Colombian-born musician Juan Cubaque is a music consultant at Cézame Music Agency for South America, Spain and Portugal. We met Juan at our office in Barcelona and talked about how he helps producers find the right soundtrack for their film, commercial or any type of video production, how the Cézame music search engine works and what makes it so special. Juan also shares valuable advice on how to define the kind of music that will fit perfectly to your project.
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CRUHUB: Today we have Juan Cubaque as our guest. Juan Cubaque works at Cézame and he is a music consultant. Welcome Juan, how are you today?
Juan Cubaque: Hello, thanks for the invitation. I’m very good. How are you?
CRUHUB: Good, good, thank you for joining us. I would like to start with the question: What is a music consultant? What do you exactly do?
Juan Cubaque: As you said, I’m a music consultant for Cézame Music Agency. We are located in Paris, France, but we work all over the globe. Actually I work with a lot of producers, directors, everyone that works in the audiovisual industry that is looking for music for their projects. They have an idea of what they want but they don’t know exactly what they want. They just have certain characteristics… like a couple of words or feelings that they want to have in their production but they don’t know exactly what it is. So my job is to – with their criteria that they give me – make it work, to find the appropriate sound or music within our library.
CRUHUB: Sounds like a very interesting job, I guess a dream job for many people. How did you get to do this? What was your career path that led to it?
Juan Cubaque: My career path is a little bit more complicated than the standard career path. I didn’t study anything for this… Well, I mean I studied music, of course. I have a degree as a Sound Engineer. Ever since I was 11 I discovered that I wanted to work in music. I started with playing the drums and after I was also very interested in how sound works like the sound waves and all of that so I studied Sound Engineering. After that I went to Paris in 2013 to study Musicology so I have to analyze like scores and stuff like that.
I didn’t start as a music consultant but first worked in the department of music indexation, classifying the music in our library. So, we got new albums out and I was the one who had to listen to the albums. We have a special system at Cézame. We try to make it work as a music consultant on its own just in case you don’t have the time to call or something like that. You can just look it up and type some key words and it will give you a result. So, I was the one doing the tagging for the music.
And then – as I come from Colombia – they started an international developing plan. In France we’re almost number 1 in terms of music for audiovisuals but now we’re starting to develop as a global company. So, there’s a team for China, a team for Germany, a team for the UK and the Commonwealth, Africa, and then there’s me who works for Latin America, Spain and Portugal. They asked me “Would you be interested to work as a music consultant for the international team?” and I said “Yes, why not… of course!”. And that’s how I got there.
CRUHUB: My question was also in terms of what makes a good music consultant? What does it take?
Juan Cubaque: I think it takes a lot of … you can call it taste or feeling. You have to listen to a lot of music. Just like a writer who has to read a lot of books, it’s kind of the same requirements for a musician. A good musician has to listen to a lot of music. And for me it’s the same: I have to watch a lot of movies, pay attention to the music in the movies, see what works best. And I guess it’s just that culture actually for the most part that makes you understand what is it that the customer (the producer or the director) needs, what is it that they are looking for. Also, when you work for a company like Cézame it takes to get to know the library itself. So, it’s an advantage for me that I used to work in the indexation part where I had to listen to the music a lot and a lot of times to get to know everything about it as well as to tag the criteria. So, I think most of the part is the knowledge that you have so that you can be reactive towards the needs of the customer.
CRUHUB: What would you say is the significance of music for audiovisual projects, for a film, for a commercial, for video? Why should or should not be music in it, why does it matter?
Juan Cubaque: That’s true what you said: Sometimes there are moments when there shouldn’t be music. The audiovisual just like music is like a language and you’re expressing things and you’re trying to share a message. It’s really, really important. Music is a part of that, a really important part. If you want to give it more feeling, more power, if you want to express something really hard you need music. There is no way you could… I mean, you could, but it’s not gonna be the same result. That’s the thing.
So, for example for advertising it’s super important: Music is everything. Also for corporate productions, they always try to find something positive. “Positive” is their word. When it comes to a film or a documentary it’s just a lot of emotions. The films always have times when there is this huge sentiment, when the feeling has to have a climax, and also parts where the feeling is different, parts that are happy, parts that are sad. And music has the same properties basically, so you can have happy music, sad music, just sound that is below the people that are talking. For me it’s half of any audiovisual production.
CRUHUB: What are the criteria to make the right choice? Can you give them (producers) a little guide how to find it?
