The Challenges of Finding Syncs for Kanye West's "Anti-Commercial" Tracks: "He Changes His Mind"
"We just roll along with him and try to plan things he's going to agree with artistically"
A number of interesting topics were raised at a panel on "Defending the Value of a Song" at Wednesday's (Nov. 5) Billboard & Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Conference, including: the value of some syncs dropping by as much as 50 percent over the last decade; the challenges of working with third-party licensing firms; and the lack of performance royalties for film in the U.S.
But perhaps the panel's most interesting moment came when moderator Melinda Newman, a longtime Billboard writer, asked Amy Hartman, VP of film and TV sync at Island/Def Jam, point blank what it's like having a conversation about syncs with the "superstar" that is Kanye West.
"Kanye is Kanye," Hartman said before giving an example of the rapper's changing mind. "Yeezus was a very daring and amazing album that was completely anti-commercial compared to anything we had done in the past," she said, referencing the rapper's sixth studio album, which came out in June 2013. "He came into the office about eight weeks before street date, ... and he definitely said, 'I don't want anything to do with commercials. I don't want any ties to any sort of commercials.'"
"Kanye was very affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy," Hartman said about the 2012 shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., when 20 children and six adults were killed. "He didn't want anything to be connected with violence in his music, which was the first time he had indicated that."
Hartman said she knew the churning Yeezus track "Black Skinhead" was going to be the "sync track," but also knew it wasn't very radio-friendly. Thus, her team was left with a "very short runway" to place a track with something major that wasn't violent or attached to any commercial.
Enter Kanye's appearance on Saturday Night Live in May 2013. "These music supervisors [for The Wolf of Wall Street] had seen him perform ['Black Skinhead'] on Saturday Night Live," says Hartman. "They actually called us and were like, 'This is the song we want to use in the film trailer.' The song was not mastered yet, it wasn't done. We went to Kanye and said this is what the film is about, it's about greed and money and all those sorts of those things but not violence, and it's actually perfect for what you're looking for and it's a big film for Martin Scorsese and Leo DiCaprio. He was all in and all about it."
Six months later, Kanye allowed the song to be licensed by Motorola. "So he changes his mind," Hartman says. "I've worked with him since the very beginning, and he changes his mind. We respect his wishes. What happens now could change in six months. We just roll along with him and try to plan things he's going to agree with artistically."
This article originally appeared on Billboard.com.