Unlike other musicians, Jamie Laboz doesn't need to be in the spotlight. It's not like he hasn't had the opportunity to be in the public eye — in the early '90s, his "post-industrial hardcore" band Frankenorange was signed to a major label by someone who made stars out of the Spin Doctors, but Laboz left before they could release an album. Now Laboz's songs are heard on a daily basis by millions of people while he remains relatively unknown. No, he doesn't write for other bands — he writes for television. His songs have been on several long-running MTV shows, including Wildboyz, Yo Momma and Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggy Fizzle Televizzle.

First off, describe exactly what you do.

I am a musician who plays a bunch of different instruments like guitar, bass, ukulele, lap steel and keyboards. Through a friend I got to do the music for a couple of MTV shows — just some background music. That turned into 13 shows. Also, I just got a position for the Reverend Run show, Run's House, doing all the background music for the entire show — like, a composer for the series. Before, a lot of this stuff was "spec".

Spec, meaning freelance?

Meaning I wouldn't get paid a licensing fee, but I would get royalties from BMI on the back end. So it was kind of like a promise that in the future I would get something, which is cool if you're just using stuff you already have. But if you have to sit there and record stuff for them then it's a gamble, because you don't know how much money you are going to get or if you are going to get any money.

You're kidding me!

They're not known for being very generous. That's a reputation thing, but they will use your music if they like it and promise you royalties in the future.

Do you mind me asking how much you are getting from the royalties?

With royalties, it's really unpredictable. I have stuff on a lot of shows and some seasons just a couple of shows will run. That will be reflected in the check. Then some seasons a bunch of shows will run at the same time, and they usually do 30 cycles for three months for each one if the show is successful. That pays off. If it's a good quarter, it can be $15,000 to $20,000.


But then it could be a $1000 check. The other thing is that you have to get in a cycle with royalties. You get the first royalty payment nine months after the show airs. So you have to wait. If I did music today for a show, it wouldn't air for another two months. Then nine months from that time is when you get paid. So really it's eleven months to a year when you'll get paid. You have to be in the cycle of getting old checks so that you can keep getting money and not wait for it. But in the time in between royalty checks, I'm also getting paid to write sound-a-likes. If they can't afford to use Quincy Jones or Herb Albert, if they can't afford to pay the licensing fees or they don't want spend the money on them, then they have a guy like me who writes music in his closet and who will write a sound-a-like. And they'll get a couple for a lot less than what they would pay for a license. And those [licensing] fees are a lot — if you were going to buy a licensing fee of let's say, Herb Albert, that could be $4000 without even using the real master of it. Basically what I do is make background music for these shows and I copy music in a lot of different styles. They have me doing all kinds of different stuff, but I try to maintain a thread of my style, which I think doesn't take itself too seriously. A lot of stock music is just that — stock. I try to keep it interesting. It is commercial music, so you got to crank it out, but you don't want to do it like you're going through the motions.

Name off all the equipment you use for this job.

I have a pretty old G4 with, believe it or not, only 450 MHz, that I got for $200.

And it's able to handle everything?

I don't know how, but I have the memory maxed out. It has Tiger on it and I'm running Logic 7 and Reason 3. As an interface, right now I just have an M-Audio MobilePre USB. I'm going to add a really good mic pre very soon. I sometimes use a Presonus TubePre before the M-Audio to warm and/or dirty things up, especially direct bass. I have a couple of...

The rest of this article is only available with a Basic or Premium subscription, or by purchasing back issue #57. For an upcoming year's free subscription, and our current issue on PDF...

Or Learn More