Andrew Carter. Who the hell is Andrew Carter? Well, if you ever want/need anyone to blame for giving me a start in the world of (ahem) "professional music journalism," you can blame him as he was one of the principals who gave me my first paying gig at Terrorizer some 16+ years ago back when he was assistant editor. Since then, he's worked in many capacities in the music biz: writer, journalist, management, promotions and all the usual suspects. Hell, he was even one of the early contributors to the first few issues of Decibel before veering off into the world of entertainment law and prosthetic invention. I've known Senor Carter longer than most people and he remains one of the rulingest fellows to ever walk the face of the planet. As an accompaniment to the "My Awesome Day Job" piece appearing in the current issue of Decibel (get it HERE), I've decided to run the entire interview I did with AC here on the blog because it's an interesting and fascinating story from an interesting and fascinating dude who's probably crossed paths with this fellow and these dudes at some point. What do you do? I work as a music affairs lawyer for a large movie studio in Los Angeles, the name of which I’m going to omit, just to be on the safe side.
What does music affairs mean? I’m in the business of putting music into the feature films and television shows we produce and acquire. With any movie or TV show that you watch, when you hear music in it, it’s going to be one of two kinds. The first is the original score that we hire a composer to write; the second part is the licensed part which is music that already exists. We have to go to the music publishers and record companies and negotiate a written licence to get permission to use that in our show. And every one of those things requires a written agreement and what our department does is negotiate all of that and makes sure every piece of music that appears in a show, however large or small, is covered from a legal standpoint.
Does that involve going back through TV shows you’re going to release on DVD and taking care of the music licences and publishing for the re-release? That’s exactly what my department does. There are people who work more specifically on the television side and that’s going to be a never-ending job. I work on the film side and a large part of my job is to literally go back and look at the music in every single film that the studio has ever put out or acquired since the late 1920s. We look to see if the music in the film has any issues or restrictions that would prevent us from being able to put the movie up for sale on iTunes or for streaming on Netflix. Generally, we’re not going to have a problem with the original music that’s written for the movie or TV show because the studio will own the copyright for that. But if a movie or a TV show has licensed music, we need to go back and look at the licenses to see if there are any deficiencies from our standpoint in the language that would prevent us from going ahead and putting it up online or something like that. If there are, we contact the music publisher or record company who owns the song and negotiate a buy-out of the remaining rights that we need. Once we do that for every outstanding, deficient license on a given movie, the movie would then be cleared for distribution on different media. You just need to go movie by movie, license by license.
So what did you have to do, start with Birth of a Nation or something and work your way up? I came in about a year into it. The first couple of years was just research and we were just going through the movies we had and figuring out what was clear for distribution right away. Some of the first people on it were asked to look at our biggest movies first because those are the ones that generate the most revenue and we started working backwards from there. Generally now, we work off a very, very long list that is consistently being updated by the folks over in the home video department.
So you’re not working in any real order outside of popularity. Yeah, we work in the order based on whatever the home video department wants us to get to.
