We speak to Cinesong‘s Milena Fessmann to learn more about the German sync market.
Germany stands strong as the world’s third-biggest music territory behind the US and Japan. Whilst it’s transition to digital has been somewhat slow, a 4.4% income increase in H1 2015 has been attributed to a whopping 87% increase in streaming revenues during the same period, according to BVMI/GfK data.
Sync is another growing sector in the German market. According to the IFPI’s Digital Music Report 2015, German sync revenues grew by an impressive 30.4% in 2014. Germany’s film industry is both robust and creative, providing music creators with a great source of opportunity. We speak to Milena Fessman, music supervisor and founder of Cinesong, to learn more about her involvement in the industry and to gain further insight into the German sync sector.
Hi Milena, how did you get into the industry?
I came to this job as probably many people do, not from following straight but from the outside. I started after school working in radio and I still have a show at Radio Eins. Music and film have always been a passion of mine, but for a long time I didn’t like the way music was used in German films. It wasn’t very creative and they always used the same music. I was very arrogant and I told myself, “I can do better!” I thought it could be more precise and more creative. And then I learnt that it’s far more difficult than I thought! I worked on a very little movie and from there it went further. So I’ve learnt a lot since then.
What was the path from DJ to music supervisor?
It wasn’t really a path, I just told everybody I knew at the time that I was going to be a music supervisor. And then I met a girl who was studying at the film school and she needed some help so that was my first job, and from movie to movie it grew bigger and bigger, that’s the way it worked for me.
Can you tell us about Cinesong, the music supervision company you founded in 1989?
It was just me in the beginning, but now with my husband there’s two of us. We’re a little company and we do everything. It’s very different from movie to movie. Sometimes it’s just searching for a composer, next time it’s the whole package – reading the script, talking with everyone involved and seeing what’s needed in terms of a composer or songs, clearing all the songs, and at the final end finding a record label to release the soundtrack if that’s needed. So it really depends on the project.
Your husband Beckmann is a composer, does he compose for the films that you work on?
Normally he doesn’t because we strictly divide these two parts but sometimes they come together. But it’s not our business model; normally we search for someone else because we don’t want to bring it so close together. We have a lot of contacts with different musicians so sometimes he is sort of like the musical director and brings these people together. But if we do a hundred movies then he is probably the composer of one.
On your website you mention that you’re inspired by Martin Scorsese’s use of music in film.
Sometimes music brings that little bit extra, when you sit and watch a film and think, “wow, this is great, this makes the picture even bigger.” Or it really touches you. These are the moments I would like to produce. As Scorsese explains, it’s not always about using the obvious song choice. If you have a love scene it’s not just the slow, sad and deep love song played on a guitar that works, sometimes it’s something else. Trying different ideas and finding out which song is really the best song for a scene, that’s what makes this job so interesting for me. It’s the most creative part.
What’s your musical discovery process?
I have a very special position because I’m still doing my radio show. As a DJ I get a lot of music and downloads from bands and from all the indie labels. Of course I’m also searching iTunes and all this kind of stuff to stay up to date. We know a lot of musicians so we sometimes just ask them if they have something suitable for a project, or if they could write a song for us. I also have a network of smaller publishers, so sometimes when I’m searching I’ll write them an e-mail saying, “Hey, we have €2,000. It’s not much but do you have something in the way of blah blah.” And then they send me stuff. But it’s a mixture. Because I’m doing this radio show I get a lot of music.
Is that mainly music from German artists or other territories as well?
90% of it is not German. A lot is from England and I’m in contact with most of the British labels such as Domino, Warp, Mute. German music is probably only 10% of it. It’s very difficult to use a German song in a German movie.
Why is that?
Because it always sounds like voice-over. It doesn’t happen with other languages but in German it’s quite strange so it’s hard to use it.
So most music in German films is English?
Yes, around 59% of it is English.
Can you tell us a little bit about how the German sync market operates?
