Successful Musicians Podcast Episode 24
Interviewee: Chris SD
Interviewer: Jason Tonioli
Hey, this is Jason Tonioli. I’m a piano player that grew up believing it wasn’t possible to earn a living and support a family with music. I’ve proven that idea was wrong, and I’ve met hundreds of other people who have found success with their music. This podcast features stories of musicians who have found their own personal version of success and fulfillment in both music and life. This podcast is meant to inspire musicians and help them believe in their abilities and motivate them to share their talents with others. This is the Successful Musicians Podcast.
Jason: Thanks so much for joining the program today. Today, our guest is Chris SD. He is a good friend of mine who I’ve met from attending some Masterminds. Chris is sitting on his sailboat on his catamaran, with the Sea of Cortez back behind him as we’re talking. For those who aren’t familiar with Chris, he’s won multiple awards, helped over 1000 musicians now, at least hundreds of them to get their music placed in TV and film.
I’ve personally gone through Chris’s program, the “Art of The Song Pitch”, and it was fantastic. This isn’t your normal bio but if I’m giving you a compliment, I think you’re one of the people that when you do one of your courses, you really do care about helping the people be successful through your program. I was very much impressed as I went through it. The other thing that impressed me is you get more excited about people placing their music on CBS, ABC, Hulu, Netflix, whatever, these places, than maybe even if you had been doing it on your own. That’s been fun to see your reaction when we were going through the course.
So anyway, Chris is here today to share some of his knowledge and experience with helping people place their music on TV and film and he’s just an all-around good guy. So Chris, there’s the most unique bio you’ve probably ever had of yourself. Did I miss anything?
Chris: Thanks so much, Jason. That’s very kind of you. I’m going to hire you as my agent. That was fantastic.
To start at the beginning of the bio. Yes, I live on a sailboat with my wife and my eight-year-old daughter and we cruise around. We have Starlink, so we’re allowed to do everything from the satellites nowadays which is fantastic. So, this has been a real game changer for us. As you know, you can do so many things remotely.
I’m in Los Angeles. I have a lot of music supervisor contacts and friends of mine who are in the TV and film industry so I’m back and forth to Los Angeles but in between times, we can do it from here, so it’s been a really great thing.
Jason: You’re even running a recording studio from your sailboat a little bit. I mean, you’re back and forth a little bit, but you’re recording for people as well, right?
Chris: Yeah. We have a recording studio called Sundown Session Studio and basically it’s fully remote and my whole deal was to try to provide people with world-class recordings for an indie budget.
So going back, I was a music producer for a long time and I was fortunate enough to win some awards and came down to Los Angeles from Canada, set up an online music studio. I didn’t want to be in studios 12 to 14 hours a day anymore once my daughter came along and started recording people online and refined this and refined it, and it’s been great getting people into getting them publishing deals, labeled deals, radio play, TV and film syncs, and winning Song International Song Contest. It’s been a really great ride.
Jason: Let’s rewind back and I’m not even sure I know this story, really. So, you came from Canada and you’re the successful music producer and now you’re teaching people how to do that with getting their stuff in film but growing up, did you think, man, I want to be in music, or where was the origins of that music career? How did that start for you?
Chris: That’s a great question. I guess the first sort of story that I could relate to music was when (I didn’t remember this, I was too young) but my dad told me a story of when I was maybe two or something. I guess they bought a little horn for me and he said I put it in my mouth and I was trying to make a sound and nothing happened. As soon as it made a sound, he said this look of wonder came across my face. I grew up with a lot of the music my parents listened to – everything from The Beatles to Montoya to Fuchsiasky to a bunch of different stuff. I used to come home from high school and sort of put a record on and put the pioneer speakers facing inwards and lay down on the carpet and just have to make myself these little headphones out of speakers and just sort of listen to music. Eventually, one thing led to another where I had to throw the band together because it was fun and it was cool to be in a band and it’s like, hey, why not do it?
We did that and then got a lot more serious about it and my brother and I decided to form a band, and this is in 90’s. We essentially started to tour around and know what the heck we were doing. I remember walking into one gig and seeing people with amps on stage. We literally just started playing and they had microphones on the amplifiers like SM 57 or something. And I remember joking with my brother like, why are they sticking a microphone on the amp? Like, why don’t they just going straight in with the guitar? Which is, you know, if you don’t know this, it’s like one-on-one, live performing. So, we were really babies in the woods at that point.
