Shawn LeMone, VP of Film/TV Membership at ASCAP

Shawn LeMone

I Am Entertainment Magazine is all about joining the worlds of Film, TV and Music, and what better way to cover our entire purpose than to interview someone who specializes in music for Film/TV?

Meet Shawn LeMone, VP of Film/TV Membership at American Society of Composers, Authors, & Publishers. In this interview, Shawn shares his passion for helping musicians and TV companies entertain us all.

Can you please tell us where you’re from and what inspired you to get into entertainment?

I was raised in a household of dancers and graphic artists in Pasadena and was surrounded by music and the arts from day one. In the sixties, my mother Karen danced on the “Smothers Brothers Show” and in movies such as “Camelot”, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and others. My father Larry was a choreographer raised in a dance studio. He was also a graphic designer and purveyor of a gigantic record collection centered around jazz, but including everything from Stravinsky, Zappa, the Doors, you name it. His mother, Evelyn LeMone, founded the Pasadena Dance Theater and was a renowned dance instructor who’s students went off to dance at the American Ballet Theater, Harlem Dance Theater and others. Always encouraged to express myself artistically, I found myself paying guitar in bands in the late eighties and early nineties and after graduating from college was interested in working in the entertainment industry.

What college did you attend and what was your major?

I graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, with an emphasis in Social Psychology. I had actually entertained thoughts toward the end of pursuing the life of an academic and going on to graduate school in Social Psychology, but family obligations led me to look for a job.

What was your first job after college and how did that come about?
When I graduated in 1991, the job market was very tight, similar to what graduates are facing today. I found a temp job working for the Directors Guild doing data entry work. After several months, they offered me a permanent job administering an account on behalf of both the Directors and Writers Guilds generated from a levy on blank and rental tape in Europe. I had no accounting or data management experience, but quickly learned the skills set I needed to administer a large residual account and manage inquiries from filmmakers, screenwriters and their representatives. It was a great learning experience. So one year into it, I had an interesting job and permanently abandoned aspirations of academia for a career working in the entertainment industry.

Recently, you were promoted to VP of Film & TV Membership. What does the VP of Film & TV Membership do at ASCAP?
The Guilds were a great learning experience, but when I was offered a job in 1995 with ASCAP, I realized an opportunity of a lifetime in helping composers and songwriters sustain themselves through their craft. Over
the last fifteen years, I have worked my way up through the Film & TV Membership Department and now run the Department. ASCAP is a Membership organization with over 375,000 members. We license the music that is performed on Radio, Television, Concerts, Nightclubs, Restaurants and the Internet on behalf of our members. This year we will post close to a Billion dollars in licensing revenue and have the lowest operating costs of any Performing Rights Organization (PRO) in the world. Our Film and Television Repertory is very important as it brings in a sizable portion of this licensing revenue, both domestically and internationally. The Film & TV Membership Department that I manage is responsible for making sure that our market share in this area is as strong as possible. As such, we must maintain constant interaction with our composer members and make sure they know that ASCAP is the PRO of Choice.

Why is it important for film and TV composers, and other musicians, to belong to a PRO like ASCAP?
When your music is performed publicly on television, radio, the Internet or elsewhere, you need to belong to a PRO in order to receive performance royalties. Performance royalties have always been a very important component of financial sustainability for composers and songwriters. As the business landscape continues to rapidly evolve, with a drop in mechanical royalties from record sales and a reduction in music budgets for film and television, performance royalties are becoming much more critical to working composers and songwriters. Of the three PRO’s you can choose from in America, ASCAP is the only one that is a Membership Organization, with a Board of Directors consisting entirely of composers and publishers. We’re also non-profit and have the greatest annual income and the lowest operating costs, making our royalty distributions the largest of the PROs in America.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Having watched my parents struggle to make ends meet as self-employed artists, it is very rewarding to be able to help composers and songwriters sustain themselves while pursuing their creative passion. I can identify with the members I work with and have fostered some great friendships. In addition to working with composers, I have forged very strong relationships within the film and television production community. ASCAP is also a very interesting place to work in that we are at the forefront of all the new digital entertainment that is emerging. I regularly get involved in meetings and discussions about webisodes, mobile technology and video games.

For the students or recent graduates who are reading this, what is the best way to get started working for a PRO?
Many of the people we currently have working at ASCAP began as interns while they were still in college. It’s a great way for us to get to know future employees before we hire them. If your college has an internship program, I would investigate the opportunity of internship with ASCAP. Currently, the job market is very tight but persistence pays off. The key is to apply yourself 100% to everything you do, so that people can always see your potential.

If you could change anything about the business of Music in Film/TV, what would it be and why?
I frequently hear from my composer, songwriter and music publisher friends about how challenging it is to sustain themselves. With shrinking production budgets, at least for music, they have to take on a lot more work to make ends meet. The days when network television commanded dominant control over the American television audience are long gone. Cable programming has eroded their audience size and that trend is continuing with video games and web-based entertainment. The irony is that music is more important to television than ever before in driving the audience’s emotional response. In the past decade we witnessed the emergence of reality television as the most prolific format of programming. Reality television uses more music than any other format because without a scripted plot, professional acting, or other attributes to engage the audience, the music is left to be the primary driver to emotionally engage the audience. Try watching one of those shows without the music and you’ll see what I mean. I think there is part of a larger trend occurring in our culture where music is being listened to more often and has increasingly become a more constant feature of our lives. Just look at how prolific music based video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have become and how much time we spend listening to music on our iPods and cell phones. So it goes back to what I stated a second ago, there is more music in television programming than ever before. On the other hand, the perceived value of music has been diminished. The fact that music is everywhere, it has led people to feel that it should be free. But if we fail to fairly compensate the songwriters and composers who create the music that adds such value to our everyday lives, we will reduce their ability to create it. At ASCAP, our primary mission is to continue licensing our member’s music for the utmost value that we can obtain from music users. I look forward to continue helping ASCAP pursue this important mission and am interested in working with other music professionals who share this same passion.