How We Listen is an interview series where Byta interviews artists, their teams, and everyone else working in and around music about how they find, listen and experience music, new and old.
Who are you?
That’s quite the existential question! But on a terrestrial level: Michael Perlmutter – I am a music supervisor and own a boutique company called instinct entertainment; in addition, I am currently the president of The Guild of Music Supervisors, Canada.
Where are you based?
I am in Toronto along with 2 colleagues here and one in Los Angeles. And, currently, at home like most of us, these days.
Where do you work? What do you do?
I work in Toronto at home. We had a bricks ‘n mortar office for many years in the downtown core but since Sept. 2018, we have all been working remotely. As a music supervisor, I oversee most musical aspects of a production – TV, film, documentaries etc. Our main responsibility is to find songs for placement in these projects and negotiate licensing deals from copyright owners and subsequently administer the paperwork.
What are you listening to?
This may get me in trouble as we work with hundreds of labels/publishers/pitch agents/indie artists/managers etc….but currently, I am digging: Moon Duo, Little Dragon, Rose Cousins, Tycho, Allie X, Tame Impala and also listening to some great old soul from the early-mid 70s: Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield and many more…
How do you discover new music?
Through the years, I would go out 5-6 nights per week to hear artists perform, meet anyone in the industry and create connections that hopefully would result in long term relationships. When you are a music supervisor, we are in the enviable position where folks from around the world find you and send you music. We used to receive 200-400 CD’s per week in the late 90s/early 2000’s. I am also fortunate that I am invited to speak at music conferences worldwide and create lasting relationships with folks. We do dive into Soundcloud links/Spotify playlists etc. that take us deep into a reservoir of undiscovered talent. We read blogs. Also, when there are specific musical needs (or obscure/unique musical requests), we research endlessly to find the perfect song. This is one of my favourite pastimes.
What formats do you usually listen to? LP, CD, Cassette, Digital, Streaming Services and why?
I even have cassingles from the 80s….! The world moves at a super quick pace and so does our job – we usually have very tight timelines so most of how we listen today is via streamer links that DL that are sent to us or when we reach out to folks we find, they also send streamers. Because we have to deliver song ideas to directors, editors or producers, we send links to stream or DL. I love listening to CD’s in my car and I do listen to vinyl. Quick story: when I worked on the groundbreaking Showtime series “Queer As Folk” from 1997-2005, we would need to ‘sync’ song ideas to scenes. We would work with a music editor who would take our songs and our notes and place them to picture (I can’t recall how he got our songs – I THINK we sent the songs via the “Internet” – or maybe we couriered him a CD ?!). Then, he would create 3 VHS tapes (we would Fedex 2 VHS tapes to LA for other Producers to watch!) with all scenes on it and then I would go to the production office and play the VHS tape for the Producer. It would take 2 hours to get through 3-4 scenes – we’d have 2-4 songs per scene so there were many scenes to play! (now, we create quicktimes with songs and send via the ‘Internet’ :). AND, if the Producer did not like some of the choices, we’d have to re-do those scenes…there was a lot of ‘rinse and repeat’.
Where do you do most of your music listening?
It’s a basic set-up, really. I listen on my computer – I have 300,000 songs on a hard drive. I use headphones if I can. I listen to music on my phone. I listen to vinyl – I have a set up in the corner of a room. I listen to music in a restaurant, in a shopping mall and practically everywhere I go. I feel very tuned in to the aural environments. It’s basically never ending in various forms. I think Shazam is the greatest gift to music lovers!
How do you find and listen to pre-release music?
20-23 years ago, we used to get MANY CD’s ahead of their releases. That rarely happens now – we may get an album link the day before the album is released. For a long time, folks were very worried about privacy concerns – many songs/albums were leaked and labels and the industry clamped down on advance releases. Today, we do receive some advanced songs/albums but they aren’t 2 months in advance. That 2-month advance could allow us to place a song and work with labels and publishers on any promotion of a single/song with airing of a TV show or release of a film. There are folks who do reach out with watermarked downloads etc. It’s rare. There are premieres and first listens etc., but what we like to do, creatively, is be able to get that song in a scene well in advance of the release of the single so the TV episode, for example, could feature that song the week before the single is released to the public. I think you have much more time in film to work with labels and publishers to plan far ahead.
What are your frustrations with listening to music digitally? Any benefits?
As we all know, the quality is not as sharp as if we had a CD…our ears, for better or worse are getting used to this new norm. For example, as I write this I am listening to Moon Duo, played from my iPhone through a tubular bluetooth speaker sitting atop a shelf. It sounds great for right now. The music itself has some saturation in it so it works perfectly to my ears ! We receive a ship full of links weekly. We do listen to all streamers. We download songs and put in our iTunes library when need be. I don’t notice the ads on Soundcloud – I dig in and don’t pay attention. I think my frustration from listening to music digitally is that it hints at disposability. When you had a CD or listened to vinyl, you would usually listen to the entire CD or each side of the LP. The FOCUS was the music and how it made you feel and reading lyrics on an album cover and fully immersing your being into listening. The digital listening experience is part of a multi-tasking society we live in. My 16-year-old stepson listens to Spotify
16 hours per day (don’t tell his teachers….) but he seems to be invested in each song/artist and is always researching to soak up more information. Maybe I’m wrong – but I think he is an exception to the rule.
How do you keep track of everything you are listening to?
If I really dig a song, I’ll toss it into one of many folders that could be titled ‘indie punk’, ‘pop’, ‘world’, ‘’50s’ etc. Sometimes, I’ll scroll through all songs in my library to search – I know there will be diamonds in the rough that I may have glared over 100x before. If we are working on a project, I’ll toss into that specific folder.
Do you tip other people off to new music? How?
I used to be a lot more helpful to others! But, yes, happy to share any great artists with other music supervisors, labels or publishers or anyone ! My love for music stems from many things – one of the drivers is that, if I am able to, I’d love to promote that artist’s music so the more people can hear their brilliance. It’s this strange internal joy I feel but it’s very rewarding.
Anything you want to “promote”?
Safety and health. And support musicians any way you can.
Some of the projects to entertain while we stay at home and ‘fatten’ our curve: Altered Carbon Season 2 (Netflix), Spinning Out Season 1 (Netflix), Diggstown 3 Seasons (CBC Gem Canada), Private Eyes All Seasons (Global Canada).