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Interview with Whizbang President Jim Scherer


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


Featuring: Jim Scherer - President, Whizbang, Inc., - Nashville, TN

By Frances and Harry Date - Song Matchmakers Network

Jim Scherer is the founder and President of Whizbang, Inc., an artist management and music licensing company that licenses music for use in films, television shows, advertising, video games and more.

Jim Scherer has been President of Whizbang, Inc. since January of 2000.
He brought a lot of training and industry experience to the position, including:
•    Co-owner, The Board Room Recording Studio, June 1993 – June 2004
•    Vice-President, A&R for Arista Records, June 1995 – June 1999
•    Vice-President, Creative for Sony Music Publishing, February 1989 – June 1995
•    Professional Manager, The Pride Music Group, January 1983 – January 1989
•    BBA, Business, Recording Industry from Middle Tennessee State University
Jim is a member of several industry organizations:
•    NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences)
•    Leadership Music, an educational organization providing programs designed to further communications and understanding among facets of the entertainment business
•    AIMP (Association of Independent Music Publishers)
•    NARIP: National Association of Record Industry Professionals
•    Nashville Film Festival.  Jim is a board member, chair of the Music Relations Committee, and a moderator of the Festival’s panel discussion on industry trends.

Whizbang Music Licensing has secured hundreds of placements in film, TV, video game, and advertising projects. Whizbang represents a diverse catalog of artists, composers and libraries of all genres from around the world. Their clients’ music has been used by ABC, Lifetime, CBS/Paramount, Touchstone/Disney, NBC/Universal, Sony Pictures & TV, Universal Pictures, The CW, MTV, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Discovery Channel, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, USA Network, and more. The Whizbang, Inc. management division represents Grammy-nominated, award winning artists whose music and performances occur throughout the world.

1.    Jim, you have a really interesting career. You’ve been a Manager; Vice-President, Creative for Sony Music Publishing; Vice-President, A&R for Arista Records; and Owner of The Board Room Recording Studio. You have experienced almost every aspect of the music business. How did that background influence you to start Whizbang?

It was just one of those timing things in 1999, and then all of this got started in 2000, our first year. My experiences were really great preparation for management because I’ve worked on the other side of the desk of a publisher and a label, I’ve toured, recorded, and done many things in the business, so I felt that I was bringing some real-world experience to my clients. It didn’t start by just hanging up a shingle. I was producing somebody from Chicago. They said, “I have some friends in Chicago that are starting a band. I think you guys would hit it off.” They introduced us, and I started pitching their music around to some people who were in licensing that I had worked with. All of a sudden they started getting licensed, and they needed a manager, and here we are. [Laughs] The name actually came after the business started.

2.    How did you begin cultivating clients and finding music to represent when you started your business?

The beginning was word of mouth once I realized there was a business and we could be freestanding, because I was really in the studio and production business. That was more of my role in A&R and production. I got started in licensing way back at Sony. Somebody at Sony Pictures that I had met said, “You should come to LA and pitch this great Nashville music to LA, and if you come I’ll set you up with a week of appointments.”  I couldn’t turn that down! [Laughs] I told my boss, and we both went out there for a week. I ended up getting a placement that very first week. That started it. I continued to do that through my time at Sony and then at Arista, so I had been involved in licensing for several years before starting Whizbang.  I had the contacts and relationships with those in the licensing world, and then after Superchick (our first client) started to get a lot of placements and other people started to get referred to us, we went to find clients, searching for artists and labels that needed this kind of help. Back then, we might have been the first people in town to be a stand-alone licensing company--not that other people weren’t getting licenses—but to actually serve as a kind of agent to act between somebody who owns content and somebody who needs to license content. It’s now been almost fourteen years.

3.    At a Nashville Film Festival panel last year, which you were the moderator of, the music supervisors on the panel said that the best way for artists to get music in movies and TV was to use an aggregator. The term was new to many people in the room. Would you explain what an aggregator is?

It’s kind of a name that’s come out in the last year or two. It’s became synonymous with people like us who represent works that they don’t actually own, but are a clearing house to curate a client list of individual people. It’s kind of like a curator of a museum, but instead we’re curators of music, to get through all the stuff that those who license can’t or don’t have time to hear, and to ensure that the quality is there. It’s a place that a music supervisor can go to and say, “I can go to a company like Whizbang and really just only hear, hopefully, good stuff, and I don’t have to deal with the 120 clients individually that they have.” That’s the biggest time saving for them, just having many things aggregated into one place.

SMN - How is that different from a music library?

