Jingle All the Way: Producer Kenny Segal

GIM: What’s the atmosphere like at Super Bowl time? Is that the big season, like an extra energy?
KS: The funny thing about Elias is we were so big – and this was before I was here – we were the biggest company in the industry for 20 years. We used to have an ad in trade publications that boasted that we had our Clios in the bathroom cause we won over 700 awards and we can’t keep track of them all. And what’s funny is I was in the dub room once and they had me clean out some wires behind the computers and I actually found a broken Clio hiding in the wires behind the computer. So there was sort of an arrogance there.

I’ve had at least one in the Super Bowl the last three years. But from a composer’s perspective, Super Bowl commercials are a big pain in the ass, and I’ll tell you why: First of all, they scrutinize them at an unbelievable level. Normally a commercial might be focus-grouped for something and they’ll come back with some stupid comments, but most of the time it’s just the ad guys that are approving stuff. But a Budweiser Super Bowl commercial? They’ll focus-group it every day. They might focus-group it 20 times over the course of working on it and they’ll come back to you with asinine things like, “Maybe if we move the high hat a tiny bit to the left, they’ll think it’s funnier.” Then from the money perspective, although my company gets paid really well for Super Bowl commercials, the composers get screwed. The way you get paid for residuals, it depends on how many times it plays. Most Super Bowl commercials are one-offs. Or if they play more, they play it a few times more for a month or so, but they normally only last for one cycle. With [American Federation of Musicians] royalties, you only get paid per cycle. It doesn’t matter if it plays within 13 weeks, it only matters if it played within a 13-week period. So with Super Bowl stuff, you get less royalties for more work.

The only time it works out well for you, and even this one isn’t that great, but I did the music for that Kevin Federline commercial for Nationwide, and that was called the “most talked-about Super Bowl ad of all time” by Ad Age magazine. It was on the front page of USA Today. It was everywhere, so it got picked up by those shows that show the funniest Super Bowl commercials of all time or whatever, so every year I’ll get a couple checks for it for a couple hundred bucks. But that’s still been way less money than for a Toyota sales event commercial or something like that.

GIM: How much are you involved in other aspects of putting the commercial together? Do you ever get to be on set?
KS: Once in a rare while. For the most part, we’re not involved in the making of the ad. We’re just a vendor they’re hiring to do the music.

GIM: So you’re not coaching K-Fed.
KS: No, though I did record him when he came in. He was actually very professional. It was funny, because Nationwide had literally 20 people in the studio that day. I think they were paying him so much money they wanted to make sure they were getting their money’s worth.

GIM: I would imagine you’d have to keep up with current music because if someone comes in and says, “We want something that’s hip,” you’d have to have those modern reference points. Do you keep up with what’s going on now, or tomorrow?
KS: On one hand, you’re right. On the other hand, I really don’t, to be honest. I listen to a lot of what I like, the new stuff that’s coming out, mainly some of the Flying Lotus stuff that’s coming out, the electro-hip-hop fusion kind of thing. But when I’m in my car, I listen to NPR. I listen to music so much at work that I like to decompress. But that’s why we have a music supervisor—that’s his job, to keep his ear to the ground.

‘I get to come in and make music all day and make a decent living from it’

GIM: Do you think L.A. rappers and the music scene in general there know the game more than in other regions and are more amenable to licensing their music?
KS: I don’t know about other regions, but it’s 2010, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s no real money in record sales anymore. Licensing and touring are the main sources of revenue for everyone at this point. I think most people have realized it’s a really cool hustle. I’ve opened  eyes for a lot of people. They’ll come over and be like, “Damn, Kenny. Now you own a house and your studio’s all pimp and everything. What is this you’re doing? Let me be involved in that.” On one hand, I’d like to go back to just being an artist but at the same time, I get to come in and make music all day and make a decent living from it. I don’t know if this is where I want to be for the long term, but it’s certainly a really good spot to be right now while the music industry’s in shambles and no one’s making real money anyway. Even Flying Lotus and the Glitch Mob and those guys, they’re all over TV.

GIM: It’s got to be tempting to look at that as your sole income, though. Why tour at all? Why couch-surf?
KS: Most of the composers here had a music career at some point, and a lot of them are way more legit than whatever I’m doing. And almost all the people that work here let it all slip after being here. When I first started working here, I was like, “Fuck that. I’m gonna put out my album,” and in fairness I did put out my album, Ken Can Cook, while I was in the dub room, but that was something I started before I was working here. 

I’ll admit, it’s tough. I’m working on stuff. I have two songs that are gonna be on the upcoming Freestyle Fellowship album next January and I am working on my own project, though it’ll probably come out at the end of next year at the rate I’m going. If I didn’t have this job, I would have already put out two more albums at this point. Not only do you get comfortable with making money with your music, but even though it’s annoying creating stuff for other people’s visions, you do go home feeling somewhat satisfied. Or I come home and have a bunch of residual checks waiting for me. It’s a constant ebb and flow. I always eventually want to work on my own music and when I get inspired, I’ll do that. I’ve never had a job where I didn’t dread coming to work after a certain point until Elias. And frankly, despite the pressure, I really do enjoy the challenges I face every day. It doesn’t get boring, certainly.    Get In Media


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