What have been some of the more interesting negotiations you’ve had to deal with? Let’s see, how can I answer this? Sometimes, it’ll be an older movie with a fairly obscure song in it and sometimes finding people can be very difficult. There will be someone who had a big hit in the ‘60s or ‘70s and their portion of the song wasn’t retained by a publishing company that’s still in business or they haven’t assigned it to a publishing company or record company that answers the phone. Sometimes people disappear and you just can’t find them. Other times it just takes months. It’s situational, but most of the time our job is to make deals and sometimes deals can be more difficult and other times it’s pretty easy. A lot of the time, the negotiation for a buyout for whatever remaining rights we have is kind of like the negotiation that happens when you’re trying to put licensed music into a new production and it asks the question “how much does music cost for these things?” and the answer to that is “how long is a piece of string?” It depends on how much of a song you want to use. It’s one thing if, let’s suppose you’re shooting a scene in a bar and you have music playing in the background and the two main characters are sitting on barstool and talking and the music is more incidental. You wouldn’t necessarily want to license something that was a bigger hit, but you might want to use something that people would recognize. Let’s suppose it’s a short 15-second scene and most of it is a close up of two characters talking. The price for that use is going to be…you get a quote for the 15 seconds from the publisher for the underlying composition and then you’ll get a corresponding quote from the record company for the master recording. More often than not, those fees tend to be identical. The publishers and record companies will frequently work together to make it easier and so that there’s no one-up-manship. However, it’s a different thing entirely if you decide you want to use a major classic rock song by a major classic rock artist and you want to use all three-and-a-half minutes of it over the opening credits. Then, you’re looking at something very different. Then, it becomes a matter of what is the scene, where is it being placed in the movie, how integral is the music to the scene and if the scene is controversial. For example, in Silence of the Lambs there was the song “American Girl” by Tom Petty and it was the last song the girl was listening to before she was abducted. Petty’s camp was approached about using the song, but that’s the sort of thing you have to disclose and so “American Girl” sort of ended up being a really scary song for a lot of people for a long time because of it becoming associated with that part of the movie. Sometimes if a scene is more controversial that can drive up the price of a song. Another one is Reservoir Dogs; I don’t think anyone’s ever heard “Stuck in the Middle with You” the same way after seeing that movie. It’s all situational and a lot of the time how big a problem something is going to be, or how much something is going to cost, is going to be dependent on what its use is in the actual production.
With the shift towards bands looking at publishing as a revenue stream over record sales, does that make your job a little easier with people approaching you and people tracking you down to collect or get their music into movies? Normally, what happens is that if a band is signed to a publishing deal, the publisher is in touch with the studio all the time and they send out sampler CDs and MP3s with their new acts that are available for licensing and all that. When you actually make the deal, you’re generally making it with the publishing company as opposed to the artist directly, unless they administer their own publishing. Now what usually happens, we make sure that the artist or the song writer signs off on the usage because it could be something where if you have an artist who absolutely hates a certain TV show to the point where they would rather turn down money than have their music on it, we want to know that beforehand. Once again, it also circles back to what the actual use is. If there’s an exceptionally violent scene or a scene involving a sexual assault, some people might not want their music used. For the most part, it’s pretty safe to presume that song writers and artists like having their music used in movies and TV because it’s validating in a way that someone thinks your music is so cool that it works absolutely perfectly in a particular scene and it’s kind of neat that the music you worked so hard on becomes part of this little world someone else is creating from scratch. But yeah, we do have artists who send their stuff in directly and we get piles and piles of stuff, but in general, on the film side, you have producers and music supervisors who make a great deal of decisions in terms of the outside music that comes in. On the TV side, we have creative people who handle that and those people are extraordinarily connected and have extraordinarily good ears. In the event that a producer needs a specific song, we can get five or six options very quickly.
Is there anything else that I missed that you feel needs mentioning? I enjoy that job because I get paid to be a full time music and film geek everyday, all the time. You get to see the entire history of a movie studio through the eyes of its music files and it’s really something to watch how things have evolved over the years. For a long, long time, you’d have a lot of movies that didn’t contain any licensed music at all because it costs money. In the late 1960s, Easy Rider was one of the movies that really changed things. That was one of the first movies that really exploded and contained a significant amount of licensed and current music. All of a sudden, in the ‘70s it became more common for directors and producers to use current music and Saturday Night Fever was the real game changer. The story behind Easy Rider was that the original plan was that Crosby, Stills and Nash were going to write the original score for the whole movie. Then, there was some kind of internal struggling over that and what started happening was that the editor started putting in songs that he liked when he was editing footage, using them as placeholders. So, that incredibly iconic scene of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda riding their bikes over the opening credits while “Born to be Wild” was playing - it was the editor who did that and everybody thought it was such a great idea that they kept it. And that happens a lot more than you think; editors with a really good pair of ears can end up helping producers make important decisions.
