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Interview with Dawn Solér, Senior Vice President – TV Music, ABC Studios

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On The Music Beat
The Ins and Outs of Music Placement in Movies and TV Series

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Featuring: Dawn Solér
Senior Vice President – TV Music, ABC Studios
By Frances and Harry Date - Song Matchmakers Network


Dawn Solér was named senior vice president, - TV Music, ABC Studios, in December 2010. In this position, Ms. Solér covers all music aspects for ABC studio, is the founder of the ABC Music Lounge, and consults for ABC network. She reports to Barry Jossen, executive vice president, Creative and Production, ABC Studios.

Prior to that, Ms. Solér was VP of Music. In that role, she helped make ABC Studios the prominent leader of music on television.

Ms. Solér began her career at Inaudible Productions, working with notable industry veteran Peter Afterman. After starting her own company, Working Music, she went on to create several hit soundtracks for New Line Cinema, including Now And Then, Dumb and Dumber, and Don Juan De Marco, which garnered both Academy Award and Grammy Award nominations.

In 1995 she joined PolyGram Film Entertainment, where she created and headed up a music division for the growing film conglomerate. One of her first missions was to help Tim Robbins put together a stellar group of artists (including Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder and Johnny Cash) to write and record songs for Dead Man Walking. This gold soundtrack was followed by her music supervision of Home for the Holidays and What Dreams May Come. As executive in charge of music, she also guided the musical direction for The Game, Gridlock’d, Sleepers, French Kiss, Elizabeth, and Notting Hill, among others.

After the dissolution of PolyGram, Ms. Solér went back to her roots of independent music supervision with her company. Ms. Solér lives in thousand Oaks with her husband of 15 years, their 7 year-old daughter, 2 dogs, and 23 chickens. She thrives on cooking, gardening and fine wine.


1.    SMN: Before joining ABC you were an independent music supervisor; some of your projects included Being John Malkovich, Princess Diaries I & II, Sweet Home Alabama, and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Your work on Disney’s Enchanted garnered three Academy Awards and one Grammy nominations before you made the leap from movie features to television.  Can you tell us how you came to join ABC Productions?

DS: A lot of those films you mentioned are Disney. Disney was one of my big clients.  I was on vacation and got a call from my agent; she said Barry Jossen wants to talk to you. He was a producer I had worked with about seven years earlier on a movie, and I thought, "Why does Barry want to talk to me"? My agent said, "They're starting a music department at ABC; they're breaking off from the theatrical where it was held before, and he wants you to run it." I thought, "Wow, interesting." So I called Barry and said, "I haven't done TV since Beverly Hills 90210; I only do features." And he said, "That's one of the reasons I want you; I want you to bring some quality music to television." That was so fascinating to me because I had seen that television productions were becoming as good as films, because there are a lot of mini-movies. I also saw that songs were becoming much more a part of television and very important. So it seemed like the right time to make the jump.

2.    SMN: You were named senior vice president, - TV Music, ABC Studios, in December, 2010, after being VP of Music.  What are your present duties and responsibilities?

DS: Well, it depends on the day (laughter).  I oversee all of the music for ABC Studios, from budgeting out a script, working with producers on a creative level to figure out what the tone and feel musically will be, finding the composer, helping them find songs and artists, and setting up their "on-cameras."  My department is set up like a music supervision department, which I think is a little unlike other studios. We can take a show in-house and fully supervise it if that's what's necessary. We'll do everything; for example we'll be on the set and have the AFM musicians sign their contracts. It depends on the demand. I also consult for the network. Those duties include helping marketing, finding songs, song promotion opportunities, helping them look at outside shows coming in. I was also one of the authors of ABC Music Lounge, which is a website completely dedicated to the music of ABC. But we also explore other artists and do showcases, so my responsibilities are there as well.

SMN: Wow you do all that, and you're married, have a seven year old, two dogs, and 23 chickens.

DS: Actually, she's eight now, and I have three dogs and 34 chickens. (laughter)

SMN: Do you ship eggs to Nashville?

DS: Well, I wish.  I have actually carried them on the plane ride to friends.

3.    SMN: ABC Studio produces shows for other networks, such as Army Wives, which is on the Lifetime network.  What other shows do you produce for other networks, and how much interaction do you have with those other networks?