It’s actually quite different in a lot of ways. A music library, or production music, is generally music composed for broadcast use and licensing, owned by the production company, and used for background music or cues.  I might represent somebody who is the creator and owner of a hit song you’ve heard on the radio, whereas a music library is more likely to have works that sound like hit songs and collections of songs that sound like they’re from a certain era or genre, like the 80’s disco era, for example. They’re not those songs, but they kind of sound like those songs or give you the impression of them. That’s the difference--they are composed original works that are licensed usually fairly inexpensively.  We represent labels and artists pursuing careers – touring, getting airplay, etc., whereas library music is generally performed by composers and musicians doing that specific kind of work. All very talented people who are doing some great work, it’s just a different world. They are composing for a very specific purpose.

4.    The music supervisors also said your company was one they like to use when working on a project. Why do you think Whizbang is so successful?

It’s is a very relational business. It’s a small block in a lot of ways. We’ve been fortunate to have an understanding of what people need and to try to be selective when we pitch. There’s often times when we’ll get a brief or a request for something and we just don’t have it. We’re not trying to send something that they don’t want. That’s the difference in our world that a lot of people don’t realize. Nobody shows us a piece of film and says, “What would you put there?” That’s the music supervisor’s job. They already know what they want; they’re just trying to find it. So that’s our job; to curate, aggregate, and give them something that they can use in their budget range. I think we’re selective, I think our relationships are good, and that we do good, honest business. We don’t say things we can’t deliver. Our copyrights are clean, and our relationships with our clients are solid. Nobody’s going to have a problem with the situation, for example, of “Oh here’s a co-writer you didn’t tell us about,” or “Actually, you don’t represent 100 percent of the song because here’s another publisher I didn’t know about.”

5.    What is typically your biggest challenge, and do you consider yourself a music licensing company?

We’re definitely a music licensing company. I would say that our biggest challenge, and I think I could say this is a lot of people’s biggest challenge, is just being heard above the crowd. The crowd continues to enlarge. There is so much music. Just in the last few years I’ve heard music supervisor panels say, “I’m inundated, I have too many people to communicate with already. I cannot even have relationships with any more people; you should go through an aggregator.”  I really feel like now there are a lot of aggregators, and we’re going to have to do something to continue to be heard above labels that used to not want a lot of business below the best paying stuff. Now they want it all. We have to continually get in there and be heard and sign something before somebody else. If it’s a great artist or a label or just somebody else we’ve got to get there before somebody else does and convince them that we are the right people to sign with.

SMN - Do you sign with them exclusively?

Most of the time we do. There are some exceptions, but I think the business has turned, and it’s become more and more almost required to have exclusive relationships.  In fact, now we get briefs that say don’t send things that you don’t represent exclusively, mostly because they don’t want to be the referee. They don’t want to get six CDs and like something and say, “I got this from Whizbang, the label, and all these other people. Who do I call?”

6.    When you work with an artist who is on a label and has a publisher, what kind of an agreement do you have with the label and publisher? 

It’s generally the same kind of agreement.

7.    Who do you interact with on a daily basis? What is your day like?

My most frequent interaction is with my laptop. [Laughs] It’s such an email world and fewer and fewer people want to talk on the phone. But I would say that we talk mostly to music supervisors more than studios. We do interact with studios, but most of our work is done with music supervisors. We deal with ad agencies and people who work for ad agencies looking for music. Probably the other side of that are artists and people who are referring artists and writers to us.

8.    Your website is designed for people who want to license a song to contact you via email. Who answers those requests?

Either Jen (Wolczyk) or me. We’re always pretty aggressively looking for music. In fact, that’s something that is a balance we’ve discussed just in the last few weeks. I want to spend more time listening to new music, finding more talent, because this is a very trendy world. Very few television shows, for instance, want to hear something that was made five or six years ago. They want it to sound like whatever is on the radio in a lot of ways, or whatever trend is going on. That’s a challenge for us: to constantly be out there searching to replenish the amount of and types of music that we have, not just trying to pitch all the time.

9.    When you have a song request, do you send an announcement to the people in your network and/or do you have a process to find the music that is requested?

Sometimes we do, but we often don’t even have the time because it’s like, “I need this in two hours; I need this by the end of the day.” But, for instance, a television show said they needed cover songs of hits.  We put the word out to our clients and were shocked by how many people had, just for fun, recorded versions of pretty famous songs for YouTube, etc. I got two dozen songs out of that. Or if there’s a content factor where we have a little more time, like a commercial or something, we might say, “Here are the parameters, if you have something, send it to us.” ABC’s Nashville show may want a particular lyric or have a character direction for a singer to record for the show, so we’ll put the word out to a couple of our more stand-alone  publisher clients, more straight-ahead country music publishers, and their writers will take a shot at it.

