We chat to music supervisor and licensing specialist Janesta Boudreau about her work on video games, and launching sync-focused covers catalogue Coversion later this month.
Hi Janesta, thanks for speaking with us! You already run music licensing house Rocking Horse Road Productions, what gave you the idea of launching Coversion?
With Rocking Horse Road we are already servicing sync needs with our one-stop sync roster, our pre-cleared music library and music clearance services. We recognize that brands sometimes love to bring in fresh talent and partner with an artist for their campaigns, however, sometimes a brand will want to use the value of a recognizable song.
18 months ago, we had one of our artists cover “It’s Your Thing” for a global Philips Ad (for Philips One Blade), which was really thrilling. It was our first global campaign, and at the same time that was running, there was a North American ad also using a different cover version of the same track. I started thinking about the mileage that great well known tracks really have, but sometimes they need some major updating.
Then one of my artists had been toying with a Tears for Fears cover, which I felt would be super syncable in a Grey’s Anatomy type show, and that was the moment I thought, ‘you know what? I want to be the go-to for sync focused cover songs’. So I put together my team, secured the financing, and hit the ground running. Both of those artists (Ellie Dixon and Taut Beats) have produced tracks for the catalogue as well.
What does your team look like?
Some people think that we’re quite a large team as we work in one-stop sync, pre-cleared music, supervision and clearance, along with some consulting, but RHR / Coversion’s team – while we are truly borderless these days, is just a few kick-ass women and our one kick ass dude. Day to day it’s myself and Leslie Amos (long time supe at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and then Universal Music Publishing, now Coversion!). Leslie is our Senior Music Supervisor and will be the lead on the sales team in Europe and beyond. He is also our publishing liaison and my very appreciated second opinion and sanity checker.
Back in Canada, my right hand woman, Emma Cassidy deals with the administration and database work, socials, outreach… and most things on the RHR Sync side. Couldn’t live without her. In Toronto, Lindsay-Bea Davis (formerly of from Creative Control and Vice Canada) is on board for Coversion’s North American clearances with her new music supervision company, Open Casket Music. In LA, I have my Director of Business Development on deck to attend meetings, events, and to spread the word about RHR and Coversion on that coast and in New York (she is bi-coastal!). I must also say that while she may not be a lifetime member of Coversion – our publicist and LaUNCH event manager Emma Bartholomew in London has been incredible and essential on this sprint to the launch on September 15th.
What does your roster look like across Rocking Horse Road / Coversion? Do you primarily work with Canadian artists?
We used to solely focus on Atlantic Canadian artists for the sync company, but we’ve grown since the early days. Our RHR Sync roster is still primarily Canadian artists, but with a few exceptions. Our pre-cleared music library has artists from around North America and throughout Europe. Then we have Coversion – and when it comes to choosing our producers and partners, there are no borders. We need experts and we’ve found some amazing talent to produce ads, trailers, cinematic versions of tracks, and cool takes on cool songs. But… yeah… of course I got some Canadians in there as well.
What do you think has caused such a boom in the popularity of covers for sync? What can a cover bring to a campaign/project?
Covers allow companies to leverage known songs which might appeal to audiences in terms of nostalgia, recognisability, familiarity with a song’s lyrics (which can drive home a message), etc. It allows for these known songs to be tailored to a project (whether it be a trailer, an ad or a television promo), re-recorded and presented in a more modern or specific way. There is a reason some hits from the past are still hits – they are good songs! Sometimes they just need a bit of a makeover to better fit certain projects.
“Covers allow companies to leverage known songs which might appeal to audiences in terms of nostalgia, recognisability, familiarity with a song’s lyrics (which can drive home a message), etc.”
What makes a great cover, and how can you avoid the generic, wishy-washy covers that seem to be populating the sync world and offer something fresh?
A good cover needs to have its own point of view. As long as you have that, you have won half of the battle.
For our covers, we’ve briefed out our ideas to producers, who then wrote to / adapted the given track to our brief. As was our intention, our covers have a point of view (dark track for a horror film trailer, sexy high-end perfume ad, etc.), but many can fit more than one specific use and really standalone as a cool or unique take on a track. We have a hip hop version of “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, a dark female voiced trailer version of “Staying Alive”, and even an Americana/Rock/Boogie/idontknowwhat version of “Ace of Spades” which is so weird that it might be a global hit (hehe).
