We’re back with another episode of Reel Stories with ReelCrafter, and boy, do we have a treat for you!
In this episode, ReelCrafter co-founder Sam Hulick sits down with not one but two Mikes: media composer Mike Rubino and veteran industry professional Mike Rosen (Megatrend Management). We cover the benefits of a solid composer-manager relationship, the power of a highly curated demo, the value of a second set of ears in the pitching process, and Mike Rosen’s top tips for putting together a killer reel (WARNING: Contains golden nuggets!). Plus, we dive into the specifics of the pitching process for Nickelodeon’s hit series ‘It’s Pony,’ and Mike Rubino shares fascinating insight into his latest project—the reimagining of Mickey’s Toontown at Disneyland.
The interview transcript below has been edited for clarity and readability.
Sam: Hey, this is Sam with ReelCrafter, and this is another edition of Reel Stories. Today we’re joined by not one, but two Michaels. We have Mike Rubino, who is a composer and longtime friend of mine, and his manager Mike Rosen with Megatrend Management. Good to have you guys.
Mike Rubino: Thank you.
Mike Rosen: Thank you very much. Nice to be here.
Sam: So, how did you guys meet? Take me back to the beginning.
Mike Rubino: As I recall, it was like a one-day conference here in L.A., And if memory serves correctly, I think it was based around Turner Classic Movies used to have a composer competition every year, and I think one year they kind of had like a day full of events around it. And one of the events they had was, you know, a panel of managers, and Mike was on that panel.
And then, later on in the day, you could present your demo to one of the agents and managers that were there for the day, and so I had joined Mike in a one-on-one session with my demo, and he kind of was digging it and gave me a call a couple of days later and wanted to talk about joining his, at the time he was with the…
Mike Rosen: Montana Artists, was it?
Mike Rubino: Montana, yeah, probably Montana, that’s right.
Which was, it was an agency that represented more than just composers. But he was the guy there who had a composer roster, and so we hit it off right away. And I think for me, I was at a point in my career where I felt like the next step would be to get some help in this department, and that’s why I was there specifically to meet folks like Mike, and it’s just worked out, and we’ve—that was, I don’t know, maybe 2008?
Mike Rosen: 2006—I thought it was 2006.
Mike Rubino: 2007—wow, really? Jeez.
Sam: That’s a long time.
Mike Rosen: In that neck of the woods, it’s tough to put it exact. But there were lots of Turner Classic young composers symposiums, and conferences. And I was able to speak at a lot of them, and it was great, and they were all fun. And I got to sit with some, yeah, I got to sit one year with Hans, you know, at a table, and so you just never know who you’re going to run into or be seated with or anything else.
But having met Mike that day, that was clearly, for me, the most important person that I met at any of those symposiums, you know, over the course of my career. And it’s, just it was a real blessing for me, and it remains that way to this day.
Sam: That’s awesome. This kind of ties into my next question for “Manager Mike.” A lot of people don’t quite understand the difference between an agent and a manager. Could you explain a bit about the difference?
Mike Rosen: Sure, absolutely, it’s a very, very common question. What the scope of, being the difference between an agent and a manager, really is that a manager will do anything, and everything to assist their client in every creative manner. Helping with materials, helping with demos, to a great extent, I’m well known for that. Being there in every way, whenever is necessary. Agencies often have, just—so I’ll talk about my experience at agencies—I was the head of music at three different agencies; Working Artists, Montana Artists, and Diverse Talent Group. And I had too many clients. I was given too many clients. I was told, “Never turn someone away,” because you never know if they’re just going to get a job, and then we’ll get the 10%.
Mike Rosen: And it was a very difficult situation for someone who actually cares about the people. Yeah, you know, now, that’s not to say that agents don’t care about people. I’m not saying that. I’m saying that the governance structure of agencies make it tougher to be as personal as I wish to be, and this was at that time.
I have no idea what the agencies are like today. And I’m not saying that I do, because I’m not there and I’m not in them. I just know that if I, who work alone, need to be in someone’s studio, I go. If I need to stay up late with someone and work through some correspondence, we do it. If we need to edit demos together, we do it. And it’s, my ability is to just give the time necessary to make those things happen and happen efficiently and creatively, and at the end of the day, get the work.
