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Nashville Scene Moviegoers

Nashville takes on soundtracks.

By Beverly Keel

JUNE 1, 1998:  Nashville has been host to several movie premieres in the last month, and it isn't because there's a Planet Hollywood here. Of late, Nashville labels have been getting in the soundtrack game, making Music City privy to early screenings of Black Dog, The Horse Whisperer, and Hope Floats.

Soundtracks are big business for labels, not only as a means of exposure for their artists, but also as a way to help them meet the bottom line. Performers benefit from soundtracks as well: They get additional royalties and sometimes even a brief onscreen appearance. And in some cases, film soundtracks can do a whole lot more: Pure Country, the 1992 movie starring George Strait, generated soundtrack sales of 5 million and helped revitalize the singer's career.

"[Soundtracks] can be very profitable properties when you have a successful film," says Shelia Shipley Biddy, senior vice president/general manager of Decca Records, which released the Black Dog soundtrack. "Sometimes soundtracks can be more profitable than a film because they take on a life of their own once the movie leaves the theater. 8 Seconds was released in 1993, and [the soundtrack album] just went platinum. That took four years to do, but the fact that it continues to sell through normal retail channels with steady growth shows there's a market out there. If some do 150,000 or 200,000, that's probably considered successful. It depends on what it costs to make."

Soundtrack rights can cost a label anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million. "If music plays an up-front role in the movie, like in The Preacher's Wife or a rap movie, there are going to be big artists in there, and it's going to cost a lot of money," says MCA Nashville president Tony Brown. "The movie company will go to U2 and Elvis Costello and then go to the record company and say, 'We already have these people committed, and it's going to cost this much money.' But with three big pop singles, it could be a big soundtrack."

Brown predicts that MCA's Horse Whisperer soundtrack, which cost twice as much to produce as an album by a new artist, will sell between 400,000 and 600,000 units. "If the movie is huge, huge, huge, people will go buy the record just because they love the movie, or they like the songs Allison Moorer sang in there; or they'll buy it because of artists like Emmylou Harris, George Strait, and Dwight Yoakam." Robert Redford wrote a part for Moorer into the movie, giving MCA the perfect platform to release her first single.

"[The movie's producers] wanted a successful record, but they weren't looking for mainstream music," Brown says. "We were hoping we would have one or two cuts that we could go to radio with, but that wasn't a prerequisite in their minds. We thought we'd give them what they wanted, and maybe we could find that little fine line--which is what we got with Allison."

Shipley Biddy admits that labels often have little control over the music used in films. Rhett Akins' remake of "Drivin' My Life Away" was the first single from the Black Dog soundtrack, and it hasn't done well on country radio. But that was the filmmaker's song of choice. "It's definitely not like going in and cutting an album," Shipley Biddy says. "You really have to work with the film company, and the music has to fit the scene.

"It takes a lot of time and planning with the film companies," she continues. "The last thing a film company wants to deal with is the music." The Black Dog soundtrack is a case in point: Although the album was scheduled for an April 28 release, Decca still hadn't been given the final music by mid-February. "That put us in a very tough situation," Shipley Biddy says. When the label explained that it needed a 90- to 120-day lead, the film's director got things rolling.

Not everyone on Music Row is sold on the benefits of soundtracks. "I don't want to do soundtracks, to be honest," says Capitol Nashville's Pat Quigley. "If I do a soundtrack, I want to do a soundtrack for a Garth Brooks movie, period. It worked very well for Whitney Houston. I'm not a big compilation guy; I'm not sure that it builds fan loyalty."

RCA Label Group chairman Joe Galante concurs with Quigley's thinking. "If you have [a soundtrack] that is really successful, in the short term that can be profitable. In the long term, if you don't break an artist out of it, what good is it? It's just a short-term billing."

For Nashville's music publishers, however, soundtracks are a no-lose situation because publishers earn a synchronization fee anytime one of their songs is used in a movie. (The amount can range from $15,000 to $80,000.) Publishers also receive royalties from overseas release, and if a movie makes it to television, they make even more money. Of course, the big payoff comes if the movie actually generates a soundtrack album. For instance, Malaco Music earned $400,000 from having three songs on The Preacher's Wife soundtrack. "It's not really getting your songs in movies," says Malaco's Betty Fowler. "You've got to have good copyrights and good masters."

Negotiating the fee can be the hardest part of the process for publishers because a high price tag can cost them the deal. When working with independent movie producers who can't afford to pay up-front fees, Fowler uses a base fee with an escalating scale. "Sometimes you are up a creek and don't know what to quote," she says. "You just start with something and work from there. Of course, you start high; you can always go down, but you can't go up."

Publishers are willing to give studios a discount on synch fees in exchange for a guarantee that the song will be included on the soundtrack album. (Songs featured in a movie aren't necessarily included on the soundtrack album, and a song on a soundtrack album may not be in the movie.) Sony/Tree/ATV's Philip Self set a $20,000 fee for the use of "Son of a Preacher Man" in Pulp Fiction, but he accepted $17,500 for a slot on the soundtrack LP.

"You are giving them a $2,500 break," he says. "You are saying, if they sell 36,000 units on that record, I've done as well by giving them the break because I've made my money back on the mechanical side. [The Pulp Fiction soundtrack] has sold over 3 million, so that's $200,000. That $2,500 savings on the front end has earned back 100 times on the mechanical side. That's a risk I'm willing to take every time."

And the winner is...

Music Row, country music's trade publication, has chosen its 10th annual Music Row Award winners. The awards will be presented next week at BMI. "Something That We Do," written by Clint Black and Skip Ewing, was named Song of the Year, and the Best Video nod went to Kathy Mattea's "I'm on Your Side," directed by Steven Goldman.

Harley Allen was given the Breakthrough Songwriter Award, and Curb Records won the Marketing Achievement award for its success with LeAnn Rimes' "How Do I Live." The following musicians received awards based on the number of Top 10 albums on which they played: Stuart Duncan (fiddle); Steven Nathan (keyboards); Brent Mason (guitar); Glenn Worf (bass); Paul Franklin (steel); Lonnie Wilson (percussion); Curtis Young (background vocals). Mike Bradley and Julian King tied for engineering honors.

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