Juan Cubaque: Well, they can call me! (laughs). For example, in film most of the times I believe that directors work with their own composers. That’s a really good thing to do. I strongly suggest that they do that if it comes to film because it’s your story that you’re telling. So, you don’t want someone else to tell it for you. Directors and musicians have to work together. That happens a lot. There’s someone that understands how you feel. The thing is that you cannot put it into music, translate that into music on your own… so that’s really good when it comes to cinema.
Also, at Cézame we also do original scores, by the way. It’s not only the library. If customers ever want to call us for that, there’s no problem at all. I think it depends on what you are doing. You have to know that if you work for ads it has to be something that makes people want to go buy or consume what you’re offering. If you work in documentary it depends on what the documentary has. I think that the proper advice that I would give to producers and directors or anyone that works in the film industry is to first of all look at their work and analyze it very well in order to know, to understand and to have clear in their head what the message is that they want to transmit. And once you have that clear then you start looking for it. Either if it’s with original music or if you go to a library like Cézame, well there’s a million ways of finding it.
The search engine is made for producers or directors that are not specifically musicians but they know what they want. So, if you put in our search engine “I want something funky with a female voice and with an organ” or something like that match that criteria. Actually you can even type “music for films” or “music for love”, “music for publicity”. That helps a lot. That’s why we made that tool and we’re actually the only ones in the market, not only in France but we also looked at our competitors and their search engines are super simple.
The search engine that we have at Cézame it works with a lot of different criteria. We don’t only have the keywords on their own but also “synonyms” to each of them. The thesaurus we have inside the system is huge. It has a lot of keywords. What we do that is different from the rest of our competitors is that you can choose a level to the keywords. You can give them a certain priority. Let’s say you’re looking for something that has electric guitar – we have a lot of track that have electric guitar but there are certain tracks that have more electric guitar than the others, where the electric guitar is the main character.
CRUHUB: So you can define how dominant you want it to be?
Juan Cubaque: Exactly! So, it gets another dimension, a deeper level when you’re looking, when you’re actually typing the keywords. We constantly see which new words appear that were keyed without any results. And then let’s say for example you typed “Barcelona” and it wasn’t related to anything, with zero results. The next day we receive a report and then we say “‘Barcelona’ might be a synonym of ‘Spain’ or ‘Catalonia’”. So we put it there and the next time you type “Barcelona” you’re going to have the same kind of results. There are many keywords with moods or instruments.
We even have “ethnic” instruments because we represent a catalogue that is Ocora from Radio France. They do traditional music, but it’s not any musician trying to do traditional music but traditional musicians themselves playing that have an oral tradition. It’s a label that is really interesting.
It’s a creative process to make it easier for people that are not musicians, to look what they really want. We even have “fan of”’s so if you type “fan of Michael Jackson” you won’t have Michael Jackson, of course, but you will have something that is really, really alike. It’s a huge catalogue. I’m really proud to be part of it actually.
CRUHUB: How do I know if I should go for classic music or for rock music or if it rather should be pop, if it should be with someone singing or without singing? How is your approach to that?
Juan Cubaque: Regarding what you said last, with or without singing, you have to see that the people on your production, in the scene that you chose, that they’re not talking. If they’re talking choose something that doesn’t have vocals. At Cézame, for example, we understand that and most of the times, when there’s a singer, we do an instrumental version along with the original version. So that if you want to use it in a part where there’s talking and you don’t want the singer to mix with the voice then you have the alternative version that you can use as well. Those are details on specific scenes or aspects that you have to be aware of.
In a global sense, I would give the same answer: Look very well at the message you want to share. That also answers the question about the style, if it’s classic, pop or rock. You can have any kind of feeling in every musical style. Maybe “sadness” is not reflected in funky music (laughs). Maybe that’s a little bit hard to find. I believe that an average level of music culture is enough for you to understand what you want and how you want it. And it also depends on the topic, on the subject that you’re treating. Like, you’re not going to put punk music in a rap documentary. I think the answer would be: “It depends”. So, my advice would be to try, to test and test and test until you find the one where you go: “This is what I wanted! This is what I was looking for!”. You have to have that “click” moment. So, just try, don’t be afraid to try it out.
CRUHUB: To be experimental with it, right? I often watch films or videos and I have the feeling it’s just repeating again and again.
