October 20, 2010 | By

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Mark R. Hasan : Some soundtrack producers began as journalists, graphic artists, and publishers, and I wonder if producing was one of the goals you had always wanted to achieve early on?

Mikael Carlsson : No, it wasn’t. It happened sort of by accident. As a film music fan, you’re always doing these personal compilations, and you’re always doing stuff on your own, just for the fun of it. There’s always been this dream to do something for real, but it was never a serious ambition until much later.

I worked as a news journalist for fifteen years at various newspapers here in Sweden, and then suddenly I was unemployed, so I decided to start my own company to really try and make a living out of my true passion, which is film music.

MRH : For anyone deciding to set up their own label, obviously one of the biggest concerns is cost. Did you do a lot of research before selecting online distribution as your model, or did that choice happen when you analyzed the manufacturing and graphic and printing expenses inherent to a commercial CD release?

MC : It came naturally, because I’m completely on my own. I didn’t have the financial opportunity to take any risks.

I wrote this column at the Music from the Movies [MFTM] website, which was about unknown composers, and was called “Hidden Treasures.” This was very much focused on new works by young and up-and-coming composers that were pretty unknown to the main film music audience.

I guess at the same time, my main interest in blockbuster scores from the Bruckheimer stuff and all that started to decrease, and I started to get very interested in music from smaller films. I tried to find really good music in alternative genres, and it quickly became evident that there is so much terrific music written outside the mainstream. When I started my company, I thought that this is what I want to do, besides all the other things I’m doing. (I’m writing music myself, and a few other things as well.)

I wanted to concentrate on these unknown composers and give them some exposure, and to introduce their work to the film music community and to the industry. The only way to do that was to minimize the economic risks, so there was not much left to do, other than to choose this online distribution thing.

MRH : I guess within the last two or three years, as more people started to use high speed Internet, and as MP3s becames a standard for many people, it’s now easier to establish a label compared to five years ago.

MC : Yes, definitely. It’s like an explosion, really. It’s developing very quickly, both in terms of the high speed connection and the quality of the encoding.

MRH : Was there any advance research you had to cover regarding the technology? For example, before you attempt to distribute an album, you want to make sure that the album isn’t too large for the average person to download, and that servers can handle the data transfer.

MC : To argue your question, when it comes to web design and graphic design, that was something that I had done quite a lot; I think I was actually one of the first to have a film music website online (that was in 1996 or 1997), and then I became the webmaster for MFTM for a few years, and I designed their first website.

But when it comes to the technology of music downloads and finding a good partner to work with, there wasn’t much to choose from a year ago; there was one big company, and that was Apple’s iTunes. They are the leading company in this field, so it wasn’t a difficult choice at the time, but I wanted to broaden the distribution, and I’m also looking into selling the music on other sites.

There’s been some issues about the audio quality of the music at iTunes, because they have a low bit rate, and a lot of people are annoyed by the fact that they have to download special software to be able to download the music.

In just a few weeks, maybe in one week, I’m launching my own webshop. I’m working with an English company which is very good, and they will be able to offer all of our albums at 320 kilobits. [Editor’s Note: this service is now available at http://www.moviescoremediashop.com/]

MRH : Are there any unique licensing issues for online distribution when compared to compact discs – either performance rights, distribution restrictions for specific countries – or do you find the rights applicable to releasing a CD are very similar to online distribution?

MC : In some ways it’s similar, because you have to pay the rights the same way when you’re releasing a physical album, but there are key differences. If you press 3,000 copies of a CD, that’s the number that you’re presenting to the licenser or the film company or whatever, and the most common thing is that you pay for what you’re producing and manufacturing.

When we’re talking about downloads, at least for me, I have commission paid deals, which means that I pay for what I sell, not for what I manufacture, because I don’t manufacture anything. It’s like a win-win situation for every one involved. We put the music out there, and when we start selling the stuff, everyone gets their share of revenues.

MRH : It’s much more economical than CDs.

MC : Yes, I think so. I haven’t really looked into the physical CD release options in that much detail, but from what I’ve been told, and from the few questions that I’ve asked at various places, it’s very uncommon when you don’t pay anything in advance.

MRH : MovieScore Media essentially debuted in January of 2006.

MC : That’s right.

MRH : Did you anticipate that by November of 2006, you’d reach your thirteenth album release?

MC : Yes, I think so. It was my ambition to release quite a lot of stuff, because there are no costs involved other than my working time, which is substantial, of course, but I don’t have to pay any advance bills for it.

I felt that if I’m going to try and at least make some profit out of it, I need to have a pretty ‘high speed’ release schedule to build some volume (economically speaking). There is just so much music that deserves to be released. If I could just find the time to do it, I would release even more stuff – not on a weekly release schedule, as that would be insane – but there is so much good music out there.

There are so many fantastic younger and older composers which aren’t very well known, and they really deserve this chance and introduction to the film music community. There’s so much focus on big films with Hans Zimmer and John Debney and James Horner and all those guys who are terrific from time to time, but there’s so much else to discover.

MRH : Particularly in Europe. I think European composers tend to be hugely underrepresented in North America, but perhaps even within Europe, too. You may have a Dutch composer whose music in only available in Holland, and unless there’s someone in another part of Europe who’s aware of that composer, you’ll never get that music exported, and it’ll just exist on a local level.

