Music’s ‘Girls on Film’ Share Secrets to Success at REBOOT Industry Workshop for Women

Say yes a lot, do your homework on projects in development and think twice about starting out as an assistant.

Those were some of the pro tips shared at the fourth installment of the REBOOT women’s empowerment workshop series hosted by Pulse Music Group.

During the recent two-hour panel, Kara Foley, senior director, film & TV for Pulse, spoke with a group that included composer, producer and songwriter Morgan Kibby; Pulse Music Group President, head of creative Maria Egan; Universal Pictures Executive Vice President of film music Rachel Levy; STARZ VP of music, business, and creative affairs Janine Scalise Boyd; and Rochelle Holguin, vp of creative music strategy for Viacom Brands. The team discussed their biggest challenges as women in music and dished out advice for those looking to break into the TV and film world.

Here are some of the highlights:

Camp Pays Off

Pulse Music recently teamed up with STARZ to host an all-female songwriting camp that featured mainly Latina songwriters, producers and engineers. During the two-day event, participants pitched tracks for specific scenes the television show Vida‘s second season. Foley and Boyd shared the results: “We had seven songs created and four out of the seven are being used,” said Boyd.

Take Credit

Holguin said that she’s benefited greatly from being her own champion, “especially when you are leading a team and you are a woman and you want to give credit to you team but also stand up for yourself and say, ‘No. I brought that and I led it.'” The executive also admitted that throughout the years, she’s personally found it hard as a female to try and take credit for her own work. “Since we are fueled by emotion, we have a tendency to want to spread the love; versus with a man, they don’t tend to think that way. As a woman, you think of other females and how it will be received and discount yourself in some respect,” she said.

Kibby said her biggest challenge has been to be taken seriously. “If you think it’s bad for female producers, it is so much worse than female composers,” she said.

Fighting the Snowball Effect

“I think there is a subconscious cultural assumption that we just don’t operate on the technical side of that profession,” Kibby added, noting that trying to break in without any credits is a catch-22. “If I don’t have the credit, I can’t get the studio film but then how do I get the credit? It snowballs and then you find yourself in a situation where you have been working for years and sometimes you can’t get over that lip of getting to the next level.”

Kibby suggested finding the females in power willing to take a chance on you. She raved about the Alliance for Female Composers, which has been instrumental in championing the work of herself and her female colleagues in the composing space. “They are very vocal about the fact that we can make noise: ‘Hi! There are female composers and here is a list of them.’ They have a wonderful directory you can go through,” she explained.

Beware of Assisting

Another issue that Kibby has seen is that women in her field are often relegated to being assistants. “And once you start assisting — which is a big reason why I decided not to go that route — you kind of get stuck in that role and there is no upward mobility because you kind of get categorized as, ‘Oh, the orchestrator,’ or, ‘Oh, she does additional music,'” she explained.

Still, for new composers, Kibby said it’s important to initially say yes a lot. “I knew that switching from the pop world to composition was a really big leap for me. And there was no reason for anybody to take me seriously. But I said yes to everything, every tiny demo, every commercial, every short film and then since I’ve been in the business for so long, it was actually one of my oldest friends who is a director who ended up hiring me for my first film. But that comes with saying yes to everything and being curious and being ambitious in the sense of just really throwing yourself into the work,” she explained.

Giving Newbies a Chance

A discussion broke out about how female executives need to find the balance between hiring someone already on their go to list and giving new talent a chance:

“For us at a big studio, it’s all about risk assessment,” said Levy. She added that there are absolutely opportunities in her company for up and coming females; however, it has to be the right project. “As talented as someone may be, we wouldn’t give a first timer Jurassic Park,” she said.

Holguin revealed that Viacom recently created a diversity initiative program in an attempt to give more exposure to people that don’t necessary get to meet people in the studio system. She also stressed the importance of building relationships in order to break through.

Kibby agreed. “There is no right or wrong way to go about it. In terms of experience, there is kind of this staircase that you have to walk. I don’t expect to get Aquaman, but maybe 5 or 10 years from now. But it’s really just being in your community, meeting people, developing relationships,” she said.