Mike Rosen: And I hope that helps. It’s a, it’s a tricky distinction, but it’s a distinction nonetheless.
Sam: So you talked about your creative approach in managing your clients. Tell me about your approach to creating demo reels, or refining demo reels, cause it’s a bit different, I think than most people.
Mike Rosen: Well, for me, I’m also a listener. So I’m a target audience for composers and their reels. And I find, and found, over the years, over all those years, that the reels were too long, unfocused, not curated in a way that was as most effective.
I have a very famous client. I had a very famous line, now retired. I won’t say his name, but he and he was terrific. He’s an astounding fellow, and I love him. But he always backloaded his demos so that it kept getting better and better and better to the end. And in those days, in the two thousands and the aughts, I would be going taking CDs into editing suites and having the guy put the CD into like his computer, and then listening to tracks and I could see that they were losing the first track for 10 seconds, the second track for 8 seconds, the third track for 4 seconds, and by the fifth track, they weren’t listening anymore.
Mike Rosen: “OK. Yep. Nope. This doesn’t quite go.” I’m like, “Wait,” and I then would point out, “No, but try track number seven, that’s.”
So you can’t have a demo that’s loaded with all your best stuff at the bottom, because they’re looking at the top.
So, that sort of started the process of “We’ve got to put the best stuff at the top.”
And it started with just putting the best three things. And I like to say, don’t trumpet the first, don’t [have] like a ‘chorus of angels’ come in with the first cue—have it draw you in.
And now we’re giving away the secrets here, see, but then the second cue is more thematic. So it kind of starts like a film. First three cues I like to like start like the show, where there’s a little pre-credit sequence, then the main title credit sequence, then something, you know, nice and relaxing afterward. And I start with those three, and then we keep, and we keep going, but I like it to flow. I’d like it to be highly curated so that if we can get it to 5 to 7 minutes for a first go-round, we’re not really taking too much of anybody’s time; we’re respecting their time.
We’re expecting our ability to make a good-sounding reel in that short of time. And we’re saying to them at the end, “And if you wish more, we will give you more.”
Sam: Yeah, you have to definitely keep it focused and short. You know people can’t go off the rails with a 20-minute demo because they may not make it past the first three, so… and attention spans are probably shorter these days than back then.
Mike Rosen: Even shorter.
Sam: Even shorter. First, you gotta catch him in the first; what, 10 seconds would you say?
Mike Rosen: You know, it’s tough to tell. But you know, certainly, you have to catch ’em within 2 tracks.
Sam: Oh yeah, easily.
So “Composer Mike,” can you tell us about your pitch for It’s Pony, the Nickelodeon show? How you guys put that together?
Mike Rubino: Sure, in the case of It’s Pony, it was a video test. So the way Nickelodeon was operating was that they had sent out a few animatics of the show, which are, you know, not fully animated. They’re kind of like storyboards. And ask composers to basically score those [and] included a brief, that kind of gave a general music direction, and kinds of things they like, and what they were looking for, and the overall concept of the show.
And so I did that and turned it in, and you know, my approach to sending out demos and pitches is, I send it, and then I forget it. Because, you know, there’s that excruciating period of waiting. “I wonder what happened?” So I have a habit of kind of just sending it off, and doing my (killing myself doing my best job possible) and sending it off and then kind of emotionally,
“Alright, that’s that. Now focus on the next thing,” but…
Sam: Was there a demo before you scored the storyboard?
Mike Rubino: Well, Mike Rosen, obviously, as my manager, made the first introduction to Nickelodeon.
Mike Rosen: I have an existing relationship with the Nick music team, yeah.
Sam: That helps.
Mike Rubino: Exactly. So he made some introductions for me there, and I hit it off with everybody in that department, who were all great folks.
Mike Rubino: So yeah, initially, they were introduced. Actually, the very first thing was a demo similar to the It’s Pony thing where I had submitted something in particular. They really liked that, although I wasn’t selected for that project.