I think it basically works like in the rest of the world. Of course all the big publishers have offices here such as Sony/ATV, EMI, Warner Chappell, Universal, and smaller ones as well. I think they make the most money out of commercials, of course, as probably everywhere in the world. But I think music is more and more important to transport a movie in a certain way.
In Germany we have these very important and successful romantic comedies. They’re basically for the German speaking market and they’re very successful here and they have a certain pattern and they use modern songs. When you’re the music supervisor you try to get songs that are as easy to clear as possible of course, and I’m always trying to make them not too cheap for both sides. The budgets are always too small in Germany for music, so if someone gets 10 interesting songs for €30,000 then on his next movie he’ll invest €20,000 instead of €50,000. I think music is so important and people have to pay something for it.
But the sync market of course is big in Germany because there are many movies produced. With television we have the same agreement as in the UK where we don’t have to clear rights.
Is the German sync market a good place for international artists to find opportunities?
Yeah, of course. The problem is there aren’t as many uses for music as there are in LA. Trailers are not a big thing in Germany, and there’s no clearance at all in German television so it’s just the movie market that has the sync opportunities. Advertising is also big but I don’t work in that sector. I think it’s a pretty difficult thing because all the big advertising companies have their own in-house music companies. Even more than in movies it’s a matter of taste, so if the art director loves a song there is nothing you can do about it. But I’m not doing commercials so I just don’t know.
What advice would you give artists outside of Germany wanting to get their music into German films?
It sounds very simple but I would recommend looking at film schools because people who are working there are always open to new music. It’s also good to know editors because they are the ones who are in the editing room and putting music into the movie. I think it’s worthless to send CDs or download links to producers because they will never, ever listen to them. So it’s good to know the music supervisors and it’s good to know editors because they are the ones who make the first step for bringing music into a movie.
Are there any online resources that people can use to find out which German films are in production?
I don’t know if that exists, to be honest. We do have this situation where every local subsidy, like in Cologne it’s the Filmstiftung, in Bavaria it’s the FFF, they release a list of the movies that are currently in the making. There’s also Cinebiz, which is a German platform where they release news from the film and television market.
Are there any events you would recommend attending?
Yeah, Reeperbahn Festival is important. The c/o pop Festival in Cologne is also very focused on sync. And the Soundtrack Cologne, they’re doing it together with c/o pop for the first time this year. Also Berlin Music Week. If someone has the time and the money to just go there, hang around, talk to as many people as possible, it’s always good. As you know, it’s better to keep someone in mind when you had a nice evening with them than if they’ve just sent you an email.
Of course. Having said that, are you open to receiving music via email?
Yeah, although I have to tell people all the time I never know if I will use their music because I have no influence on the projects coming in. So it could be that there are five movies in a row which just need Albanian music, I don’t know. It could be that they never, ever hear anything from me. But I’m open to it, of course.
The thing I would like is for people to just have a look at our website and see what we’re doing. Because sometimes people send me stuff I’ll never use. Like just them playing keyboard at home and I’m very polite but to be honest I want to write back, “It’s quite nice but it’s far beyond professional music so we will never, ever use that!” It’s quite funny the kind of emails I get. Sometimes I just get a CD with a telephone number on it and nothing else and then you just say, “What is it? Is it a threat? Is it music? I don’t know.”
How do you organize all of your music? What’s your system?
It’s hard to tell you because I don’t really have a system. I have a very big iTunes library and whenever I’m searching for a movie I just make myself a playlist and put in everything I would think could somehow fit and then I throw things out. I’ll narrow it down to a bunch of songs and then give them to the director and see what he/she thinks. And then when we’re in the editing room we are just trying things out.
At the beginning I want to start very, very widely because as I said before, there is music that you might never normally think about but it might be good for certain aspects of the movie. There could be 400 songs in the playlist and of course you’d never use that many songs but it’s good to have inspiration. It doesn’t sound very professional because it’s just starting with a playlist but it helps me more than having different lists with “love songs” or “songs for bad situations”, I don’t really have that.