Keep Tabs on What Companies Are Doing, Tailor Your Pitches Accordingly

Boyd stressed the importance of being up to date on what studios are doing. “Educate yourself on what STARZ is working on. ‘Oh I hear STARZ has a Vidashow that is employing all Latin composers and Latin DPs and directors for the upcoming season. Maybe I can make my intro through that,'” she said, as an example. “Or is there an African-American show and they are looking for all African-American directors,” she added. “Knowing that and knowing what Hulu is doing and all the different facets and all the different studios are working on and how you can swivel your way into that place can be priceless.”

Know Thyself

Holguin said mastering the concept of emotional intelligence could take you far: “I would encourage you to read books about that or go to therapy. Understanding yourself and understanding other people will help you in this business — as well as being authentic to yourself and bringing your full self into anything you want to do.”

Pulse Studios & Starz Host All-Female Songwriter Camp for ‘Vida’ Scene Syncs

On a recent Wednesday in Los Angeles, a group of 11 female songwriters and producers gathered at Pulse Studios for an opportunity to collaborate on new music and possibly land their tracks in a scene of the hit Starz show, Vida. The event kicked off around noon when participants arrived, were introduced to one another and mingled over lunch. They were then ushered into a room where they met with Vida showrunner Tanya Saracho, who walked them through an array of scenes for which she was seeking music.

Saracho handed everyone music briefs with descriptions of the scenes and played a series of clips, explaining what types of songs she was looking for to accompany each part. The prompts ranged from a flirty “getting to know one another for the first time” tune to something darker that needed to compliment a moment of personal reflection and a carefree party scene that turned heavy.

The event was spearheaded by Kara Foley, senior director of film/TV at Pulse Music Group. She, like many, was shocked to hear the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s 2018 findings on the state of females in the recording industry.

“I was inspired after attending the first REBOOT workshop where we basically saw numbers and the stats of women producers, writers and talked about how going to increase that number and make it so we are taking over?” she told Billboard. So when given the chance, Foley decided to do something to help make a dent in those staggering statics; she put together an all female writing camp with what she refers to as “an end goal” for its participants. To facilitate the event, Foley reached out to Janine Scalise Boyd, vice president of music at Starz, and they worked to put the initiative together.

“From the cast to crew and the show creator, Vida is primarily all female. So it was a natural fit,” Foley said. “I told Janine, ‘I have the female artists, writers, producers. You have the female writing execs, the show creators — everybody is female. This is the perfect tie in!'”

Starz wrangled the executives and Pulse reached out to songwriters and the guest list was cemented. Since Vida is a Latina-based show, many of the camp’s invitees were songwriters that have experience in the Spanish world. There were, however, a few that played in more of the pop or indie space that had the chance to participate as well.

Saracho and Stephanie LanghoffVida‘s executive producer who was also on site, could not have been more thrilled about the experience. “This year, women have been told that they need to step up but they are not given the same opportunities that men are. So this is a way to give them opportunities by creating these programs for women to have their voices heard and to give them a leg up when they may not have had that opportunity before,” said Saracho.

With the exceptions of a few initial episodes, which are already locked, the Starz executives were giving the writing camp participants the chance to score a good portion of Vida‘s second season 2. Saracho said that when she’s pairing music to tape, she typically finds herself looking for existing songs that fit a scene but revealed that the writing camp provided a nice reprieve from that experience.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to have songs designed specifically for moments in our show. So we win because we get a great song that is tailor made for our scenes in our show and what we are trying to evoke for audiences and the artists win because they get to have a song that’s in a television show,” she said. In addition to finding the perfect accompanying soundtrack to the show, Saracho and Langhoff hope that the writing camp succeeds in giving up and coming songwriters a platform to be heard.

“It would be great for us to look back on a big Latina artist one day and say, ‘Remember when they had that song on Vida?'” said Langhoff. “It would be fun to be a turning point in their career.”

