Library Stars: Kristen Agee (411 Music Group)

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It is my pleasure to continue our journey in the universe of library music rising stars with another amazing guest:

Kristen Agee

Kristen Agee is a songwriter, composer and Founder of 411 Music Group. 411 provides synchronization licensing, custom score, publishing, administration and digital distribution for music rights holders. Agee secures global partnerships for 411 and oversees creative and strategic business development.

411 Music Group

Hi Kristen, welcome on this series. Can you tell us a bit about your musical background?

I grew up in Oklahoma playing Classical violin, guitar, a bit of piano, drums and eventually bass. I moved to Los Angeles when I was 18 and went to The Los Angeles Recording School to learn how to record as a tool for writing and producing music. After school, I setup my first studio, recorded Punk bands and performed in various bands. I eventually left the bands I was in and started writing full-time before starting 411 Music Group.

Can you tell us a little bit about 411MusicGroup?

411 is a creative music house specializing in sync, custom music, score, publishing, administration and digital distribution for music rights holders. I started the company on paper in September 2012 and launched a small one-stop indie catalog in January 2014. We’ve been building ever since and now have offices in Los Angeles, London, Zurich, and global partners everywhere else. We do three things – production music, commercial/pop music publishing, and custom music. Our focus is in the visual media space and in collaborating with other publishers, writers, composers, and producers. I executive produce the custom music and score we do with our writing teams for TV, promos, films, trailers, ads and videogames. We are an independent, woman owned business, and our focus has always been on the creative.

What makes 411 Music Group unique?

I saw a gap in the quality of music that the one-stop sync market was supplying when we started in 2012. I used to write full-time, so creating a company was really just the path to providing a better service to people needing music for their content. Because we started from a creative perspective and are basically all writers, we sort of ended up forming an indie collective of writers, artists and composers and built the business off of the back of our work. We have pushed our way through the market and created a strong presence in a relatively short amount of time. 

How to succeed in library music

What is the most difficult aspect of managing a library music company?

I think establishing a strong brand is difficult in such a crowded market. It’s hard to pull clients away from existing libraries they use because it’s logistically hard to shift from one music provider to another one. People usually come to us if they need better music or artists they know they can easily clear, or custom music and score. We’re really quick with our turnarounds, which you don’t always get with larger companies. More than anything, though, the value of production music has massively declined over the years. When people started giving their music away for free, doing non-exclusive deals, and retitling, this completely shifted our business. So, here we are now.

What is the most difficult aspect of writing music for libraries?

We have our go-to composers because we know they can deliver. It can be difficult for new writers to get the hang of all that is needed when writing for libraries or when composing to brief. You have to know how to write in a way that is strong, moves a scene forward, and is at radio quality but does not get in the way of dialog or interfere with what is going on in a scene. Be there, but don’t get in the way, unless it’s supposed to. It can sometimes be a thankless job, but it is lucrative if you develop consistency. You just have to be on every time. There is no room to make mistakes in our world. The one time you don’t deliver or send something with samples or mystery writers, you’re out. There are exceptions to this, but generally speaking, you have to deliver 100% every time.

Production music, trailer music, and bespoke music; is there an ideal composer profile for each?

There are a variety of genres in production music, so I think it really depends on the music needs. We do vocal albums as well as underscore, and we build our music in a certain way so that it progresses and gives editors more flexibility with edit points, chord progressions, etc. We’re always looking for producers and writers who can provide really great sounding music and vocals, which is typically harder to find. In production music, we also need more general lyrics. Anything too specific or niche is harder to license. For example, if a love song can be about a love between a couple, mother and daughter or two friends, this allows more use for the music.

Trailer music is usually very specific. It has a beginning, middle and end, so we work with composers who understand the structure and build of trailers. Some tracks are epic and amazing, but they don’t work in a trailer format. A lot of trailer music we write is hybrid orchestral, so we look for composers who do this genre very well. We also have some 8-bit sounding stuff, so composers who are using analog synths and experimenting with sound are also interesting for us.

For bespoke music, you have to deliver great music consistently, on-time every time.

Can you list and rate the features that mostly determine the overall success of a production music track (1 not impactful, 5 very impactful)? 

  • Music originality; For background music, I’d honestly say 1. For montage sequences or bigger spots, I’d say a 3. I’m sometimes surprised at what ends up working in a scene. It’s not always the best sounding or most unique music. In fact, sometimes uniqueness can be a hindrance to a track getting placed. Most music lives in the background and should enhance the scene without being noticed.
  • Real instruments; 3 – we like to have real instruments in our music, but I’m giving this a 3 because it’s very common to build a track in the box solely with programmed sounds.
  • Track title; 3 – maybe a catchy title will make people click on it, and if it sounds too production music-y, I think it could potentially devalue the music, but otherwise, it doesn’t totally matter. If the title is bad, we’ll rename it anyway.
  • Album title; 3 – same answer as above. I think it matters to a certain extent. The music speaks for itself.
  • Library reach/sub-publishers; 3.5 – I’d say as a composer, it’s very important to get your music to people who will license it – whether that’s to music supervisors or libraries.
  • Cover art; 4 – I’ve looked at libraries with bad artwork, and I immediately think the music is going to be bad. We try to create album artwork that fits the music so you sort of know what to expect to hear before you listen.
  • VST programming craftsmanship; 4 – All of our composers have their own studios and can deliver stems on call when we need them or write a new track in an hour.
  • Editability; 5- This is maybe the most important part.

Work with 411

When you listen to submitted music by composers you haven’t yet worked with what are the things that catch your attention the most?

I listen to the quality of the track – how the music and vocals sound, the progression, whether there is a build or not, obviously the genre, lyrics and if I think it will work for our clients. When emailing, it’s nice to have a rights breakdown of the music and a short description of what you’re looking to do. For example, ‘Hi, I’m x and wrote and own 100% of all compositions. I’m looking for a production music catalog to rep my 10 one-stop albums and compose new music for custom briefs’, or something of the sort. And, links please send streaming LINKS, no attachments.

You surely have a long list of submitted music to listen to, what should one do to get ahead of the competition and get her/his music assessed before others?

Submit your music in the process that is outlined by each company. Be short and sweet, as mentioned above and give a very basic description of who you are, your rights breakdown and what you’re looking for. Give one streamable link (or 2) to your music, and follow up in a few weeks if you haven’t heard anything. Sometimes things do slip through the cracks, but we usually only get back to people if it’s something that works for us.

Are you more likely to listen to a few selected tracks in a playlist or would you prefer to browse through a large catalog?

I think this is different for everyone. I usually like to have the whole thing, or at least a large enough variety in order to get the big picture.  For me, a highlight reel of your best tunes and then a link to everything (or at least more selects to show variety) is the best.

Are you more likely to listen to music presented on a specific medium?

I personally like Spotify, Soundcloud and Box. Websites are also okay but sometimes finicky and don’t work. Dropbox can be annoying for me, but we make it work.

How can Film Scoring Tips readers get in touch with you to submit their music?

We have a submission process on our website at www.411musicgroup.com

Thanks so much for your insight!

Thank you!

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Giovanni Rotondo

Editor in Chief of Film Scoring Tips. Giovanni Rotondo is an experienced film and television composer based in London. He has scored many award winning feature films (Elijah and the Rock Creature, Orphans & Kingdoms), TV movies (Il Giudice Meschino, Il Confine), documentaries (Ilaria Alpi - L'Ultimo Viaggio) and video games (Thunderbird: The Legend Begins). More info here: giovannirotondo.com

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