But then, after that, it was like, “OK, let’s keep me on their radar.” So every once in a while, we would feed them, you know, some material, some cool stuff that was the latest and greatest, and we might format a demo and send it along. And then, as I was on their radar, then they kind of put me in rotation for upcoming projects.
Sam: Got it. There’s a story, Mike Rosen, you told me at PMC about.. what was it, about the pitching for It’s Pony and adding more “doink” or something like that.
Mike Rosen: Well, yeah, but now we’re getting into the deep weeds. Well, so I kind of felt as though so [confidential], who was the head of music at that time, had told me a story in which she says, “Well, we get about 100 of these things sometimes, and two stand out.”
Sam: 100 pitches.
Mike Rosen: 100 pitches—two get our attention.
And that really got my attention. And I thought we needed to do something unique. Something that makes us stand apart. So I kindly suggested to Michael to give it a “thing.” You know, I’m not the type of manager that gives orders. What I do is give suggestions and let the composer kind of figure it out, together, with us. And I kindly… and Michael, if any, you know, you have a slightly different perspective on it let me know. But it seems to me that I recall that I said, ”Look can we flub a few things? Because, this sounds like it’s a comedy, and it’s a crazy horse and the crazy kid and, you know, let’s try to like make some, you know, flat notes or some notes where the string just hits your thumb a little bit or something?”
And Mike did it brilliantly. Honest to God, he was able to, in very short order, create a sound. He created the sound, and off that one tiny suggestion, Mike went ahead and created a sound that is iconic to It’s Pony. And it’s just fantastic, and it just shows the level to which, one: people can work together, but also: a composer can take a gentle comment and create a powerful musical statement in an appropriate manner.
Mike Rubino: See, Mike is a tremendous resource for me because, and I think, probably a lot of my composer colleagues can relate to this, but sometimes it’s hard to be objective about your own work. And you know, Mike knows his clients; he knows what they’re looking for these people he’s had relationships with, so he also knows what they’ll respond to really well. That conversation that he had with [confidential] about how they get 100 demos, and little insights like that, are invaluable that you may not get if you’re just dealing with somebody directly.
And even putting just demo reels together again, same thing it’s… I might be emotionally attached to a cue and love it and want it, want it on the demo. And then Mike will listen to it and be like, “It’s a great cue, but I don’t know if it’s right for this project. What else you got?” and I go, “Well, I’ve got this other cue. It’s just really, just average and…” And Mike will listen and go, “That’s perfect!” you know, ”That’s number one!” So, he has the advantage of having that first impression, whereas I’m too close to it, so.
So he’s, again, a tremendous resource in that way as a sounding board for me whenever, if I’m feeling insecure about a demo or something, I can I can always bounce it off him, and he’ll, you know, he’ll give these two cents. And he’ll always say, “You don’t have to take my suggestions,” and most of the time, I do; once in, a while, we’ll argue over whether cue should be in a demo or not. But I really do trust Mike’s opinion because, again, he knows his clients. He knows what they’re looking for, and he’s got a fresh take on stuff that I’ve heard way too many times.
Mike Rosen: Thank you, Michael. It’s definitely hard to remain objective.
Sam: We get so attached to our own music, and like, we’re convinced it’s perfect, and then it’s not, so.
Mike Rubino: I’m the other way around. I think everything’s terrible.
Sam: I was gonna ask Mike about your past; you’ve contributed music to various TV shows. You’ve worked a lot in production music, and you’ve done a lot of film trailers. Can you talk about how you broke into working on production music?
Mike Rubino: Sure. I well actually started right out of school as a music editor at Fox Family Channel or Saban, who did Power Rangers and Digimon and a bunch of stuff like that, and… So I got some cool chops there as a music editor, just understanding how music went with picture. But Disney bought that whole channel, the whole operation, and our music department was redundant. And so at that point, I was like this is my moment to kind of set out on my own. And I didn’t know where to turn or what to do.
But production music was one area where you can just sink your teeth into it right away, because it’s a low risk for the type of library that’s just taking cues on spec and then sharing some sync or some backend. So, it’s a great way to get your career started and just also write, write a lot of material quickly. And I was doing that and then met a gentleman who said, “Oh yeah, I have a music library that caters to the trailer industry,” and I went, “Huh, music for trailers, don’t they just, you know, I don’t know; use the score or whatever?” Like, I had no idea back then. This was in 2002.