After watching the clips, the event’s participants chose the scene they wanted to write to and split up into groups of three to start writing. Those sessions took place over the next two days and everyone involved took something special away from the day.

“I was incredibly excited for the opportunity,” said producer, writer and mixing engineer AG. “I’m a Hispanic, gay, female producer/writer/engineer. I usually am all alone out there — but it was so refreshing to be around all those badass women.” She added that she typically works in the “very white male” indie and alternative world and that she found it refreshing to get back to her roots and collaborate with fellow female artists.

Heather Bright, a singer, songwriter, DJ and producer who works under the Bright Lights moniker said the writing camp fulfilled a dream of hers to be able to submit music for film and TV. “I’m a very visual writer. I always see visions or scenes in my head when I’m creating a song. So to have the actual scenes in front of me while making a record… that was unbelievable,” she explained. She also told Billboard that she relished in the chance to be able to meet the female entertainment executives on site and hear about the work they are doing to bring more women into the music behind their shows.

Bright also had a standout moment from the camp that came from working with fellow writer and artist Sofi De La Torre. “One of the coolest and most mind-blowing moments for me came after we finished recording vocals on ‘Save Me From Myself,’ and Sofi said, ‘You’re the first female producer I’ve ever worked with.’ As an artist and songwriter myself, I’ve never actually worked with a female producer either,” she said. “I feel really humbled and blessed to be in this position, surrounded by such amazing talent. I hope one day, young girls can look at me and say, ‘I wanna be a music producer when I grow up,’ and know that it’s a reality for them.”

Dahlia Lagos, a Colombia American artist, songwriter and producer, said the writing camp served as a gateway to a world she had never had a chance to be a part of before. “I had never written specifically for film and TV so that in it of itself was really special,” she said. Lagos added that as a producer, her job is to bring to the vision of an artist to life and noted it was a really fun challenge to shift gears and focus on creating content specifically for a television scene. “Since we were writing for a specific scene, not only did I have to capture the song but the vision Tanya Saracho had for the characters in the world she created for them,” she said.

Ale Alberti, who is signed as a writer with Pulse, enjoyed working with some high profile female colleagues that she hadn’t previously met. “I was in the room with Heather (Bright Lights) and Sofi de La Torre. I had heard so much about them through my publisher, but hadn’t written yet,” she said. We wrote to a specific scene that we all connected with and the song is so beautiful. Hopefully you get to hear it soon.”

She added, “This experience was great, I got to write with people I had wanted to and now I’m sure we will collaborate again. I got to meet and network with new writers and producers, as well as music supervisors, which I had only been connected through email before. It’s great to have that personal relationship now.”

The writing camp participants won’t find out if their songs made the cut until early 2019. But, regardless of the outcome, Foley considers the two-day event a success.

“Of course I want these songs placed,” she said. “Everybody wants to make money and get exposure. But I was really excited today because I was able to bring not only different people in the music industry together but in the entertainment industry as well. The huge accomplishment, if anything today is that I was able to connect some producers, writers, with a show runner, with an executive producer, with the marketing team. It’s face time. It’s one on one. It’s building relationships.”

Asked if there will be more of these events in the future, Foley proclaimed, “Oh, absolutely!”


A peek inside our recent Primary Wave Writers Retreat held in Montecito, CA.

The five-day event took place at Ben Margulies’ studio Secret Garden, bringing several top artists, songwriters, and producers together including Jeremih, Grey, Kat Dahlia, Dante Jones (THEY.), Kenny Loggins, Anthony Russo Music, MAG, Louis Schoorl, Livvi Franc, Quinn XCII, Jessie Saint John, Tyler Armes, and more.

There were also several industry speakers in attendance, including Janine Scalise Boyd (Starz), Jordan Bromley (attorney/Music Artist Coalition), Matt Colon (YMU) and Arjan Timmermans (Apple Music). Daily events focused on industry awareness, business management, health, and wellness. A yoga instructor and sound bath were brought in each morning before writing sessions began, and ASCAP flew in Alex Falk to perform as well.

Here’s to an incredible week filled with new music, we can’t wait for our next retreat!