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Podcast – Producer Cody Greenwood on music licensing

Producer Cody Greenwood got dozens of tracks from the world’s biggest names for Australian documentary Under the Volcano. Here’s how it happened.

Headshots of Sting, Cody Greenwood and Elton John spliced together.

Sting, Cody Greenwood, Elton John

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For her first feature documentary, producer Cody Greenwood was faced with the prospect of licensing music for 30 tracks from the likes of Elton John, Paul McCartney, Rolling Stones, The Police, Duran Duran and more.

Under the Volcano looks at how the world’s biggest recording artists created music that defined an era – all from a studio built on the remote Caribbean island of Montserrat by The Beatles producer Sir George Martin. That is, until an evolving music industry and nature itself stepped in.

“I don’t think I quite realised the magnitude and scale of something like Under the Volcano,” Greenwood of Rush Films says on the Screen Australia Podcast. After having the initial idea there was a 12-18 month development period, during which they needed to get the family estate of Sir George Martin on board. Once that was secured, about eight months into development, Greenwood reached out to the music star Sting, to gauge his interest in being interviewed.

“He said ‘yep, sure, come to New York in two weeks’ time,” she says.

Getting that interview with Sting would prove pivotal to Under the Volcano.

“It had a domino effect in various ways. One, in terms of Gracie (Otto, the director) coming on board. Two, the financing: Universal Pictures, who are our global distributor, I think Sting’s involvement was a key part of bringing them on board.”

Throughout the podcast, Greenwood talks about early feedback from an AIDC pitching forum; working with music supervisor Kim Green; what percentage of the final film’s budget was spent on music and archival; what getting sign-off on the doco from stars such as Elton John and The Rolling Stones was like; and misconceptions about making a film like Under the Volcano.

“There’s never any guarantee that you’re going to get a song… Even if you know the songwriter,” she says, because you need to licence two things: the publishing side, which is the original composition, and the master, which is the original recording, usually made by a record company.

“So you might have someone say to you ‘oh this is great, I’ll give you my song for next to nothing. I wrote the song and did all the lyrics and composition’ and then the record company could turn around and say ‘yeah, but we still want $50-60,000 for that track’. So knowing someone doesn’t always help with music.”

Despite the challenges of working on a music documentary, Greenwood hopes another one is on the horizon.

“[I’m] ready to get stuck back into a music doco at some stage, because as crazy as they are, they’re a lot of fun to make.”

Under the Volcano is out now to rent or buy. Visit their official website here, to find out the places where it’s available.

Cody Greenwood with producer Gracie Otto.Cody Greenwood (right) with director Gracie Otto

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