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Get It In Writing

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My father was a very wise, caring, and pensive man. He always went above and beyond to teach me how to be self-sufficient, kind, and to love myself, as well as others, unconditionally. He had a few phrases that he would always say to me that would later help guide me through my journey to becoming a music supervisor.

The one in particular that creeps up into my head on a daily basis is “ remember Rosie, situational awareness”. He didn’t just mean to make sure to be aware of my surroundings when I’m walking home alone at night. He meant in any situation in life, be aware of the people and circumstances involved. Especially when it came to business dealings.

Even before I entered the vast world of music licensing, I would insist that I “get it in writing” and made sure to read the agreement in its entirety before signing.  However, even though I was armed with this this philosophy, I still had a lot to learn. One of my learning experiences involved a director that I did my first couple projects with. I had responded to his ad on Craigslist for actors for his feature film letting him know what I could do and that I was interested in working on this project with him. The very next day we were working together. I didn’t sign a contract and did the project to build my portfolio (i.e. for free).

We worked on that project for 8 months and had created an engaging and eclectic soundtrack to the film that I was beyond proud of. Unfortunately, the production ran out of money and the film went unfinished. All the work and time put into it went out the window. I also had to inform all the artists we had been working with that production had ceased. At the end of it all we had nothing to show for it. I learned from this and made sure to always have an agreement in place.

A couple years later the same director approached me with his TV series pilot that had potential to become a hit and couldn’t do the project without me. However, this time, the end result was a ghosting situation. He not only ghosted me, but a lot of other people on the production after it was shot. Since I was only charging him $100 for the project I never took any legal action.

Fast forward to today and you will find me working with an abundance of contracts for incorporating music in film, TV, commercial/advertising, with brands, and various other types of media. I have been working as a music supervisor for 7 years. Even though it’s been almost a decade since I first began in this business, and have experience working with international organizations, people occasionally still try to take advantage.

Which brings me to a recent experience with a director whom I was connected with through a colleague of mine. He was having trouble with the production and wanted to do some revamping of the music that they had incorporated with the previous music supervisor. We were pressed for time so I sent him an invoice and contract right away, as well as a request for all info needed to get started.

After a week of scarce communication or no response from this director, I had a couple conversations with the editor to try and figure out what was going on. The editor confirmed that there was an issue with a lack of communication on the project and that I should continue to email, call, and text the director to get the information I needed. After a few more days of this I received a payment for the deposit amount but no signed contract. I emailed him thanking him for his payment and asked him again if he had any questions on the contract that he would like to discuss. Two more days went by without a response and I thought I would send one last text before giving up. To my surprise, 15 minutes later I received a call… and it was him.

He lead the conversation with “this contract is bullshit and I am not signing it.” I couldn’t hide my surprise but immediately tried to get to the bottom of his objections with the contract. I went through each clause with him step by step, explaining anything that he had a complaint on. A couple of his concerns were legitimate and I told him that I would be happy to revise/add whatever he needed to feel comfortable to move forward.

My questions and efforts to work through his issues seemed to frustrate him more. He expected that I do work for free and without a contract.  My insistence eventually led to him yelling “I want to be able to fire you whenever I want!”. “Why do you even need a contract? Don’t you trust me? Do you think I won’t pay you?” I quickly pointed out to him that someone in my position working without an agreement should be a red flag. To which his response was “I thought you were young and hungry, and at the very beginning of your career.”

After he started attacking my previous work I had had enough. The call ended with him hanging up on me.

I decided to share these horror stories after reading about a woman’s experience with a producer that she did a bunch of work for, never signed a contract with, and never got paid for that work.  Unfortunately, I hear these kind of stories all of the time, even with people who have been in the industry for decades. The director I mentioned above had been making movies for 30 years. I later learned that he didn’t have contracts with a lot of the crew that had worked on the film.

The moral of these stories is to make sure that you are protecting yourself and the art that you work so hard to produce. Taking a few extra moments to make sure a proper agreement is in place can save you a world of trouble later on. I encourage you to adopt my father’s mantra too and remember situational awareness.

Rosie Howe

About Rosie Howe

Rosie Howe is an L.A. based music supervisor, licensor, and entertainment administration manager. Her clients include filmmakers, producers, film & tv production companies, advertising agencies, tech companies, as well as brands in various industries. Rosie advises on music selection and original music production, licensing strategies, artist relations, and serves as a proficient arbitrator. Rosie is an active member of the Guild of Music Supervisors and the California Copyright Conference. She has a background in music performance, legal administration, peer education, customers service, and sales. As a firm believer in social investment, Rosie spends her free time providing helpful feedback and educational resources to people starting out in the entertainment industry through workshops, panels, and one-on-one sessions. She has been featured on Behind the Music podcast, panels for Music Biz Mentors, and is a regular contributor to the magazine style blog Ms. In The Biz.