Anyone with functioning eyes and ears has probably heard something of the various and widely reported drama that The Canyons film has had throughout it’s production, (this now infamous NYT magazine piece might be exhibit A) and without getting too gossipy I’ll just say that it was no pleasure cruise for us on the music side of things either. That said though, I’m really proud of the work we did and I think the score is really one of the main highlights of this film.
Soundtrack albums are a tricky proposition these days. Of the many films I have now music supervised this is only the 2nd to officially release a soundtrack album. Back in the 90s soundtracks were a huge industry and even soundtracks for marginally successful films could make tons of money in sales. Just think about how many soundtracks CDs you probably lost in college. In fact, that’s how music supervisors used to make most of their money back then in what is now essentially considered something of a golden era for our business. Typically we get points (a percentage) of gross sales on a soundtrack album and back in the day that would often amount to far more than our fee for working on the film. Btw, that fee used to be a lot bigger too… sigh.
However, with the advent of iTunes and other online marketplaces for songs, the soundtrack industry began to rapidly collapse due in part to the fact that consumers no longer needed to purchase a packaged collection of songs that they may have liked from a movie because they could now buy any of them individually -and from any source that popped up on their screen.
Generally a music buyer could care less what album the song or songs they like comes from so long as it’s available right now with the single click of a mouse. So, if the same songs appear on itunes in a number of different collections such as, the original albums on which they first appeared, another soundtrack or two, maybe a greatest hits collection or some other compilation -that’s basically Russian roulette for for the record label who released the soundtrack in question. Which collection will the consumer buy the songs they liked from? Which label gets the money? The consumer doesn’t care because it’s all the same recordings usually and now they are most likely just buying a single song or just a few songs and not the entire album anyway. And there goes the soundtrack biz…
Soundtracks still exist obviously, and music is as important as ever in film but studios are far more careful about rolling the dice on releasing a soundtrack album than ever before. They cost money to produce, soundtrack rights are never included in the licensing terms for the music use in the film so that’s a separate cost. And then there is the physical manufacturing of the CD and distribution and marketing. If nobody buys it you’ve just pissed away a lot of money potentially. Releasing a soundtrack for a smash hit movie is maybe a better bet but it still isn’t a sure one. Plenty of huge films don’t release a soundtrack and plenty that do totally fail even when the film is a hit. Soundtrack success now is very hard to predict and seemingly involves a lot of voodoo.
However, there are ways to mitigate that risk. Basically, the soundtrack market has become more niche and like any niche market success within that requires delivering something special to your audience, something they can’t just get from anyone. The Drive soundtrack is a great example of this. Cliff Martinez created a compelling score that was the heartbeat of that film. His music wasn’t just underscore or punctuation, in my opinion it was crafted with a pop song mentality (albeit a very progressive one) and many the song contributions from other featured artists were unique to the film -in other words, unavailable on other collections. When Drive first came out all I remember hearing people talking about was the soundtrack and where they could get those songs. Luckily for the film, the answer to that question was for the most part “buy the soundtrack” because you cant get most of that music elsewhere.
Back to The Canyons. Amine and I were lucky enough to secure the musical talents of Brendan Canning (of Broken Social Scene fame) as the composer for the film. Much like Cliff Martines’s score for Drive, Brendan produced a score for the film with many cues that could be right at home on the radio (well, not Clear Channel radio but still…) all by themselves without sounding odd. And just as the music in Drive, I feel that Brendan’s score is really the heartbeat of The Canyons. There are only 3 other songs in the entire soundtrack by outside artists which fit in beautifully with the sonic landscape that Brendan created, but basically if you want the music from the film there is only one source for it.
We’ll see how things work out in this regard but I think that between all of the intrigue in the movie and the economic realities described herein, perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised with how the soundtrack does. Who knows.
The Canyons soundtrack will be digitally released (because CDs are expensive to make) by SQE this week.
Click on the new IFC poster below to read the Indiewire article about the Soundtrack: