MUSIC+SOUND AWARDS TALK TO...
Music Supervisor, NBC Entertainment
Rebecca Rienks’ career spans 15 years and 120+ film, television and soundtrack credits, ranging from low-budget documentaries and critically lauded indie projects to worldwide ad campaigns and Oscar-winning films.
For the last seven years, she has been concepting, curating and executing promo music creative and licensing strategy across NBC Entertainment’s cable television portfolio, including E!, USA, Bravo, Oxygen, SYFY and all divisions of NBC Sports. Rebecca has contributed to multiple PromaxBDA wins for NBC’s Lifestyle group, including two Silver awards for music and an award-winning Super Bowl 50 commercial seen by over 100 million people. She has been recognized by her colleagues as a Guild of Music Supervisor Awards nominee and is co-chair of the GMS Television Committee. She has also been an active voting member of the Recording Academy since 2008.
Prior to joining NBC Universal, Rebecca spent 2 ½ years working in the music department at Lionsgate Films, followed by 5+ years as an independent music supervisor.
She is a graduate of USC’s Thornton School of Music and a celebrated bourbon connoisseur.
It would be great to hear a bit about your career path to date. How have you got to where you are today?
I moved to Los Angeles from Texas upon getting a scholarship to attend USC and being accepted into their Music Industry program. The program was very nascent at the time and one of only a handful in the country. Now they are omnipresent and schools of all types and visibility have a music business track or degree of some sort. But, at the time, it was a fairly new course of study – to learn not only the fundamentals of music, but also the core concepts of the music business. Publishing, marketing, finance, music law. During my time there I did what I could to pound the pavement and meet people, while also carrying a full course load. I interned in A+R at Capitol Records and the publicity department at Interscope, worked the box office and did admin things for The Roxy Theatre, served as the University’s Concerts Director for two years booking all of our campus shows and worked for two years as the Music Editor of the Daily Trojan. All to gain experience and build a network… while getting free records and guest list for shows! Ultimately, my hustle paid off because my first job out of college was a plum gig. I went to work as the assistant to the Head of Music at Lionsgate, doing a job I had never done before and didn’t even know existed until I had the opportunity in front of me. This was in 2004, so the idea of music supervisors as a known quantity in the pop culture sphere was fairly new, with the success of things like The OC and music becoming more of a talking point for fans and a desirable thing for artists. The role had always existed, of course – someone had to do this job – but it was only starting to become something the general public was aware of in a larger sense. I worked at Lionsgate for 2 years, doing all manners of work on all kinds of projects, including the first Saw film, Rob Zombie’s foray into horror, The Devil’s Rejects, a concert documentary for one of the greats, Leonard Cohen, the Oscar Award-winning film Crash, the first season of Showtime’s Weeds and the first film (and many more) from an unknown filmmaker named Tyler Perry. Eventually I left Lionsgate with my boss to launch the indie supervision company, creative control, where we worked side by side on a huge swath of indie films, documentaries and box office #1s. After many years of working independently and primarily in film, I decided to explore supervision in the TV landscape. I took a job with Comcast Entertainment overseeing music for both shows and marketing for several of their cable channels, including E!, Style, G4 and the later launch of Esquire Network. Working with each of those outlets gave me a much greater understanding of how different music for marketing and promo is and what it means to work creatively under the auspices of a brand with a very established identity and voice. Growing from those days at Comcast, my role has moved into what I’m doing currently for NBC Entertainment – concepting and curating promo music creative for a bunch of our flagship Cable brands, including SYFY, Bravo, Oxygen, USA, Golf Channel and NBC Sports. So I’m currently working with a really diverse group of clients and that, of course, translates into a wide spectrum of projects I’m getting to touch or shape with music.
Do you have any tried and tested methods for finding music for the project you’re working on? What are your main considerations?
This is a tough one because someone in my position has the luxury problem of being hit with music from all sides – labels, publishers, agents, managers, artists, pitch houses – it’s a never-ending deluge of content. And one that I could never really get through, no matter how hard I might try. That being said, I’ve been doing this long enough that I will always have immediate ideas when a new supervision challenge presents itself. Your brain and ears start ingesting and compartmentalizing music in that way, for better or worse. My friends and colleagues at labels, publishers, synch companies and the like deserve just as much credit for helping me find great options and hidden gems. It takes a village. And anyone who says it doesn’t is a glory hog.
At what stage of the production process do you tend to get involved?
It depends, as it’s different with every team and project. Some of our initiatives are very music-centric and you have to be at the forefront of that planning, while other creative comes to you mostly (or fully!) baked and you are putting icing on someone else’s cake. I, of course, think the best work is achieved when you can be at the beginning of a process, helping to shape that vision.