Ok, let’s move on to your invention of the Carter Cuff. It actually has a name now! Last time I saw you it didn’t. The Carter Cuff had been the working title, but when I finally launched the website this year, I had to come up with one. It was like I was just scribbling down names forever and eventually that one came up. I wanted to stick to the Motorhead rule of no more than three syllables.
You’re going to have to go back to the beginning to explain the background behind this whole endeavour. Back when I was 14, during the last week of eighth grade, I was involved in an electrical accident. I climbed an electrical tower in an abandoned steel mill in Pittsburgh and brushed against a live wire. I was very lucky not to be killed, but my left hand was burned so badly that they had to remove it about three inches above the wrist. I also had exit wounds on my back and lost the entire fifth toe off my left foot. That made for an exceptionally lousy summer.
Dude…[laughter] I think I had five major operations in six weeks and a sixth one a year later. Aside from that, the things that really sucked were that my two biggest things at that point were playing ice hockey and electric guitar. So overnight, I lost both of those. In many ways, I’ve actually been able to make a living within music, although not as a player and in many ways, maybe that was for the best. But over on the hockey side, I was a left-handed shot, so all of a sudden I went from being a left-handed shot to no shot at all. Also, the injury to my foot made skating, and stopping in particular, difficult and painful. It got to the point where not only had I lost the ability to play hockey, it hurt to even go on ice skates.
That’s weird about the toe. You wouldn’t think that it played that big a role considering its size in proportion to the rest of the foot. When you actually look at how far down the entire fifth toe goes, it actually does a lot of work, a lot more than people think. When I was going through rehabilitation, I had to re-learn how to walk properly and still to this day, when I’m doing exercises where I’m standing on one foot and doing some kind of balance thing, I have much harder time doing it on the left foot. You lose a very significant part of your anchoring. Anyway, I had stayed physically active and remained pretty good about going to the gym, but for the longest time, the limitations I was dealing with were with the prosthetics that were available to me at the time. I could do upper body exercises where I could push up like a military press or push forward like a chest press, but had terrible difficulty with any exercise where I was pulling toward me or pulling down and those are actually the vast majority of upper body exercises. I dealt with that for a long time by over-compensating and really building up my legs and doing the arm exercises that I could. Eventually, I finally got sick of it and figured there had to be something that worked. I went to my prosthetist about four years ago and asked if there was maybe some sort of arm band that I could use. The problem with the prosthetics at the time was that they were held on by a series of straps and you have to reach out to grab on to something and the terminal device you’re wearing will close around it. If you pull the arm back toward you the device will open and you can’t really hold on to things. Also, there’s the problem with the actual prosthetic shell that goes on your arm being pulled off or twisting and becoming painful. Those were the problems I was working around, so I thought that if I could come up with some sort of arm band that would do two things: 1) wrap around the prosthesis to keep it stable and, 2) if I could put some metal rings on the outside of this thing, I could attach the cables from weight machines and weights directly to it, that would eliminate the problem of me having to grab on to anything. Not only that, I would be able to connect where my arm actually ends or any other part of the arm to make a particular exercise more effective. When I asked my prosthetist if anything like that existed, he said it didn’t.
