Kristen Agee is a songwriter, composer and Founder of 411 Music Group, a creative organisation that provides synchronization licensing, custom score, publishing, administration and digital distribution for music rights holders. We chat to her about the challenges facing independent music companies, the evolving business of sync and more…
How did you get into the industry?
Music has always been a part of my life. I played piano when I was 5, drums at 7, guitar at 9 and finally violin at 11. I moved from Oklahoma to LA the second I graduated high school at 18 and eventually went to sound engineering school at the Los Angeles Recording School. In 2008, I built and opened a studio in my house in Silverlake, recorded Punk bands, toured a bit as a bassist/violinist, and eventually started writing full-time around the age of 24. When transitioning into writing, I wrote for music supervisors, production music libraries, publishers and artists. After writing for other people for a few years, I built and launched a small indie catalog in January 2014 under the name of 411 Music Group. We started as a one-stop library with artists, score, sound design and trailer music and now have three divisions – production music, artist recordings/publishing and custom score.
What led you to start 411 Music Group and what are the services you provide?
I saw a gap in the score and production music space at the time we started. The quality of music in other catalogs did not exist at a standard that I believed would sustain. As a writer myself, I came into the music business from a creative perspective. We are and have always been setup as a creative sync house. We specialize in curating music for synchronization, creating custom composition, licensing, publishing, representing artists and administering rights. I am in charge of the overall team, secure global partnerships for 411, oversee creative and strategic business development and produce our custom music projects and score. We are an independent, woman-owned and operated company. We’re particularly known for our creativity, independent mind-set, our more niche and specialized music catalog, and being a proactive publisher.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a company?
Our industry is incredibly competitive and crowded. It’s important for us to distinguish ourselves from other music houses and stay consistent in our delivery, process and brand. It would be easy for us to take on mass amounts of music to have a high track count, but that is not our mentality. We have a specifically curated catalog, which is unique and strong. It is very hard to maintain value in this industry. There’s the top 3% of artists and composers who earn millions on syncs, and then there’s everyone else. Unfortunately, if you’re an indie or unknown artist, you have to fight hard to be heard and get paid for your music. That’s why it’s important to work with pro-active sync houses and publishers who push your music and give you the attention you deserve to get your music into the right hands.
How is sync evolving? What areas of the business are you most interested in, or see as having the biggest potential for growth?
I’m hoping the digital and streaming space continues to grow and reaches a level where royalties are as high as broadcast television and replace record sales. As a writer/producer, I’m interested in developing artists and creating new music. I like melding genres and pairing producers who may never otherwise work together. I’m focused on custom music and collaborations. I also analyze other territories and know there is a ton of growth potential in other parts of the world. It’s exciting to be in a global marketplace and figure out new ways of making it all work together.
411 Music Group operates in several international territories and you spend a lot of time travelling. Can you talk us through any interesting takeaways from your time spent abroad?
We are currently setup directly in the US, UK, Canada, Switzerland and have partnerships for every other territory. Every year I typically go to Amsterdam to speak at ADE, Cannes for MIDEM, London several times per year and usually have a trip to Canada wedged in between. I recently went to Copenhagen to meet producers, labels and studios as part of Music Export Denmark. Great music is being produced all over the world. We just need to listen and spend some time honing in the talent we’re finding.
Budgets in sync are stretched pretty thin nowadays. How can we as an industry continue to uphold the value of music and make sure everyone gets paid what they deserve?
This is one of the biggest challenges we face today and very difficult to do. It has become a quantity over quality business. There’s an ideal answer here, and then there is reality. Unfortunately, budgets are being squeezed everywhere, and we face a tremendous amount of pressure from all sides. Music is usually left to last and gets discarded. It’s sad to say, but most indies don’t have the power over the market to dictate value. This means we have to be more creative with our problem solving and craft. It’s important for us to stay nimble and progress with the times.
What advice would you give to others thinking about going out on their own and starting a sync and publishing company?
Don’t do it.
Seriously, though, if you’re going to do this, you have to be in it for the long haul. It takes more time to build than you’d ever expect.
What recent placements are you proud of?
We just did sound design for the new Ad Astra trailer and the trailer for the last season of Game of Thrones. We’ve also recently had music in It Chapter Two, Euphoria, Claws, Suits, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, All-American, the Tory Burch Spring/Summer 2019 Campaign, Heineken and Vogue/St. Regis ads. We recnetly finished custom music for The Masked Singer promo on Fox, which was unveiled during the Emmys and received an E! exclusive first look write up: “Prepare to be singing a new little ditty all day long.” They called it “…the spot which gives us our new favorite song: ‘They’re Stars In Disguise’.” That was a major compliment for us. It meant we did our job of creating music which supports the show and catches people’s attention.
It’s great to see composers like Pinar Toprak and Hildur Guðnadóttir scoring big Hollywood productions. Do you think female composers are finally getting the recognition and opportunities they deserve?
It’s getting there! We still have a ways to go, but at least it’s on people’s minds. Production companies and directors are specifically asking for more diversity in their projects. Until we get to an even playing field, though, I say bring on as many female composers as you can!
Who are your heroes in the industry?
Honestly, my team, because they fight the fight. We’re all down in the trenches together, and I’m proud of other indies who stick around and bring unique, weird, and interesting things to the mix. Pun intended.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt in your time in the industry so far?
Fuck what everyone else is doing. Do it your own way, and don’t live in fear of it.
Find out more about 411 Music Group here. Kristen’s latest project, Light & Dark Album: London, was recorded at Air Studios over the summer and brings together writers with different backgrounds and talents. The concept of the album overall deals with the light and dark of everything that happens in life simultaneously. The first single from the album came out Friday from Hospital Records artist Keeno called “Troopers Hill” – check it out here.