#16 Women in Music: Lauren Harman (Lip Sync Music)

Lauren Harman“This is the music business honey, it’s not music fun time with friends!”

Lauren Harman is joking – sort of. The Los Angeles based working mum and music professional has called us to chat shop on a very rainy Tuesday afternoon, to continue our Women in Music series, addressing the imbalance in coverage of  the women who work 'behind the scenes' in the music industry. Our conversation is, however, far from the dreary affair waiting to meet us outside.

Harman is the CEO of Lip Sync Music, a company whose roster means big business: Digitalism, Amanda Palmer, Violet Femmes and Little Boots currently help to balance their books, while alumni include Stars and Zola Jesus. You’ve probably never heard of them. The reason? Lip Sync Music are a licensing company: perhaps the most unsung heroes of the music industry.

“Labels don’t even tell their artists sometimes that we’re getting all these opportunities for them,” Lauren explains, exacerbated after a long, but delightfully easy talk about the more technical aspects of selling and supporting the music she loves. “Artists half the time don’t even know that we exist. We really have to try to forge more of a direct relationship with the artists we work with.”

This struggle is undoubtedly felt by many within the licensing industry, which despite operating behind closed doors, is responsible for breaking some of the world’s biggest bands to the public through fated advertising campaigns.

Harman has played a crucial hand in the fame game more times than we’re able to count. She began her career at ZYNC Music, placing songs in commercials and TV programmes that went on to reach millions and millions of people. Having frequently travelled between Los Angeles and London towards the beginning of her career, she’s also no stranger to British culture – just as she’s aware of the differences between US and UK audiences. Combined, these experiences create a sometimes overwhelming tour de force of musical references, all contemporary to DrunkenWerewolf.

“It gave me a good perspective on the music business,” Harman says of her time spent in the UK, orchestrating and celebrating licensing deals with the likes of Moshi Moshi and Warped Records. “I noticed different trends between what would work in the UK, and what would not work [in the US], and vice versa. It was always a real benefit.”

“When I was working in London, it was such a rich source of new talent. I feel like now, however many years later, I just don’t know enough people in the UK” – and then, two namedrops so casual they’re clearly not meant to impress, merely to prove a point – “We have DEFDISCO – the Arctic Monkeys label – and Bloc Party, and their management [on Lip Sync]. But [at ZYNC] we had so much European music coming in: Wichita Records and Domino… Now, I can count on one hand how many British people I work with. It’s so sad.”

We wouldn’t call working with bands such as The Leisure Society, and record labels such as Memphis Industries and Full Time Hobby, anything other than a resounding triumph. Harman admits it’s sometimes difficult to strike a good balance between what the US wants, and what the UK can provide.

“There have been instances of things getting lost in translation. Then the time difference is annoying, because TV here in Los Angeles moves really fast. We’ve had so many opportunities that are like, “Hey guys, pitch us something you know that will clear today.” You can’t guarantee that [with a UK client].”

The biggest difficulty, however, is something far more technical: “From a business perspective, bands in the UK always sign publishing deals. It’s so freaking annoying! [Artists] love that advance, but it’s also the culture to do that [in the UK]. In the US artists don’t go for that big publishing deal – they’d rather own their publishing and get a good licensing endorsement.”

She explains this has an adverse effect on using a musician’s music in advertising, or beyond their record label, because it creates so many more stages within the process. Not only will a publishing contract raise the price for licensors, but deals can take a longer time to authorise because of the extra added hands that the music needs to pass through before it’s ready to use.

“That’s a hard concept for people to accept and understand,” muses Lauren.

Lip Sync are in the enviable position of being able to make their favourite musicians genuinely large sums of money. One look at their website, no matter how sparse and unembellished to the untrained eye, will at least deliver the message that Harman and her co-workers are music fans. For that reason, the perception that having a song feature in an advert is a bad thing clearly strikes a nerve.

“People started to change their mind in 2005,” Harman thinks back to the time when artists became more open to alternative revenue options. “When I first started [at ZYNC], we worked with Imogen Heap and the Garden State soundtrack came out. It was huge. At the same time approximately, the Flaming Lips VW ad came out. We worked with Secretly Canadian and Warped Records. We worked with Grizzly Bear. I guess Sufjan Stevens is the perfect example [of perceptions changing]. I worked with him for almost 6 years. I watched him go from “I’ll never license” to “I’ll only license instrumentals” and then “I’ll only license instrumentals of vocal songs.” Now, I swear to God, he’s everywhere. Everyone’s come around.”

“In my opinion, what better way to screw the man and take their money? [Besides], no one’s really out there to screw you.”

Clearly, there’s far more to Lauren Harman than meets the eye, and this we can tell via the medium of two smartphones. There’s obviously a lot more to licensing, too. Next time you discover a new artist through a soundtrack or a snippet on the TV, think of the licensing person click-clacking away at their desk, organising deals and helping musicians to do what they love. The chances are, it could be Lauren.

Find out more about Lip Sync and their roster availability here.

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