In “Pitch Perfect,” Anna Kendrick plays Beca, a musically inclined loner who is loath to enter into college per her dad’s request, because she would much rather move to L.A. on her own and start working at a major record label.
It should be noted that “Pitch Perfect” is an exaggeration, a fiction in which the world of college a capella is about a dozen times more exciting, day-to-day, than it actually is, one in which adapting, licensing and performing hit songs is not a logistical nightmare but a dream. Furthermore, the stars in Beca’s eyes broadly shine on an industry notoriously struggling with making money, turning to synch-licenses like those in “Pitch Perfect” and to product placement and commercial sponsorship after album sales have greatly decreased and digital single sales can only make up one piece of the lost pie.
Thus, Beca’s desire is somewhat self-reflexive, if not dangerously outmoded, but I’ll play this little game because “Pitch Perfect” is actually kind of funny and otherwise harmlessly entertaining.
Beca is a singer, a beats programmer, has a genre-spanning pop music knowledge base and works at the university radio station (bless her heart). While her dream of moving alone to L.A. to “make it” is brave, she’s lucky to have a dad that wills her higher education: record labels largely don’t pay their entry level, aka interns, and legally must apply at least college credit.
Now, once summer hits, Beca should hit the coast during the summer for an internship. But with her skills set, musical interests and successes that “Pitch Perfect” self-imposes through its soundtrack and pop cultural reference, exactly where should Beca start to try and “make it?”
Beca likes songwriting, and she likes electro-pop underdog La Roux — that’s where “her” recording of “Bulletproof” (the demo she gives the radio statio DJ) came from. La Roux’s actual performance of “Bulletproof” is what’s featured in the movie, so they got to take home mechanical royalties (shared with whoever their publisher is) plus performance royalties. La Roux, however, don’t get mechanical royalties for the soundtrack, because they’re not on the soundtrack (despite being featured in the movie).
Kendrick’s character could also look to an artist that’s mentioned by name in the movie: Bruno Mars. He popularly performed and co-wrote hit single “Just the Way You Are,” adapted in the movie, but also gets songwriting moneys for “Right Round,” Flo Rida’s Hot 100 brain-gum from 2009. He also gets work as part of pop music brain-trust The Smeezingtons, who have helmed hits together for Cee Lo (“F*ck You”), Bad Meets Evil, B.o.B., Travie McCoy and more. Similarly, David Guetta and his publisher get paid for the use of “Titanium,” featuring Sia, as it was performed by the singers and the actual song was played.
If Beca wants to stay out of the limelight, and basically connect her songs to people who sing them, she can look to songwriters like Lukasz Gottwald who earn mechanicals for not just one song, but FOUR songs featured in the film (and the soundtrack): “Price Tag,” “Since U Been Gone,” “Magic” and “Party in the U.S.A.” are all credited as Gottwald co-writes. Production duo Stargate got similar credit for the two Rihanna songs featured.
The Bellas got guff in the film for only singing old songs, but pulling the right song for the right price is a gift in music publishing. “Mickey,” “It Must Have Been Love” and “Let It Whip” don’t audition themselves into epic a capella infamy: they’re licenses whose prices fluctuate with their popularity, sound, use, the passage of time and other factors. That’s why your high school performed “Camelot” and “Into the Woods” and not “Grease” and “Les Miserables,” because they’re damn expensive!
Universal paid multiple publishing houses to put out the soundtrack for “Pitch Perfect,” but was able to line the pockets of its publishing arm with a massive nod to “The Breakfast Club” soundtrack (notably released through A&M, a Universal subsidiary) and it’s “Don’t You Forget About Me” (originally performed by Simple Minds, also on A&M). That song is 27 years old and still has legs.
… Which leads to licensing of the more contemporary hits. Artist publishers’ jobs are to push their clients songs, and to get top dollar for that synch. Maybe “Pitch Perfect” wanted “We Found Love,” but ended up with two older Rihanna hits, “Don’t Stop the Music” and “S&M.” Instead of getting a Michael Jackson license for “Billie Jean,” the a cappella singers were able to revel in the same bassline, to CeeLo’s “Bright Lights Bigger City.” “Starships” (out via Nicki Minaj) was licensed through Universal, which may have influenced its inclusion.
Oh but hey, there’s at least two independent label artists here: Yeasayer (Secretly Canadian) and Phantogram (Barsuk). Their inclusion was courtesy of Bank Robber music, a music licensing house that focuses on the indies. Maybe Beca can work at one of those? Or simply be a music supervisor, like “Pitch Perfect’s” Sarah Webster, or take those commercially licensed songs and turn them into a cappella arrangements like Christophe Beck and Mark Kilian did.
To get on a label or with a publisher to begin with requires A&R, which Beca could also be into. This will require a lot of schmoozing and going to the clubs, and frankly she’d be better off turning 21 first. Labels like Columbia use anything from their interns to BitTorrent to Billboard charts to discover and court breaking bands. Publishers can be the same way, though they have some divisions devoted to finding song-makers speciically for video games, or jingles or pop songs for specific kinds of pop artists.
As for how Universal made out with the sales of the “Pitch Perfect” soundtrack: It ascends No. 43 to No. 16 on the Billboard 200 after the movie actually hit theaters, and only then from regional to wide. Its first week was only out digitally, which meant for only 9,000 albums sold in that first frame. This is why, in part, the soundtrack is made up of only the actors’ performances of those hit songs, and not the originally released songs themselves: those licenses would have been a lot more expensive, with almost no chance on recouping the licensing costs from CD and digital sales of the albums alone. Also, Anna Kenrick’s performance of “Cups” is adorable, congrats songwriters A.P. Carter and Luisa Gerstein (and you, Beca).
Also, it is much, much harder to become the back-up singer for John Mayer.
So if the film “Pitch Perfect” has anything to say about it, Beca should look into publishing, not labels, for work, that is, if the college radio station thing doesn’t work out. And she should sign up with SESAC, BMI or ASCAP if she ever hopes to see a check for those bigger releases. Or she should become an entertainment lawyer and squeeze in with any of the above. But I’m not sure if “Law School” is a sequel the “Pitch Perfect” franchise can handle.