Want to have a hit on your hands?
Scott Bradlee, founder of the online super-duper success story Postmodern Jukebox figured out how to do it—the hard way. His “overnight” success story that catapulted him from struggling musician to music-social-media pioneer is now visible in a new way beyond his 3.5 million+ subscriber YouTube channel and sold-out national tours: the release of an explain-all book, Outside the Jukebox: How I Turned My Vintage Music Obsession into My Dream Gig (Hachette Books).
Postmodern Jukebox creator Scott Bradlee is not keeping the secret of his success to himself.
In hindsight, it’s not hard to understand why Postmodern Jukebox, his hand-picked rotating supergroup devoted to period covers of pop songs, took off. Cull through the available catalog on his channel, and you’ll see a perfect storm of shareable culture.
Video after video features a hit song, from today’s inescapable chart toppers (“Shape of You” Stevie Wonder funk style, “The Middle” in the method of Bobby Darrin) to the guilty pleasures of yesteryear (“The Final Countdown” as vintage cabaret, “Straight Up” gone old skool jazz).
The sets and setups are gorgeous, the shots are pure HD and static — a smart combination of stunning and simple. But the renditions themselves are what make PMJ amazing, with each imaginative cover evoking fresh love for a song you’ve heard a million times, revealing anew the magic that made the song a hit in the first place.
It wouldn’t be untoward for an artist, producer and engineer to view PMJ and say to themselves, “Why didn’t I think of that?” But for those that can put aside their touch of envy, Bradlee has put forth Outside the Jukebox so that the rest of us can do just that — find a way to have their own hit on their hands. With upfront frankness and plenty of humor, Bradlee shares his own stumbles and mistakes along with the lucky breaks that were driven by his intuition, in hopes that readers will be inspired to create their own inspirational success story.
In the excerpt that follows, the chapter “From Pianist to Producer” joins Bradlee not long after his first string of YouTube successes has set him on a new path, filling his future with equal parts opportunity and doubt.
FROM PIANIST TO PRODUCER
Even with a few viral videos and a TEDx talk to my name, I still thought of myself as a pianist—and only a pianist. After all, it was my piano playing that was getting me attentionon the Internet.
It’s a strange phenomenon, but meeting with even a minor degree of success and validation in one field (or, in this case, on one instrument) can make it harder to venture away from that comfort zone and into uncharted territory than if no amount of success or validation had been experienced at all.
It took a prominent figure in the video game industry pointing out to me my skill as an arranger before I was able to embrace it in myself, along with the enticement of a top-secret project requir- ing that I put that skill to use, for me to shrug off my identity as “only a pianist” and step into something less restrictive.
Internet trends have a history of being fleeting, and so I feared my popularity on the web would fade, someday, as quickly as it had arrived. At the same time, though, I was hopeful that some- one in the entertainment world would take note of what I was doing with my mashups and offer me a job. And then, in April 2010, my wish was granted.
A man named Jim Bonney, who was the audio lead for a company called Irrational Games, had reached out to me by email after seeing my ’80s-hits-as-ragtime compilation video. He wondered whether I might be interested in putting my skill of turning modern songs into ragtime to work on a big project that he was developing.
I wasn’t familiar with many video games post–Super Mario Kart, but a quick Google search confirmed that Irrational Games was a well-known video game studio. Intrigued, and feel- ing confident that this was a real lead, I set up a phone call with him to find out more.
Jim explained that the project would involve my demoing a bunch of songs from the ’70s and ’80s in a turn-of-the-century piano style, and if the game’s legendary creative director, Ken Levine, felt that my material worked, it would end up in the game itself.
Due to the secrecy and speculation that surrounds popular video game releases, I would have to sign a nondisclosure agreement and keep my participation in this project secret for the next couple years, until the game was released. I was told that I would be paid well for all of this, though the fee had yet to be determined.
When I got off the phone, I drew in a long, deep breath. This was the biggest professional opportunity I’d ever had, and I was determined to knock it out of the park.
When it came to contracts, I was a complete neophyte, so the first thing I did was call a lawyer friend to get some advice. I had no idea how to negotiate a contract or even what deal points to include; the extent of my previous business negotiations had, for the most part, revolved around whether I could score a free meal after I’d finished playing a gig. I also contacted a few other arrangers who’d done music for film in the hopes that they’d let me pick their brains.
Over the years, I’ve made a habit of asking professionals with unlike areas of expertise for advice whenever I find myself ven- turing out of my comfort zone and into theirs for the first time. It’s a habit that’s served me well time and again—and certainly far better than letting ego stand between me and the information I need.
There’s no shame in allowing yourself to lean on others’ expertise and become the student again; the only shame would be in not returning the favor should your wisdom be sought out someday.
