We talk sync, musical discovery and working on documentaries with VICE music supervisor Lindsay-Bea Davis.
Hi Lindsay-Bea, thanks for joining us today!
Thanks for having me.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into the music business in the first place?
Sure – I started volunteering, there was a local music organisation where I’m from in Nova Scotia, Canada. I volunteered a lot of time and kind of proved my salt without having to be on a payroll. When a job came up to within the music organisation, they gave it to me, so I worked for about 5 years at a non-profit music organisation that basically teaches musicians how to do their business well and get some some showcasing opportunities. After a few years there I decided that I wanted to expand my horizons, and was very interested in music supervision and seeing what other elements of music the art industries have to offer.
I packed up everything I owned and moved to Los Angeles, and I did what’s called a mentorship which is sort of like an apprenticeship with a music supervisor named Joel C. High. He taught me everything he knew, he took me under his wing and I got to work on massive films, mostly Tyler Perry films and a lot of Lionsgate films, and basically got to see what music supervision was like from the inside out. I’m very grateful for that opportunity because not everybody gets the chance to have such huge projects and great names working with you at such a young level. Especially music supervision can be very secretive at times so it was great to be brought in.
Then I moved back to Canada to work with SOCAN, which is our performing rights organisation up here. I got to do all their licensing and kind of do the nitty gritty, and so I have a lot of background in the creative side of things choosing the songs and working with artists as well as composers, and then I did a lot of the grunt work if you will, the paperwork, the licensing – the not sexy side as we like to call it. That opportunity gave me the experience that I needed to get the job as the music supervisor here at VICE in Canada, so all together it was just the right combination of experience. It took about 3 years I’d say, so quick to some, long to others but ultimately each step was the right step, that lead me to my job today.
That’s awesome, it’s great that you mentioned Joel C. High – we’re big fans of his and we actually interviewed him as well.
Right, he’s a great guy and I can’t recommend him enough and he’s made my career basically possible so all gratitude goes out to him and his co-worker Erin Dillon as well.
How did you go about getting that opportunity to go from Canada to LA?
Well in Canada we have grant systems which is really, really great. There’s a little bit of money in the country that is given to bands as well as individuals to sort of foster their own careers and be sent out in the world as ambassadors for the music scene in Nova Scotia on a global scale. With the combination of saving money and having good connections and recommendations from a lot of the higher ups in the industry, I was given Joel’s email and the right person recommended me and Joel loves Canada and loves working with Canadians in all capacities.
He took me in knowing that I had event experience – Joel does a lot of events as well as showcases and things like that. I managed to use the experience that I had to kind of trade for the experience that I was looking for. Joel is a very diplomatic businessman and he said yes and the experience I got with him was enough to take me onto the next job.
You also spent some time with the Guild of Music Supervisors?
That’s right, so during my time with Joel I managed to volunteer for the Guild of Music Supervisors as well, I was very interested in that. My background previously had been in the non-profit music world and as a non-profit the Guild saw me as an asset and took me under their wing as well and allowed me to show them some great ways to streamline their business, and that turned into a position as the Executive Manager. They brought me down from Canada for my expertise in the music business in the non-profit world to kind of guide them with their events and the management of their members and that kind of thing.
I got to know all the supervisors and I got to really be part of the Guild working its way up and it’s growing every year. For the last few years I’ve been volunteering there as a consultant with them to streamline their activities and really take it to the next level. So things are wonderful and I’m very grateful for all the contacts that I’ve made and all the kind things the Guild has done for me. They have lots on the go and they’re very smart people and they’re mostly all volunteers so they really have a lot of passion. I really felt that it was a good match and that I could easily donate some time to a worthy cause.
It sounds like your experiences have given you a real 360 degree view of the industry
Absolutely and I think it’s a little bit rare sometimes, a lot of people don’t necessarily always have these opportunities so I try to really consider myself lucky to have had these sort of niche opportunities with places like the Guild and Joel and working with a performing rights organisation. All together it’s not necessarily the path that everybody takes, but it’s worked for me and it kind of shot me to the top at a fairly quick pace. I think that the choices were the right ones and the people were the right to align with and so far it’s been great.