Were you surprised that nothing did? Yeah. I was so surprised that I asked to look through the product catalogue and he brought this thing out that was the size of a phone book, about 800 or so pages, and I went through it page by page and, sure enough, it wasn’t there. I realised that if I wanted one I was going to have to do it myself and that’s when I decided to set about designing it. I knew what I wanted pretty early on. The other thing that I was pretty conscious of – and this something that prosthetics has gotten better about recently – is that for a very long time prosthetic and orthotic devices were very functional, but from an aesthetic level they just looked bad. I wanted something that looked really neat and would be functional. I wanted something that looked like it was stolen from Judas Priest’s dressing room or something. My initial ones were made entirely out of leather with the idea it would break in and be comfortable; like a baseball glove. That did end up being the case, so when it came time to getting someone to make something for me out of leather, I started thinking about my options and I realised my best bet was to go to a bondage shop. There’s a shop here in L.A. that does a lot of custom work and there’s a hilarious story about the first time I went there. When you walk in, it’s kind of a two story thing and it’s like the clothing is downstairs and the heavy stuff is upstairs. The owner of the place who does all the custom work, was upstairs and when I got up there he was with a couple of clients so I had to kind of stand there for the better part of 15-20 minutes just kind of browsing all this stuff and waiting. Finally he was done, so I went over and told him, “You probably get this a lot, but I have a really, really strange request.” He folded his arms and gave me this look and said, “Try me.” So, I told him what I wanted and at the end of it he turned his head and said, “You know what? I have never actually heard that one before, but I can absolutely do it.” The first one I had worked right away, but then I realised after using it that there were a couple design flaws. So, for the first year I think I had a new one made almost every month. I’d get a new one made, go to the gym and start using it and either tear something or this or that wasn’t quite right. It was just making new prototypes every month. And during that year and the other thing that became apparent very quickly is that…I work out in a gym where there are a lot of lawyers and a couple of people came up to me really early and said I needed to go talk to a patent lawyer, now. So, I went ahead and met with a patent lawyer and we did a search and, as it turned out, this device hasn’t been invented yet and I’m in the final stages of the patent process in the United States. And on the international side, applications have already been approved and I’m just waiting for final approval from Canada and Europe.
Have you found yourself having to make modifications for different prosthetic and amputation needs? Is the Cuff adjustable and do you have a similar Cuff available for other limbs? I haven’t done anything for legs just because it’s not my area of expertise. I think that a version of it could be done, but the real thing that the device does is that if someone can’t grab onto something, this gives them the ability to do just that. Whereas, when you’re dealing with legs, you usually don’t have your leg grabbing and holding on to something, per se. A lot of the time a leg exercise is pushing against something or pulling something and you can use a cuff that goes around the ankle. The mechanics of this sort of device for legs would be very different. But what we’ve found is that when you’re dealing with amputees, every device might have to be different because of the length of the arm or what kind of prosthetic they’ve got or whatever, that’s one where you’re looking at having to get something more custom-made. For example, there’s a guy I know who has all of his arm and wrist, but he was born without an actual hand. So, we’re going to get one for him that runs all the way down the length of his arm, whereas somebody else with an amputation above the elbow will need a different version depending on whether or not he’s even wearing a prosthesis.
Are you having these mass produced or is the bondage guy still making them as one-offs? Right now, it's only prototypes; they’re all made as one-offs and aren’t being sold to civilians. The only place I’m selling them right now are to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. What happened was that after a year of testing this thing, I had been able to prove it worked and correct the design flaws. I got to the point where I was comfortable enough to let someone other than me use it, but I also wanted to find out for sure if anyone had really beaten me to the punch. So, the way to do that is to go to the place where all the newest and best prosthetic and orthotic technology goes first which is Walter Reed. You have the wounded soldiers who’re coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and they, rather deservedly, get first crack at all the newest stuff. I was able to arrange to go there and demonstrate the device in the gym at their facility and it pretty much stopped the entire gym cold; everyone came over to see this thing and it was an instant hit. They are my one client and that was about three years ago now. Other than that, I’m looking to license the device off to another company to handle manufacturing and distribution. I can handle getting one at a time done, but I have a full time job as a lawyer and my day is generally split into two parts: from 4:30am to 9am is Carter Cuff time, and from 9am until I’m finished, it’s lawyer time…
And I’m guessing it’s always time for metal, even if it’s in the background? Yes! Absolutely! Weekends, depending on what’s going on, tend to be filled up with a lot of Carter Cuff business as well. You have to make time and unfortunately one thing that has really taken a hit is the amount of shows that I’m able to get out to. That really got knocked down. It’s really hard for me to get out to shows on weeknights any more because you cannot do this and cheat the house on sleep. So, rather than seeing like a show a week, I’m probably going to 15-20 shows a year and most of them tend to be weekends. But anyway, when I was demonstrating the Carter Cuff at Walter Reed and running through the series of exercises I can do, a guy rolls up in a wheelchair. He was a Special Forces soldier who had stepped on a mine in Afghanistan just 44 days earlier. He was missing both of his legs and one of his hands and he came up to me and said, “Whatever that thing is, when can I have one?” It was nice to be able to help that guy.