Congratulations on your nomination for best music supervisor (video games) in the Music Week Sync Awards! How did you get involved with Planet Coaster. What was the process like?
Planet Coaster was a dream experience for me.
I had worked with the Head of Audio (Jim Croft) and the COO in clearing some tracks for the Elite: Dangerous trailers, and moved on to help supervise some music for that game’s second season. With Planet Coaster, I was brought in from the very beginning. When Jim and Matthew – the game’s Lead Audio Designer – had thrown out some ideas and sonic mood boards for what they wanted as the game’s sonic aesthetic, I thought 2 things: 1) They are SO talking about Jim Guthrie, they just don’t know it yet! 2) I might get to work with Jim Guthrie! I’d been a fan for a long time at that point. I sent the guys some music, and sent Guthrie a note and luckily, it ended up being a real match.
Another reason that partnership worked so well is that they really wanted Jim Guthrie to write songs that you might find on one of his records. We were incredibly lucky that he’s composed for games in the past (Sword and Sorcery, Below), so he really understood how to write in the way that Frontier needed, and in a style (his own!) that Jim and Matthew really wanted. Guthrie was originally contracted to write the theme only, as he was quite busy at the time. However, once he sent his initial thought for the theme (a phone demo with a whistle and a few guitar chords), it was so perfect that I’d somehow convinced him he could easily deliver a whole album’s worth.
He got himself a writing partner in JJ Ipsen, and together, they delivered all of the building music you hear in the game over the better half of 2016. I would strongly recommend a listen to You, Me & Gravity: The Music of Planet Coaster, by the way. It’s one of the loveliest game soundtracks out there. They did just the most wonderful job. Go Canadians!
How does the process of music supervision differ with video games, and have you noticed any trends in this sector?
Sourcing the right composers that know how to write for videogames (the way the team works at Frontier in particular) can be tough. There are many composers whom I like that can write for film and television but in games, you often have to be able to write in a non-linear way. It can be an entirely different way of thinking about how a song works. Frontier’s games are interactive in nature, so a track has to be written with a specific approach – using stems and loops and additional stingers, which can sit inside a certain set of stems, to change the song as needed. It’s like a painting. Some games, films and TV shows need a Michelangelo. These games often need a Picasso.
“It’s like a painting. Some games, films and TV shows need a Michelangelo. These games often need a Picasso.”
You are also going to be music supervising the new Jurassic World Evolution game! Have you started work on that yet? What kind of music are you looking for?
Work has definitely started on that, yes! There is a GREAT lead composer lined up and some little special gems planned. Saying that, the audio team is always looking for composers with their own style / point of view and strengths – perhaps not for this game, but in general.
For the reveal trailer, we had the opportunity to work with Composer / Orchestrator / Conductor Anthony Weeden who often works with Jóhann Jóhannsson, and orchestrated on Arrival, The Theory of Everything, Sicario, and more. This is an area where I can actually use film and trailer composers to bring in the emotion needed to match a short story arc. That was a great experience. The way Anthony works in ‘the 5 notes from the original Jurassic Park theme’ over the wide park reveal gives me goose bumps – and I’ve watched that thing a good 100 times.
What’s your favourite cover?
I think The Afghan Whigs – My World Is Empty / I Hear A Symphony might still be my favourite cover. But as for most music questions – ask me on another day and my answer might be different.
Coversion is launching at (and sponsoring) the London Sync Sessions in Barcelona next week. What are you most looking forward to about the event?
The panels schedule looks great – with topics that seem really engaging and not the ‘usual’ approach to a sync panel that you get at some music conferences. London Sync Sessions is not an ‘introduction to sync’ event, I view it as a premiere sync event, which is why I love it so much. Everyone really sticks around as well. They network and hang out and it feels really organic and low pressure.
However, I’m MOST looking forward to meeting the delegates, introducing them to Coversion, and playing our cover songs during the Coversion LaUNCH on Friday afternoon at lunchtime. There will be free food, free flowing cava, Coversion cupcakes and some free goodies so DO come by!
Enjoyed this article? Check out A Sector of “Remarkable Growth”: Michael Perlmutter and Janesta Boudreau Talk Canada’s First Sync Awards
We’d like to say a huge thanks to Janesta for taking the time to speak with us!
About Coversion: Coversion is a sync-focused high quality covers catalogue. Run by an experienced team of sync managers & music supes, Coversion owns its masters & makes clearing as swift and efficient as possible.