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VOL. 126 | NO. 103 | Thursday, May 26, 2011

New Venture to Manage Brewer’s Copyrights

JOE BOONE

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Memphis-based film director Craig Brewer and Kat Sage, founder of Red Wax Music Publishing Administration and Consulting, are joining forces in a new venture called BR2 Music Publishing. The concern will manage the copyrights for music in Brewer’s filmography and future projects.

BR2 Productions, which Brewer started 20 years ago with his late father, has produced smaller projects such as “The Poor and Hungry” and “$5 Cover,” while his large-scale films, “Hustle & Flow” and “Black Snake Moan,” were produced by Paramount.

“BR2 is my Memphis company,” Brewer said.

Red Wax manages music-publishing catalogs, registers copyrights, negotiates and creates licenses for music use, and tracks down performance royalties on behalf of clients.

Sage was project manager for the GRAMMYs for more than a decade. In that capacity, she learned an extremely complicated business and has maintained a Memphis angle ever since. Some of her current clients include Alicja Trout, GRAMMY nominee Paul Speer and George McConnell of the 1980s proto jam band Beanland.

“All major studios have multiple publishing companies,” said Ray Yee, executive director, film/TV relations at Broadcast Music Inc. “Since the studio is paying for the production, they should share in the return on those assets. Fox and Warner have films from decades ago that are still generating income.”

According to BMI, which collects royalties on behalf of artists, “performing right royalties are earned when a musical work is performed publicly. Public performance occurs when a song is sung or played, recorded or live, on radio and television, as well as through other media such as the Internet, live concerts and programmed music services.”

Brewer’s movies have a common thread of music.

“I grew up in the ’80s and a lot of the popular movies like ‘Footloose,’ ‘Flashdance’ or ‘The Breakfast Club’ all had great soundtracks,” he said. “I was one of those kids that bought soundtracks and tried to live the movie in my head over and over again.

“For me it starts with music. I make a playlist by asking myself, ‘What is the mood?’ Then I just get into the zone, blaring that music and seeing the movies I want to make. It also sustains me through the difficult times that come when you are developing an idea.”

Most performance royalty income comes from sync licenses, the instrument that enables film and television producers to use music and make sure the composer gets paid. Copyright in music is notoriously complex. Rights in the music are split between the composer and the publisher. In the case of sync licensing, the “publisher” is the studio or production company.

“I’ve been at BMI for 15 years and it’s just complicated, that’s why we have our jobs,” Yee said.

That complication led Sage down this path.

“When I decided to start my own company, I saw that many artists own their publishing, but don’t really understand the publishing industry,” she said. “Granted, it can be extremely complex and confusing.”

Most film composition is done for an upfront fee and the composer retains the “writer” portion of the copyright while the studio holds the “publishing” portion.

Sage and Brewer met at a screening of Brewer’s first feature “The Poor and Hungry” in the basement of First Congregational Church.

“The movie blew me away,” she said. “From that point on, I stayed in touch with him through my work with the GRAMMYs. Once I started Red Wax, he hired me to be the music supervisor on his retooling of ‘The Poor and Hungry’ for DVD format.”

It was Sage’s involvement that gave the brains, so to speak, to the music side of Brewer’s work.

“Because I was young and dumb, I thought you could just put whatever music you wanted to in a film,” he said. “So Kat was really valuable during that time. Since then we have worked with her and it’s been a real treat.”

Yee, however, said the real money is in television, as there is no performance royalty paid by movie theaters. But when a film is released on television, royalties are paid.

“The rule of thumb is that the station with the most audience pays the most,” Yee said. “Broadcast networks have over 200 affiliates, so TV shows are the top tier when it comes to royalties.

“Think of what the ‘CSI’ franchise has done for Pete Townsend of The Who. The show has three franchises and had been sold into syndication.”

Yee mentioned the country singer Jace Everett, who had peaked at No. 51 on the Billboard country chart before his song “Bad Things” became the theme song of HBO’s “True Blood” series.

“Now his song is one that the whole ‘True Blood’ audience knows,” Yee said.

Sage said she admires Brewer’s devotion to Memphis.

“Craig is still living in Memphis and supporting the music in this town,” she said. “I think it’s cool that he hired local rather than going to New York or L.A.”

“I have used 20, 30 Memphis musicians in my films,” he said. “Now those films are on television. Luther Dickinson told me recently, ‘Dude, Black Snake Moan really kind of kicked in for us last year,’” Brewer said.

“I have a feeling that as I move forward I will be working on more music-themed projects under my production label.”

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