Universal Film Music President Mike Knobloch on Licensing a Staggering 60 Songs for 'Sing'

Matthew McConaughey,Seth MacFarlane,Scarlett Johansson,Reese Witherspoon,Film score,Universal Studios

FACEBOOK TWITTER EMAIL ME “I would love to see [more] gender and ethnic diversity,” says Knobloch, photographed Nov. 3 at Universal Pictures Film Music in Universal City. “We still have a lot of work to do on that front.” Like many young men who played in a high school band, Long Island, N.Y.-native Mike Knobloch figured "I'd just grow up and be a rock star." And like most of them, that's not quite how it worked out for the president of film music and publishing for Universal Pictures, although his office on the Universal Studios lot in Universal City, Calif. It's filled with instruments, many of them vintage. The married father of two, who plays keyboards and drums, loves having them at his disposal and so do the artists he works with on a daily basis. "Steven Tyler came in and he was really into it," Knobloch, 46, says. "[I played] Paul McCartney's 'Maybe I'm Amazed' on the Rhodes and he stood next to me and sang. It was an out-of-body experience." At any given moment, Knobloch, who came to Universal in 2010 following 13 years as executive vp at Fox Music, and his 25-person staff are working on more than 20 movies, including Universal's winter tentpole film, Sing. The animated feature starring Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane and Scarlett Johansson, comes out Dec. 21, and includes "Faith," Stevie Wonder's first original song (featuring Ariana Grande) for a film in more than a dozen years. Billboard: Sing has more than 60 licensed songs. Is this the most money you've spent to license music for a movie? Mike Knobloch: For licensed music, probably. There's everything in there from Frank Sinatra to Kanye West. Can you say how much? (Laughs) I would say it's a lot! But I think [with Sing] we are definitely at the absolute ceiling of the number of licenses, the types of licenses, and the heavily-featured uses of licensed songs as performances performed by actors. What's the most complicated aspect to licensing so many songs? When you create music from scratch and you own and control the intellectual property that you're creating, you have a certain amount of ownership and flexibility. When you license a song into a movie and then have another template for using songs in marketing campaigns, it's hard to know from the outset all the ways in which you're potentially going to want to use a song, so sometimes we have to circle back and make some adjustments on the business side, both with the film and the [marketing] campaign. How do you know when you've got it right? You want to have that proof of concept to know that something's going to really [work]. Just because you love a song or you can hear in your head the potential doesn't mean that in practice it delivers to as broad of an audience as possible. Case in point is we have what is this very special, evolving rendition in Sing, performed by Jennifer Hudson, of the Beatles' "Golden Slumbers" and "Carry That Weight," which you learn from making the deal is two songs. We knew that we wanted to find a song that comes in at the very top of the film in an exhilarating, uplifting, familiar...

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