MC : Yes, that’s true That’s another good thing with online distribution: it’s called the World Wide Web, you know, and it is basically world-wide. Now, iTunes has their store in selected countries, but with the new webshop that I’m introducing in a few weeks, you can live anywhere in the world and download the music. You can buy it from anywhere. If you live in Chile, for example, you don’t have to rely on a Chilean distribution company to import that album; it’s just much more simple.

MRH : In having your own roster of albums, I’m curious if you find that there’s a certain risk by having albums available as MP3s in light of file sharing and the illegal downloading that goes on. File sharing has two sides: people use it to sample an album or a composer, and if they like what they hear, they’ll buy the album; and on the other side, people just download tons of music – sometimes more than they could ever listen to in an entire year – just for the sake of having more titles in their collection. I guess one fear of traditional CD labels is that if their albums are available as downloads, then that music can potentially be available for free, which will further erode sales. I just wonder what your thoughts are on the risks, major and/or minor?

MC : It’s a difficult issue, or course, and something that I have been discussing a lot with various people. I think that it’s much more of a problem when it comes to popular music, with big names like Madonna and The Rolling Stones.

I’m not naïve, or course, but I think my stuff is so unusual for such a limited market that even the file sharers would find it too obscure to make available. I’m just kidding a bit, but these are the issues, and that’s one of the things that’s good and bad with iTunes: they have their ownsecurity encoding, which it works very well, until someone makes a CD and then makes an audio rip of that CD, and then that music can be file shared again.

The problem with distributing music online is that it’s very difficult to actually have a working security encoding system. I don’t think anyone has really succeeded in that area because there’s always a way to work around it.

MRH : I know some labels have attempted alternatives. NAXOS over the years has built up a huge catalogue of classical and film music material, and they offer a monthly subscription service where you can stream any title from their catalogue, but there’s no downloading allowed. There’s Italy’s GDM label, where you’ve got six month and one year term subscriptions and full access to the entire catalogue, and can download an album a maximum of two times. Admittedly, if you like the album and you want a higher quality version, you could buy the CD.

MC : I’m actually subscribing to the NAXOS service, and it’s a great service, but the audio quality is not very good, so you can listen to everything, but you can’t listen to it and enjoy it; it’s very much a sampling thing. The NAXOS catalogue is huge, so it’s very good for research.

MRH : I guess another aspect with soundtracks is that you also have the collector mentality and the physical relationship: you can hold a CD and LP, display it on the shelf in alphabetical order. From the success of the albums that you’ve sold over the past few months, there must be an indication that there are collectors who like the online model and are not welded to the need to have and hold, but to just hear and enjoy the music.

MC : I think there’s still some resistance, but on the other hand, I think that it’s a process that’ll go on for maybe 10 years; we’re 2-3 years into that, and maybe people still have to get used to downloadable albums.

I don’t know how many albums I have – maybe five thousand CDs or something like that – and I don’t have enough space for them. It’s not like a collection anymore; it’s more like an archive. To have the music on your computer is very convenient, and for me, and I guess for most of my customers, it’s the music itself that really counts.

I think that a lot of people have an understanding for this whole situation where my albums present music from small or unknown films by new and unknown composers, and they realize that this music would probably not be available in any other format, so they’ll buy it.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if some of the music were released on CD. My distribution agreements are not exclusive except with digital distribution, so if there is some other label that would like to make an ordinary album of a score that I’ve discovered, so to speak, they’re free to do so. I’m not competing with them in that respect.

I guess some people think that my online service will prevent a physical release; that’s not the case. I definitely don’t think that would prevent a market for a physical release if a film and score that I discovered turns out to be a success, becomes a cult hit, or the composer goes on to do a major picture. I think there might be room for both. I mean, Varese Sarabande releases their stuff on iTunes, and I think their downloads might be a way to broaden the soundtrack market.

MRH : One difficulty new composers have is that their music may only exist in the film or as a promo CD circulating among professional or collectors, which is a limited audience, while a downloadable album is a commercial release that gives them added legitimacy. Do the composers whose work you carry feel their work is reaching a lot of listeners? And are they getting positive feedback?

MC : I can tell you that all of the composers I’ve worked with have been astounded by the feedback they’ve received, because there’s been quite a lot of interest among online soundtrack reviewers. All these terrific websites showcase the passion for film music, and my former colleagues have reviewed the albums I’ve released, some with critical acclaim. I think there’s been just one or two bad reviews; the rest have been three and a half or four stars all over, and there’s been a lot of nice sentences written about the composers.

What some of these reviewers are doing is a hobby, and they are doing it out of love for film music. I don’t think they realize how important their reviews can be for a composer. It’s quite uncommon that film composers get any feedback at all, other than from the producer or the director, and maybe some of the actors at the premiere. That’s all they get, and what they get from reviewers is true appreciation of their work. I don’t think a lot of the composers I work with expected that.

I’m pretty proud of that aspect, because I know that it gives the composer a well deserved place in the spotlight.



KQEK.com would like to thank Mikael Carlsson at MovieScore Media for a candid and elucidating discussion on his label, and the dynamics of downloadable soundtrack albums.

More information on MovieScore Media is available HERE.

Further details on Mikael Carlsson are available HERE.

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This interview © 2006 by Mark R. Hasan


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