Wow. Yeah. It was really nice. In many ways, in doing this, I’ve always had great appreciation and respect for how hard a band that is starting up and they have to maintain their day jobs while they rehearse at night and play shows on weekends and tour and end up putting all this money into something that takes a long, long time to get that money back. It’s given me a lot more appreciation of how hard that is. In some ways the parallels are there because you end up spending months and years woodshedding and developing something to the point you want to try and license it off or sell it to someone who can then manufacture and distribute your product on a much wider level.
Aside from the patent stuff and having to do modifications, what's been the most unexpected result of creating this? Actually, and this is a huge one, the funny thing is that the market for amputees is going to be a very small fraction of who this device is actually useful for. The vast majority of people who are going to end up using this device are going to be fully able people who are temporarily injured. Its biggest value is as a rehabilitation device. So, let’s suppose someone breaks their hand, has wrist surgery, carpal tunnel, arthritis or is recovering from a stroke and just can’t grab on to something temporarily or permanently, this is something they can strap on and use with those various rings along the outside of it. That’s the funny thing, I invented this to solve my own problem, but it turned out that the much wider applicability is going to be fully-able people who are injured or have some sort of chronic condition. So, it’s this weird device that’s going to be a niche product within prosthetics and in many ways a lot of products in prosthetics are niche products, but it’s funny that ideally something like this will be hanging on the wall at any physical rehabilitation facility in the states because of how many hand, arm and shoulder operations there are and how people need to start working their way back from them.
What the licensing deal process been like? In terms of getting this onto the map, I was completely under the radar until towards the very end of the patent process because the easiest way for someone to steal your stuff is to put it up online where everyone can see it. This was all completely off-line and under the radar until February of this past year. I went to a prosthetics convention in Orlando and did a presentation and launch there and it was very well-received and hopefully something long term will come out of that business-wise. But what it also led to was the super hi-tech prosthetic hand I wear day-to-day, which is called the Michelangelo, the company that makes that has hired me as their hand model.
No shit? Yeah. When I first got it, I did went down to Toys ‘r’ Us and bought a Fisher-Price ring stack and a bunch of children’s toys and would just sit there and practice using it for a couple hours every day. I was able to get very good with it very quickly because there is a learning curve. I just took the Neil Peart approach of ‘Do it a thousand times and you’ll get it right.’ So, they picked up on that and they’ve brought me back to work another prosthetics convention in June as a hand model during the day and during down time I was able to demonstrate the Cuff. I’m actually doing that again next month. This is very unexpected because all I did was try to solve my own problem and it’s led to side gigs in the fitness and prosthetic industry. And I’m now in better shape at 43 than I was when I was 23 and every limitation I had as a result of the amputation is gone. The last time I had a fitness assessment they do this thing called a Body Age where they poke and prod you and run you around in circles and figure out our real age - if they didn’t know what your real age was and all they had to go on were statistics. My body age is 28.
Alright, it’s time we talked about metal a bit. I should point out at this point that I’ve been a Decibel subscriber since issue one and I even have the prototype.
