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2 Great Reasons to Compose Music for Music Publishing Companies

I’ve been producing and writing music for the last 20 years. In a previous life, I was a singer-songwriter, toured the country with bands, and spent much of my time being the one recorded. Then halfway through my career, I switched over to the other side of the glass. I fell in love with the production aspect of the industry, and began engineering sessions and producing rock bands out of the emo era in Seattle.

Fast forward about a decade, and my son comes screaming into the picture. After feeling the initial overwhelming joy and fear-induced panic, I quickly realized that I needed more dependable sources of income. Bringing a child into the world, particularly in Los Angeles wasn’t the most economical choice, but life never goes the way you planned.

I was teaching at the Los Angeles Recording School at the time and writing K-Pop, but it just wasn’t enough to cover all the extracurricular costs I knew that my wife and I had to incur to keep a miniature human being alive . Fortunately, a very kind and brilliant instructor by the name of Benjamin Roberts (who is an accomplished producer and film composer) decided to show me the way. He told me to reach out to some music publishing companies who specialized in reality TV. Coming from someone who had numerous placements on TV and major advertisements, I knew I had a friend and mentor I could trust to get me in the game.

“Congratulations! Last Sunday your music was on the Kardashians.” That literally was music to my ears. After a few months of writing for a music publishing company, I received an email. My publisher told me which episode of “Keeping up with the Kardashians” my music was on, and seconds later I saw Kanye West and a few of the Kardashians with my tracks in the background. It was surreal. Then a year later I received my first check from BMI. I officially became a film/TV composer.

After writing music for bands and recording artists, I was faced with a major decision in my career. Where am I going to allocate my time and energy? Considering I didn’t have much to begin with after changing diapers and waking up at odd hours of the night, I knew what was clearly the right move. Let’s take a look at how I came to this decision.

Reason #1: Who Likes Going to Jail?

For a short time during my 20’s, I lived behind a bowling alley with a few of my band mates — 1st mistake. The bowling alley part should give this story away, but allow me to elaborate. My next-door neighbor, G Burns, was a rapper. Being the overzealous entrepreneur that I was, I decided to make friends and open up the idea of me producing his next album. I invited him into my project studio and began working. We decided on ‘x’ amount of dollars.

After I finished mastering the last track, it was time to get paid. He offered to pay me with a check, but had to meet him at Bank of America in downtown Seattle — 2nd mistake. He would wait for me by the car while I went in. I smugly waited in line knowing that I would finally get compensated for all the time I’ve spent working on the album. The teller took my check, but oddly enough had to waive down someone else from the back of the room for assistance.

A deep sense of worry began to seep in. I didn’t recall that cashing a check took more than 5 minutes, but could clearly remember staring at my phone realizing that at least 15 minutes had passed. Seconds later, two officers from the Seattle Police Department come walking up to the counter. They couldn’t possibly be here for me? “Mr. Wooh? You are under arrest for cashing a fraudulent check.” I couldn’t believe the words I was hearing, but I began putting things together — a little too late I suppose. I ended up in the slammer for two nights.

At the end of serving my time, the cops let me go because clearly, I was not in the wrong. This is one of the many reasons why I am now hesitant to work with recording artists. I would much rather invest my time and energy in writing cues because I know I’ll get paid. I know checks from BMI will not bounce.

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Reason #2: Labels Are Hard to Please

I was involved in a project a few years back with a pop artist that had substantial backing on a new indie label. He came to me with what he thought was a clear vision. He brought me a track that he previously recorded, but wanted a modern twist. The song sounded like 90’s Mariah Carey, but wanted a D’Angelo with a Bruno Mars twist. It all sounds great in theory, but have you ever tried mixing those sounds together? It was an utter train wreck. I would make multiple versions, but then he would shoot most of them down. If he did like any of the versions, the label would then shoot it down.

Now, let’s define the word label. The label includes an owner, a vice president, a marketing department, and other agents that help push an artist into stardom. If all members of the company do not agree, especially from a smaller organization, the track or album will not receive backing. What frustrated me the most was the fact that there are too many people to please throughout the production process. You will end up spending more time and energy than you bargained for, and begin to second guess yourself — which is psychologically debilitating.

When writing for TV, you need to please fewer people: the publisher and the music supervisor. Since shows are on such a tight deadline, there is no time to waste. The track is going to work or it’s not. In addition, what those shows need are very specific to the content. If you do a little research and can come up with music that fits the requirements, you have a pretty good chance of getting it on TV. Don’t get me wrong, your tracks still need to sound comparable to what you hear on the radio, but there aren’t as many cooks in the kitchen.

Do yourself a favor. Make music for people that will pay you legitimately. Make music with people that know what they want. I’m not saying that working with recording artists is a bad idea. Recording artists are the reason why producers have jobs. Established labels have lots of cash and will get you paid, especially if your wife went to law school, and can negotiate contracts. At the end of the day, major labels control the music industry. All I’m saying is that music creators have a choice with whom they can work for, so pick the one where you won’t end up in jail.

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Jin Wooh

Jin Wooh

Jin Wooh is a producer, composer, audio engineer, A&R and educator with credits on major labels and TV networks. He has taught at the Los Angeles Recording School in the Recording Arts and Music Production programs. You can follow him on Instagram and learn more at calidreamco.com.

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