And so I thought, OK, I’ll throw some cues his way while I pursue my intentions of being the next John Williams. You know, scoring, you know, major motion pictures and all that stuff. And after just feeding into this library for a couple of years, I started to go, “Oh, wait, there’s like checks coming in the mail.” And I really started to love just the process because trailer music is a very unique beast as far as the structure in the format and the sound.
And over the years, I just learned that process and fell in love with it along the way. And it’s something I, you know, don’t ever want to stop doing, along with the scoring and all that stuff, because it’s really satisfying, and we get to use big live orchestras and do all kinds of cool, awesome creative stuff.
Mike Rosen: Recorded where?
Mike Rubino: Abbey Road, we can record in Nashville; we record some really fantastic places all over the world. So it’s been a great, great journey.
Sam: That’s awesome.
Mike Rubino: And it’s also taught me a lot about—I can really apply that kind of thing to scoring, as the sound of scoring has become almost more trailer-like over the years. It’s become a kind of a good boon for me to have that type of production under my belt because it really is one of the highest quality levels of production in the business.
Sam: How would a composer go about getting into a music library?
Mike Rubino: The best way to go about getting into a music library is simply contacting them. I think that’s one of the big differences between production music and, you know, scoring the next JJ Abrams project, is that you can get in touch with libraries, whether you’re using their website or if they have an email published or even a phone number and just drop them a line and say, “Are you looking for composers, and if you are, what type of material are you looking for?” And again, if it’s the type of company who is maybe sharing backend, or sharing sync, and aren’t, you know, paying huge lump sums of money upfront (which there aren’t many libraries that do that anyway) then it’s a low-risk situation.
If they hear your stuff, you send them a demo, and they’re really digging it, then they would see no reason not to bring you on and produce some material for them. So I think part of it is to search for libraries that you think you can add something to. Sometimes there’s a library with a million type of one track, so maybe they don’t need more of that. You wanna bring something new to the table, or even if it’s something that’s done a lot, bring a new twist to it or your own approach to it, so that the library has something a little more unique to put forward.
Mike Rosen: I’d like to make one point based on what Michael just said, which is that it happens to be Michael’s experience that the people that he contacts wish to work with him. That happens to be what happens in Mike Rubino’s world. It doesn’t happen that way for all artists, I’m sorry to say, Michael. [Laughter]
Mike Rubino: But, no, I…
Mike Rosen: No, I’m just saying that you were saying, you know, “Yeah, it’s easier to get a hold of these guys and send them your music, and they’re very likely gonna wanna work with you.” My experience is that Michael has an incredibly high hit rate with those entities, and not every composer does.
Sam: I was gonna say they’re probably very saturated with the composers every day.
Mike Rosen: It’s worse today than ever before.
Sam: Yeah, they have a pretty selective.
Mike Rubino: The trailer industry, in particular, (I’m sure what Mike is referring to) is very difficult now to break into. But I was speaking more to kind of just the broader range of any kind of music library. And you know, you might find…
Mike Rosen: Not just everybody gets to record the London Symphony Orchestra in Abbey Road, OK? It’s just not the nature of the beast.
Mike Rubino: True, but trailer libraries are their own beasts. I think the other thing you can do is you can find, you know, a younger library that is getting its feet off the ground. And then you can add to that. If it’s a really well-established boutique library that has its small circle of composers that they work with day in, day out, then yes, that’s more difficult. But not every library operates that way, yeah.
Sam: So it’s just a matter of cold calling and being persistent, basically.
Mike Rosen: And being good helps, and being good, yeah.
Sam: And being talented and using ReelCrafter so you can tell that they opened it, and how much they listened to. I had to plug it, you know.
Mike Rubino: To put in perspective, that first summer after I got laid off and was just looking to get into anything, and had my eye on production music, I probably emailed 40, 50 libraries, and then one responded, And I did..it wasn’t a trailer library at that point, that very first library, it was just like TV and stuff, so yeah, there is a numbers game, and there’s persistence needed, sure, sure.