Music Supervision is slowly getting the recognition it deserves – what more could be done?
My colleagues and I are fighting the good fight every day! I give much respect to the founding members of the Guild of Music Supervisors who forged a path for the credibility and acknowledgement of our craft and for anyone who has worked for, with or supported the Guild as it continues that vision. So much has changed in the last few years with recognition from both the Recording Academy and the Television Academy and greater visibility for what a music supervisor contributes to the creative process. I think the main thing that people should understand is that a music supervisor is not just a pair of discerning ears with an interesting record collection. The role requires a unique skill set that requires you to wear two hats – that of a passionate music fan/creative and that of an expert negotiator, administrator and researcher. The more the creative community and the general public understand the nuances of the role, the more this brilliant, hard-working sector of our business will get the benefits, pay and representation they deserve. Knowledge is power! And the supervision community is one of the most dedicated fanbases and lovers of music I’ve ever known while working in entertainment.
Can you give us a rough idea of the ratio of original compositions vs. existing music that you use?
Again, this is always something that differs from project to project. But, I’d say it’s… 60/40 between licensed music and original music, respectively. Because I’m working with pop culture brands, there is oftentimes a rationale to align with a certain chart-topping or bubbling artist or a hit song. On the flip side of that, we might be marketing a show with very specific or sensitive content – a lot of our true crime shows, for instance – where it makes more sense to create something new and control the tone. Or we might be doing something stunt-y, to sell a joke or launch something virally. Those types of executions can lend themselves to something written for the creative.
Have you noticed a shift in trends in terms of what type of music is being licensed?
From my perspective, not really. The landscape of what it means to supervise for in-show or in-film is much different than what it means to do so in the advertising or marketing space. The objectives are vastly different. So when you consider what type of music works for each tack, it can mean anything! I, for one, seek to dig a bit deeper than the current single or the on-the-nose track that was obviously written for marketing. That’s not fun to me. And because those songs are being pushed everywhere, they are also very likely being pushed out everywhere. That whole “tastemakers drinking from the same glass” sensibility that, in effect, waters down your creative and your message.
What has been your favourite project that you’ve worked on recently?
I did a bunch of work on the marketing for SYFY’s new show, Deadly Class, based on the hit graphic novel of the same name. It’s set in the 1980s, in the era of disenfranchised Reagan youth, so there was a ton of opportunity to use all the best punk and alternative songs of that time. We also created a bunch of new tracks that evoke the time period, using both a classically trained composer (Nathan Matthew David) and a self-described “primitive post punk” band from LA (Sextile).
And most challenging?
I recently worked with Bravo on finding a home for a new track that felt super perfect and spot-on for the attitude of that brand. They loved it and, behind the scenes, were actively searching for the right campaign to best utilize the song for full effect. Things unfolded over a couple of months, which essentially never happens in TV marketing because of the fast and cyclical nature of our world. We were in semi-regular conversation with one of the main publishers – the one that initially gave me the track – to get updates and make changes to the lyrics and the track itself. When we finally had everything in place to move forward with this new song in promos for one of our flagship franchises, I sent the clearance paperwork out only to be met with one of the biggest BA bungles I’ve ever experienced. “Indie” writers actually signed to major publishers. Splits undefined. Publishers and a label that were wholly unaware of the track or had never been delivered assets, so this was all news to them. I had this track BEFORE the record label! Side artist agreements that had never been papered. A band that had been dropped and was now controlled elsewhere, via representation in Europe. A producer that had built the track, but never had a defined deal. A version of the song supposedly sample-free, but then found to contain ANOTHER sample that needed to either be cleared or removed. People who were unresponsive. People who were scrambling. People who couldn’t respond to requests because they were at Coachella. Absolutely ridiculous. This sort of thing happens to every music supervisor I know, but it’s usually one of these annoyances that plague the creative process, not all of them in one perfect storm. And to find out that NONE of this work had been done in the 2+ months we had been discussing this and management knew this opportunity was percolating... I will never work with this particular manager again. And, I’m ultimately sad for this artist that I love, that she probably has no clue that her manager is very likely ruining opportunities for her by being so thoroughly unprepared. But, at the end of the day, we got it done! Done late, but got it done. It’s still crazy to me how artists/representatives at all levels often wait until there is money on the table and a ticking clock before they address the legalities of how to successfully exploit their art.
Wow, that was some job! A quick last question to finish off… how do you think a competition like The Music+Sound Awards impacts the industry?
I appreciate entities like MASA, that bring this sector of the creative process to the fore. Music is a key contributor to the vision, impact and overall success of a piece of creative, especially in marketing. To share a glimpse into that process with the greater creative community makes for a more collaborative and fruitful partnership for all.