Fast forward. We managed to convince someone in Ottawa, Canada, who was managing another Ottawa band that was doing really well. All of a sudden, we thought that maybe it has something to do with this guy. We convinced him to manage us and so he managed us, and we got quite a bit of regional response. We started going to the States more, had some label interest down there and he even got to Ahmed Erdogan out to one of our gigs, which he’s the founder of Atlanta Records and he signed everyone from Led Zeppelin to Cross National Young and all this stuff.
So, anyway, right around that point, my brother and I, artistically amicable separation. My brother and I decided we were taking two different paths, tended to be a little artier and he tended to be popular and so we sort of parted ways there. But one thing that always fascinated me was what’s this black magic? What’s this art in the studio? How do they get these sounds to sound the way they do on recordings? It always really amazed me and we’re working on the other side of the glass. As a musician, I was always looking in to see what the engineers and the producers were doing, and I decided I wanted to learn how to do that. So, I bought myself a little Pro Tools Le system when they first came out and started playing around with that and recording my friends for beer and learning. I’d already learned a lot from some of the bigger producers that we had worked with as a band and slowly started building up and getting better and better at what we did.
Fast forward again. We ended up in Toronto. I got a job at a much bigger studio that had old analog gear like knee board and like a bunch of neighbor mic – really expensive, 47 C, 67 C, twelve S, all that stuff, and recorded bigger people. Blue Rodeo is a big band there. Chris Christopherson worked with him, assisted on a feist record and just a bunch of bigger names that I had in the past and won some Juno awards for the records that I helped produce.
Then, my wife and I decided that we just wanted something different, and Los Angeles had presented itself and there was an opportunity to go down there and work and get a green card to do it. We up and moved, loaded up our 69 VW van and off we went to LA, settled in West Hollywood, and I thought, well, I’m going to come down to West Hollywood and I’m just going to walk in there and I’ve got these awards in my back pocket, shouldn’t be too hard. Well, not thinking that, that’s pretty much what everyone else in the world is thinking, who’s done reasonably well. They’re coming to LA to do some interesting things.
Jason: You got snow really fast when you came down, right?
Chris: Yeah, exactly, which is great because the ceiling was certainly higher, and it was something to work towards. But right around then we got pregnant with our daughter. At that point, I realized I didn’t want us to be spending those 12 to 14 hours days in the studio.
I wanted to figure out a way of making music and satisfying my soul, of helping musicians make records, but how was I going to do that? I started an online studio. Then, as I did that, one of the things that popped up from the online studio was what are some of the things that people want to do with this and a big one was get their music into TV and film. I realized that this is something that I had been doing back in Canada, had just started getting in there as I was helping indie musicians sort of get their music exposed, TV and film, music supervisors and so on. So, I started into that and figured, this will be an interesting thing. I should be able to use my industry credibility, the same, maybe a little bit of smugness there thinking, oh, this shouldn’t be too difficult.
I started reaching out to people in the TV and film industry and it was cricket. No one was answering, no one was talking to me about how things should be done or what I should be doing. I just wasn’t getting any response for the musicians I was helping. My big motivation for doing that was the fact that I wanted to be able to get a record that we really worked hard on and make that into something that was much more viable because a lot of the professionals that would come in, label people, they had labels, managers, agents, all pushing their career along, and the indie artists who had songs that were just as good, they just simply couldn’t get the traction. I realized sync licensing was one of the biggest things for that. You get a massive sync fee up front so you can keep recording. You get a huge exposure because you’re riding on the coattails of all the publicity that the show or movie or ad has gotten. So, you’re essentially launching into this beautiful premade stage almost for yourself, where you’re just up in front of all these thousands or millions of eyes and earbuds and you get this instant bump in a fan base and then you make the relationships in the industry because you start getting sync placements, labels come knocking, publishers come knocking, and so it’s this big deal about how to make that happen.
In Canada, I started gradually working to put that together and started helping successful artists get into TV and film. Then moving to LA, it was just like pouring gas on the fire. I mean, Los Angeles is the center of media for the world and I got to know more and more music supervisors. Music supervisors are the people who actually put music into TV and film. They’re the ones who pick it for the directors and the producers.
Jason: As I’m thinking of my path, even or and probably most people, as independent musicians, you come up with this music and you feel like you’re on this edge of this cliff, and it’s kind of like you think, there’s no way I can get over to the cool people or the music supervisors or whoever it is that places the stuff in there, because I don’t have the label. It’s kind of changed a little bit with how accessible they are, if you know what you’re doing to get your foot in the door with these people. I mean, that’s kind of where you kind of figured that process out a little bit then?