At VICE are you primarily working on documentaries?
Yeah we work almost exclusively in documentaries which is a new world for me – I’ve come more from a film and TV side that’s scripted and there’s longer timelines and larger budgets. VICE has been a really great learning experience. We’re launching a studio here coming up and the things that you learn in VICE outside of music – there’s so much going on as a production house that I have increased my knowledge of producing docs or television shows so much. I’m very happy to be part of VICE because there’s so much going on and coming in from the bottom up I’ve really been able to put my stamp on the organisation. To give my input at such an early stage in the Canadian VICE has been really incredible.
Compared to TV and Film, what are the biggest challenges with documentaries?
Definitely smaller budgets – that’s always a bit of a challenge. We’re also working on multiple platforms, so what you think you know about TV and Film doesn’t always play well online and vice versa so really familiarizing yourself with the streaming content and royalties and keeping up to date with the internet and changes – that’s been a challenge but a fun one, but definitely something that you have to think about with online content without necessarily paying that much attention to it with film. Also the turnaround times are really quick, we’re pumping out content all the time, so being able to understand what the producers and directors are looking for and getting the right music and the licenses in time keeps you on your toes. It’s fun for me because I like to work quickly but it definitely challenges you and you have to be able to manage your time and your budgets and things like that at the drop of a hat.
What are your main discovery processes when you’re looking for music for your projects?
Mostly I do rely heavily on licensing agents, managers, labels, people who connect with me and make sure they’re sending me new things. When I get music sent to me and I try to listen to as much of it as I can and sort of keep it in the catalog on my computer and in my mind, so when an opportunity comes up where we need something that sounds like a sort of band or a certain type of tempo or energy, I kind of know where to look already. Also I work at a very creative company so a lot of the directors and producers have an idea of what they’re looking for which is great because sometimes they want something that’s very expensive and it’s my job to come up with a cool indie band that can kind of meet their needs and please their creative side without having to blow the budget out of the water or get bogged down with majors. I like to try and keep my eye on all the indie things and they’re more fun to work with and they really are so grateful for any of the opportunities. I try to keep my roster of indie artists up and growing all the time.
That’s great. Is the creative process a bit different with documentaries because you’re telling a real story and maybe you have to a little bit more sensitive?
Absolutely. We’re working a lot with what the atmosphere attracts. We’re trying to drive the emotion with the content greatly, so the music sometimes we don’t want to take away from it, we don’t want to force people to have the emotion. A lot of the time with TV and Film you drive the mood with the music, and in the doc world we’re trying to drive the mood with the content and keep it on tone and not really have things that are too on the nose. We don’t use a lot of lyrics, we just sort of have moods and atmospheres and we try to keep it fairly neutral.
There are some times where we get to have a little bit more fun. We have some exciting projects coming up that are a little bit more fun and a little less series. We also have commercials that we work on and ad promos and that kind of thing that really can brand VICE and give a good idea of the kind of energy that we’re looking to have in our markets. You know – there’s a little bit of this and a little of that, but generally speaking we do try to let the content speak for itself so the music rides a fine line between supporting the mood as well as just sort of taking a back seat to the serious content that we’re often producing.
Are you happy for people to get in touch with their music? Do you have any best practices?
Yeah, I like to get the music the way that the bands are actually performing or pushing the music. I often will select music for its lyrics and then use the instrumental version of it. We give credit at the end of all of our pieces for the actual band. I like to think that somebody would go look out that band and hear that the music with the lyrics matches the tone and the subject matter of the documentary that we had licensed it for. While I like to use instrumentals, I very much consider the lyrics and the nature of the songs from the get go, especially from our promotional side of things where we can hopefully have people look up their music and download it and buy it. I use instrumentals a lot but I definitely love to listen to music and choose things that are on subject.
Are you happy to receive submission emails?
Yeah an email is great, I definitely like things on email. I respond to pretty much every email I can. They can be sent in newsletter form to keep it simple, they can be sent personally, they can be sent with a download link or ask me if I’m looking for anything. I’m pretty open minded, I’m very positive about young artists and young companies looking to get their things licensed. I have all the time in the world, in my spare time anyway, to really embrace things that are sent to me and communicate and I love personal communications or personal relationships. Any sort of effort to reach out and to better themselves is something that I respect so I’d be happy to respond positively to anyone who wants to be in touch.