Mike Rosen: You made it sound pretty easy there, and I was thinking, “Hey, wait a second, I better just inject a little reality.”
Mike Rubino: Yeah, OK.
Sam: [I was thinking…] That doesn’t sound right.
Mike Rosen: But ReelCrafter is, it turns out, as it happens, ReelCrafter is a key component of our strategies here at Megatrend.
And I want all of my clients to be on ReelCrafter or for very good reasons. And one of them, the key reason among them, well, first of all, just visibility and ease of operation. But with the features that Sam and Sara have incorporated into the platform, we’re able to see who listens, how long they listen, what they listen to, whether they come back and listen a second time, or whether they don’t listen at all. And, you know, as it happens, for those demos for which people listen, you know, through all the way, there’s a very high correlation with getting the job. In my experience—everybody’s different.
I’m only speaking my personal experience and the people that I work with. But when someone takes the time to listen to a demo, and, bearing in mind we give them short, highly curated demos that they’re just what’s right up their alley (what we believe together, the composer and I together, believe is right up the alley of that particular production). And it’s short, and it’s curated, and it’s… We want it to be a great listening experience. If they wanted to have a glass of wine and listen to it, they’d love it. I’ve often said if they just take the time to listen to this over dinner, we’ll get the job. And it’s funny how many times that’s happened.
So thank you, Sam, and thank you, Sara as well, if she’s listening, that ReelCrafter’s such an effective tool for marketing music to film and television, for film and television projects.
Sam: Thank you. Appreciate that.
Mike Rosen: And really other kinds of projects as well, I would imagine.
Sam: Are most of the pitches that you send out are most of those like targeted reels for a project? Like you don’t send a lot of general reels, do you?
Mike Rosen: No, yeah, I mean, strictly speaking, we’re going project to project. There are times when an executive at an executive suite at some company, just pick a name, Lionsgate, anybody says, “Can you send me a general reel?” and then we do. But even then, we try to think about what they do, what they’re well known for, and tailor it to things that would be in there, you know, right in their sort of strike zone. So we’re always thinking what’s best for the project, what’s best for the team, what’s best for the person who’s listening? And we try to make an effective presentation each and every time.
Mike Rubino: Yeah, early on, I was searching for a better tool for demos, you know, there was, there was SoundCloud, there was, you know, programming an MP3 player to embed on my own site, which is a pain, you know, there wasn’t a really great tool predefined for composer to make a really nice looking, organized, neat, reel in without sending somebody to either a third-party site or a, what I mean by third-party site is like a SoundCloud like a, like a big behemoth social platform.
And then I remember talking to Sam one year at maybe GameSoundCon or something like that and he’s had this project in development, and I remember going, “Let me invest! Like we all need this,” and he’s like [shakes head]. [Laughter] And I see why, because it, you know, was just something that we all needed whether we knew we needed it or not.
Every composer just needs something that they can just easily and cleanly, and beautifully make reels in without hassling with trying to use some other service that’s not really made for us and, you know, fit a square peg in a round hole.
Sam: And you’ve been with us for a long time. You were one of the beta testers, so you helped shape the platform in some way.
Mike Rubino: Thanks, man. No, it’s…yeah, I always remember, you know, sending a little chat messages to Sam on ReelCrafter, and 90% of the time, I’d be like, “Hey man it’d be great if I could dot, dot, dot” and he’d be like, “Oh yeah, we’re already…you know, that’s a great idea, you know, we’re already in progress with that.” Or once in a while I felt like you’d be like, “Oh, that’s a good idea.” So hopefully, I was able to contribute something meaningful, but…
Sam: Yes, 100%.
Mike Rubino: But it’s always been… I can’t imagine living without it.
Mike Rosen: Me either; I’m addicted.
Sam: That’s what we’d like to hear.
Mike Rosen: Are we allowed to say what you’re working on now? Is that, or is that a secret?
Mike Rubino: I think so, it’s…
Sam: I was gonna ask that, but tell us.
Mike Rubino: So at the moment, I am currently composing music for Disney Imagineering for a refurbishment of Toontown in Disneyland. So I’ve created a whole new musical landscape for that whole part of the park. Which has been really fun. Really fun.
