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Deborah Mannis-Gardner, also known as the “Queen of Sample Clearance,” began earning her nickname back in 1990, when sampling music was considered a passing phase. But she liked the methodical process, and is now considered the go-to expert on sample clearances and sync usages in film, television, video games and advertising. “I don’t think people liked sampling, because sometimes that meant working with multiple writers and publishers. But the process was a very calming thing for me,” she says. “It’s like putting a puzzle together–all the pieces have to fit. You have to research the copyright holders, send out letters of request, get all the parties to sign off and negotiate compensation.”
This past fall, Mannis-Gardner worked with Megan Thee Stallion to clear her performance of “Savage” on Saturday Night Live. Her credits also include No. 1 albums Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon by Pop Smoke and Lady Gaga’s Chromatica, as well as Netflix’s hit series #BlackAF.
Mannis-Gardner says platforms like YouTube have made the business challenging, offering artists access to obscure material that might be difficult to track down and license. “It’s both a science and an art,” she says. “There is an equation for everything that we do, but you’re also assisting in the creative process. Your name could be on CDs, but you’re not in the spotlight–you’re the wizard behind the curtain.”
Mannis-Gardner says the industry of music clearance is growing, which means there’s ample opportunity for novices to break into the profession. She’s a big believer in internships, and always has some working at DMG Clearances. “And they’ve gone on to do wonderful things. Volunteering your services will bring you into this business,” she says. “And you have to love what you do. I say: have a good time, or change your career.” •