Most people—myself included!—love doling out wisdom, especially on subjects they’ve dealt with for most of their professional lives. It’s a big, confusing world out there, especially in the entertainment industry, and it’s important to actively develop for yourself a team of unofficial advisors that you can turn to for help in navigating the myriad decisions and dilemmas you’ll undoubtedly encounter in life.
As I said, handling serious contracts was far, far outside my wheelhouse, and so it was an exciting milestone for me when I negotiated my first work-for-hire agreement as an arranger. The fee was much larger than any I’d received before, for any type of project. For fun, I included in my notes to the contract a request that my likeness be featured as an in-game character. They made no promises on that one, but they also didn’t say “no.”
I didn’t know so much as the name of the game or even its general plot; Jim just selected a handful of songs from the ’70s and ’80s and told me to go to town on them. I set up my apartment as a makeshift studio, connecting my keyboard to my computer and recording simple demos of each song.
I toed the line, intent on making the demos sound as authentically period as possible, even when it meant dialing back my own piano style. “Tainted Love,” for instance, got a bluesy Jelly Roll Morton treatment, while I imagined “Shiny Happy People” with an Al Jolson–style Great Depression vibe, in the tradition of upbeat songs like “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
Scott Bradlee’s new book takes you INSIDE the Jukebox.
Much to my relief, Jim loved the arrangements. He even found an incredible singer named Miche Braden to sing a Bessie Smith– style blues vocal on “Tainted Love,” which we recorded in Studio B at Avatar Studios in New York City.
Whenever I think back on that experience at Avatar, I break out into a huge smile. It was a fantastic day and probably one of my favorite memories ever. I can see it now with perfect clarity: Miche in the vocal booth at Studio B, cheekily ad-libbing, “Oh, play that piano, Scotty Boy!!” to the piano track I’d recorded.
Having grown up in Detroit during the Motown era, Miche truly embodied the stories of the songs she sang. She’d received music lessons from Earl Van Dyke of the Funk Brothers in her youth and had lent her voice to many soul records in the ’70s and ’80s, before becoming a star of the musical theatre stage in New York City. Her recent portrayal of Bessie Smith in The Devil’s Music had earned her a Drama Desk nomination for “Best Actress in a Musical,” and it was through a YouTube clip of this show that Jim learned of her powerful voice.
“I bet it’s a treat to hear that voice singing over your piano,” Jim said, observing my delight. He was beyond right. It was the first time I had ever recorded one of my “vintage” song arrange- ments with a vocalist, so automatically it was going to have special significance for me. But that this vocalist just happened to be a legend—well, it elevated the experience to utterly new heights.
At points during the recording session, I had to silently remind myself that this was real life because it all just felt so beyond my wildest dreams. When Miche leaned into the high notes with the full power of her voice, I got intense chills. It was one thing to play these arrangements on piano, but it was something else entirely to hear them interpreted by an incredible singer.
In the end, many of my arrangements for BioShock Infinite (yes, Jim finally told me the game’s name) wound up getting cut, mostly due to the difficulty of securing rights from the publish- ers of the original songs.
This bummed me out a little, but the immense pride I felt for the tracks that did make it in stopped me from dwelling on the disappointment too long: “Tainted Love,” “Shiny Happy People” (which, fittingly, featured an Al Jolson impersonator named Tony Babbino), the jazz standard “After You’ve Gone,” and a waltz version of the Tears for Fears hit number “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
That last one I pictured being sung by an Irish tenor, and I recorded myself doing my best impression of just that as a temporary vocal on the demo. To my surprise, Ken Levine took such a liking to it that he wound up using it in the game. If you’re playing and make it to t he end, stick around for a few minutes; you’ll hear me singing in my best old-timey voice as the closing credits roll.
In March 2013, after a few worrisome delays, BioShock Infinite was released—at long last—to critical acclaim. The anachronistic pop songs I’d worked so hard on were a big hit with players—and with the fictional characters who inhabited BioShock’s world, too.
That’s right: They’d been factored into the storyline as the purported compositions of a man named Albert Fink, who infamously stole hit songs from the future and passed them off as his own. Fink’s reputation loomed large in Columbia—the fictional world that provided the setting for the game—despite making only one physical appearance in the game. It was never outright confirmed for me, but it would seem that my request for an in-game character had been honored: His eyes bear a striking resemblance to my own.
Working on BioShock Infinite was thrilling and gratifying for so many obvious reasons, but it was perhaps the quiet, personal revelation it led me to have that made me appreciate it the most: It helped me to understand that my YouTube experiments could be much more than clever, ephemeral viral videos.
BioShock afforded me the ability to add renowned vocal talent to my arrangements, and by doing so I came to see—for the first time and with such clarity—that what I produced could stand on its own as great music, gimmicks aside. Suddenly, I no longer viewed myself as merely a pianist. I had become, in my own eyes, a producer.