Mike Rosen: And that is a thing. That is a total… That is a thing, man.
Sam: We’re going to dig into that. We’re gonna dive into that right now. How is that different? I mean, that’s really different from, you know, trailer music or writing custom music for a TV show, like how does that process differ?
Mike Rubino: I would liken it most to video game music, as a matter of fact. Music is often looped, obviously, throughout the day as people come in and out and, although I can’t speak specifically to this project because of NDA and all that, but I can just kind of give you a general idea of theme park music is that where in a game the music might change as the gameplay changes; in a park, the music changes based on your location or what’s going on in the ride. Or what part of the park you’re in.
And so there are concepts of maybe different stems of the same music going on at the same time that might change as you walk from one area to another area. You might sense that kind of, you know, change in video games, what we call a “change in intensity.” You know, obviously, things are if you’re on a ride, things are timed to the ride. And as you move from room to room within the ride, then the music has to be able to transition from one.. (even though it might be the same song the whole way through) might have to transition from one mood or one feeling to something different in the next room.
So it’s a lot of working with musical assets, as opposed to just like a stereo mix, you know, delivering a lot of pieces of things that can be manipulated on-site. So it’s a kind of a really cool process, although it’s unique, although it’s similar to video games, it really is a whole thing in and of itself, that’s unique. And as a composer, that’s one of the things that excites me is why I love to do trailers and TV, and video games and theme park is because each medium has some cool challenges to solve, and that keeps it exciting.
Sam: Yeah, those are all very different workflows for sure.
Mike Rubino: Yeah.
Sam: Is that a gig that “Manager Mike” got you?
Mike Rosen: Well, no, it’s…
Mike Rubino: Essentially, yeah. I mean, go ahead…
Mike Rosen: Yeah, it… I mean, did I get it for him?
Ok, so what we did was we created a really good relationship with [confidential], who is a delight. And when she went to Disney, she wished to continue working with Michael and I. And you know what could be better than that? Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be like?
Mike Rubino: And if that wasn’t clear, that [confidential] is from Nickelodeon, so having worked with her on It’s Pony, when she moved over. She was his go-to guy for It’s Pony, and she wished to see if he would be great with this very large, very substantial, and very prestigious project.
Sam: That’s why it’s definitely important to maintain those relationships, because people come and go. Well, thanks for making the time to talk to me today, guys. Really appreciate it.
Mike Rosen: Real pleasure.
Mike Rubino: Of course.
Sam: You can check out Mike’s music at mikerubinomusic.com, and you can also go to Disneyland, check it out in person. And you can look at Mike’s impressive roster at Megatrend Management—megatrendmgmt.com.
Mike Rosen: Thank you.
Sam: Alright, thanks again, guys.
Mike Rubino: Likewise, thank you
About Mike Rubino
Mike recently completed composing the music for the reimagined Toontown at Disneyland. He also worked on the hit Nickelodeon series “It’s Pony.” He has 18 years of experience scoring trailers and ads for Hollywood’s biggest films and studios, including Disney, Dreamworks, DC, and Marvel. Mike has also scored video games for the largest developers, including Sony, Tencent, and Gearbox. Orchestral music is his strength and passion, whether working with 100-piece orchestras, completely sampled scores or combinations of both. Mike excels at creating strong emotion through memorable and soaring melodies, and a flair for capturing the heart of a story.
About Mike Rosen
Mike is a veteran industry professional with a rich and varied background in both executive management and creative roles. Mike’s unique ability to meld powerful creative initiatives with skillful executive insight is well respected across the entertainment industry.
President, Megatrend Management
Head of Music, Montana Artists Agency, Hollywood, CA
Head of Music, Diverse Talent Group, Los Angeles, CA
Head of Music, Working Artists Agency, Sherman Oaks, CA
Studio Manager, Evergreen Studios, Burbank, CA
Studio Manager/Chief Engineer Powerhouse Studios, Northridge, CA
Studio Manager/Chief Engineer Big Pink West Studios, Mill Valley, CA
CEO Modesto Radiological Medical Group
Managed Care Administrator/Contract Manager Radiological Associates of Sacramento