Off on a Quest
How hard of a quest could it be to find a musical’s worth of already existent rock music? That’s the question I asked myself back in 2014 when I sat down to conceptualize the musical to become Shakespeare (Remix), a rock revue. I thought it would be rather easy considering I grew up listening to the classics: The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Def Leppard, etc. Then I’ve had the pleasure of living through the ‘80s rock contributions: Van Halen, Guns-N-Roses... And then there were always today’s current contributors. So how hard could it really be?
Well, on one hand it is easy. You listen, you like, you say that’s one and plug it in. Find another and repeat. Then you reach a nice point where each song has a back up or two, with some songs simply unable to be switched due to their epic-ness, and you feel at peace with your choices. Then you take that first step to securing your songs and realize that you (or me in this case) must secure permission from both the publishers and the songwriters in order to use that song. Oh, and there is this lovely issue of percentage of royalties to negotiate, more on that later. Get a lawyer…you’ll need one.
Learning the licensing process…
Shakespeare (Remix) is a musical made up of other people's music, so I must get the rights to perform all the songs I want. And not every artist wants their music used in a dramatic work (theatre) and if that is the case, all of their songs are out of reach. Thanks Van Halen. We could have had a great thing.
Another interesting fun fact I didn’t know before: there are usually multiple publishers for one song let alone songwriters, and each publisher AND each songwriter needs to agree to license. Consider is the composition “Centuries”, 9 writers, 4 publishers—1 no and no license.
Rejection was the worst…but then
Starting off I had 9 song slots to fill and I believe around 12-14 bands to inquire on rights licensing. Weeks went by with no word, and if there was a word it was “No”. Then I got a break, a HUGE one.
One glorious day my lawyer emailed me that the publisher at ABKCO was interested and one of the songwriters for the requested “Sympathy for the Devil” (either Mick Jagger or Keith Richards) wanted to know more about the use of the song and wished to read the scene. Not having written the scene fully, I took the weekend to do so and sent it off. The response was an immediate, “Yes”, from Mick Jagger no less. OMG! Mick Jagger. THE Mick Jagger.
ABKCO and Jagger’s thumbs up opened a door and bet your behind I leapt through it. This led me to Sony/ATV, Warner/Chappell, then BMG Music, where my quest found a treasure trove of artists and I found not only an adamant supporter of my work but a friend. It was a MEGA score! With such support I was able to fulfill my songs needs and proceed to start writing the dialogue around them.
Man it feels really good when they all say yes, so totally worth the work.
Important note about rejection
In this quest there were some songs I thought, “If I don’t get this one, then that’s it, the musical simply can’t move forward, and it dies on the “No.” Looking back at that moment when I did in fact get a “No”, I now realize what a weak response that would have been. What a limitation to place on myself that there is only one song that could fully express the whole of what I imagine. B.S. I’m a better writer than that, you are a better writer than that, and there are hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of songs about the human experience out there. Find another one. And if you truly can’t find one, write one.
I’m back at the song quest again, now tasked with having to DOUBLE the music in Shakespeare (Remix), one of the requests from Ken Davenport. A pain but going to be totally worth it!