As long as people do their research and kind of consider who they’re emailing.
Absolutely, and sometimes we want to ask people for things, “hey do you have something that sounds like this?”, and it’s very important to say no if you don’t. We want to feel that each artist and each company is knowing their own catalog and hitting the right projects and targeting the right people. I have such a wide variety of musical mediums that I don’t generally feel that it needs to be too specific as far as the genres or types of music go – you never know what you’re going to need. Definitely do your research and know what I’ve worked on and the type of music that goes into VICE and the vibe – that’s very beneficial and shows that you have put a little attention into making a real business connection instead of just kind of shooting in the dark.
Can you tell us about any recent projects?
Well I work a lot online, so there’s things that come out online all the time and they are often serious news pieces and things like that. We are having kind of a new channel coming out. I can’t speak too much about the shows that we’re working on but they range from extreme sports to world issues and just all over the map as far as mood. Some of them are really happy shows, some of them are really intense shows, so like I say the need for me to have music of all kinds is really broad. In the new year we’ll have some pretty exciting announcements and I’ll be able to talk a little bit more specifically about what I’m looking for and the types of projects that we’re working on. For now it’s a little on the top secret which is always a challenge in the music supervision world to look for music or things that you’re not really supposed to talk about all that much.
But we have some very exciting things coming down the pipes and a kind of new way of approaching VICE and the content that we’re all used to. I think that it’s going to be really exciting and there’s a lot of opportunities for some really great music to be put into some really cool things.
Where can we check out your work?
Vice.com/Canada – I work on all the Canadian developments and projects. Anything that comes out of VICE Canada you can count on me having worked with either bands or composers or library tracks, or sometimes we have fast turnarounds and we don’t necessarily have the budget or the time to license really awesome music. Whenever we get a chance we do, and like I say we try to keep it on subject. We have a documentary coming out about transgender health, which is very serious and I went with some music that I thought could really reflect the tone and the mood of that, so that’s what’s coming out. Sometimes they’re full documentaries, sometimes they’re 20 minutes, sometimes they’re an hour. If you want to check out anything I’ve done, anything that VICE has released in the last 6 months is going to be me.
What does your team look like at VICE Canada?
It’s pretty big, we have a huge team. I work closely with the producers and the directors, and other licensing individuals for archive and that kind of thing. I work very closely with editors, they like to cut to music so I like to provide them with music in advance. Sometimes they want to switch up the music in the scene so I provide them with something else. Then the post team is paramount so working after the editors with the content that’s been generated and wrapping it all up for broadcast or for online. Making sure all the cue sheets are in and everything like that.
I’m one of the few people in this office I think to have the opportunity work with just about every person on the team, and all the different departments, and it’s really quite pleasant to be able to meet so many great people and see so many points of views and have so many creative minds working on one thing. We can all be happy that we work on it together and that everybody had a creative hand in it, and we really do inspire each other. If you’re interested at all in working with all the facets of a production then music is a great place to be because you have to do the pre and the post and everything in between.
Working in a company that deals in such sort of a diverse range of topics must really keep you on your toes!
You don’t know what’s going to come down the pipes, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to be working on the next day. There’s things getting generated and put out there so quickly and there’s such a wide variety. We’ve been working on some really important pieces I think, especially here in Canada, about missing and murdered indigenous women and men and some really important messages that are maybe not being portrayed by mainstream media. We’re really taking it upon ourselves as a group to collectively inspire people to think about all of the issues in the world and in our own country, and really push ourselves to create dynamic content and keep it on brand. It’s always a challenge but one we all absolutely love.
What music are you into at the moment?
