Original indie music just got a lot easier to license – with an intriguing business angle for making it happen.
Launched out of Portland, Oregon, Pacific Soundtracks provides music supervisors with a direct channel to the inimitable sounds of the great Northwest. The source: a collective of independent musicians who write and record original music to synch license for TV, films, videos, games, and new media.
Pacific Soundtracks was founded by West Coast native producer/musician Michael Wolfson, a savvy NYC digital ad exec in his past life who returned to Portland with a deep understanding of sync licensing.
Together with his fellow Northwest music mavens, Wolfson provides music supervisors, filmmakers, ad agencies and multimedia companies with a one-stop shop for authentic indie music, either handpicked from existing tracks or specially recorded in their studio – what they call “farm-to-table” music.
Growing up in Encino, CA, and later attending college at UC Berkeley, Wolfson began to study the music and recording techniques of heroes ranging from the Beatles to Elliot Smith. After graduation he moved to Portland where he snagged a job at the regionally famous record store Everyday Music, and simultaneously built his own basement recording studio.
Eventually, Wolfson got pulled Eastward – he moved to New York City and got a job as a copywriter at the in-demand digital advertising agency R/GA. “As I was developing my career in advertising, I was also learning how the ad industry worked and how music was licensed,” he explains. “It was becoming apparent that there was a crisis in the music industry. With the arrival and domination of the Internet, people were no longer buying music — they were downloading, pirating, and sharing.
“And with increasingly user-friendly recording software like Ableton Live, it seemed like new bands and artists were popping up by the nanosecond. The old model of labels, distribution, and promotion was breaking down. I realized that there were now two substantial ways musicians could make money: touring and licensing. And that’s when my wheels really started to turn.”
Wolfson found inspiration in old recordings from Motown (The Funk Brothers), STAX (Booker T. and the MGs) and The Wrecking Crew in LA. “They were the primary music-makers of the ‘60s,” says Wolfson. “These were in-house bands that collaborated with front men and women to make the big hits of the era. They were groups of musicians that had been playing together for years and knew each other’s musical skills intimately. And then there was The Brill Building and Tin Pan Alley, essentially hit-making factories. I wondered if there was a way to emulate those models today. Turns out, there is.”
After eight years in New York, soaking up all he could about advertising and the music industry, Wolfson returned to Portland in 2012, bought a house, and set up a new recording studio called Pacific Soundtracks.
“Our studio runs on a completely new model that is inspired by the past and works in the present, Wolfson says. “Pacific Soundtracks is a collective of musicians. We reach out to the overwhelmingly talented and plentiful local musician pool to write and record original music to license for TV, films, videos, games, and new media. Just like the studios of the ‘60s, we have go-to musicians who create quality songs – songs that we would want to listen to. Songs that I would want to license as an advertising guy.”
According to Wolfson, the Pacific Soundtracks studio is a collaborative, organic, musical environment where local musicians create songs together. The musicians who contribute their time and talents at Pacific Soundtracks get a percentage of the royalties when a song they work on gets licensed. 50% of the writing royalties go to the musicians, 50% of the publishing royalties go to the studio.
In addition, Pacific Soundtracks is offering music recorded by independent bands and artists looking to license their music without the need to be signed to a label. In these cases, 60% of the writing royalties go to the musicians, and 40% of the publishing royalties go to the studio.
New music is constantly being added to the company’s catalog, and submissions from independent bands and artists are being accepted.
Even though Wolfson got a hands-on education in NYC, he’s confident that Portland is the best of all worlds for executing his old skool/new school spin on music licensing. “Portland, Oregon is the home of indie rock and is still a hotbed for independent music,” he says. “The musicians here have day jobs. They work at bars, record stores, coffee shops, and community centers. During their free time, they play music. Pacific Soundtracks specializes in indie music, because we live in Portland, and that’s what we do best.
“Pacific Soundtracks thrives on our relationships with each other and the inherent sense of camaraderie in the Portland music community. We focus on making the best music we can, together.”
— David Weiss