ROYALTY CHECKS AND REALITY CHECKS
Interview by Mark Holden
BMI's Doreen Ringer Ross:
Stoking the Creative Fires
of Film & Television Music
Doreen Ringer Ross has been at BMI
since 1985, currently as Vice President
of Film & Television Relations. We were
pleased to interview her in Los Angeles
during the fourth quarter of 2000.
Mark Holden: How would you best describe your job at BMI?
ROSS: Certain aspects of my job are complementary & parallel to what Alison Smith does, with an emphasis
on outreach, education and promotion-- less with thedesign of distribution systems. My emphasis is in relations
and outreach work in the area of film & television music.
MH: What kind of outreach programs does BMI implement?
ROSS: A great variety! Anything from organizing conducting workshops, composition labs, awards dinners,
film festival outreach, promotional activities and creative collaborations.
MH: Before we go further, its our understanding that prior to your tenure at BMI, you had a rather colorful
background in therecord business.
ROSS: I worked for a number of record labels in the 1970s and early 80s, primarily in artist relations and/or development. I
started at A&M Records, which in those days was the Utopian independent label. Over time, I continued with ABC, MCA and a
record subsidiary of CBS-- always as a conduit and bridge between the artist, the management and the record company.
MH: If there was a single greatest lesson between the interests of artists and those of corporations, what would that be?
ROSS: I learned that artist relations & development is more about long-term vision rather than short-term gain. The early 80s
were tumultuous days in the record industry-- pre-MTV, pre-Thriller. At the end of my tenure, it had become way too ugly for
me. I realized how deals got done, how many artists hearts got broken, how many people were misled and how corrupt the
whole darn thing was.
MH: Thats candorous talk. But in spite of that experience, it sounds like your love of the artists survived.
ROSS: Absolutely. But my love of the system didnt. It was a brutal time. However, my fondest remembrances were at a
company I still idolize, A&M Records. Founded by an artist, Herb Alpert and a gentleman-genius businessman, Jerry Moss.
They taught us to DEVELOP artists, not buy them.
MH: Who were some of the artists A&M had in development at that time?
ROSS: An eclectic array of gems, actually! From Joan Baez to Supertramp. From the Carpenters to Styx. From Cat Stevens
to Peter Frampton. As a matter of fact, Frampton Comes Alive was the first album I ever worked.
MH: That release was hugely successful.
ROSS: Phenomenally so. At the time, I thought to myself, This is easy. Wow, you just send out the records and everybody
MH: So you feel you got your share of highs and lows in your record label experiences?
ROSS: Definitely. But through it all, the doctrine I believed in was that of art. And of talent and of sticking with your artists.
MH: Additional to the record labels, what other experience did you gain?
ROSS: I went into television production working on reality-based shows. It was a great change of pace for me. I got to do
some meaningful things on cable television that hopefully made a difference in a few lives.
MH: So how did all those experiences parlay into a position at BMI?
ROSS: At the time BMI was pitching me, I thought that was the place where the lawyers and the nerds hung-out. I wondered if
theyd reached out to the wrong person. But I started to understand that the position was far more related to artist
development than I ever imagined.
MH: So you took the job. Was it a good fit?
ROSS: Surprisingly so, especially to me. But because of the nature of my background-- Id worked in television, Id worked
in music, I grew up around the film business-- it was sort of a perfect partnerstone. Then a great thing happened in 1985-86:
Frances Preston took on the reigns of BMI management, ascending from Senior Vice President, ultimately, to President &
CEO of the company.
MH: How did things change under her administration?
ROSS: Frances Preston turned BMI into an inspiring place to be. The management style reminded me of A&M in the old days
when the leadership of the company would ask, Is this good for artists? Okay, lets try it. And if it costs a little extra to
implement something good, lets find a creative way to co-finance the solution. Be proactive. Be pro-artist. That turned me
on, then as now.
MH: So, how did you make the transition from the world of singer/songwriters and record labels to film & television music?
ROSS: I fell in love with the community. To be a composer is a hybrid experience. To compose for television & film is vastly
different from writing songs in isolation. Its a collaborative environment involving movie studios, production companies,
different sorts of business minds and creative minds. A composer, even more than a songwriter, has to be able to handle
that diverse environment.
MH: From your perspective, what are some of the attributes of a successful film & television composer?
ROSS: Its having all the pieces that fit. Not only the musical chops, but the personality, the diplomatic skills, the imagination
and the charm. You wind up with this A-list, such as Varietys top-25 working composers. You look at the people on that list
and theyre all amazing individuals. All radically different from each other in many respects. And an intriguing, incredible
bunch of people.
MH: As diverse as the top-25 are-- each from the other-- you do observe some common threads?
ROSS: Absolutely. Theyre all charming, brilliant, possessing superb musical chops, people skills and artistic sensibilities.
