Jennifer Harmon is the brilliant and devoted Senior Director of Film/TV at ASCAP. Transitioning from a path of psychology and neuroscience into the music industry, she has worked at the eminent performing rights organization for 14 years, supporting and advocating for an illustrious community of composers nationally and internationally. She is the organizational force behind various high profile gatherings and events, including ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop with Richard Bellis and ASCAP Screen Music Awards. In advance of this year's ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO, Jennifer reveals her top picks of panels to attend and speaks on the organization's rich history of female leaders.
Can you tell us about your background in the music industry? How did you come to work for ASCAP?
The short answer is that it was pure luck. In my life before ASCAP, I worked in academic research in psychology and neuroscience. While I found the topics very interesting, I was increasingly unsatisfied with the lifestyle. I decided to take a step back and consider what was important to me. The answer was that I liked educating people, I enjoyed having a social aspect to my day-to-day and never forgetting that I'm a science geek at heart, I needed something that made my analytical brain work. I approached a temp agency and we talked through my skill sets. I remembered that I had been published before so I asked if there were any jobs in publishing. They said "we don't have publishing, but we have music publishing." My honest reply was "what's that?".
With that, I embarked on a temp job with ASCAP. As the Executive Assistant to both the Senior VP of Rhythm & Soul Membership, and a Director in Film & TV Membership, I was immediately thrown into preparations for the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Awards and the ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop with Richard Bellis, and discovered that I had previously untapped event planning talents. Then I started taking calls from members, including film composers working on indie films with new production companies that didn't know anything about cue sheets. As I worked through those issues, I found my analytical brain was satisfied as I researched performance royalty processing. With my work on the ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop, I found the educational satisfaction that I craved. After 4-5 years balancing work in both departments, I became a full-time Film & TV department staff member. I became the co-producer of that same ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop, and have held that title for 10 years. I've gone on to develop other educational programs in collaboration with Film Independent and other organizations. And now as Senior Director, my outreach extends internationally to the Krakow Film Music Festival, Soundtrack Cologne in Germany and the World Soundtrack Awards in Belgium. It was an unexpected path, but now 14 years in, I've found a job that I enjoy and a composer community that I love supporting each day.
For someone in the Film/Television Music category, what are the unique advantages of being a member of ASCAP?
Unlike any other performing rights organization, ASCAP is a membership association and we are owned and governed by our members — our board of directors is made up of 12 writers/ composers and 12 publishers. Because we operate on a non-profit basis, 88 cents of every dollar of revenue ASCAP collects goes back to our members, minus a small percentage for our operating expenses – currently about 12%, one of the lowest in the performing rights world. ASCAP provides a host of other benefits that help members pursue professional music careers: they can view their quarterly royalty statements 24/7 through ASCAP Member Access - a simple, secure online portal with detailed, granular information on exactly when / where their music was played and how much it earned, along with access to their processed cue sheets. Member Access is also where they can get exclusive Member Benefits that include instrument and health insurance and discounts on services that can help cut costs for working musicians. Finally, ASCAP provides some incredibly valuable educational opportunities for our members, including workshops, networking events and our annual ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO, coming up May 7-9. For composers, our Film Scoring Workshop in Los Angeles takes place every July. Now in its 30th year, that event has a track record of launching promising composers into professional careers in the film/ TV industries, including Didier Rachou, Matthew Margeson, Layla Minoui, Joseph Trapanese, and Julia Newmann. We also have an exceptional film scoring program that we offer in collaboration with Columbia University, and count Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated Nicholas Britell (Moonlight) among that program’s alumni.
In your role as Senior Director for Film/TV Membership, what are your core duties? What are the most exciting facets of your arena of responsibility?
My core job is to foster a healthy membership. This is rooted in outreach, which is what would typically be considered the fun part of the job. We produce educational programs, attend film festivals and other industry events, and through it all we connect with and support our composer community. This interconnected community feeds new contacts to us each and every day through their own collaborations and mentoring. I feel like my community of composer friends expands exponentially each year!
For the members that we currently have, I am a point person for any questions or royalty issues that need to be addressed. The processing of performances for visual media both internationally and domestically is complicated, and I do my best to educate our members on the process so that we can work together to proactively anticipate any issues and resolve them so royalties flow smoothly. The secret for me is that I think of this as the fun part of the job, too. I take pride in the fact that our team is highly skilled at helping and serving our members. We understand the critical role performance royalties have taken in the revenue stream for our composers and do our best to maximize their opportunities.
What have been your most cherished highlights from your time working at ASCAP?
