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VALLEY BUSINESS | THE SOUND OF MUSIC

Heavy Metal Vet Strikes Chord Providing Music for Films, TV

Entertainment: MasterSource, brainchild of guitarist Marc Ferrari, produces and licenses songs that sound like they came right off the radio.

September 05, 2000|LEE CONDON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VAN NUYS — Originally all Marc Ferrari wanted to be was a rock star.

As guitarist for the heavy metal groups Keel and Cold Sweat, Ferrari was signed to major record labels, recorded five albums and toured the world. Framed posters of album covers line his walls, with Ferrari posing alongside his bandmates in full headbanger gear--long frizzed-out hair, mesh spider web shirts and tight leather pants.

In fact, Ferrari was so much the archetype, he was tapped to play a heavy metal guitarist in both "Wayne's World" movies.

"I did the whole rock star thing for a while but we never made any money," said Ferrari, 38. "After being on the road for six or seven years and coming back broke again I got frustrated."

Not seeing much of a future as an aging big-hair guitarist, Ferrari in 1996 plowed his life savings of $35,000 into an enterprise that would provide original background and incidental music for movies and television.

He called the company MasterSource, and to date he has placed more than 1,000 songs in TV shows and movies, including "As Good as It Gets," "Fight Club," and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." The company is now generating annual revenue of about $750,000, Ferrari said.

There are plenty of other music libraries on the scene, but Ferrari said he was able to break in by filling a void.

Most of his competitors provide either well-known hits--which are expensive for film and TV producers to use--or anonymous-sounding "stock music" in various genres, like jazz or country-western.

Ferrari saw an unmet need for songs that sound like they came right off the radio, but without the big price tag. So he set about creating a contemporary library of songs, with vocals and without, in every style from rock to rap, from disco to grunge.

"Prior to 1996 if you were a filmmaker and you wanted a rap song in your movie, you had to go and license a major-label song," Ferrari said.

At first Ferrari wrote most of the songs himself, but today he uses a group of about 40 songwriters--paying them a cut if their songs are licensed for a production. He then records the songs, assembling singers and musicians and overseeing the recording process.

The music is compiled on CDs and distributed for free to film and TV producers, who pay only if they want licensing rights.

Sam Diaz, the manager for television music for Paramount Pictures, said he uses MasterSource on a regular basis. Before Ferrari came along most music libraries were only providing instrumental tracks. But Ferrari offered songs with vocals that reminded Diaz of real songs on the airwaves.

Typically the studio uses Ferrari's songs for background or source music, which is the sound coming from a TV or radio in a scene. Diaz said producers increasingly want that music to sound realistic--which means vocals.

"There are producers who feel anything with vocal interferes with dialogue and there are producers who think anything without vocals isn't a song," Diaz said. "But more and more producers want vocals. Marc filled that gap by providing us with real songs with vocals."

Many of the studio's more youth-oriented shows use a lot of music. A veteran show like "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" can afford to license a current hit, but others must make do with generic sound-alikes.

"On a smaller, newer show we can't put in a Britney Spears song without crushing the budget," Diaz said.

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A major-label song can cost a show around $15,000, while music libraries charge a fraction of that.

Ferrari personally negotiates licensing deals for each song, with price hinging on factors including the type of show or film it will be used in, and for how long the sound bite will be played.

He sells not just to film and television but also to companies making corporate videos, trade shows, airline videos, theme parks, video games and commercials.

In some cases, Diaz will call Ferrari with a special request. Recently producers wanted a song similar to something the group the Black Crowes would do.

"Since Marc comes from a rock 'n' roll world he knew right away what I needed," Diaz said.

The competition has noticed MasterSource, acknowledges Gary Gross, senior vice president and general manager of Killer Tracks, the production music arm of BMG Entertainment, a recording industry giant that also owns RCA Records and Arista Records.

"We like his stuff," Gross said. Ferrari has in fact produced some CDs for BMG in the past and BMG handles some licensing for MasterSource internationally.

Gross is not certain who first started using contemporary vocals in music libraries, but said Ferrari has definitely carved a niche in the business.

"Film and television productions have always needed vocals. But they have typically gone to the publishing industry to get known songs. That can be very expensive," Gross said. "What [Ferrari] is doing is offering the same style of music at a reasonable price."

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