Early on, Jelena Grozdanich discovered the part of the music industry that married together her loves of Film/TV with music: the Film and Television licensing world that exists within record labels.
Flash forward, and Jelena is now the Associate Director of Film and Television at Columbia Records, one of the oldest record labels in the industry and home to some of the most iconic artists in the world including Adele, Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, Harry Styles, Lil Nas X, ROSALIA, Tyler, The Creator, Vampire Weekend, and more. Her department is responsible for creative marketing and licensing across film, television, sports, video games, and new media.
For some, the music industry and it's many moving parts seem to blur, and from a birds eye view, the gears fit together and keep on moving everyday. Since Film and TV licensing is a crucial, yet under discussed operation, we asked Jelena to break down exactly what Film & TV licensing is.
“The film and television licensing department at a major record label is responsible for finding placements in film, television, sports, video games, and other audiovisual media,” she explained.
“We also negotiate the cost of the license associated with the placement and work with partners on creative music solutions for their projects.”
Beyond identifying ideal music placements for the many different media types mentioned, people like Jelena are responsible for negotiating the contracts and making the business official.
“Sync licensing is the legal agreement that permits the use of music in an audiovisual project. When a song is licensed for sync, the composer(s) and/or publisher of the song receive a fee for use of the underlying composition, in addition to the owner of the rights to the master recording.”
All in all, in order to succeed in the licensing world, one must both be able to creatively envision potential pairings of music with various visual content and be business minded. Due to the nature of this department, Jelena helps funnel songs to music supervisors, directors, producers, editors, and studio executives, among others involved in the selection process every day.
For those who know they want to work in music but aren’t sure where within the scene they belong, it can help to hear the stories of those who came before us. Growing up in the middle of the country, Jelena found many of her favorite tunes from the movies and tv shows she consumed such as Gossip Girl and The OC.
“l noticed that I paid more attention to film and television soundtracks than most of my peers and developed a curiosity about how music was chosen for these projects.”
While this passion was quietly present during her humble beginnings, it wasn’t until she was working towards her undergraduate degree at USC when she decided to minor in Music Industry at the Thornton School of Music. There she had the realization that licensing would be her career path thanks to some of the classes she had to complete for graduation. “[I] immediately knew that licensing was the part of the music industry I wanted to pursue my career in” she said. She added that licensing executives like herself, spend time with artists with the goal of getting to know them and their personal interests better. This later guides the creative audiovisual matchmaking process, resulting in a more genuine pairing that reflects the artist as a human being.
The music industry is a giant place for those first entering and unsure how to find their way through the maze. One of my favorite questions to ask the incredible women who have already walked the walk is what they wish someone told them as they stepped through the doors of making music their jobs.
Jelena emphasized the importance of working towards balance as “we often work long hours and under tight deadlines, which can lead to stress and anxiety." This can be highly taxing on professional and personal life all around. She went on to say that “working out regularly, mediating, eating healthy and other mindful practices have helped me maintain high energy levels and a positive attitude, both of which are really important to be successful in the industry.” While there are some traits like having the ability to establish solid relationships that are important to soar in any department of music, Jelena pointed out that solid sales skills and a good ear for listening to music are necessary in order to do well in the licensing sphere.
Jelena got her start in the biz by interning for Paramount Pictures, NBCUniversal, VH1, Spotify, Relativity Media, Warner Music Group and Warner/Chappell. While I had Jelena’s undivided attention and the knowledge of her plethora of internship experiences during undergrad, I couldn’t waste the opportunity to pick her brain for advice for the current wave of internship applicants currently in the position she was once in. She shared:
“I was an enticing candidate because I consistently interned in film and television music departments across publishers, record labels, television networks and film studios. I also had a strong network that I built by attending industry events and developing genuine connections with people whom I share professional interests with.”
And now as someone who oversees the intern program within her Film & TV department at Columbia Records, she revealed that she first looks for a resume objective on applicants’ resumes.
“A resume objective is a one or two sentence overview of short-term professional goals and an explanation of why you’re the best candidate for the position,” she explained.
A common thread I can’t help but notice through interviews with powerhouses like Jelena is that it’s all about pouncing on opportunity and running with momentum once one has completed the initial work of getting their foot through the door. People like Jelena are constantly making opportunities for themselves which ultimately sets them apart from the rest of the crowd. “A few years ago when the podcast business started to boom, I identified that sector of the industry as an area of growth and asked to handle any incoming requests for music in podcasts which led to me overseeing all podcast licensing efforts for the department. By taking on a leadership role early in my career, I established myself as someone who could be trusted with important projects which helped me level up early in my career.”
At this point we all know that COVID-19 has rocked the waters of most every industry in some way. The entertainment industry however has taken an especially difficult hit. When the world stopped, the demand for music licensing also took a tumble as Film & TV productions ceased to exist and sports seasons were frozen.
Jelena reported that as production has started back up there has been a noticeable increase in music licensing deals for video games.
“We also had to get creative with the loss of live concerts and transitioned into hosting exclusive virtual shows to introduce clients to new acts like Lous and The Yakuza and Orville Peck,” she added.
Pandemic or no pandemic, it’s the music that drives Jelena. She is thankful for where she is and for the journey she continues to pursue of eventually becoming the leader of a team at a record label or music publisher.
In the meantime, you can find her soaking up sunshine at the beach with cotton candy grapes in hand as some of her daily favorites of “Topdown” by Channel Tres, “Time (You and I)” by Khruangbin, “Amigos” by Lous and The Yakuza, and “The Breeze” by Dr. Dog accompany her days.