Randy Spendlove, the current President of Motion Picture Music for Paramount Pictures, has logged many miles as a touring musician but left the life on the road for one in the front office. Starting as an executive in promotion for A&M Records, Spendlove went on to work on the film music side in roles for Miramax, and most recently at Paramount Pictures. Recently, Spendlove took time to discuss with Glide Magazine his views on the industry and how he formulated his career in music and film.
Can you describe the role that music and film played growing up?
Well, growing up as a child and early teen, I started off by playing guitar and piano and was very interested in music and theatre. As I grew into high school, I played in lots and lots of local rock bands, which then grew into a more professional band. I was playing professionally by the time I was fifteen or sixteen, and played in clubs that I wasn’t even old enough to get into. It always played a huge role in my life when I was really young, and I was just consumed with music that I would listen to on the radio, which was my primary source for where I got my music. There was a record store, but it was an hour away from where I grew up. So, I would primarily hear music on the radio, but I was consumed by having musical instruments around, and I was trying to learn them. That part of it was a big part of my early years. Music and film combined were what occupied most of my interests.
Did film have as much of an impact on you when you were growing up? Did you have a passion for it as equally as you did for music?
I did, but more as an audience member and a consumer. I grew up watching the John Hughes movies, but as video tapes became more prevalent in those days, where you could watch the movies you saw in the theatres at home, it became more and more of a passion. As a young kid, I would go to the theatre virtually every weekend and in the summer several times per week. We had one theatre in the town I grew up in, which was a small town called Gilroy in California, which is about an hour south of San Francisco. We had one theatre and would go almost every weekend.
Can you describe the transition from being a touring musician to what became your career on the business side?
By the age of twenty-five, having been playing and touring, it became clear to me that I wanted to make a career shift, even at that young age. So, I began wanting to work within the record business, and met a very famous record industry professional, a legend, named Charlie Minor, and he hired me to be a local promotion executive for A&M Records in the San Francisco office. My job at that time was to promote records to radio stations that were on the label, and to be a conduit to artists on the label while they were in the region.
Did you find making that transition to be difficult? Did you feel like you had developed a well equipped enough skillset being around music, for the transition to be a successful one?
It was obviously challenging to make a transition like that, although looking back on it, the pieces sort of fell into place, as they do sometimes in life-defining moments. There was an opportunity where A&M Records was trying to find a person to run their San Francisco office and I was in a position where I had met Charlie and people at the company. It wasn’t an easy process, because they were looking at dozens of candidates. If I look back on it now, that was twenty-five years ago, and I was extraordinarily passionate and energetic about music, how I felt about it, and what it meant to me. I like to think that the passion translated in a way where I was ultimately offered the position, and stayed with that company nearly ten years.
Was there a period when you were working in promotion at A&M where you thought it was time to make another shift? How was the opportunity in film presented to you?
You’re right; it was a conscious shift. In the late 1990s, I thought that the record business, as a business, was taking a turn and obviously CDs and the idea of downloading was just coming into play, so the record business was still having trouble. So I said to myself consciously, “I’d really love to combine two of my greatest passions, music and film,” and by this time I really had become interested in, not just film and the film process, but also just the music as it related to both composers and what they could do for a movie, and what it could do on a song level. So I’ve always looked at it two fold, the underscore and the song, so if I could transition into that, I thought that’s where I could really set my stride on a career level.
The music industry, of course, has seen many changes over the past ten or twenty years. Has film seen as significant of changes in business? How about in financial terms?
I think there is a similar thing happening in film to what the record companies have experienced at a business level, and it’s a high-risk high-reward game. Studios are really making very expensive movies and when you win, you win in a very big way, but the risk is there. On the consumer side, audience members consume movies in different ways; everything is happening so rapidly. What went on in the early days of Netflix, Redbox and DVDs, the window is shortening between the theatrical release and the video release. It’s something that we’re investigating, ways to shorten that window. It’s constantly changing and I think it’s going to continue to evolve, both the music industry and the film content industry.
