In August 2020, Bradley Rainey was named head of WME’s music for visual media department, succeeding veteran agent Amos Newman and taking on a roster of Oscar, Emmy and Grammy winners including Hans Zimmer, Randy Newman, Ludwig Göransson, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, among others. The 35-year-old Rainey, a graduate of USC’s film school, was well positioned for the promotion. He helped build the division in 2011, after three years at Endeavor and a stint in the agency’s mailroom. Variety recently spoke with Rainey about the challenges facing composers in an ever-changing business environment.
How has this year been in terms of the pandemic and its impact on your clients?
Navigating uncertainty across the industry has also exposed a lot of holes. We need to tackle [the financial implications of] streaming. We’re seeing a lot of studio films jump past a theatrical window. Artists might be bypassing box office that’s no longer available, and the royalties that come later are fractional compared to what they once were. The implications of that mean higher volume and more output, which is not necessarily the most creative mantra or going to garner the best quality. So that’s a big challenge for the industry, but it’s something that I’m excited to tackle.
Streaming royalties must be minuscule in comparison to the kind of back-end money made from a big hit in theaters.
Exactly. The streamers have created a lot of opportunity, but we have to get past the royalties and figure out box office bonuses. Along with representing artists that are different, or more than just a composer per se, I think it gives WME the opportunity to negotiate different kinds of deals — whether that’s interest in the music or how they release the music, and that’s something that I’ve been heavily focused on.
Amos Newman certainly elevated WME’s stature in the music-for-screens world.
What can you tell us about his focus now? Amos is now senior VP of music at Endeavor Content. He oversees the music strategy for the production company — their soundtrack services, publishing interests and a variety of other things that a VP of music would do at a studio. … This transition is something Amos and I have been talking about for some time, and I think the pandemic catalyzed a lot of things. When the time came, I just jumped in with both feet and was really excited to do it. I had a good understanding of the business and how we operated because I had been there at the opening with him for the past decade.
Do you believe your client list is substantially different from those of the other top music agencies in town?
If you look at the client roster, you see Max Richter, Ludwig Göransson, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Mica Levi, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. These are all artists. They’re doing a lot of other things, outside of just the touring space. They are culturally relevant in so many different ways, and I think that’s the biggest difference, is I have always gravitated towards multi-hyphenates, those artists who are creatively artists, in every sense of the word. Most of the artists on the roster reflect that.
Let’s talk about Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who have two major films out now, Netflix’s “Mank” and Disney-Pixar’s “Soul.”
Rainey: They’re clients of the agency across touring as well as composing, and it’s just been incredible to just be a part of what they’re doing. They’ve had a really great year, aside from “Watchmen” and their Emmy win. Both “Mank” and “Soul” posed an incredible challenge. “Mank,” in the way that they recorded it, and then “Soul,” being a Pixar film. They continue to push the envelope creatively, and they are relentless in the way that they approach and tackle new challenges, whether it be recording in quarantine with “Mank,” or taking on a Pixar film. They require the culture to come to them.
How do you mean?
They do exactly what they need to do creatively, and I think that people go towards that, rather than fitting into what they think the culture or the composing world want them to do.
Another of your clients, Ludwig Göransson, is certainly one of the most interesting artists in the business today. In the past two years he’s collected an Oscar, an Emmy and three Grammys.
He was one of our first clients, when we started the department. He’s another great example of a multi-hyphenate, someone who isn’t afraid to take creative risks. At a time in his career when he was at the peak of the comedy TV space, he decided to take a big risk and work on a small film called “Fruitvale Station” with his friend from USC, Ryan Coogler.
He was scoring “Community” at the time?
“Community,” “New Girl,” and “Happy Endings.” He was getting constantly called to do these half-hour comedies, and he made the decision to move into a new creative space, and really, really had a clear understanding of what he wanted to do. And helping him push into that arena, obviously with the help of Ryan, has just been amazing. Not to mention his work with Donald Glover and Childish Gambino, and all the other avenues he’s done as a producer and a songwriter, working with a variety of other artists. Ludwig creates story around score, as well. I mean, what he did with “Black Panther” was amazing. Going to Africa – again, that’s quintessential to the kind of artist that the agency gravitates towards, and I think it represents our roster.
What about Hans Zimmer? He’s had a pretty big year, counting “No Time to Die,” “Wonder Woman 1984,” “Hillbilly Elegy,” now working on both “Dune” and “Top Gun: Maverick.” It’s like he never stops, even though there’s a pandemic.
