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FIFTY SHADES OF
MIKE KNOBLOCH

Last year, Mike Knobloch’s 20th in the film music business, was an eventful one. His department at Universal Pictures oversaw music for the song-heavy Fifty Shades of Grey, Furious 7, Pitch Perfect 2, Straight Outta Compton and Minions—an epic year for any studio’s music department.

“It would have been great to have any one of those in any given year. To have them all at once, it just meant that we were doing all of that work simultaneously in the two, three years leading up to 2015,” says Knobloch, who has been President of Music at Universal Pictures for six years, where he oversees the studio’s music publishing and its label, Back Lot Music as well.

His big project on the schedule in 2016 is Sing, a CGI-animated film that’s expected to have up to 100 songs in it. But in 2017, sequels will be pouring in for the hits of 2014 and ’15: Fifty Shades Darker, Fast 8, Despicable Me 3 and the third installment of Pitch Perfect. HITS Senior Editor Phil Gallo talked to him about his approach to film music, soundtrack partners and marketing tie-ins.


Looking at 2015, while it was obviously one success after another, how the music came about in those films was dramatically different. How does the methodology evolve from film to film?
It all started with the film, what was going up on the screen and the appetite and the expectations. The music component of each one had some fantastic unique challenges.

As an example, Fifty Shades was one where there was a lot of dialogue early on about how the soundtrack for the movie needed to do this and that, so there was a clear collaborative effort. There was a unified vision and expectation going into it, that the soundtrack needed to help “eventize” the movie. By the time the movie was being launched, all those decisions led to having “Earned It” by The Weeknd and “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding, quality stuff that could get played on the radio and reach a broad audience and be exciting.

It was the same with Pitch Perfect. It was first and foremost about making a great movie, and then, “How can we, from where I sit in this department, help marketing? How do we work with our soundtrack partners?” On the second movie, we had “Flashlight,” a song throughout the movie by Hailee Steinfeld’s character and Anna Kendrick’s character. Ultimately, we said, “Let’s get Jessie J to fully realize that song. Then we have an asset for marketing; we could make a music video.” It all started with the film, but we knew that down the line, if we did it right, we could service a few different masters.

We’re 11 months away from Fifty Shades: Part Two.
You just gave me a heart attack.

Where’s the music on that at this point?
We just started shooting. A lot of the heavy lifting, in terms of being able to engage artists and give people very specific briefs of, “Here’s what we need to serve the picture and what we need for the record,” comes into play in post-production once there’s cut footage to work with.

We’re definitely spending a lot of time in the earlier phase of that, spinning our wheels with marketing. We’re trying not to get caught in the trap of, “How do we do what we did last time?” It’s just about the concept and the approach—the same way we would be if there hadn’t even been one before it.

I think it’s a little bit easier to engage people this time around Fifty Shades, because they know that it’s powerful, and it was an unknown thing the first time out.

And Republic is doing it again?
Yes.

In looking at soundtrack partners, how is the shift from buying to streaming affecting the value of soundtrack albums?
From where I sit, it’s on [the labels] to move the product. Any and all of the consumption methods and what that means monetarily, that’s more their business than mine. I certainly want to do everything we can from this end to maximize that. If I were just a record label, things would live and die a whole lot more by streams vs. downloads.

Prior to last year, a lot of people were saying the core audience for soundtracks continues to be female. Do you think the past year kind of opened the door and changed things?
Absolutely, but there is no demographic across the board for just soundtracks in general—Pitch Perfect, Fifty Shades and Fast and Furious, those are three different demographics. Young girls buy the Pitch Perfect record or consume it one way or the other. Older women are going to buy the Fifty Shades soundtrack. Not only are they the demographic that the album is targeted to, but I also think they might be a demographic that will more reliably buy an album as opposed to cherry-pick the songs. If you look at Furious 7, you would assume that an album with a song that was as big a hit as “See You Again” translates to album sales, but it really doesn’t.

Bridget Jones’ Baby comes out in September, and it seems like a demographically perfect soundtrack. What’s the plan there?
That production is based in the U.K. through Working Title. It’s a great partnership and a great relationship with David Joseph as the UMG guy over there. David was very interested in Bridget from the second it got going; he was very aggressive about it, and from early on, he was obviously the right partner for that one.

Do we know which artists will be involved?
There’s a non-UMG artist who has a cameo in the film, and I’m sure we’ll work out that artist being on the soundtrack. There have definitely been conversations about some A-list platinum or multi-platinum acts in the UMG extended family that make sense for Bridget Jones. It’s too early to put any of the specifics out there.

Do you have any films coming up that have any single launches associated with them?
We’re doing a tie-in with Halsey, who is signed to Capitol, on the sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, Winter’s War, which comes [4/22]. We’re using her song “Castle,” which is really working well in marketing material; the vibe and lyrics of it work great for the film. We don’t do tie-ins with existing songs much, but “Castle” was such a great fit for Winter’s War that we worked really closely with Halsey and her producer, Lido. We have James Newton Howard on the film, so we did an orchestral arrangement of that song and made it an exclusive version of the song to tie in with the film. Her demographic is in the sweet spot for that movie.

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