For music industry veteran Geoff Bywater, the surge of interest in soundtracks -- plus the spectacular success of the "Titanic" album he helped market -- propelled him to exec VP of Fox Music in December.
The trick, he says, is having an instinct for what clicks with the public, and having the freedom to operate like an independent record producer to cut deals with any artist for soundtracks accompanying films.
"The best soundtracks stand on their own, reminiscent of the film with some of the same music, but also featuring different songs that resonate with the film's audience and evoke the movie," he says.
Soundtrack albums inspired by films are one of the fastest growing categories of popular music, and in many cases a good soundtrack's sales will soar despite a film's so-so performance.
Score albums, on the other hand, replicate the exact music from a movie, and depend on a film's box-office success to rack up big sales.
PROMOTIONS TIED TOGETHER
For successful soundtracks, too, it helps to have a popular movie to begin with.
"The movie is the promotion for the soundtrack, just as the soundtrack, which is released ahead of the movie or home-video, is a promotion for the movie," Mr. Bywater says. "That's why record companies now cherish getting the soundtracks. If it's a successful movie, it will carry the soundtrack all the way through."
Mr. Bywater's job includes marketing and promoting film and TV soundtracks for Fox's film divisions and 20th Century Fox Television, and increasingly that includes soundtracks from popular TV programs.
Examples of recent TV program soundtrack successes include Fox's "King of the Hill," which was a hot seller last year with younger audiences.
Mr. Bywater, 44, says his career-long music industry involvement helps him reach and negotiate with artists, while keeping tabs on the pulse of the public.
His interest began when he was a teen, living next door to then-Capital Records' salesman Don Zimmermann (who later became president of Capitol Records).
"Directors are now utilizing music in films in ways that it makes a lasting impression upon the audience. People are looking for a way to re-live the movie," he says.
SEGMENT TAKES OFF
The dominance of soundtracks, with 61 milllion units sold, helped propel U.S. album sales to 711 million units in 1998, according to SoundScan's year-end music industry report. The total is a 9.1% increase from 651.8 million units sold in 1997, it reports.
Among individual albums, "Titanic" leads the way with sales of more than 9 million units, pushed by Celine Dion's single "My Heart Will Go On." Two other soundtracks are among the year's Top 10: "City of Angels," which sold 4.1 million units (No. 6), and "Armageddon," which sold 3.2 millions and finished at No. 10. "Back to Titanic," with music by James Horner, the original "Titanic" composer, arrived late in the year and finished the year at No. 85 but reached as high as No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart.
The popularity and strength of soundtracks is reflected also in the large number of Grammy nominations Fox received. Fox has 12 Grammy nominees, with entries by Celine Dion for "My Heart Will Go On" ("Titanic,") and Garth Brooks for "To Make You Feel My Love" ("Hope Floats").
"Titanic" was a blockbuster, Mr. Bywater says, because it not only appealed to women of all ages, but it also acts as a souvenir for the movie itself.
"I have the best job in the business because I get to work with artists from any label," he says.
Citing Aaliyah, nominated for a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "Are You That Somebody?" from the "Dr. Dolittle" soundtrack, he says: "I've been able to watch her grow up." Since 1994, Fox Music has generated 10 platinum and five gold soundtracks.
Mr. Bywater joined Fox in 1992 as senior VP, Fox Music, and was named senior VP-marketing and promotion of the unit in 1994. Although he dabbled a bit in politics (at 18, he ran for a seat on the Novato, Calif., city council), he credits Mr. Zimmermann with being his ticket into the music business.
"I was happy to get a job, any job, in the music business, when I started as a customer service rep," says Mr. Bywater. Now it's music to his ears to bring