Audeze speaks with music clearance agent Deborah Mannis-Gardner

With over 25 years in the music industry, Deborah Mannis-Gardner, often referred to in the sample world as “The Queen of Samples”, has cornered the market in music clearances.

After working for Diamond Time and RCA Records, and under the suggestion of her clients who missed her availability, Deborah established her own music clearance company, DMG Clearances, Inc. in 1996.  For the past 26 years Deborah has gained recognition not only in the music industry but also in the video games, featured films, DVDs, and television industries as well.

Deborah works with top labels such as Atlantic Records, Sony Music, Capitol Records, Interscope Geffen A&M Records, Bad Boy Records, Island Def Jam Recordings, Universal Records, and Warner Records, (the list goes on!) clearing samples for such renown artists as J. Cole, Black Eyed Peas, Drake, Lil Wayne, Lady Gaga, Eminem, The Notorious B.I.G., U2, Kid Rock and Beyonce to name a few.

DMG is the clearance agent for RockStar Games, Inc. in which she has cleared the music used in their well-publicized video games such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, The Warriors, Midnight Club 3 Dub, and Red Dead Redemption as well as helped bring designer Marc Ecko into the world of video games by clearing the music for Marc Ecko's, Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure, Numark's highly anticipated DJ Scratch and 4MM's Def Jam Rap Star.  DMG has also worked as a consultant for other video game companies such as EA Entertainment and Activision.

Deborah’s featured film music clearances include Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator”; Curtis Hanson’s “8 Mile,” “In Her Shoes,” and “Lucky You”; The Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”; Richard Linklater’s “School Of Rock”; and Josh Fox’s “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change.” She was the overall music supervisor for Allen Hughes’ HBO documentary about Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, “The Defiant Ones,” for which she won the 2018 Best Music Supervision in a Docuseries or Reality Television award from the Guild of Music Supervisors, as well as the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Music Film.

Deborah was also the music clearance agent that worked directly with Lin Manuel Miranda to clear all of the music in the Broadway Musical, Hamilton.

 Deborah Mannis-Gardner and her Audeze LCD-XC headphones

"They allow me to hear subtle differences clearly and with ease. The clarity is amazing."  - Deborah Mannis-Gardner
Here's our talk with Deborah:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?

There are so many amazing highlights and accomplishments from the projects I have worked on, but I believe my biggest highlight is not based on what I have worked on as a clearance agent but what I have accomplished as a female-owned company. We went from one woman to thirteen employees and consultants. We established our company as a home-based business working from the clouds in 1996 so that if my staff had a sick child, a pet issue, a snow day, important personal and/or family commitments, there was never a concern about work vs home life. My company paid 100% health benefits and never defined the number of sick days an employee could have. This was created and established before the world shut down for COVID. This enabled my company and team to continue their work commitments without concerns for themselves or clients. And the most important aspect is that we all enjoy what we do and have fun. I always say, if you're not enjoying your job, you need to find another one, because you spend most of your waking time doing your job!  So having a team of 13 happy employees who love what they do – is a huge highlight for me. I always tell my team that they need to be happy and enjoy what they do for a living. We spend most of our waking life working: 25% of our day we are sleeping, 40% of our day is spent working (if not 50%), leaving the balance of our waking time eating, doing chores, commuting, and maybe a small percent doing something for ourselves. It’s important to get along with the people we work with and like our clients and career. I personally enjoy continuously learning and growing in my field as we do our jobs.

How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?

As a music clearance agent, I am the liaison between our clients and the copyright holders but more importantly, I am a person who strives to facilitate deals that are fair, transparent, and beneficial to all parties. As a consultant, I have the ability to offer guidance to both parties, based on decades of past experiences. Ultimately, I have cultivated authentic relationships across the industry with amazing individuals. These relationships create room for deeper conversations and open the doorways for consideration to licensing opportunities that may not otherwise exist.

How did you get started in music?

In the early days of my career, I worked for Diamond Time and RCA Records.  People were questioning whether sample use was art or stealing. I saw it as art and began assisting artists to get permission for such uses. I used to call ASCAP and BMI and use different accents in order to acquire the necessary information to fulfill a clearance. Those days there were no systems in place that you could access “online.”

What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?

I listened to all types of music. My father is a real audiophile and music has always been an important part of my life. Ultimately, I gravitated towards punk music. I was deemed rebellious and the black sheep. That led to my love of Hip Hop and Rap which in my opinion followed the same path. The skill to incorporate a piece of one song and make it part of another, is mind blowing.

Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc.?

My sister, Wendy Mannis Scher, is my biggest hero and my role model. She is not only my advocate but my strength. She has been my greatest supporter, cheerleader, shoulder to cry on, advisor, and best friend through all of it. No matter what doubt I had, she was there to give me strength. That has been the case ever since we were little girls. She protected me, guided me, and was my greatest advocate. She may not know this, but I am her greatest admirer in return. She has published poetry in journals and has a book of poetry entitled “Fault,” one of the strongest compilations of female empowerment in a small book of written poems.  She is my rock of Gibraltar.

Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?

Years ago, I was told to learn my place from a male “equal.” I will never forget those stinging words. Of course, I used that derogatory scenario to work even harder to prove I belonged in this field of male domination.

Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?

It’s all about listening and often critical listening. Headphones, speakers, and a computer that has at least 3 monitors to keep up with my workflow!

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?

Ask questions. Dig in deep. Accept the challenge. Enjoy your job, career, and life. We bring on two interns a year to teach them the world of music clearances. The foundation they receive from me and my company has led them to careers at Viacom, Google, ESPN, Comcast, SNL and NBC.

How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?

To be honest, I never really used headphones in the office.  I typically would just use the computer speakers.  After decades of listening for sample uses, you know what to listen for. One day an artist/producer friend of mine, came into my office to pick up his manager and saw what I was listening to music on. “You need amazing headphones and speakers!” he said. “Your work touches every part of the industry.”

He turned me onto Audeze headphones, and they sounded incredible! He uses Audeze’s as a crucial component of his creative process. He also has Barefoot Mini Main 12 Studio Monitors. I remember the first time I sat in his studio, and he played a Kendrick Lamar album that I had just worked on. The sound was unbelievable.  It was an eye-opening moment, of how the quality of sound really enhances one’s listening experience.

How have your Audeze headphones affected your work?

Well to reiterate, using these tools enhances my listening experience to a completely elevated level. They allow me to hear subtle differences clearly and with ease. The clarity is amazing.

Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?

I am working on a project now with an artist who has really taken sound quality to a whole new level.  The clarity and transparency of his work is unlike anything that I have experienced before.  Audeze is a crucial component in his workflow, and he is the one who brought me to the Audeze family. This project is close to my heart, and something that I am very excited to be a part of.  While that is all that I can say at this time, you will definitely be hearing about this project in the future!