Chris: Yeah, really what it came down to is that there were the two main ways that people were trying to get music into TV and film and honestly one of the ways that I started looking at initially was through music libraries or sync agents.
Music libraries are essentially these big collections, catalogs of songs that people can upload their music to, and then music supervisors or anybody else who wants to use music can come there and select the music to be used in their show, movie, or ad. So that sounds great, right?
Sync agents are the same thing, except they’re a little bit more personal as you’ll sign with a sync agent. So that sounds fantastic, right? Well, they have a connection with the music supervisors, so why don’t I just do that? The problem is that you’re in with all of these other musicians and songs. You’re a needle in a haystack. So, think about it a little bit like a can of soup on a shelf in a superstore – a big box store. Music supervisor comes to shop for a song, and they go into the box store, and they start going around the box store, and it depends what department they’re in. They have to be literally in your department, in your aisle, on your shelf, and then in a spot where you are, to pick you out, even from the other Kansas soup that are there.
The thing is that every time a music supervisor goes to a music library or the box store, in this case, they walk out with something, so they’re happy. They love the box store. So, they say, we love libraries. We love agents. I always get what I need. The agency is happy. The libraries are happy because they always get the sync. It may not be your song, but they’re always selling something to the supervisor.
As an artist, you’re the one, you’re the third wheel on this one, and you’re kind of in the spot where you’re like, well, are they going to pick me? So, I quickly discovered that, and I realized, well, just like in life with a lot of things, sometimes it comes down to who you know. But you can’t just say, I know somebody, therefore I’m going to have success. You have to walk the talk. You have to deserve the relationship. You have to do all of the things to earn their trust and to be on the same level they are, then that’s when knowing them really helps.
That’s when it really has an effect. I just saw that and thought, why can’t we be going directly to the gatekeepers? If these music supervisors are people and they go in and they go to libraries and agencies, how can I get them to come to me? As I got to know more music supervisors and talk to them, I was like, do you guys ever use more sources for your music? They’re like, well, of course. In fact, libraries and agencies generally are like the second thing I go to, I typically go to labels I love, other artists that I’m friends with or people that I’m doing. I have some friends in a band and I’ll go check with them. They have all these different sources and I thought, I need to be that source. So, I started to earn that relationship. It was just about annoying them. That’s not going to get you anywhere unless you earn their trust. I was able to bring the music from indie artists that was good, that we had worked on and that we had put together. It didn’t have to be the latest Adele record. It just had to be good. Didn’t have to be great but brought that music to them and gradually they started saying, Chris, you’re a great source for music and that’s how that started.
So, I started the Art of the Song Pitch to draw indie songwriters into my world, to say, this is something that I can do for you to help you move the needle forward in a massive way in your music career by getting it in front of these music supervisors. So that’s really the genesis of how I built the Art of the Song Pitch and why.
For those listening right now, connecting with the top people is definitely the way to go and cut out the middle person if you can because the last thing, I’ll say is that the libraries and the agencies, besides you being a needle in the haystack, they’re taking a big cut of anything they get for you. They’re taking a chunk of the sync fee, and more and more now, they’re taking a part of the publishing and I’ve even heard some contracts that they’re asking people to be in perpetuity, which means you’re assigned to them forever for that song to pitch, which is, I say Run for the Hills…
Jason: Then you lose it forever. Right?
Chris: Yeah. Most musicians that I talk to, pretty much say all of them. 23:50 I know maybe a couple out of all the musicians that I speak to are not getting sync placements in libraries and agencies. It’s just because the odds are stacked against them. It’s not that agencies and libraries are bad. I encourage that for certain kinds of music and certain approaches. If you get in with the right library or the right agent and you’re on the front burner, then things can really happen for you. But if you’re not in that slim minority of people there, you’re better off finding a way to connect directly with the people who make it happen every day.
Jason: I love that you call it the Art of the Song Pitch. As I went through your course, as you give examples, and I know you brought several music supervisors on that you’d interview, and they just shared their experience with people. There’s certainly an art and a way to reach out to these people in a way. I mean, there are ways to, (I don’t want to call it being blackballed) but there are some ways that you could definitely turn people off if you go about it that way. I think that’s a danger to the independent musician that doesn’t know what they’re doing or hasn’t learned the hard way or gone through courses like yours. There are better ways to do it than others, correct?