Well everybody loves Tame Impala these days, I’ve been listening to a lot of that, Falls has a new album that I’m really into. Ellie Goulding has a new track out – I have a very wide range, I like Travis Scott, he’s a great rapper from Canada. I like everything from hip hop to alternative and electro so I make a Spotify playlist every month and I try to keep up on the times and think about the music that I’m inspired by and how it can affect my musical choices and keep things relevant and new. I try to see as many bands as I can around town, there’s some really great music coming out of Canada and the world and I do have the opportunity to license music from any country, there’s no exclusivity in Canadian music or anything. I’m really looking forward to expanding my knowledge of countries and the music around the world. I’m going to Finland and London and taking in a bunch of music there and really trying to broaden my horizons and see where I can fit things in.
Is your Spotify playlist available publicly?
Yeah absolutely my name is Lindsay-Bea Davis and it’s on there and you can find me and follow and like I say I make one for every month. Sometimes tracks role over month to month because I can’t stop listening to them but I’m always looking for new music.
I absolutely love working with Spotify, but it’s not the only way I take in music not everything is on Spotify and I do have albums that I love and that kind of thing. There’s always room to listen to anything really, it just depends on what my mood is that day.
Can you tell us about your involvement with the London Sync Sessions? What will VICE’s panel be about?
It’s going to be based on basically pitching music to supervisors and doing a bit of a roundtable discussion on what’s a successful pitch and why some things are successful and why some things could use some improvement. Everything is going to be from a really positive point of view, and really talking about the successes of a pitch and really helping people kind of narrow down their angle and talking about what works and what we like to receive and what doesn’t. A little bit of a music supervision 2.0 situation. Rather than just talking about the basics we’re trying to get into the semantics of a pitch and really talking about why something works. So it’s going to be really fun and it’s going to be really engaging and it’s going to be some great people on the ground and I’m really looking forward to hearing all the tracks.
On that subject I what would you say are the key considerations if you’re an artist wanting to get a sync?
We want the music to still be the music, we want the art to be the art and I think that preparing your music for placement can be done after the songs have been created. I don’t necessarily think creating music for placement is what artists should be worrying about, I think that they should create the music that they love and that they feel passionate about because that will always be evident no matter what kind of business you have. It’s always easy to tell when an artist is passionate about their own work. So don’t sell yourself short, believe that whatever you can come up with in your own mind is worth something. I just recommend people know their own content, know their own direction, and just be able to deliver instrumentals if required.
Try to be open minded and if something needs to be done and somebody is interested in something just see how you could make it work. But plan shows – getting your music out there the old fashion way is how we find out about you. The more you play and the more you hone your music and the more you have great stats online the more agents will pick up on you, the more publishing deals will come around. The better you are at your own music the less work you’ll have to do. As long as you just keep focusing on the music the rest should in some way come naturally, and just having good business practices and a positive state of mind is great. Always read everything, read all your contracts, know what you’re signing on to, have a head on your shoulders, treat it like it’s your own business, because it is. You need to know your own material and your own deals and just have ownership over that, because you don’t want to get tricked in any bad deals, or you don’t want to sell yourself short when you really have an opportunity to soar as a musician.
Treat music supervisors first and foremost as music fans.
Absolutely, you know we want to feel like we’re people too and we’re talking to people, we love personal connections, there’s so much music that comes through and so many businesses that you deal with, it’s so nice to feel the love that comes from the gratitude of the musician. If it was up to us I think a lot of music supervisors would specifically choose to work directly with bands and managers and labels rather than all these crazy businesses that do things on their behalf. Unless of course that business is as passionate about the music as the artist and I think that’s the other piece of advice. Always align yourself professionally with people who are just as passionate about your music as you are. It’s a lot easier to have a sync agency sell or pitch your music to people when they love it. As long as the people around you love your music as much as you do, together the team is unstoppable.
Lastly, what would be your dream music supervision gig?
That’s funny you ask that because technically I already have it. I already have the dream job for me. I guess that I’ve come up in the scene quite quickly and had some really unique opportunities, and sometimes I find myself asking what could possibly be next because I’ve achieved everything that I set out to achieve and now I just get to kick back and improve VICE and make sure everything continues to grow and be great. I have the job I want and I get to lead a team of great people and I get to really learn about all facets of Film and TV and stay a music person. VICE loves music and I just can’t imagine life being any better so we’ll see what the future holds but for now I have my dream job.
That’s great to hear! Thank you so much Lindsay for your time.
It’s been a pleasure.