10.    Can a client also search for a song on your website? Do you have a searchable data base?

We don’t. I would kind of like to have that, but I’ve gone back and forth over the years. Some of the big companies have built really massive websites, and I’ve heard some music supervisors say, “I just really don’t want to use that. I want your three best. I don’t want to have to do the work looking for it. You tell me what the three best are.” But I do know that works to some degree when it comes to advertising. So that’s something we are kicking around, how to do that in a way that isn’t too much overkill for what we’re going to get out of it.  If we were in the library business, that would be absolutely essential. But in our world it’s a little bit different.

11.    What information do you gather on a song? For example, do you ask for the vibe, emotion, and other characteristics on a song?

We tag those ourselves. We’ll put it in the metadata of songs on iTunes. For example, we have doo-wop hits from the sixties, and we have both women and men groups. So we will tag gender, tempo, subject matter--if it’s about heartbreak, breakup, Halloween, an instrumental, etc. When we search our database, we will be able to go through all of that and just pull up all the songs that fit what we are looking for, and not have to look through a thousand songs.

SMN - One of the music supervisors that we interviewed said she uses iTunes for her database also. She creates playlists of decades and other specifics. That seems likes a really good way to do it.

It does. I think it’s very handy. The only thing about playlists, and it was my own fault, but my computer crashed. When I went to restore everything, all of those playlists were gone. So I thought that wasn’t a very permanent way to make a database, at least for my company.  We tend to use Box.com, which is a storage network. One real easy way for us to do it is to look up a pitch from something similar to what we are going to pitch, so things are kind of sorted already for us, in a way.

SMN - So you put all of your stuff on Box?

Yes, we do. Just as a storage and delivery device.  iTunes is the way that we tag it and organize it the most. Then, when I want to send someone a song, I send them a link though Box.

SMN - So does that make it easier for you to recreate the playlist if your computer crashed again?

It does in a way. It’s kind of two different things. We created our own sampler in-house where we went through and said these are the best, most licensable songs, and we tagged them with descriptions. That’s our reference system to go back to and say, “Okay, this fits the particular need we have today.”

SMN - It just occurred to me that you could create folders that represent playlists. Is that what you do?

Kind of, not specifically, but it almost happens like that. But you certainly could. The thing about our business is things happen fast. Most people, when they need something, they need it quickly, and if you can access your music quickly, the more business you can do in a day.  

12.    The Whizbang website states “if you’re a music creator or owner seeking licensing representation for your works, we want to hear from you.” What are your requirements for representing someone?

If it’s something we feel has potential for licensing and they clearly own it 100 percent, or we can work with their cowriters/co-administrators, then that’s pretty much it.  It’s mostly a creative decision. It’s a funny business, because once we have a relationship with a client--many don’t even live here--it’s really on us to get placements. There’s not really a whole lot that they can do specifically to be more licensable beyond a mix tweak or something like that. We encourage them to be authentic and make the best music they can, and hopefully it fits somewhere.

13.    Do you represent songs that are written by songwriters with work for hire vocalists or mainly artist/writers?

I would say that it’s about 95 percent artist/writers and about 5 percent things created for a need. We’ve had success with both, but I think a trend is rising with all the music that is available.  We are having less success with somebody writing for a replacement assignment.  I think more and more supervisors, and I’ve heard them say this, are looking past the song and looking at what the artist is bringing to their show, film or ad. For example, are they on the charts, how many Facebook likes do they have, etc.  Are they a real artist?  I feel like we are going to be signing less and less people who just write. No matter how great the song is, I feel like in this time with the trends that are happening, if you’re not out there supporting yourself online through Facebook or whatever, you’re more likely to get passed on.

SMN -  If you place a song with an artist and, let’s say, it appears on the TV show Nashville, and it says this song is available on iTunes for download, who shares in that?

On the show Nashville, for example, if you’re composing a song for one of the cast members to sing, Disney and ABC are paying for the recording of those masters, will own them and will get the master income while the writers and publishers will get the publishing income.  If it’s a pre-existing, licensed song and master, nobody has asked us for a percentage of that.  It all goes to the artist and writers. Usually the defining factor is if it was written for the show or not, if the show came to you and asked you to write it for them. Then they will expect some publishing royalties.  If they didn’t, I really haven’t come across anything yet where someone has asked for the publishing just from a purely licensed track.