Chris: Well, absolutely. That’s a great question, Jason. The thing is, it’s often at the beginning when you’re first starting out, it’s a little bit less about what you should do and much more about what you should not do. There are things, for example, if you don’t know how to have your music cleared, which means that you haven’t got it figured out so that the supervisor says, well, this music has been checked out, all the t’s have been crossed and I’s have been dotted, you’ve done all your due diligence. I know that if I take this song and there’s going to be no surprises. Some other writer is not going to come out of the woodwork and sue me or something weird is going to happen. That’s a big advantage for libraries and agencies is they vet all that stuff for the supervisor, so everything within the library of the agency has been already checked out so that they’ve earned their trust.
For an indie songwriter, it’s very difficult because you’re just one person in a basket of apples, and unfortunately the supervisors have run into a few bad apples and it ruins it for everybody. As soon as they hear you’re an independent musician on your own and you’re reaching out with music, they’re a little like, yeah, I don’t know. It’s something that can be a difficult thing to overcome. But once you’re past that, once you learn the things that you shouldn’t be doing, then you focus on the things that you should be doing. So, to proactively get your music in front of them or what your music needs to have, like how to target your music to specific opportunities, giving them what they want when they’re looking for it, that’s huge, right? Being able to actually reach them. How do you actually reach them?
One of the biggest ways to reach a music supervisor and this goes for actually anybody in life that is an A player is being able to talk to them like a pro and that doesn’t mean you have to use upper English or like anything like fancy writing or anything like that. It simply means that they’ve got to feel that you understand what they understand, you’re speaking their lingo, you know enough to not be dangerous to them. It’s the people that don’t know enough that are dangerous.
We’re just talking about whitewater rafting, right? The danger isn’t the people who are generally going to be so gung ho. They’re going to do something crazy. It’s generally the beginners that don’t know what to do. This is something that’s really important to remember in sync licensing is you want to know how to do that.
In the Art of the Song Pitch, I teach them all of the things that they need to understand – to not only get their music into TV and film successfully, but to be able to talk to anybody in industry like a professional. The icing on the cake is I put them actually in front of Music Supervisors, so I connect them to music Supervisors so they can get their foot in the door so that the supervisor hears their song, they meet them face to face and they can go through that process. If you’ve got the other two things in place, that’s the icing on the cake.
Jason: Right. I think what’s interesting is in looking back, having gone through your courses, it’s not that it’s really difficult, it’s just knowing those handful of things to do, like metadata is a big one that seems so simple, but just not having that is like an immediate flag. It’s like they don’t know what they’re doing or maybe if you have your song without the metadata on it, then you may as well have not even sent the song because they won’t even be able to find you.
Tools like Track Stage that I know some of our friends Scott and Robina are working on to make that easier. I love that there’s some of these tools that if you just knew about it, it would have taken an extra three minutes when you were in the studio to add that metadata. Now when you send it out, it’s worthwhile.
I think the other interesting thing that I really enjoyed going through your course is the fact that you did bring on several music supervisors, so it wasn’t just Chris’s way and what Chris thought it was, hey, I’m talking to this person and they’re working on this project that’s coming up for HBO or Netflix.
You start thinking more like a music supervisor so that you’re more helpful to them if you’re going to reach out to them. I thought it was interesting how towards the end of your course, what happened is you’d pick your song that would be pitched to this person, that music supervisor who you thought you might be able to help and it wasn’t that they were going to come sync ten people’s songs all at once, but you were able to hear feedback like a fly on the wall, not just with a one on one, but now you’re listening and you’re like, oh, well, they said this was good, but maybe not this and all of a sudden you’re learning a lot more than the normal.
If you were to get that little five-minute phone call with a supervisor to get feedback just for you, I just got to sit through twelve and learn. I think there were several dozen that I did go through and then you can go back and even watch more if you wanted to see the recordings of others. I think the course you put together is very unique and very interesting if somebody is really wanting to learn it.
What I’d also say is it’s not just easy you’re going to get a song placement. I still have not gotten a song placement, but I’ll be honest, I’ll also be honest with you. I have not been as diligent as I know I should have been. But it’s not your fault or the course’s fault. It’s one of those where now I know so as I do these projects, I could be successful with it if I just did take the time.
This whole podcast is called Successful Musicians, what do you feel like is the thing that keeps people from being successful in the TV sync world and movie world as your coach?
Chris: Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say three things. The first is the production level is not where it needs to be. I don’t just mean the quality of the recording either. I mean that the production is not catered to the targets that they’re hoping to get their music into, where they’ll think like, oh, I’ve got this track and I’ve made it the way I want to make it and this style of music gets into the show, why aren’t they picking the music? I will come back to them sometimes and say, well, here, go to tunefind.com, for example, look at other people who have gotten into that show that’s like your music, go grab those tracks and put them in a playlist together with yours.