Streaming, of course, is becoming the main medium for consumption. Both music and film seem to be moving quickly away from a physical model and more to a distributed content model. Is it difficult to keep pace with those types of changes within the industry? How do you work to adapt to that?
I agree. I don’t believe we’ve ever worked or existed in a time period where the shift was happening so quickly. We’re obviously heading towards a place where streaming content will be the main focus. How that will relate to film music will be really interesting, for people who are passionate about scores. The thing that makes film music special is that you’re generally re-living the emotional piece of a movie that you love. So you’re reminding yourself on an emotional level about that great moment. When I think about film music, I think it’s not necessarily something that lives in a vacuum. For the most part, you’re re-living what you saw on the screen. How the consumer will be able to access that, whether it’s from some algorithm-driven streaming channel, will be interesting to watch.
For a while, I was thinking about film music as this impenetrable force. Film music is not an export from the music industry necessarily, it’s not exclusively film though either. It’s this package that goes along with a feature film that has to exist and will always exist. That was my first instinct to defining how film music exists, though, I’m certain it’s seen differently in your eyes.
It’s interesting because it exists on a physical level but it also exists in your mind. Almost everybody can imagine E.T. on that bicycle coming across that moonlit sky and remembering that wonderful piece of music that John Williams scored. They remember how that affected them and how that scene would have felt so differently if a different piece of music were used. Using the same composer, John Williams, think of what Indiana Jones or Star Wars would have been without that music. It lives in your consciousness to some degree.
You’re currently the President of Motion Picture Music for Paramount Pictures. What are some of the day-to-day activities in that role when you are working on a project? Can you tell us a bit about what that role entails?
All of our movies have music, and the music sets the tone for the movie. Some of them are more song-based and some of them are more score-based. So we don’t spend any more or less time on either one. The music has to be right on a movie that simply has a score. The score is so important. We spend a great amount of time crafting that tone with our filmmakers, directors, producers and composers. Those are the people who are generally involved in making sure that the music is exactly what the filmmaker is ultimately trying to achieve.
Different directors come from different backgrounds. Some are writers, some are photographers, and some are musical and some are not. We spend a lot of time working to understand what they want, and sometimes filmmakers have a hard time articulating it. So, first and foremost, we work with filmmakers and talk about what they’re trying to accomplish, and we talk about who might best accomplish that in terms of who are the best composers for complementing that agenda. We craft an idea for what the score is going to be, hire the composer, score the movies, which is generally 90 people in an orchestra, where we record typically in Los Angeles or in the U.K. We talk about the different sources of music, the different songs. Do we need to work with a current artist, and have it written?
Similar to what we did with Selma last year, where “Glory” won the Oscar [for Best Original Song] with Common and John Legend. We look at what we’re trying to accomplish and see if it’s in line with the director. My role is also focused in marketing. I think how can we create events for movies. So for Transformers, where we worked with a band like Linkin Park or Imagine Dragons, and not only have them write material specifically for the movie, but have them involved in the scoring of the movie and promotion of the movie. I feel like we’ve been very successful in our blockbusters where we’ve been able to partner with large rock bands that give a tremendous amount of press traction, which ultimately has a value to it, which helps put people into the theatre and create noise and excitement about the movie.
So there is a large marketing component of what I do. My day is split between interfacing with our heads of marketing and production, and then in the studio with artists and composers.
How many projects are you working on at any given time?
We roughly have 12-15 projects running at time. I’ll give you an example. Last year when we were working on an animation film, we had Pharrell [Williams] creating songs for SpongeBob, at the same time John Legend and Common were working in the studio on music for Selma, and we also had Imagine Dragons working on music for Transformers. At any one time, there’s many artists working on projects, and we already have things in motion for next year. So there’s always a lot of songwriting and studio activity.
In that whole process, what is the most challenging part of bringing it all together?