14.    Do you have instrumentals, bumpers and cues in your music library? Do you have clients that have a need for that?

We have a few people who do that, but it’s more of a music library thing. It’s not that our stuff isn’t just as good, it’s just that we’re not at the forefront of that; people don’t think to come to us. It’s more of someone who is doing production DVD libraries, CD libraries, or a drive that has 500 bumpers. It’s just not what we have. We do have a jazz group and a couple of things like that that are artists, but it’s tough.  Jazz is one of those things where, unless it’s needed for a specific period or unless the artist is famous enough, someone can get production music/library music that sounds really great, and if the music request is just cocktail piano or background jazz music at a bar, there’s no reason for them to spend more money on an artist license than they’d have to pay a library.

15.    Many times the track mix of a song is requested when a song is placed. Can you represent a song if the track mix is not available?

I can.  It’s less than half or even a quarter of the time that people have needed track mixes. That’s our experience.  It is super helpful to have the track mix and definitely can be a deal maker or breaker, but not essential for every placement.

SMN - So what would happen if you had a license on a song and they needed the track mix but it wasn’t available? Would they pull that song?

We’ve had experiences like that, where we’ve been fortunate enough to have an artist scramble, get in the studio and make a track mix. Most of the time the need is for a section where the dialog of the film fights against the vocals of the track, and then you take that out so they’re not competing for your ear. I get that. It’s a creative decision. Shows like One Tree Hill have the kind of music that runs with vocals under the dialog all the time. It’s part of the style of the show. It’s just a case by case scenario.

16.    In the past, songs were retitled so that that the same song could be represented and placed by more than one company without confusion. An example is the title A Blue Sky could be retitled as Today the Sky is Blue. This practice is not acceptable any longer. Some music licensing companies are now renaming the song using a modifier to the original title by adding initials or numbers before or after the title. How does Whizbang handle that?

We don’t retitle, and it’s not a perfect system.  I wish there was a better system.  We just count on the client to pay us our commission when they get paid. We’re not their administrator for their publishing, but we do get the synch license fee directly and we take our commission out and pay the client. When it comes to performance income, we have to rely on the client to be sure to remember to pay us when their ASCAP, SESCAC, or BMI statement comes in.

SMN - So you use the original title?

Yes, absolutely. We have a few clients where we are also their publishing administrator, so that takes care of that because we are collecting their royalties. It’s much simpler. We’re trying to think of future business models where we can become a publishing administrator for some of our clients in a way that makes sense for them, because many self-contained artists don’t need someone out there to take a percentage when they are doing all the business themselves. We’re experimenting with some models of how the checks can go through us so at least we get paid. It’s really us that’s at risk.

17.    Do you also work with other music publishers and music licensing companies? If yes, how?

We do represent some music publishers as their licensing company, so we’ll go out and pitch for them. We don’t work directly with other music licensing companies in a straight business sense, but we certainly have talked to other people in passing conversation where I might send an email saying, “Hey I don’t have this, but I know you do. You should send it here.” We don’t benefit from it financially; it’s just a friendly collaboration.

18.    Doing your homework is essential when placing music. Many people use the IMDb database to research information. Many times it lists the music supervisor’s name but not the contact information. Do you know of a source that does or how to get that information?

The best source is the Music Business Registry. You can go to www.musicregistry.com. They sell a database of information.  It has phone numbers, emails, etc.  You can buy it as a PDF file or a book. It lists studios, music supervisors, libraries, and publishing companies.  It’s pretty extensive and not overly expensive. It comes out every 18 months or so. I think they’re great. I’ve bought that book for years and years.

19.    Can you share your thoughts on how to approach a music supervisor when wanting to submit music for a project they’re working on?

If you don’t have a relationship with them, I think it’s great to be brief.  Briefly introduce yourself with some known quality they are looking for.  If you say, “I saw you’re doing this show. I’ve been to Tunefind (another great website that lists songs that have been played on each episode of a particular show) and saw some of the other songs that you have used on your show. We have some clients in the same genre/category. Can we send you a sample of 2-3 songs”?  I think being brief, professional, and knowledgeable are key things.

20.    What advice do you have for music publishers and music licensing companies who want to place their music in movies and TV?

They should call us. [Laughs] Again, it’s a relational business. I heard someone say at our panel it’s easier to try to create a name for yourself in a particular genre or style. I’d like to be known for a lot of things, but if I’ve only got one of one thing or one of another, they may not call me because they may not remember.  It’s at least a start to create a relationship by having one particular style.  I think you just need to be selective, professional, and really try to show what you have that stands above the crowd. The other thing that I think is important is knowledge of the business-if you know about executing licenses, if you understand synch licenses and master use agreements, what rate you expect for your song and if you’re in the ball park. If you’re easy to work with and fast to respond are factors as well.