My most cherished moments tend to circle around our month-long ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop. This summer will mark my 15th workshop, my 10th as co-producer, and in that time I have built strong relationships with an international community of exceptionally talented alumni composers. Each summer we meet our group of 12 composers and spend a month working with them. It is beyond delightful to watch their careers grow and to support them as much as I can throughout that growth. Watching Austin Wintory (class of 2008) grow from our Film Scoring Workshop to winning a BAFTA for his score to the video game, Journey was an absolute treat. Layla Minoui (class of 2010) transitioned from our Workshop to assisting Workshop alum Rob Duncan on his ABC series Castle, and now she's helming the series Vampirina for Disney. We're part of their support teams as well as their cheering section.
The music industry is a notoriously male dominated field yet there are numerous signs of change and growth. As an accomplished business woman in your own right, what are the secrets of your success? Do you anticipate expanding opportunities on the horizon within ASCAP and the industry at large?
ASCAP is unique in the industry in that we have a female CEO, Elizabeth Matthews, and an executive team that is 50/50 women and men. In fact, ASCAP has a history of women in leadership positions, including Marilyn Bergman, who was our president for 15 years. I think having more senior women can have a real effect on company culture and helps model behavior for all employees from the top down. What it’s modeled for me is that hard work is indeed recognized and rewarded.
We are also working to shine a light on the very important contributions of women in the music industry and to help support their work - for example, at our upcoming annual ASCAP Screen Music Awards in May, composer Germaine Franco will receive our ASCAP Shirley Walker Award, which is given to individuals whose achievements have contributed to diversity in film and TV music. We also produce a program with Film Independent in collaboration with their signature diversity program for filmmakers, Project Involve, and foster collaborations with those filmmakers and our diverse community of composers. The musical ecosystem is healthiest when it’s inclusive!
Can you share your thoughts on the Music Modernization Act? How do perceive its potential impact on your work at ASCAP and the field in general?
Songwriters and composers have had to work in an outdated system that over-regulates and undervalues their music for too long, and the Music Modernization Act addresses that. It is wonderful that the industry is coming together to support the legislation. If we are successful, the changes it creates will be so positive for music creators and for music users. We are encouraged by the momentum behind the bill and we hope that it will pass.
At this year’s ASCAP EXPO, what are the emerging trends and pressing issues in the industry that will be discussed and explained?
ASCAP EXPO attendees will hear about trends and issues affecting music creation and how creators are dealing with them at just about every session they attend. Our “We Create Music” panel which kicks off EXPO on Monday, May 7 is one example where the audience will hear from some A-list writers and composers — including Junkie XL who is known for his score to Mad Max: Fury Road and recently scored Tomb Raider— on what it takes to have a successful long-term musical career. A few other topics that will be explored in EXPO sessions this year include using social media to build your music career, how to best manage splits between multiple writers and the role that blockchain technology could play in rights management.
For someone who is interested in attending ASCAP EXPO but has never been to the conference before, what might they expect from the experience? How should they prepare to maximize their potential for opportunity?
The ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO brings together songwriters, composers, producers, musicians, music industry experts at all levels of success and from around the world for three days of in-depth learning, networking and celebrating the art and craft of music across the spectrum. The energy of all of these creative people coming together is infectious, exciting and inspirational. Many who come to the EXPO walk away saying that it is a life-changing experience. Previous EXPOs have featured music luminaries and legends such as Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Timbaland or Quincy Jones giving face-to-face advice to participants in keynote sessions in a large ballroom, and people like Pulitzer Prize winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emmy-winner Bear McCreary and break-out successes like Chris Stapleton giving master classes or performing. You'll see emerging songwriters getting valuable feedback on their music from experts in smaller panel rooms. There are roundtables and one-on-one mentoring opportunities where attendees get to talk to successful music creators and industry reps and ask the questions that are most important to them. I would suggest that anyone planning to attend try to sign up for a one-on-one or roundtable in advance if possible, and come prepared to meet your next writing partner or the person with the power to give you a leg up on your music career. And get ready to hear some great music!
Who are some of the exhibitors and panelists that you are most enthusiastic about at this year’s ASCAP EXPO? Are there any surprises in store that you can share with us?
I am thrilled to have the music team from the Netflix series Luke Cage join us, Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. They bring a unique perspective as producer artists who have successfully navigated the transition to careers in film and TV. We also have an A-list video game music panel featuring the composers for blockbuster games Call of Duty: WWII, World of Warcraft, Bioshock, and Middle-earth: Shadow of War, to name a few. We have a production music panel sponsored by the Production Music Association that will shed light on the path for creators who want to better understand how to work with a music library. And as I already mentioned, we're thrilled to have composer Junkie XL join us this year for our signature panel, We Create Music!
Register here for the 2018 ASCAP "I Create Music" EXPO on May 7-9 at the Loews Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles.
Interviewer | Ruby Gartenberg
Research, Editing, Copy, Layout | Ruby Gartenberg
Extending gratitude to Jennifer Harmon, ASCAP, and Shorefire Media.