Daryl Berg is a music executive and founder of Sound Canyon, which specializes in supervision and licensing, music publishing management, and creative development. He shares insights into his current supervision work, having a law degree, and the sync placements on HBO’s Girls.
After The Show: What made you want to start Sound Canyon?
Daryl Berg: It was just time for me to do my own thing…As much as I love music supervision, it’s also fun to do things outside of that…there’s entrepreneurial strategy. We work in supervision because we want to love what we do everyday. I took what I did running music [for the TV production studio] and cornered it to an independent model. Smaller companies are going to need services and can’t always bring in an in-house person.
What type of personality or skills would make someone excel at what you do?
The first thing is to be patient. At the end of the day, budget wise, music is somewhere near craft services: ‘People have to eat, and we’ll figure out the music later.’ That’s not to say you won’t work on exceptional projects like Glee where music is up front, but you understand that if you go over budget, music is one of the first things that will get cut.
So you have to be patient but also persistent and know your role. You have to be really honest – one thing you don’t want to do is over-promise. Be able to find small gems and get things done, and you have to give them a time frame and manage expectations.
What did you take away from serving as Director of Business Development for EMI Music and as VP of Strategic Planning for The Orchard – did the major company vs indie make much difference?
Having an expense account is nice [laughs]. It’s just a different mindset. Even though I’ve been at big companies, I’ve been at entrepreneurial positions at those companies. You’re hired for a certain skillset and then you think outside the box and grow your job description. At a major company, travel isn’t an issue — you no longer have to share a room on the road. But there are people in those jobs who are very settled because there’s a comfort to having all that.
How much has your law degree helped you…was it valuable in terms of the work you do today?
I think the law degree lends a spirit of gravitas to your authority. [The JD] helps me read licenses and paperwork, but it really helped me to think. When you’re a law student and lawyer, you deconstruct things – look at how to address the issues and break it down. You have to look at the big picture then break everything down in supervision, and the same with strategy for businesses. For better or worse, it’s a way of thinking.
Would you recommend that young people interested in following in your steps go to law school in today’s world?
Music lawyers – there’s not as much work for them these days. The deals aren’t there; the big money’s not there. There’s simply less work. My advice may be take a few years and work for someone you respect, get some world experience first. Law school is a very intense experience. Only go to law school if you really, really want to be a lawyer.
What would you say is the most frustrating thing about your job?
Budgets. Everybody wants more money to license more songs, to hire a better composer, but at the end of the day we get to work in music for a living. So if the worst part of my day is that I can only afford X band instead of David Bowie…I’m living a really good life. And when you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t have that comfort level [of a consistent salary].
What areas do you see in the music industry where there’s some unmet need or problem that still needs to be solved?
There’s a ton of issues. How to break a record in this marketplace is really hard…how to get something into the public consciousness. How to monetize internet success when people aren’t buying anything. People tend to focus on the problems instead of offering solutions.
You wrote about the efficacy of “Dancing On My Own” on Girls – I liked that sync, as well as “Same Mistakes” by The Echo Friendly in the end credits. Given shows where music is important and the soundtrack is popular, I was interested to hear about your goal to create profit from your music budget, treating music as an investment rather than a budget limitation or a necessary evil.
“Dancing On My Own” was a perfect use and perfect moment. A composer isn’t going to compose something as evocative. It’s about looking at your money and asking where you want to invest it. Do we want to invest it in hiring a composer (and then making money on the back-end) or in licensing a song to make that big moment? Does the song advance the storyline?
You (precisely and succinctly) said “The disintermediation of music has led to some mediocrity.” There’s so much music coming at us and pitched from all directions — will we reach a critical mass?
I think we already have. If you’re making something that’s not great and putting something out for the sake of putting something out…you have to think about that. If you’re an artist, [ask yourself] is this the best thing I’ve put out? We also have to think about how we release music. Will you get the most attention by putting out one song on a blog each month, or then releasing an album as a whole body of work? There’s so much hype on everything because it’s easy to hype things.