21.    We’ve noticed that many TV shows are using Indy singer/songwriter/artists’ music. Music supervisors enjoy finding new artists and helping their careers. What other genres do you think are also hot right now?

I feel like we are on the verge of rock music coming back in some form. It’s been very dormant for some years now. I think, mostly in films, that somehow, in some way, it’s going to come back a little bit more. One thing about singer/songwriter stuff is that it just works under dialog so well. It doesn’t take over the audio part of the programming, so I don’t think it will go away any time soon. I think it’s going to be interesting as TV diversifies more as our population diversifies. For example, are we going to see more Latin music, or there may be other parts of the world that we’re going to address musically a little bit more.

22.    It seems harder than ever to figure out what type of music a particular show will use. For example, the shows with vampire and zombie themes don’t seem to use that much “dark” music. What advice do you have for the creators of music who want to write for movies and TV?

I would recommend Tunefind.com. It’s a great resource. Again, if you’re writing dark and moody and the show is pop and sugary, then you’re just wasting their time and your time. If you’re not an artist, it’s going to be tougher.  Set yourself up on a Facebook page as an artist. Do something-put a CD out on CD Baby, iTunes, or Spotify. Give people something to let them know you’re creating and are an artist.

SMN - Do you search the Internet looking for new artists?

It’s different from when I was in the A&R world at a label. Then, the very first thing I needed to do after I heard something I liked was to go see it live. That is nearly insignificant to licensing.  I never have to leave this room to determine whether an artist works for licensing or not. It’s either there or it’s not on the recording. It doesn’t matter what they look like. The other thing is that the physical product is dead as far as licensing. We have three people on our supervisor list out of 700 that still want to get a CD. We’re the same way. I don’t have a place to put CDs anymore. I want to get a link and stream it. I don’t want to have to download it if I’m just getting to know you for the first time. Send me something on SoundCloud or Box that I can stream because I need to work quickly, and I don’t want to download more and more stuff onto my hard drive.

SMN - What advice would you offer to someone who wanted to start a music licensing company?

Some of the things we said before, as far as it might be helpful to develop something that you’re really great at. I can’t sit here and say that I’m an expert on every genre of music in the world. I have a pretty good appreciation and knowledge of a lot of it, but if you push me past the biggest hits of one genre, I might not know something. Then if you give me another genre, I could tell you everybody from the person down the street to the biggest artist in the world.  Maybe find a specialty and develop relationships.  I heard a songwriter say a long time ago when he decided to move to Nashville, “You have to be present to win.” There’s a lot of truth to that, which is a funny thing because most of the film business is in L.A., and we’re here in Nashville. We need to interact with them a lot. We need face-time with those people because the business tends to get done after you know somebody. It’s a little different than selling paper or pencils or whatever. There needs to be some trust because this is the copyright business. If the copyright isn’t clean, that could damage someone’s reputation or cause problems for a show. It could really throw a wrench into things. Know the business side of it, build relationships, network as much as possible, and develop a good reputation.

23.    Do you have a favorite story about the business that you’d like to share, something that happened to you or someone else, perhaps?

One of my favorite things that happened to us in the early days was with our first client, a band called Superchick, and their song One Girl Revolution.  It appeared in Reese Witherspoon’s film Legally Blonde and was the second end-title song. That was wonderful on its own. Then ABC licensed it for their promos for their new series at the time, Jennifer Garner’s Alias. DDB ad agency in Chicago then licensed it for JC Penney for their campaign during the Oscars telecast.  After that, MGM, which was bought by Disney, came back and said write something for the Legally Blonde 2 film.  So, all in all, it was a very good earning song that just continued to get licensed.  I wish that happened every day. It’s always great when stuff like that happens, especially for an artist. That’s the pop radio for many artists. They’re not getting on mainstream radio or any other kind of radio. That’s how they can affect tens of thousands of people in a single play, and maybe the only way they can do it. That’s a big part of the fun of this, to be a part of an artist’s career.  I think we all like that feeling of being a part of someone’s dreams coming true.

24.    What question should we have asked that we didn’t?

I think you covered it very well.  As I see trends in licensing fees, simply because of supply and demand, there’s really no reason for networks to pay a lot for music unless you’re bringing something to the table as an artist that is going to make their show better, their products sell better, or make their product be identified in a different way than it would be otherwise. That’s a big challenge for all of us doing this, finding talent that can impact culture.

SMN - Jim, thank you so much for all your time today. We also want to thank you for being such a wonderful moderator at the Nashville Film Festival each year; we look forward to next year.


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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