What projects have you been working on recently?
It was always our aim to not just follow one path. So we do very small, interesting movies as well as big commercial ones. I did a very nice movie, with a lot of music from England called Coconut Hero. It comes out in August in Germany and was shown at the Munich Film Festival. It’s a German-Canadian co-production and it was shot in English in Canada. It’s quite nice because it’s somehow an international movie and not a very German one, but it’s German directed. It was hard work because they had just three weeks to clear everything. Everyone was really nice because we got it for a very good price and we made it happen.
And then I’m working for Wim Wenders, I did his last few movies. I’m also working for Wim Wenders’ Foundation which bought all his old movies back that were out there in the world and we’re digitalizing them and doing the restoration. There are, of course, gaps in the music because no one in 1982 knew there would be the internet coming along or DVD. So we’re clearing all the gaps in all these old movies. I’m also doing a film called Macho Man. It’s a German comedy that will probably never jump out of the German speaking market but it’s a classic, very typical romantic comedy and it needs a few emotional, modern pop songs.
You’re also creating a music documentary through Sugar Town Filmproduktion which you recently founded
Yeah if it all works out we’ll be shooting in September in London. It’s about Conny Plank. He’s far more known in England and America than in Germany. He was the music producer who did Kraftwerk, the Eurythmics, Ultravox, Gianna Nannini and all the krautrock stuff from Neu!. He is very, very famous in the music world and many musicians are big fans of his, from Thom Yorke to Geoff Barrow. He died in 1987 and his son got all the material and he’s a co-director of the movie. The documentary will be about his life and his importance in modern music but also it’s about a son and his search for his father.
His son Stephan is an old friend of my husband and he had other producers before but wasn’t really satisfied and we had just started the company and I said, “Hey, it’s perfect for us. Let’s do it together.” We’re also planning a few feature films. There are a few people writing scripts at the moment and we’ll see what happens.
You’re also a member of the World Soundtrack Academy. Can you tell us about that?
Yeah, it’s a shame so many people haven’t heard about it. They are based in Gent in Belgium where the film festival is. It’s something I would quite like to recommend because it’s a very interesting film festival, very small, but there’s always a big conference with composers like Alberto Iglesias and David Arnold. And there’s a big orchestra and they conduct their own music.
The Film Festival Gent is from the 13th to the 24th October and the World Soundtrack Academy is sort of attached to it. And it’s really big and Alan Silvestri is coming along this year. They also have a ceremony and awards, we are members so we will vote. It’s a very interesting thing – Patrick Doyle has been there there, Alan Silvestri, George Fenton, Michael Nyman, Craig Armstrong, Stephen Warbeck.
Are there any syncs or projects that are particularly special to you?
I think Pina by Wim Wenders was a really great thing. We had a problem because it was based on the plays Pina Bausch did so we used a lot of the music she was using. So we were in the good and bad position that we couldn’t change the music, really, so we had to clear it. Wim is so well known in the world so it’s quite easy to get in contact with people, and he is very famous for using music which really helps. With his former movie, Palermo Shooting, we thought, “Hey, why not ask Bonnie Prince Billy to do the soundtrack”. We had a contact and it was really quite easy. I don’t have one particular example, it’s just the little moments when you are watching a movie in the cinema and just think, “Yes! It’s working! That sounds good.” And of course I’m inspired by people like Quentin Tarantino and many others.
What are your favourite film soundtracks?
Probably the Quentin Tarantino soundtracks. My favorite movie is a very old French movie called Les Aventuriers and a very great French composer François de Roubaix composed the score. It’s quite old but very good. It’s hard to tell you one, I don’t have one outstanding favourite soundtrack. I like Wes Anderson movies of course, and I like Jon Brion as a composer.
Thanks so much for speaking with us Milena, it was really interesting