Now, why is there such a big difference between yours and what are you missing? You can see literally like gosh, they’ve got this going on and I don’t. The production level also has to be good. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but just has to be of a certain threshold.
The second one is targeting so 32:08 you have to be targeting your music to the right people and not only the right people, but of course, the right opportunities and you need to basically give them the thing that they’re actually looking for in their mind – what they’re trying to put in the show and you do that by finding out what music they are placing into that show. So, by targeting very accurately and knowing the exact kind of music that they’re looking for, that is a huge one too. Another part of that is also like making sure that you understand that some avenues work really well for certain kinds of music and other avenues don’t. For example, production libraries or something like that. Those are great for instrumentals and that’s kind of generally a place that they’ll go. If they don’t have a composer on a show, which often they have composers for instrumental montages, they’re just after an instrumental part for something, they’re going to go more into production libraries more typically, because there generally is less of a brand associated with the music. If they’re not an artist, like a touring artist with a website and they’re doing that.
So, it’s understanding that and then the last thing is follow up and being you don’t have to be persistent but you have to be regular. You just have to be there and build it. Go to some events, keep sending music, just keep a system to keep getting your music out there and getting it in front of the right people. The way to do that successfully is not by cold calling. You can go online and you can read all about what to do and that’s exactly what I did at the beginning. But so much of it is relationship dependent. So, you really want to go through an avenue that is going to get you that foot in the door, get that first few contacts available so you can say, hey, I met you or you listen to my music. Even if they don’t remember because they listen to all music all the time. It’d be like you met somebody at a party and you forgot about them and they reached out to you and said, hey Jason, it’s so and so. You don’t even remember their name. I talked to you and we talked about this at the party like, oh yeah, right, okay, yeah, I remember you and then your response changes immediately because you already had a conversation with them.
You don’t remember all the details of who they were, but you do remember having that conversation, what it was about and you remember their face and you remember having a nice conversation with them. That changes everything and that’s a big part of success in TV and film, is building that trust, building those relationships over time and that’s a big, huge part of what I do is to connect musicians.
Also, for graduates of the Art of the Song Pitch, I have a coaching program which has even more integration with that and it really goes deeply into developing relationships in the industry. So that has been the number one most successful part of it. As long as you have all your ducks in a row with everything else I just mentioned, that’s absolutely the top winner there, for sure.
Jason: You need to consistently follow up and stay in front of them once in a while as much as you’d want to automate that so you could just say, okay, send every 30 days, send them an email. The reality is, like you said, it’s a relationship that just wouldn’t work. If you come out saying, hey, here’s my song that I did, and it’s completely off base. I’m a piano guy that does lots of piano stuff, and if I’m pitching to somebody who’s working on a heavy metal type project, I’m just going to look stupid.
I think it’s one of those where for those at least that I’ve seen that really want to get into this world, you do have to do your research and know the person a little bit about what projects they’re working on so that you come across differently than maybe that automated person that it’s going to be really easy to pick out. Did that person know who I am or did they really do some research before they sent this email to me? If they even look at your email.
Chris: Yes, exactly. That is so critical, getting them to look at your emails based on the relationship that you can get. But you’re absolutely right. People want to know you’ve done your homework. They want to know that you have obviously targeted your music properly. They’re going to feel like you have entered the conversation in their mind. You’re offering something that is exactly what they’re looking for and then you become a dependable source. You’ve got the relationship already, even if it’s the very beginnings of one and then you’ve got the credibility of your ability to target and have well good-produced music. You’ve got all three of those things going for you, and that is where the success starts to happen.
So, the second thing I will say, everybody who goes through the Art of the Song Pitch, I get this question sometimes, will it work for me? Am I guaranteed a sync placement? I’m like, well, first off, it can absolutely work for you because you can see all the I’ve got tons of case studies that I have when we open up our course and the idea, am I guaranteed a sync placement? It’s like sync licensing is not unlike everything else in life.
There’s no guarantee for anything that I’m aware of. If you know, please tell me. 37:43 But I don’t know pretty much anything that you’re guaranteed to get in life without some hard work, a little bit of luck, being in the right place at the right time, and being focused on what you’re going after. So that even if you fail, I don’t call it failure, I just call it a temporary delay to get what you want. Anybody can get there. If they want it and they work hard and are consistent about it. That’s really a huge part of the success and those artists get sync after sync after sync after sync. It’s a great thing because they’re getting all this big sync fee up front, all the back-end royalties, and they get to keep doing what they love to do.