Yes, he’s absolutely prolific in his output. We service him in a variety of different ways. He’s done an incredible tour, and [although] the touring side doesn’t come under my purview, the agency as a whole is very involved in that. Hans was certainly instrumental in the start of the music and digital media department — that kicked everything off for us, so it’s been amazing to see that, and to be a part of that.
Who do you see as up-and-comers among your client list — composers that we should be on the lookout for?
Max Richter (“Ad Astra”) is the quintessential client I was trying to go for and still am, which is a multi-hyphenate: somebody who is just as successful in their composer career as they are in their artist career, or ballet, or commission work, or theater, or a variety of other things. The type of artist with a variety of different creative output was most interesting to me because those artists bring a story with them, and that brings something very special to a film. That is the future of our business, really.
I’m really excited about a young composer named Emile Mosseri. We starting working together a couple years ago. He hadn’t yet scored a feature, but in just a few years he’s worked on a number of really special projects, starting with “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” and then he jumped into Miranda July’s film “Kajillionaire.” And then more recently did “Minari.” He’s had a really wonderful career in the short time that he’s been doing this, and I think that a lot of people are going to soon discover how special he is too.
Mica Levi is somebody who I’m constantly surprised by and excited about, and she and I started working together in 2012 while “Under the Skin” was being edited. She’s just incredibly exciting, and she is constantly pushing the envelope. … She is relentless and totally uncompromising in inher will to stay true to the art. And every time she gets involved in a project she does something completely different, and I think you can see that from “Under the Skin” to “Jackie” to “Monos,” and then more recently “Small Axe.”
Kris Bowers is just a pleasure. I mean, he’s incredibly diverse in what he’s able to do, whether that’s “When They See Us” for Netflix, or [the video game] “Madden 21.” He’s doing “Space Jam 2,” “Respect,” “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” He’s got so much runway for 2021, that it’s just going to be fun to see, and he’s just getting started.
How do you view the importance of music supervisors in film these days in terms of the impact they’re having?
I can’t underscore their importance enough. We’re talking about music for visual media — it’s the other component of music that you’re hearing on a film or a TV show. A lot of times they’re setting the stage for what you see on screen. Whereas a composer is creating something original that guides you and helps tell the story, a music supervisor will set the stage like a great costumer or set designer or even a cinematographer, helping the audience understand what they’re seeing.
I think immediately of Quentin Tarantino and Mary Ramos, and her role in setting the stage for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
Sure. Quentin and Mary’s relationship is the ideal director-music supervisor relationship. She’s worked with him on everything he’s done since “Reservoir Dogs.” Think about “Once Upon a Time,” or even “The Hateful Eight,” where she was instrumental in help bringing on a composer [Ennio Morricone], which he had never done before. Mary gets very much involved with storytelling, much more than picking songs. Sometimes she gets in there and gives script notes.
Are there other instances where one of your clients has had a particularly strong impact on a show?
Zach Cowie is a young music supervisor who’s very involved in the sound of “Master of None,” and will get involved with the creatives before the season starts, as they’re developing the scripts. He’s in the writing rooms, and comes with a perspective on what story the music is going to tell, how they’re going to roll that out creatively, and that’s very much a part of what the show is.
What’s your agenting philosophy?
Find creatively fulfilling jobs for your clients and lean into an artist’s overall strategy. That means playing a part in their business as a composer, in their business as an artist, a recording artist or a touring artist, and making sure that they are on paths for what I like to call the 30-year trajectory. Making sure that they are moving in a direction that will ultimately get them to where they need their legacy to be.
Has that always been your view, or is it something that evolved over several years at the agency?
I’ve come to learn that when you partner up with a client, they have long-term goals for themselves, and if you’re not aligned with that, then you can’t properly represent them. When they’re thinking about their careers, they’re not thinking short-term. They’re thinking about the rest of their life, and I don’t know how you can properly represent somebody without understanding it from their point of view. Part of that is empowering them to be able to say no to a project, or not to do something because it’s not creatively what they want to be doing. And I think that that goes against a lot of other agents’ philosophies. I see scarcity as equity, rather than high output of volume. I mean, I think that if you do one or two very special things in your career, whether that’s compose a film or release an album, I think you can do much more than churning out a lot of work because you want to stay relevant.
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