DS: We produce Criminal Minds for CBS, Perception for TNT, and we are currently doing three pilots, one for A&E, NBC, and one for CBS. ABC Studio is a content creator. We create it for ABC, but we gladly create it for other networks. We are now creating content for cable and for the Internet as well. My interaction with the other networks is pretty much the same as it would be with ABC network, but in a little bit different position in that I'm providing the music for them. They're pretty easy. Criminal Minds has been going on for so long that it's pretty much on automatic. Army Wives is one that I'll coordinate with Marianne Goode at Lifetime if there is some sort of promotion that we can put together around a song, that kind of stuff.

SMN: Do you also do production for Disney, or is that in another place?

DS: No, I had to give that up. Mitchell Lieb runs that part of it; he's a dear friend, and I do miss all of them. But I see them on campus, so that's okay.

4.    SMN: What are some of the new shows you’re working on this season?

DS: We have 22, actually. We have everything from Big Thunder, which is based on the Disney ride. It's an hour long drama with lots of action in it and is going to be super fun. We have a wonderful emotional show called The Returned, which examines what would happen if you're dead loved one came back in twenty years, exactly as they left you, to write the events around their death. It's a phenomenal script. And we have everything in between, Killer Women, which is about a Texas female ranger in San Antonio sort of kicking butt. That was really fun for me because, like we got to do with Nashville with country music, this one allowed us to explore Latin music and the crossover that's happening around all those border towns.

5.    SMN: We realize that you do not accept unsolicited submissions. However, can you give any  advice to managers, labels, or publishers about submitting artists songs? Is it best to send all of one artist’s album or a compilation of songs by several artists?

DS: The best way to send any music to any of us working in TV or film is to know what we’re working on and to send very targeted songs for the specific show.

6.    SMN: We’ve noticed that several genres of music are used in one show. For example, Army Wives has used the following: Singer songwriter contemporary, pop, alternative, and contemporary folk, rock, and R&B soul. Since one never knows where the storyline will be when the music submitted is considered, what advice can you offer on submitting for a show?

DS: We don't take any unsolicited submissions, so they should go through an agent or manager. But, I will tell you, even when an agent or manager submits them, we always say, "Don't give me just a pile of songs. Do your homework; know your audience."  If I get a song from a manager or label that says, "Oh my God, this is perfect for Grey's Anatomy," I'll listen to it, as opposed to, "I love this song; could you use it somewhere"?

7.    SMN: What are the roles of the persons you interact with on a daily basis?

DS: I deal with the producers, the composers, music editors, finance people?because a lot of our work involves making sure people are on-budget. I talk to editors a lot about what they need. Right now we have a situation with an orchestra where just the reeds alone are crazy expensive, so we're trying to figure out if we should use another piece or have our composer compose it? It's a Mozart piece. So there are always those kinds of things that come up, and you have to untangle it with all of the production people.

SMN: And you're always working on another new season, so it keeps going, doesn't it?

DS: It does, and television is not on the normal schedule that it used to be on. Yes, we're in pilot season right now, but we pretty much make pilots all year long now, so there's not a lot of downtime.

8.    SMN: What challenges do you most often deal with?

DS: I think the biggest challenge?because you never want to let your producers down?is a situation where you can't get them the songs for one reason or another, because it's way too expensive, or you can't clear the rights, or where it's a French owned song. I think that's the biggest challenge because there's so much passion. They're married to those songs. My motto is "There's always another song." but that's not the motto of a producer because they're so married to it.

9.    SMN: How are the music supervisors chosen for each show?

DS: A lot of times, music supervisors already have relationships with producers, but if they don't, a producer says, "I need a music supervisor," we look at the show and break it down. Who is the core demographic, and what kind of music are we going to use for it?  Music supervisors are pretty much?not that they're categorized?but some are better for indie; some are better for the oldies. But, I will tell you, our job is to sort of present the menu, and the producers pick their meal. So we present three or four supervisors for them to meet and sit down and have a conversation with, because it's such an intimate relationship, and music is so subjective; there's no right or wrong. It's important that the producer and music supervisor have that chemistry. So it really comes down to who the producer bonds with.

10.    SMN: Living in Nashville, we’re all very excited about the series, Nashville. They are doing a great job of showing the beauty of the city and the realities of the music industry. You and Frankie Pine worked together on the pilot. Are you still involved in the show?