Jason: When you talked about production level, I think for the newer musician or the person saying, well, is my music good enough? I’m curious what advice you have for those people that are kind of on that fence and what resources maybe are available. As I’m thinking through some of the resources that I know of, I mean, just your friends and family, it’s great to get feedback from them, but they’re going to be nice to you sometimes and that’s a danger.
There are definitely some Facebook groups, and I think I know you provide a group where people can interact and give feedback, which is great. Bobby Osinski is another one that just came to mind. That guy has been around for a long time and written the textbooks that are used in college. But I believe he even has some feedback that he’ll provide.
For anybody who’s not familiar with Bobby, go look him up. We’ll put a note, put a link in the show notes. Fantastic resource. If you’re wanting to do production and really get into the nuts and bolts of it.
What other resources would you suggest for people, independent musicians that are thinking, am I good enough to do this? What do you tell them?
Chris: Jason, you’re an excellent interviewer. I keep saying, great question, great question, because I really mean it. These are all excellent questions.
Basically, the thing that I tell people first off is that what you just talked about is vet your music and that’s something we do in the Art of the Song Pitch. We put people in a vetting group and then people basically can comment on each other’s songs and tell them how to put a group together outside of the Art of Song Pitch and why it’s the most valuable thing because you can’t know yourself about everything.
Well, to put it a different way, you know how someone comes to you with a problem and you can solve their problem so easily and yet your own are so difficult. It’s the same kind of thing. It’s the same thing with music. So, there’s that. The second thing I say, which is I don’t have very specific resources, though Bobby is an excellent one. The second one is more of a concept, it’s more of an idea, is that while you’re learning how to produce your music, if you’re trying to do it at home, in the meantime, hire someone who’s better than you to learn from and do your music while you’re learning because the bottom line is that there’s no sense of wasting great songs that you’ve written on mediocre production. Once you record them and they’re not ideal, they’re not there. That’s why sometimes you hear an original song that was okay and then somebody covers it, the production and everything is much better, and it’s a massive hit, right? That’s the difference. It’s the same song. It’s just maybe a different vocalist. But that’s really part of the production, too.
The production has such a huge part of the success of a song. So, the argument you might be saying, Chris, that’s great, but I don’t have the money to be hiring people out and running my home studio or whatever. You think about $1,000 to put together a home studio, including your microphones, cables, computer, interface and your speakers and little sound treatment, all of that stuff, and you say, well, I spent that money. Now I could just go do it for free, right? So why wouldn’t I just do that?
Well, the problem is that 41:59 time is money, and money is time. So, all of that time that you’re spending in the studio, working on your music, that’s probably going to take you five to ten times longer to get to where you want it to be than a pro would. That’s time that you’re not spending with your friends, your family, it’s time you’re not working and making extra money. You’re paying a price for that time. Now, if you love doing what you do and that’s exactly the way I started. I did exactly what I’m just saying not to do. I started just recording and it took me a long time to get to a point where I was pro enough, where I could actually say, I can be a musician or a producer or an engineer for a living and I had the advantage of having worked with big producers when I was in my band, and it still took me a long time.
So, you know, 42:53 don’t be afraid to hire people that are better than you. That’s Steve Jobs’ whole mantra when he started at Apple. His biggest thing that he figured out was to hire people that are the best that you can possibly get and that are better than you and let them do their thing and let them kind of self-manage their stuff. Your job as the leader is to reiterate the mission statement, to reiterate the vision.
If you’re a chef in a kitchen, and you’re a famous Michelin star chef, you can have a bunch of sou chefs in your kitchen making everything. You don’t need to make the sauce, you don’t need to make the soup. Let them make it. You’re the one who came up with the recipe, though. You’re the one who tastes it and tells them how to change it. You’re doing a lot less work, but you’re having all of these other people who there may be a better sauce maker than you because you haven’t made a sauce in ten years, because you’ve been a great chef for ten years. Use that.
Nowadays is such a golden time for that. It’s so cheap. You don’t have to work at my studio. You don’t have to work with me. There’s lots of other people out there who also are producers and find someone within your budget. You can work with who are really good and let them make their magic with your music and then that’s when things start to happen, when you’ve got that one out of three things that I talked about figured out – the production, the targeting, and then the relationships.
Make sure that you’ve got that production down and don’t be afraid to spend a little bit of money on your music while you’re learning how to become a better producer.
