Everyone knows that the most important thing in a skate video (besides the skating) is the music. Music has the power to make a kooky skater seem cool and a cool skater seem kooky. But how skate brands get clearance from record labels to use the perfect song has never been revealed.
In the 90s before skate videos started selling enough VHS copies for music labels to really notice, many skate video soundtracks ripped songs without paying for them. How else did Welcome To Hell get songs from Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and Iron Maiden?
But since many skate videos today are sold through the iTunes store and are visible enough to need clearance, how do video editors still acquire hits, and how much do they cost?
Lory Vincent has been clearing music rights for skate videos since the early 2000s, and she’s facilitated a lot of skate video soundtrack miracles. Curious to hear about her behind-the-scenes work, and learn which skate videos had the most expensive soundtracks, we gave her a call.
Q+A W/ LORY VINCENT (MUSIC SUPERVISOR)
What skateboard brands have you worked with?
Oh gosh. DC Shoes, Adidas, Nike, I’ve done skate stuff with Oakley, Transworld, Blind, Enjoi, Plan B, Element… Zero, Thrasher… Quite a lot, yeah.
How did you get started in the business?
My husband was a professional snowboarder, and through him I met Mike McEntire at Mack Dawg Productions. I was looking for a job and he needed someone to help him on the office side, so I started working for him. It was a small company, so I taught myself how to clear music for our snowboard videos along with doing accounting, project management, distribution, sales, and all that.
Then Greg Hunt asked as a favor if I could clear music, on the side, for The DC Video.
Since I did that job with him in 2003, different people have called and asked for help, just by word of mouth. Then I had my second kid, Mack Dawg Productions was going in a different direction, so I decided to just do music clearance. Greg Hunt is really the way I got going. I was like, “Oh, I could probably make a living at this, and I could work from home and be around to shuttle my kids here and there.”
So what does the job entail?
It’s a lot of things. Some of it is just researching who owns the rights to a song the client wants and then negotiating the fee and the rights. Sometimes a client will send me something and say, “We wanted this song and it’s out of our budget, can you make some suggestions about what we can afford?” It’s a little bit of both: Going out and clearing a song a client already knows they want or helping them find something in the genre and style that they’re looking for that they can afford.
Is there any particular song or artist that you just can’t get, that people keep asking for?
A lot of times stuff you think is really hard to get, you actually can get it pretty easily. Then bands you think that should be so easy, can be impossible, or they think that they’re worth their weight in gold and it just doesn’t happen.
I’m trying to think of something that hasn’t cleared that someone keeps asking me for. Ozzy [Osbourne], Talking Heads, AC/DC… stuff like that is pretty much impossible. The Who, [Led] Zeppelin… Unless you’ve got $100,000 it’s pretty much not going to happen.
What’s the most someone has paid for a song to use in a skateboard film, that you know of?
Gosh, way back, when videos were selling more, before kids just started taking it, ripping it off and putting it on the internet, at Mack Dawg we would spend $10,000 on a song. That’s not unusual. I’ve had clients spend $26,000-27,000 on music.
What does $27,000 get you song-wise?
It depends because that was for kind of a little web commercial, branded piece, which is always going to be inherently more expensive, for commercial-type uses.
I mean, DC probably paid a ton back in the day, just because that video sold so many units. When you’re selling a digital download or a DVD the rate you pay, generally, for major labels, is going to be a per unit royalty. If you do an indie song, you might get a buy-out, then it doesn’t matter how many units you sell, it’s a flat rate.
So, [DC] probably paid way over $10,000, just by how many units they sold, you know what I mean?
It also depends on how many rights you’re trying to clear. The more rights you clear, the more it’s going to cost. I’ve done jobs with Nike and they’re clearing a lot of rights, so their soundtrack is really expensive. Or, I might be doing a job where it’s just some smaller company, they’re going to hope to sell 10,000 iTunes downloads, so then it’s going to be a smaller amount.
I’ve seen in the last year where a lot of clients ask, “Can you clear me this for a six month web-stream or a one year web-stream,” where they’re not really selling it anywhere, not making a full-length video, just creating a bunch of short three to five minute parts or pieces. Those aren’t super expensive unless it’s like a real heavily branded thing.
When you’re clearing rights for Nike, does it cost bigger brands more, or is there just kind of an agreed-upon rate?
There’s pretty much an agreed-upon rate if you’re doing an action sports documentary video, but I definitely see labels and bands get wide-eyed when it’s a bigger client because they figure it’s a ton of money. But, to that note, people like Nike actually have an in-house music person too, but he has me help on the skate and snowboard stuff and he’s actually crazy awesome
One of the skate guys was like, “We need a song, we only have this much money.” And I got it cleared and [the in-house guy] was like, “No, we are a huge company, go back to them and offer them a fair fee.” I mean, how often do you get to go back to a label or a band and go, “I’m going to pay you triple?” They’re actually a really amazing company to work for, they pay bands fair fees for their music.
A lot of companies are like, “We have no money,” and I’m like, “What do you mean you have no money? Your products are sold in 7-11s. You’re owned by this billion-dollar company and you want all these rights forever for free!” Nike is pretty awesome in that regard. It seems like they have integrity in that fashion.
As far the clips or videos that you’ve had a hand in putting together, do you sit down and watch them once they’re done?
Honestly, a lot of them I do and a lot of them I don’t. I mean, I have two boys and my husband is super into action sports, so sometimes I’ll watch it with them. I like more—this is going to sound awful—I like to flip through the pages of Harper’s Bazaar instead. I am an old lady! But I do see a lot of them.