The challenging part for me is time management. I’m extraordinarily hands-on and I want to be hands-on. I’m passionate about all the things we’re ding, but I can’t be in two places at one time, so often times multiple things are going on throughout the country and rest of the world. I find myself flying back and forth from the U.K. a lot because some of our movies are shot over there. One day, we may have A$AP Rocky in Rome for Zoolander, all the while in the recording studio, while I’m in London working on the Mission: Impossible score, while we have another artist in Los Angeles working on another movie. So the challenge for me is to always be there, and I’m constantly moving to be in that creative process. I don’t want to see a project simply “turned in,” I really like to be a part of that process.
In that process, do you ever see yourself as an editor? Do you ever find yourself sending artists back to the drawing board to incorporate some new ideas or revise some of the work they’ve turned in?
Certainly that happens, but it always happens in conjunction with our filmmaker. I like to think of it less as editing, and more as developing and getting it right in the way you would build any product. You’re constantly re-evaluating the work and asking yourself if this is the best you can do. Is it creating the emotional idea that we want to convey?
Can you talk about the narrative that music injects into the script of a film or narrative of a film?
Music is such a huge narrative to film. Many filmmakers have a lot of music written into the script in the early stages of the project, and many filmmakers play music when they’re writing the script or shooting the movie between takes. The most interesting part of it is that music affects everybody differently and we work in a business where you have people with very strong personalities. So when it comes to music, people either love or hate certain kinds of music. It can be complicated with five or six A-level producers who all have different music tastes. Because what feels good to you may not feel good to the other person, but if you’re a strong personality, you’re convictive about how you feel about it. So we find ourselves, often, negotiating and figuring out what is right for the movie.
I know some musicians will only work with certain producers. Are there some filmmakers who work exclusively with certain composers?
Yes, certainly there are composers who have developed long-term relationships with filmmakers. There are definitely directors who prefer to work with particular composers because they have that comfort level and a short hand. Hans Zimmer has many directors who work exclusively and only with him.
Who are some of the people who have acted as mentors for you? You mentioned Charlie Minor earlier, are there others who have stood out as significant mentors for you?
I feel incredibly humbled and grateful to have worked with people like Charlie Minor and Harvey Weinstein. I spent nearly ten years at Miramax, and worked first hand and extraordinarily close with Harvey. He is as passionate about music as I am, so having someone of his stature and position love the area that I oversaw for him led to a terrific relationship and mentorship and to this day he provides great ideas and focus to music and film. Burt Berman, who was the President of Motion Picture Music at Paramount prior to me, was instrumental in bringing me over to Paramount. I think in life you have many mentors at different stages, and those are some pretty great ones.
Are there people outside of your industry, or inside your industry, that you would love to sit down with and learn from?
That’s an interesting question. Not too many within my industry, at least on the music side, because most people that are professional and successful in music, I have crossed paths with over the past twenty-five years. And while some I don’t know well, or know as well as others, most of those people I do know. In other industries, people in the tech industry are interesting to me. I have a terrific friend who works as a horse trainer in the horse racing industry. People that excel in their respective industries are fascinating to me. But I think the tech world, where we’re going as a society, all of that interest me. Certainly people like Tim Cook [CEO of Apple, Inc.] and people involved in the future of technology. But at the same time, I think there are artists, painters and photographers, are interesting. People that view the world and reinterpret it in the form of art, there are certainly people in that area who are interesting to me. I haven’t thought a lot about a particular person, though, I’d definitely have to give that some more thought.
Outside of music and film, what do you enjoy doing most? What’s work-life balance to you?
The most fun thing in my life are my nine and eleven year old kids, who are very excited about music; they’re in a music camp right now. It’s a great pleasure to spend time playing music with my kids and we do it a lot. We do it almost every day. They’ll come up to me and say they’ve learned this new guitar riff and we have got to the point where we can really play together. So that’s really exciting for me, and they’re getting to the age where they can do it at a higher level; it’s really fun. When I’m not working or traveling for work, family is the most important to me.