License, please

If your principal had been this cool, he might have been a music supervisor, too. Jeremy Pleasant’s office would look like any average school administrator’s, if not for the theatre lobby one-sheets for thrillers like Let Me In, The Orphan and Unknown coloring the walls. Like a good principal, he holds futures in his hands.

And, like at most principals’ offices, security at Pleasant’s building off Drusilla Lane is superficially high. There’s a buzzer system to get in, but he is the only one on the other end of the intercom.

In shorts and a T-shirt, Pleasant is way too consummately California for this building. He is quick to talk about the impact music makes on a movie and its audience. He recommends a PBS program called The Music Instinct, particularly an episode hosted by Bobby McFerrin. At this point, Pleasant pauses his recap to espouse the previously unheralded merits of one Bobby McFerrin.

The “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” guy? Yes. The Bobby McFerrin. “People don’t realize the genius of everything he’s done,” Pleasant says.

The gist of the episode was a scientific study showing that when we watch a movie, our brains register a stronger response to the things we hear than the things we see. Of course, anyone who has watched those genre-swapping fan-remixed trailers that turn Mary Poppins into a blood-curdling thriller or The Silence of the Lambs into a coming-of-age tearjerker know just how powerful and emotionally manipulative music can be when used properly on screen.

Maybe Pleasant recalled this show because he’s a music nerd. Or maybe he is drawn to The Music Instinct because he sees something of himself in a show that connects science and song not unlike the way he bridges art and commerce every day.

Part film composer, part talent scout, the Los Angeles native manages the new Baton Rouge office of Cutting Edge Group, a UK-based global music marketing and publishing company that has placed songs into hundreds of feature films, including recent blockbusters Thor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and 2011 Oscar-winner The King’s Speech.

With the music industry facing a decline in CD sales, getting songs onto television and into movies has become a larger wedge of the income pie for many artists. The future of music may be not in promoting itself, but in promoting other products.

“People are still stealing music online,” Pleasant says. “But with licensing, no one can steal it, and artists get residual income from it every time it plays on TV.”

Seven years after moving to Baton Rouge to study jazz at Southern University with Harry Anderson, Herman Jackson and others—“Those are my teachers, my heroes,” Pleasant says—the trumpeter and pianist believes music licensing is the key to boosting the local music scene he has come to love. Searching for movie-ready music isn’t always easy, though, even in a talent-rich region like south Louisiana.

“Sometimes I reach out to artists and don’t hear back for a week,” Pleasant says. “By then it’s too late. Sometimes a song will be really good, but the actual recording is not mixed well, or it sounds terrible because it was recorded on (the software program) GarageBand at home. These film directors and editors want tracks that are ready to go.”

Working with Pleasant and the Cutting Edge Group, Baton Rouge modern rock band Startisan has had its songs featured in promo spots for the local CW affiliate and most recently in Never Back Down 2, the direct-to-DVD sequel to an MMA fighting film that won’t win any Oscars but did provide a big victory for the local band.

“It funded our tour, basically,” says keyboardist Jon Scholl. “With everything from slower CD sales to higher gas prices working against bands these days, getting our song in that movie is a huge plus for us.”

While Startisan is just beginning to play in the licensing game, its movie credits are helping attract attention from major labels. In September, the band played a showcase for Warner Brothers, Atlantic and other labels in L.A. It is there, in meetings with editors and directors, that crucial decisions about Pleasant’s song placements are made.

On a typical production, Pleasant begins work with a film’s editor and sound department as soon as the director has “locked picture.” Pleasant often presents up to 20 songs for each scene that requires music. “Options are good for everyone,” he says. Occasionally all 20 are roundly rejected, forcing him to dig deeper for the exact feel the director wants to achieve. He is careful to suggest only high-quality and affordable recordings. Sinatra is brilliant, but his music can go for as much as $100,000 per cut.

Pleasant is putting his reputation on the line each time he suggests a song to an editor, but he feels confident enough in Louisiana’s talent to try to make the bulk of his suggestions local ones. He just needs to find the right artists. Attending concert after concert, he searches for the next artist to soundtrack a movie and maybe make it big.

Pleasant has been to so many shows lately, he is thinking of hiring a live music intern. When music becomes business, the interns arrive.

“It’s simple,” Pleasant says. “Licensing needs to be more of a priority for indie bands—a part of their overall marketing strategy.”

Even artists need a business plan. Now he’s talking like a principal. cuttingedgegroup.com

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