Sara Matarazzo spends most of her time on the telephone. In the parking garage on the way to a preview screening of Frances Ha, the recent Noah Baumbach film whose music—classic French cinema songs—she chose and tracked down, her iPhone rings. Rather, it quacks. She answers.
“Hello? Hi. They don’t like the bass line. I’m going to send you exactly what they said. Just remember that you have to make it different.”
On the escalator the phone quacks again. Then again on the mezzanine of the Pioneer Place movie theater. Each call is a composer wanting to talk about a commercial she’s hired them for. Matarazzo is essentially playing interpreter between two cultures that, at the best of times, enjoy an uneasy peace: the creative world of music, and the ruthlessly nitpicky world of marketing. At any given point, the 38-year-old, her sharp features framed by brown hair and offset tonight with raspberry lipstick, is working with some 30 composers, hardly letting her seventh month of pregnancy slow her down. As Matarazzo approaches the theater entrance, one of two sexagenarian women collecting tickets says, “This is probably not what you’re looking for. This is a sneak preview.” With chunky necklaces, dyed hair, and sneakers, they look like the kind of retirees who make a hobby of these things.
“Oh, I worked on this film,” Matarazzo answers sweetly. It’s the second film she has been involved with that’s had a special screening in Portland. Last year, she hosted a large event for Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom at the Whitsell Auditorium. She also helped out on Star Trek: Into Darkness, she mentions nonchalantly, pointing to a giant cardboard stand-up that looms nearby.
By profession, Matarazzo is known as a “music supervisor.” Marketing companies, brands, and filmmakers hire her to find that perfect song—such as an electronic track by the artist Dabrye that sonically propelled a Motorola commercial in which a sleek room fractures and folds up into a Moto Razr phone. When she can’t find the right song, she hires someone to write it, to order. The string quartet she commissioned from the young composer Nicholas Wright for Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” London Olympics spot, showing everyday athletes around the world, won the Association of Independent Commercial Producers’ award in June for best original music. Often, the tracks she discovers come from Portland’s fertile independent music scenes. She’s placed the swinging rock of Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside in ads for Target and J. Crew, casting the band’s songs farther than any radio play has. Given the otherwise dismal state of the music industry, any of those phone calls Matarazzo relentlessly places or receives could change the life of a starving songwriter or a scruffy band.
This power has helped Matarazzo and a few local colleagues make Portland a fulcrum for a major shift in how the music business works, especially for the kind of independent, edgy, underground artists the city prides itself on breeding. Once, any band or songwriter aspiring to underground or outsider status would have gouged his or her own eyes out rather than appear to be “selling out” in any way. (In the early ’90s, punk-rock partisans conducted an endless debate over whether bands should even allow Universal Product Code symbols to appear on their records.) Now, with album sales decimated by digitization and commercial radio just as boring as ever, many “indie” bands covet jobs writing jingles for corporate commercials, movies, or video games.
“This is an important new source of income,” says Don Gorder, founder and chair of the Music Business/Management Department of the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Indeed, the revenue from such song licensing climbed from a negligible amount in 2008 to $342 million in 2011, according to the world’s leading industry organization, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). “For some indie labels and bands,” Gorder says, “I would say as much as 30 to 40 percent is coming from licensing music. And they’re going after it wholeheartedly.”
Inside Pioneer Place, Matarazzo finally turns her ringer off and enters the theater. Frances Ha has been her most challenging project to date; the search for the owners of the French songs from the ’60s required digging through obscure French record archives. In tandem with the black-and-white cinematography, though, the music transforms what could have felt like a Girls knockoff into a modern-day fairy tale. As the credits roll, Matarazzo wipes her eyes. “I didn’t know what I was doing in the beginning, but the passion was there,” she says later of her fake-it-till-you-make-it journey to running her own company. “No one can deny when someone is passionate.”