Jason: That’s such good advice. I’ve got a new recording studio that’s within steps of where my office is. I’ve got a $100,000 piano to play on and I could go out there all the time and record myself, and I know how to do it but what’s been interesting is even though I’ve got access to way more than what any normal person would have, I’m still bringing in the audio engineer who’s going to push the buttons for me and it’s interesting. Once you’ve done it for a long time, I recognize the value those people bring in and as much as I want to maybe save the money, I’m like, oh, I can go do it for free, in 2 hours I can probably get what I’d get done by myself done in 10 hours.
I think that advice is so wise for anybody who’s just doing independent musician stuff. Yes, you need to learn how to do it on your own but recognizing that working with other people is going to provide another taste tester and just make your music all the better if you’ll be willing to learn and take criticism and be open minded.
I see that as some new musician’s kind of think, well, it has to be this way and the sooner you recognize, wow, if I get more smart people in the room, my music is going to get to that next level. A lot of it is a journey probably to get there. I’m sure as you look back, your experience was the more time you were around other musicians and could hear different things, you got better as you went, correct?
Chris: Well, yeah, but there’s a huge difference. One was running alongside the railroad tracks as you’re trying to get to where you’re going and then figuring that out and jumping on a train because 46:07 when you’re around great minds, when you’re around really smart people and who are really experienced, most smarts, if we’re honest, comes from experience. People are talented, for sure, but they all have put in a lot of time and work. I don’t think there’s probably anybody who is born brilliant and awesome and is just amazing. They have to work at it. They have to do it. So, when you’re around people like that, it’s an exponential growth. The time that it takes is much, much shorter because it all rubs off on you. There’s that old saying, your fate in life is really the sum of the five people you hang out with most. It’s so true. If you’re hanging out with the most successful people in something that is going to rub off on you so quickly, you’re going to learn so fast; and not just the stuff, you’re going to learn the vibe, the way to think, the way to be because so much about recording and engineering and making music isn’t in the technique, it’s in the feeling and watching how they do what they do, their expectations. That’s another huge one, what they expect to hear back from the speakers.
I remember going in when I thought I was pretty good in my home studio, and I’d worked on a couple of records that were doing well and I went into a Pro Studio. It was like a real pro producer, just miking drums up and the drum sound that he got was wow, that is amazing and he still wasn’t happy. He went out and moved some mics around and then the drum was like, wow, it’s even more amazing. He still wasn’t happy. He went out and he moved more stuff around. He came in and then it was just like, oh my gosh, he’s light years beyond me but just by being in the room with him, watching what he did, seeing that expectation of what he thought should sound like, I started expecting the same thing from my drums and that expectation was like breaking the glass ceiling. I was settling here and I really need to hear this. I never thought that way.
Jason: I know we’re about out of time, but I got two more questions for you. One, if you could rewind back the clock and somehow 20 years or the teenager early college age kid that was just starting out, if you had this elevator amount of time to kind of give yourself some advice, what would be that short little word of advice you would maybe give to yourself thinking back if you had that moment to talk to yourself.
Chris: Well, you either used a little bit of the ESP there or something. It’s literally what we were just talking about. If I could rewind 20 years and I was looking out at starting this whole thing up and doing it, I would have worked with mentors or people who are better than me much sooner. I would have tried to surround myself with people who are in the note. The only reason that the Artist Song Pitch is as successful as it is, the only reason that the artists who I work with get as many syncs as they do isn’t you even alluded a little to it. It’s not because of me. I put it all together. All of it came from the music supervisors and then I threw in my experience from the side of the fence, from the musician side. So, I understand it from a musician side and or the producer side, but I got all of the knowledge, all of the ways to do it. I literally just ask them. Your friends, they tell you the real deal. They’re like, what songs are you going to pick? Why are you going to pick them? How are you going to do this? They tell you that. So that’s what I would do, is I would work on trying to get around as high players as I possibly could within what I was trying to do. I would say that applies to anything in life. 49:54 Don’t try to just do it on your own. Don’t just try to do it by reading on the Internet or in books. Try to get to know real people doing the real work if you can.
Jason: Great advice. The last question for you and it kind of revolves a little bit around the same thing, but as you look back in your life, what’s the best advice you’ve been given by somebody as you look back and you’re like, man, that was so impactful. What is the best advice somebody gave you?
Chris: I have had quite a bit of it. If I was to just pick one and make it relevant to kind of what we’re talking about. Something happened to me when my brother and I first started our band. We basically went to a conference and Malcolm McLaren, who was the manager of the Sex Pistols, was the keynote speaker. My brother and I came in a little bit late, and we were coming in down the hallway, and we wanted to see his talk, but we just missed it. He was coming out, he was walking to the hallway, down the hallway towards us with his entourage, and he got to us, and I jumped in front of him, and I said, Malcolm, I just have one quick question for you. We’re a brand-new band starting out, do you have any advice for a band starting out? Then he looked at my brother, and I can’t remember if it was my brother or I, grabbed the conference tag off our neck, picked it up, threw it on the floor and he said, don’t come to them, go home, write great songs and make them come to you.