Theyre the kind of people a filmmaker would have a good time hanging out with. You look at the folks who are doing a big
chunk of TV-- its not only about their music, its also about personality, rapport, their business savvy and how they make
producers feel. Theres an intangible, human element that these folks possess which contributes to their success. And its
that human element that I feel so connected to which has inspired me to hang around and do this for the past 15 years.
MH: Lets talk about the outreach & education programs youve implemented at BMI.
ROSS: We continue to invent as we go along. The constant programs that are currently in place have to do with nurturing
new talent. BMI sponsors the Sundance Composer Lab every year. We just completed our third year at the Institute in Utah.
Its the only place of its kind where were actually running a composer lab in tandem with a filmmaker lab, educating
directors as well as composers in how to deal with each other. Its an element one doesnt get in film school.
MH: How does the BMI program apply from a directors perspective?
ROSS: In film school, theyll teach you how to hold a camera, direct your actors, light your set and cut your movie. But they
rarely if ever get around to helping a director cope with music, relate to a composer or even how to license a song. Its
amazing whats missing.
MH: Thats wholly bizarre, considering the enormous impact that music can bring to a given production.
ROSS: It is. But practically speaking, a film school curriculum just runs out of time. From my own inquiry, Ive not found a
film program that really addresses music-- which makes our labs at Sundance so unique.
MH: And from the composers perspective?
ROSS: The film scoring programs Im aware of dont really deal with integrating the directors POV. Theyll allude to it, of
course, but theres no practical way to actually create a director/composer relationship within the separate disciplines of
film school and music school. Thats why our Sundance program is such a bridge between those worlds.
MH: If you would, give us a practical sense of how that works at Sundance.
ROSS: We overlap the director and composer labs, setting up communication sessions between filmmakers and composers.
Its still an evolving thing, but we mentor director and composer simultaneously into a deeper understanding. Thats why Im
so excited about it. The BMI program aspires to fill a gap that really isnt addressed elsewhere.
MH: How many participants in the Sundance/BMI labs?
ROSS: Currently, its eight directors and six composers. However, these numbers arent etched in stone-- we expect to build
it. Its something were extremely proud of. Truly, its an impressive program.
MH: How about an overview of other BMI outreach & education programs?
ROSS: Certainly, promoting our people within the film festivals. At BMI, we always seek to create an environment where we
can introduce our writers to filmmakers and music supervisors to promote career development and the relationship base of
our affiliates. Though we vary our venues, some of the constants have been Sundance, South by Southwest and the IFFM in
New York. One of the new venues weve become involved with is the Woodstock Film Festival.
I also want to mention the BMI Conducting Workshop which occurs in August, taught by the incredibly talented Lucas
Richman. Its a program we offer to our professional, working composers-- ten at a time. Its kind of a life-changing
experience where they can develop their conducting skills in contrast to a world where the thrust may be away from
orchestral music. In this workshop, we take people who arent necessarily trained in dealing with orchestras and give them
the opportunity to really improve their level of communication with live players-- at whatever level they happen to start at.
David Low is our orchestra contractor and we get the most amazing, A-list studio players to perform these dates. Were very
proud of that workshop as well.
MH: Does BMI interface with some of the larger music colleges? Say, North Texas State University or the Berklee College of
ROSS: Sure. Im going to Berklee week after next. BMI awards a scholarship to the college in the name of one of our top
composers who then conducts a master class and presents the award to the student recipient. Some of our participants
have included Michael Kamen, Alan Menken, and this years participant is Basil Poledouris.
Additionally, we award a scholarship at UCLA-- now named for Jerry Goldsmith whos been very generous with his
participation. BMI also awards a scholarship at USC.
MH: Weve yet to touch on the BMI Film & Television Music Awards. Does your office oversee these awards?
ROSS: I believe we can even take credit for creating them. Were in an entertainment community thats largely dominated by
stars with very public name-recognition factors and marquis values. These awards are a great opportunity to recognize in
public those folks who are relegated to the non-televised Emmy Awards. We relish calling attention to those composers
scoring the top-rated primetime television shows and the top-grossing films of the year. We get to make noise about
composers whove won Emmys and Oscars-- and most typically, we do a career tribute. Its a great opportunity to put the
spotlight on the film & television music community.
MH: Thanks so much for your time today. Before we wrap, is there anything additional youd like our readers to know about your
various roles & functions at BMI?
ROSS: Only that the thrust of what keeps me here, and the thrust of what makes me proud of what we do is that BMI is really
doing artist development. Theres a great continuity to my life because that development is essentially what Ive been put on
Earth to do. We have a wonderful staff of people-- Linda Livingston, Ray Yee, Steve Frangadakis and Ivanne Deneroff, whos
just been made Associate Director. Our role at BMI, in a very creative way, is to be supportive of our artists dreams.
BMI's Film and Television Staff Include:
Doreen Ringer Ross - Vice President, Film & TV Relations
Linda Livingston, Senior Director, Film/TV Relations
Ray Yee, Director, Film/TV Relations
Ivanne Deneroff, Associate Director, Film/TV Relations
Steve Frangadakis, Executive Assistant