DS: I'm not involved in the day-to-day, the actual show part of it, but I'm very involved in how we market it and what we do with the songs and the soundtrack. We started this series called On the Record, which is on our website. It interviews the songwriters. From each show, there is a song highlighted. We talk to the songwriters; they perform the song as they would, and then it's intercut with either the producers or the actors. Then it's intercut with how the scene finally came out.

11.    SMN: When the actors are singing “on-camera,” how far in advance do you select the music for the scene and film that episode before air time. How does this differ from shows that do not have on-camera music?

DS: Well, I wish I could say that we were weeks ahead and had a ton of time to process it and all of that, but, with the amount of songs that are being recorded for this show, sometimes it's the night before. So you have to give our actors major kudos for being able to record a song the night before and show up the next day and perform it as beautifully as they do. It's not all the time, but it has happened.

12.    SMN: Most TV shows are placing original indie artists’ music or well known songs by established artists in background and source music. Do they also use songs by writers who are not artists but own the masters, sung by work-for-hire vocalists?

DS: Yes, that is the model of Nashville. We do that a lot. We listen to songs all the time and have someone cover them. That happens quite a bit.

13.    SMN: How important is it that an artist has a website, video, and a fan base to have their songs placed in TV?

DS: It just adds to the engagement. It's not important for me if it's a great song; I'm going to use it anyway. We're going to put it in the Music Lounge, but, for them, it's just an added benefit because it gives people the next step to take if they like the artist's music. Engagement is really what it's all about.

14.    SMN: How can publishers and songwriters find the name of the music supervisor for a show and how to submit to them?

DS: I don't know if there is one real source. That's a really good question. I don't know where all that information is housed. Someone should do it!

15.    SMN: What advice do you have for music publishers and music licensing companies that are signing artists to represent for TV? Are there certain genres of music that are most often used in TV shows?
DS
: No, it really goes back to what I mentioned earlier: Do your homework and know your audience. Like Sons of Anarchy is a cable show. Now they're going to have completely different music than what we would use on Grey's Anatomy. So that's where you have to know who you're pitching to. That's the most important thing.

SMN: It's interesting that you say know who the audience is rather than know what the show is about. Would you elaborate on that?

DS: I kind of use audience as a double meaning. Yes, the real audience that will be watching the show, because, ultimately, that's who we are trying to please. I also meant audience as in us, the music supervisor and the director, because at that point, the artist is performing for the director, but it will ultimately be for the audience that we all want to please.

16.    How do you find that common thread within a show when they use a variety of different genres?

DS
: I'm trying to think of a show that does that. Usually, if you're successful, you do have sort of a "sound." For example, Shonda Rhimes, one of our producers, does Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, and several other pilots. From show to show, the music is always different. But, within the show, she always has it so well thought out and so distinctive. I think the successful shows do have that distinctive music. For instance, on Scandal she utilizes a lot of vintage music, and it has sort of a soul feel. With Grey's it's definitely much more the emotional indie. On Private Practice it's more of the bright moving to pop. This is the same woman producing all of these shows, and yet each one has its own, distinct sound. That is spectacular and what you should strive to do.

17.    SMN: What question should we have asked but didn’t?

DS: Let's see . . . What's my next venture and that is that I believe we should bring back Friday night music shows. Also, I'm really interested in bringing back the title sequence. Ask anybody, "Hey, what was your favorite theme"? People will always sing or hum it, whether it's Bewitched or Courtship of Eddie's Father, they remember those themes and those shows with such passion and love.  I think it's because of the theme. That's the thing that really stuck with you, more than a specific scene. A mistake that we made in trying to hold viewers was going from one show to the next right away. Maybe that was a mistake, because you don't give your audience a chance to settle in and get ready for it. It doesn't make one show different from another. One of the ways to do that is with a song, a song that brands the show. That's something that I hope we can bring back a little bit this year, test it out and see if it works.

Long term, I would love to see a Don Kirshner's rock concert or In the Midnight Hour. I'd like to see one of those shows come back. It's tricky because, with access to the Internet and all that, we can see performances so readily, whereas when those shows were big, you couldn't. I do think there's some nut to crack in that. With America loving American Idol, obviously, they like to watch singing. I'd love to see if there's some opportunity for that.

SMN: Thank you, Dawn, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us.


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Frances and Harry Date are Song Matchmakers Network – a boutique one stop music publisher, music licensing, and production company.  Have a question you’d like us to ask or a person you’d like us to interview? Send them to SongMatchmakersquestions@gmail.com
For more information about us, see our website SongMatchmakersNetwork.com.

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