By Hope Katz Gibbs
Editor & Publisher
Be Inkandescent Magazine
Acclaimed by The Hollywood Reporter as an “Indie Composer to Watch,” Joel Goodman is an award-winning composer who in 2002 co-founded MusicBox, a Los Angeles-based company that licenses catalogs of music for TV shows, feature films, documentaries, ads, and more.
The native New Yorker’s musical education began at 13. He was talented enough to land a spot in the High School of Music and Art, and after spending several years as a studio musician, and working with Cab Calloway and Ralph Towner, he transitioned into creating original music for movies.
Scoring for the Stars
If you have seen “Canvas,” starring Oscar-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden and Joe Pantoliano, you have heard his work. Goodman is also the man behind the music in “Constantine‘s Sword” (First Run Features), “Hear and Now” (HBO), “Walt Whitman” (PBS, “American Experience”) and the multi-award-winning film, “The Cats of Mirikitani.”
Other original composition credits include work on Oscar and Emmy award-winning films, including “Sister Rose’s Passion” (2005 Academy Award nomination); “The Collector of Bedford Street” (2004 Academy Award nomination) and “Children Underground” (2002 Academy Award nomination).
Another one of his sweet spots is writing original music for television shows, such as “The Staircase” on ABC, and “Brooklyn North Homicide Squad” on Court TV.
In 1999, Goodman stuck his toe into the business world when he founded his first firm, a record label called Museum Music. It was an outgrowth of a project he had done for the Getty Center in Los Angeles.
“I had just scored ‘Concert of Wills,’ which was a documentary about the building of Getty Center,” he explains. “It was an interesting story with many human aspects, and aside from airing on TV, the film was slated to play for an entire decade at the Center. It dawned on me one day that we should make a CD from the film, and sell it in the gift shop—just like we would a catalog for a show of artwork.”
Executives at Getty loved the idea, and the CD was a hit. Soon after, Goodman pitched a similar idea to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City for a show they were curating about the work of painter Jackson Pollock. For this one, he collected Pollock’s extensive jazz record collection, and turned it into a CD.
“It sold better than the art catalog in the gift shop, which is unheard of,” Goodman recalls today, while visiting clients in New York City. “I knew I was on to something.”
Most important, he believes, is that being in the CDs game gave him an entre into the whole world of the business of selling music. “It’s where I cut my entrepreneurial teeth.”
The New Reality
By 2002, budgets for composers were being cut, and Goodman knew he needed to find a way to compete. He still loved the idea of making and selling CDs, and knew the real money was in licensing the work.
He decided that not only would he license his own music, he’d also license the work of other musicians. “I knew the potential for growth was tremendous,” he says.
Goodman was right. By 2007, the company had grown to the point where he could begin hiring professional salespeople. That’s when Aaron Davis joined the firm.
“Aaron is very experienced, knowledgeable, and smart,” says Goodman. “He knows the ins and outs of the business, and is now our VP of Licensing and Sales. He’s the one who made the decision to take us in the direction of becoming a music library. It was a brilliant strategic move.”
How Licensing Music Works
Davis explains that the music library industry is a very homogeneous business.
“There are a few companies that differentiate themselves from others, and we feel that we do that by being owned and run by a composer who is active in the industry,” says the man who plays trumpet, orchestral percussion, and guitar—in addition to having a head for business.
“Clients call us for custom music and the library, so we offer a variety of price points. That’s because we offer many services, including custom scoring of main title of TV shows (such as ESPN’s “World Series of Poker”), original music, specials and series, and advertising. It’s what we call a ‘rich niche,’ because we are not limited to being a fit for only one kind of show, film, or commercial.”
While Goodman has written much of the music in the MusicBox catalogs, the firm currently offers 700 CD titles with 21,000 tracks. Last year, the company launched an iPhone app that allows TV music pros to listen to snippets of music on their iPhones so they can easily purchase and download them using Apple’s scroll wheel interface.
The genres of the tracks include action, chase, comedy, and retro. Producers can also search by mood, including angry and mysterious, and by tempo and instrumentation.
“Learning to use the program is a 10-second process,” Davis explains. “Since TV producers work around the clock to get a piece finished, this free app has proven to make their lives a little easier. That’s our goal.”
The Ubiquity of Music
The privately owned firm, which has eight employees—including Davis and Goodman—is primed for continued growth. The reason? Music is ubiquitous.
“In the U.S. alone, our market is TV programming, promotional pieces, advertising, film, trailers, DVDs, video games, corporate videos, local TV, schools, churches, governments, and the armed forces—even the Boston Red Socks,” he notes. “It’s true. I went to a game recently and heard a track from one of our catalogs. It was a fantastic moment.”
Goodman, who is a master at using his medium to make an emotional impact, shares a recent assignment when his skills were put to the test.
“I was asked to score a film called “Children Underground” about the 25,000 homeless children wandering the cities of Romania,” he explains. “The imagery in the film is so powerful that the filmmaker wanted me to write a piece of music that had no emotion. She didn’t want the audience to be keyed off of the music. Here were all of these kids doing drugs, sniffing glue, scrounging for food. The music really didn’t need to add to the drama. It was the hardest job I have ever had, but also the most rewarding. It took me to a new place with my craft.”
Is music only about emotion?
“I’d say that about 99 percent of it is,” Goodman believes. “Music underscores the emotion that the director wants the audience to feel. That means that the job of the composer is to make the right music to accomplish the goal. It’s highly subjective, of course, and different types of music affect us all in different ways. It’s a bit of a trick to find a common sensibility for all of the artists who are working on the project. By the time I come onboard, the director, producer, writer, and others have internalized all of those emotions, so I look to them for guidance.”
The Future of MusicBox
Of course, Goodman uses a similar sensibility to manage the growth of his business venture.
“For right now, I like the path we are on and plan to keep going in the direction that we’ve found success with in the last four years,” he says. “What we’re seeing in the music industry today is how diverse we need to be. Licensing is a pretty competitive field, and many of the other companies in the industry are laser-focused. So we look at places where others don’t.”
Being a composer helps guide the business strategy, too, since he sees the industry from two angles. Later this year, he may pursue a third angle: solo artist.
“Maybe there is a future for me as a performer,” he muses. “I honestly don’t know what I’d do if I performed live — maybe play the instruments I compose with — piano, bass — or get up there and wave my arms. Time will tell.”
Goodman says he’s also interested in doing some educational outreach to filmmakers and composers who don’t necessarily understand each other’s industry.
“I believe there is a gaping hole between what filmmakers know about music, and what composers know about making a film,” he shares. “I’d like to start a conversation and get everyone talking so we can begin working together better. It’s about giving back, and that excites me.”