cheaper. Once you do something cheaper you realize you can do something cheaper. Just like the days of people signing million-dollar record deals are pretty much gone , pretty much gone are the days of a nobody getting a $100,000 music license. I don’t know if it’s bottomed out, as much as everyone’s realized that it’s something they want to get involved with, to get placements in movies and television, and budgets are smaller. And music supervisors realize there’s great music out there from independent artists and you don’t necessarily have to go a major label route. Some shows pay $100 a song, some pay $5000. Or more. But major labels and publishers are being more flexible now too.