So, the lesson there for everybody is that even though I’m saying go work with people that are greater than you, even though you want to interface and become friends and have relationships, 51:41 figure out who you are, figure out what your voice is, carry yourself the way you’re meant to carry yourself through life because that whole thing that they talk about when you’re a kid, like everyone’s special and everyone has their own thing, sometimes I thought that’s just to appease the people who are not going to be successful. Maybe I won’t be successful and they’re just trying to make me feel good. What I was thinking is not true. What they’re saying is very true, is that we’re each a fingerprint, we each have our own thing and that one thing is the thing that’s going to be interesting to everybody. You need to figure that out and refine that and get good. You’re speaking in musical terms, Bob Dylan, I don’t know anyone who would agree that he’s a good singer. He’s a great singer when it comes down to the art, but as a technical singer, he’s about as far as you can get from that. But he became Bob Dylan.
Then on the other side, you’ve got Adele who writes her own music, and has one of the most beautiful voices that has ever existed. She just followed that path. Without great songs, she would be nobody but she figured out how to be a great musician and deliver in the way that she feels and who she is as a person with a great voice and practice. So, figure out your thing, go with it, surround yourself with people who can help enhance that and I think that is a really good recipe for success and that’s one thing I’ve tried to do as a songwriter. When people bring them into the world, help them with their writing, their production, all through the art of the song pitch, their vetting, their targeting, how to get through to people and then taking that and putting them in front of the people who actually make things happen. I’ve tried to follow my own advice there and it’s working out great so far.
Jason: Awesome. Well, Chris, thank you so much for taking way more time than I was expecting. You’ve shared some awesome knowledge. I’m sure it’s going to help a lot of people. For those that want to check you out or kind of learn more about what you’re doing, I believe it’s arthesonggpitch.com. Is that where they go to learn more?
Chris: Well, we actually only launch Sac class once a year, and so if we’re not open right now, just syncsongwriter.com and you can go there. I have lots of blogs. I put one out every week full of tips and tricks and talk about some of the things we talked about here and stuff like that completely free. So, you could just go over there and check that out if you feel like it.
Jason: One of these days we’re going to have to convince you to start doing a podcast because I think it would be a lot of great information. But for anybody who is curious about it, is it worth signing up for this? It’s once a year that you’re doing it. It’s definitely a game changer here for knowing what to do and then it really is in your hands of whether you do it or not. That’s how it is with anything in music, though, is you going to get down and get dirty and do the work? So, thanks so much for your time today, Chris.
Chris: Awesome. Thank you so much. Jason.
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Finding success and fulfillment in the music industry is possible. Looking forward to seeing you in our next episode.
How to Connect with the Featured Guest:
Our special guest today is Chris SD. He is an award-winning music producer who’s helped hundreds of musicians and artists get their music placed in top shows on networks such as Netflix, Hulu, ABC, Fox, NBC, FX, HBO, CBS, and more. Chris shares his industry knowledge on his website, syncsongwriter.com, and offers a program called “the Art of the Song Pitch” to help musicians get their music licensed.
What You’ll Learn
In this episode, Chris shares how he figured out a way of making music, satisfying his soul, and helping musicians make records by starting an online studio.
He also shares some relevant tips on getting sync placements, keeping labels and publishers come knocking, and riding on the coattails of all the publicity that the show or movie offers.
Chris also emphasized connecting with the top people by cutting out the middle person if you can, production level, and targeting.
Things We Discussed
The Art Of The Song Pitch is a proven step-by-step process that shows you exactly how to license your music to TV & film successfully in precise detail. It shows you exactly what to do every step of the way, right down to which song to send, and what to say in each email.
Music libraries are essentially these big collections, catalogs of songs that people can upload their music to, and then music supervisors or anybody else who wants to use music can come there and select the music to be used in their show, movie, or ad.
Sync agents – a company that puts your music in front of directors, producers, game designers, and more.
Music supervisor – A music supervisor is a person who combines music and visual media. According to The Guild of Music Supervisors, a music supervisor is “a qualified professional who oversees all music-related aspects of film, television, advertising, video games, and other existing or emerging visual media platforms as required.” (Wikipedia)
Connect with Chris SD
Connect with Jason Tonioli