Juan Cubaque: Exactly! Like the superheroes theme that everyone has for those movies… If you need music for superheroes, professionally, of course we are there for you. But personally I believe that that kind of genre and the fact that it’s always the same story, always repeating, that’s kind of killing culture in a way. You have to have different kinds of stories! It seems like they have become the most popular stories… That’s just a personal view. If you’re going to treat the same subject like as everyone else try to make it with your sauce, with your own sauce, with your own feeling, with your own taste. That would be really cool to have.
CRUHUB: What I was referring to is that I have the feeling that often the same kind of music is being used…
Juan Cubaque: That’s where I was going to. If you listen to their music it’s the same, all the time. They’re using orchestra type of music. We actually have that in our catalogue. It’s called “Cinematic Music” because it’s like that, it’s the music that you hear in the cinema, great percussions, big orchestras or they make it sound big. I feel that is kind of repetitive. I studied music and I can hear the same kind of chords, the same music progressions etc. so it gets a little bit uninteresting at a point when it’s too much, you know. And also in advertising it also happens a little bit, they also keep on repeating certain things. That’s why we all have this cliché. Personally I would like it to be more diverse and for people to try different things, I strongly encourage that in every creative process.
CRUHUB: Test things out… and sometimes less is more. Instead of just doing copy and paste, find your own way.
Juan Cubaque: Exactly, I feel like that this phenomenon of repeating things it’s – again, that’s a personal view – because of the system that we’re in, where money is everything. You have to do things so that they sell. So, art on its own stops being art on its own. It’s just a business, it just has to sell. And that’s kind of sad because… it’s good that it sells for you, amazing that you have a big company that is selling a lot of music or films with this formula. But if there is a space for other people to try different things I believe that would be very healthy for the industry. When everything becomes the same thing – then what are we doing? How is this being creative or new? What difference is there between this director and the other if they are both doing the same thing? And also with musicians it’s the same. I think it’s happening all around the creative industries. There having this sort of phenomena where everything sounds the same kind of.
CRUHUB: You already said a few things about Cézame and now I would like to know for our listeners: If a filmmaker or a company comes to you with their request, with their search for a specific music how is the procedure? Can you walk us through? How does the collaboration with you work?
Juan Cubaque: Of course! Most of the times I work via email but you can call as well, and you just ask for me. I work only in the Spanish speaking countries (as well as in Portugal and Brazil) but we also have a representative that’s also for English, German etc. The process that I do: The more details they give me the better result that I’m going to give you because if it’s too general I could make a playlist of 50 tracks. But if you tell me “I’m making a program, a TV show, that happens in the 80’s and it’s in the Mexican context and we’re going to use the music for this kind of scene, it’s going to sound in a car” or “it’s going to sound like background music” or something like that, then that gives me a clear idea of what you want as a director or as a producer. And I would already know, I’d already have a title for that and I would just send you two or three but that will work perfectly with what you’re looking for. Again, the more detail the better.
After that, the process for you would be to try the tracks, of course, to edit it, to put it in the scene, test it and if you didn’t like it you tell “Hey, this actually didn’t work out very well, so maybe we can try some other stuff?”. And you give me more details and I’ll give you something different. Also, if they want advice like “What type of music do you think we should play here in this type of scene?”, I’ll say “I have something for you”. It’s a really big catalogue the one that we have at Cézame and it’s super diverse. We try to make it as diverse as possible. For example, if you don’t have the music we address that as well, we always communicate with the Art Directors and then we look for a composer who will make that type of music so that we can have it after.
Then, you basically let me know for how long you’re going to use the music, how many seconds or minutes, or if you want the whole track. Depending on the country where it’s going to be shown, the type of work that it is – an ad or just an internal company campaign or a very huge film production the price varies depending on that.
So, I invite everyone that works in the audiovisual industry to go to our web page and we’ll be there for you. If you have any questions, if you have any requirements for any type of audiovisual production, if you make publicity, if you work in cinema, if you do documentaries, anything that has to do with audiovisuals: You can go to Cézame, it’s www.cezame-fle.com. You can also contact me via email, it’s [email protected].
CRUHUB: Great, thank you so much for this interview, for being here today in Barcelona. You’re based in Paris, and you’re going back soon. It was very good to have you here!
Juan Cubaque: Thank you very much for the invitation, it was a pleasure!
The music for this podcast episode is supported by Cézame:
Composers: Stéphane Chandelier – Nat Jenkins –
Pierre Juarez – Johnny Manning – Rob Shipley
Cats and Mice
Composer: Mark Alberts
Cézame Music Agency ©
Interview: Canan Turan
Editing of the teaser: Canan Turan