Dude, you used to be a writer back in the single digit-issue days! True, and I still faithfully read every issue. So, in terms of what I’ve bought this year that I really like are Anciients, Amon Amarth, Clutch, which is my favourite record this year so far, Electric Wizard, Kvelertak and the Melvins, of course. The Melvins covering Venom was the greatest thing! Palms, which sounds like the Cure on a lot of drugs. I really like the Portal record and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. And with older stuff, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Blue Oyster Cult box set reissues of all the Columbia records. In terms of music I listen to when I train, what I find is that the stuff I do tends to be so high intensity that I need to have some of my oldest and best friends in my headphones when I’m doing that so it tends to be a lot of Slayer, Judas Priest, AC/DC and Kiss and a lot of stuff that’s in twos and fours that just slams out. A lot of stuff in odder time signatures or stuff that’s blast beat after blast beat tends to be not as effective for me because I like stuff with unbelievable groove to it.
Anything else about the Carter Cuff you wanted to mention? One of the things that got left out on the factual details side of things is that for a while the first cuffs were made out of leather, but now they’re almost entirely made out of ballistic nylon. That’s the stuff they make Tumi luggage out of; really strong nylon and we can line it too. There are actually versions of it where we have a layer of foam inside in case it was going to somebody where it wasn’t going over a prosthesis. The difference is that you can take the nylon version and throw it in the washer and it’s also lighter. It may take a bit longer to break in, but overall it’s a little better. There are still parts that are leather, like the shoulder strap that goes around the opposing arm, but one of the big evolutions is that it started as entirely leather, but now it’s almost entirely nylon except where leather is needed for comfort and/or strength. So now, as opposed to something that looks like it was stolen out of Judas Priest’s dressing room, it looks like something that was stolen out of Nine Inch Nails’ dressing room.
Yeah, that’s good because I don’t know if you’re ever taken a whiff of the leather arm bands Ben from Goatwhore wears when he plays live… Oh man…they literally smell like the bottom of the worst hockey bag in the history of the sport. Oh, that reminds me! We haven’t talked about hockey, which we need to do. As things developed over time, what I realised as I got more involved with the prosthetics industry, is that there actually is an attachment out there that would enable me to hold a hockey stick. Now, it turns out that the prosthetic technology, as far as how things fit, has gotten better. So now that I’m in all this better shape I figured I’d give it a shot again. I’m finishing up a skating class – I figured I needed to start with that – and as it turns out I need to do extra work on my left foot because it was my weak side anyway and I’m also working on skating with four toes instead of five, but I’m getting there. Next up is starting an instructional hockey class and I’m looking to graduate to playing pick-up hockey. My eventual goal is to join a men’s league sometime next year. I’ve been practicing my stick handling and shooting on dry land for the better part of a year for when it happens on ice. It’s been very liberating and it’s a long-unsettled piece of unfinished business to come back and actually play hockey and enjoy it. It’s funny now that as I’m re-learning how to do everything, I still have the enthusiasm of a 13-year-old but I have the patience and the drive of a 43-year-old so I’m paying more attention and savouring every moment I’m out there.
What are your predictions for the coming NHL season? I think Pittsburgh, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles should all be right back in it. I think those are the four favourites right there; but you can never really count Detroit out. I think Minnesota have put together a great team and have had a year to gel and they’re going to start to ascend. Philadelphia had an unbelievably bad year, I was very surprised to see them crash and burn, but being from Pittsburgh, I was happy about it, but I was still surprised. It’ll be interesting to see if Toronto will be able to maintain the momentum they’ve built up. They’re not going to sneak up and surprise anybody anymore.
The Leafs? I’m sure they’ll find some way to fuck it all up in the end. They always do. But I’m a big Randy Carlyle fan though, because he had his Norris Trophy season in Pittsburgh when I first started watching hockey, so I’ve got a soft spot for him. Even when he coached the Ducks, I had a hard time rooting against him because he’s cool. I think right now, your teams that were in it last year will be right back in it. I actually do think this past year's playoffs was as good as it gets. I was really hoping for my Kings-Penguins final, so I was upset having both of my teams vacuumed out of the conference finals like that.
photos by Ashley Walters