[The above excerpt was republished with permission from Hachette Books.]
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They typically get a percentage of royalties. A singer shared one contract from a duet he did with PMJ which offered him, the singer, just 7.5% of royalties from just iTunes (this contract was pre-Apple Music) and Spotify (not ad revenue from YouTube, not CD sales, not other DSPs, not sync).
Although Postmodern Jukebox makes a strong argument for modern pop and rock music, it also demonstrates the enduring nature of some genres that have fallen by the wayside. By bringing soul, jazz and big band styles into a popular context, PMJ invites audiences to further explore these genres.
“Postmodern” because it broke down some of the walls between genres by blending the old with the new; “Jukebox” because it focused on pop songs that were familiar to a lot of people.
You don't actually need to register your song with the Federal copyright office to own the copyright (at least in the United States). The moment you put your song into tangible form – written down or recorded – you automatically get the six exclusive rights we just looked at.
A common misconception in the music industry is that you need to get permission from a copyright owner in order to cover a song. In reality, you can go straight to securing a compulsory mechanical license — required by law as part of the 1909 Copyright Act — and compensating the rights holder for their work.
Most Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox concerts last about 2-3 hours but can run shorter or longer depending on the opening acts, encore, etc.
|Labels||Independent (2014–present) Concord Records (2017) 19 (2011–2014) Interscope Records (2011–2012)|
CALL US TODAY (725) 228-5100 and speak with a CTI Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox booking agent to get direct availability and pricing for having this talent to work your event.
Postmodern Jukebox isn't a single group. There are multiple groups — or as PMJ would put it, “time-twisting musical collectives” — traveling the globe.
Initially emerging from a mode of literary criticism, postmodernism developed in the mid-twentieth century as a rejection of modernism and has been observed across many disciplines. Postmodernism is associated with the disciplines deconstruction and post-structuralism.
|Robyn Adele Anderson|
Scott Bradlee created the concept of Postmodern Jukebox under his YouTube channel where he covered popular music with a classical twist.
The Grand Reopening Tour will feature an ensemble of multi-talented singers and musicians bringing PMJ creator Scott Bradlee's generation-spanning arrangements alive night after night.
This is one of the most common misconceptions. Unfortunately, this is not true and there is no bright line rule that says a use is an acceptable use as long as you only use 5, 15, or 30 seconds of a song. Any use of copyrighted material without permission is, according to U.S. copyright law, copyright infringement.
You may have heard of "fair use," a copyright provision that permits you to use 10, 15 or 30 seconds of music without copyright obligation. That is, you understand that you can use a short section of a song without paying a fee.
|Registration of a claim in an original work of authorship|
|Single author, same claimant, one work, not for hire||$45|
|Paper Filing (Forms PA, SR, TX, VA, SE)||$125|
|Registration of a claim in a group of unpublished works||$85|
A live performance is not publication. The song's copyright owner must give you a mechanical license if you pay a royalty fee based on estimated revenue from your cover song. You can obtain a mechanical license through the Harry Fox Agency. The mechanical license only covers the audio portion of your YouTube cover.
You do not need to personally ask for permission to perform another songwriter's work at a live show, as concert venues are responsible for obtaining a blanket license from their local PRO(s) to ensure the legal status of songs that are played within their premises.
You can monetize your cover songs on YouTube, but there's a catch. You'll pay a royalty rate on digital sales or pay an upfront fee for the license. Yes, one of the positives of writing a popular song that people want to cover, is the royalty fee, and YouTube covers are no different.
At its core, PMJ's place in live music is a clever, remarkable premise, really, that evokes awe and wows from a wide age demographic: the group takes popular hit songs---everything from Prince or Justin Timberlake to Lady Gaga and, yes, Taylor Swift---and refashions them as fabulous, very old school 20's or 30's era ...
After the finished on Season 10 of American Idol in 2011, Casey Abrams made it clear he never dated Haley Reinhart.
Hire a Postmodern Jukebox Style Band
Our bands perform a mixture of modern pop and jazz standards from the 1920-40s, making them the ideal choice for wedding receptions, parties and corporate events.
Yet no matter how often a song is played, its composer and lyricist receive no royalty.
The short answer is yes; even if your song is played on a small internet radio station or in an indie film, you're usually due royalties.
Payments will fluctuate each month, depending on the amount of subscription revenue generated and how often your music was streamed. When your music is streamed in TouchTunes, your rate of pay is based on a flat per play fee for both the master and publisher.
The simple answer to the question: “Do radio stations have to pay royalties?” is yes. These stations, often funded by charities or commercial advertisements, need to pay to purchase a blanket license from a group called the Performance Rights Organization.