National / International News
It has been 17 days since Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y. The New York Times reports the men were in the cabin within the past 48 hours.
Listener Cathy Lane wrote in with a question about music: How much do songwriters and performers earn when their music is used as a television theme song? Are they paid for every episode?
It’s a simple question with a complicated answer.
So we went to Gary Portnoy. He was just 25 years old when he co-wrote the "Cheers" theme song in 1982.
“I think I got $150 for the "Cheers" theme,” Portnoy says. “And I had a very powerful lawyer, and he just says, 'Look, whatever it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be, but you’re not gonna make your money up front. So go for it.' ”
The song was Portnoy’s first big break. It also happened to be the most successful thing he’s ever done. Portnoy says his license plate actually reads: 1HIT1DR.
But that's not such a bad thing. Portnoy gets paid every time the song plays. In recent years, the song has been licensed for commercials — selling cars, Dr. Pepper and even insurance. He won’t say how much he has made off this one song. But he will say that it’s enough to live off of. Portnoy is now 59; he says he enjoys a simple life outside of New York City where he collects Japanese Maples and mid-Century studio pottery. And he never misses an episode of Judge Judy.
Entertainment lawyer Josh Grier has represented the B-52s, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall and others. He says writing one theme song for a hit show that plays over and over again can basically fund your retirement.
“Yeah, you don’t make hundreds of thousands of dollars, you end up making millions of dollars,” Grier says.
Jonathan Wolff wrote the theme music to a show that always seems to be playing somewhere — "Seinfeld".
“My royalty statements are hundreds and hundreds of pages long from who knows how many countries,” he says.
Wolff has calculated what that one show has made him, calling that number “a happy secret.” Thanks to the royalties, Wolff retired early and moved his family to Kentucky. Wolff stopped taking calls from Hollywood and started coaching little league.
“We decided that we were going to challenge this notion that there’s no such thing as enough money,” Wolff says. “We decided how ever many marbles there are in 2005, that’s what we’re going to leave with.”
How those royalties are calculated is a complicated business. There are whole organizations that specialize in tracking, collecting and distributing royalties for songwriters.
“I think the simplest thing to say is the more often it’s played, the better,” Grier says. “And if it goes into syndication, then it just becomes a constant flow of royalties.”
So that’s what happens when you’re hired to write a song. But what happens when you get that call — a television network wants to use your band’s little-known song for their TV theme? That’s what happened to Brett and Rennie Sparks, the husband-wife duo behind the Handsome Family.
“We were surprised, that’s for sure,” Brett says. “I think we initially deleted the email thinking it was some kind of joke.”
The Handsome Family released the song “Far From Any Road” in 2003. About a decade later, HBO used the song as the theme of the first season of "True Detective." It was never considered one of the band’s more popular tunes, but since airing repeatedly on HBO, Rennie estimates the song has earned more than all their other songs combined.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of all this exposure: Tons of new fans. And a lot of these new fans buy records. Digital sales for the Sparks’ label Carrot Top Records increased nine times what it was making before "True Detective" — thanks in large part to the Handsome Family’s music.
“Years ago, people wouldn’t look to a TV show or a movie or a commercial to find new music, but nowadays, they do,” Rennie says.
“Well, it was considered selling out, and it was considered lame,” Brett adds.
“Yes, but nowadays, it’s perfectly fine, so people do find us that way and become great fans of our music,” says Rennie.
While it’s a wonderful song, “Far From Any Road” was not exactly a hit at first. If it were, it’s fair to say HBO would have had to pay a lot more. Entertainment lawyer Josh Grier says to license a popular contemporary song, a TV network would probably have to pay six-figures. But he says, for the most part, the actual price tags are confidential.
Still, for every theme song that gets stuck in your head — and earns the songwriter a steady income — there are dozens more sitting on studio shelves, written for canceled pilots or short-lived TV shows.
“The universe has to shine on every aspect of it,” Gary Portnoy says. “It’s not just you wrote a magical song, but somebody wrote a magical script and somebody cast it well, and people took to it. So yeah, I’ve got a few TV themes that I think are as magical but probably no one’s ever going to hear them.”
Like this theme for the show "Marblehead Manor" that aired for one season in the late 1980s.
In a move that's the opposite of many others in the on-demand, sharing economy, the online grocery delivery service Instacart is converting some of its independent contractor shoppers, who purchase groceries on behalf of customers, to part-time employees.
The company says it is making the change in Chicago, expanding a pilot program that began in Boston. Andrea Saul, Instacart's vice president of communications, says the program will continue to expand in the coming months. Instacart does business in 16 other cities.
The move will add to Instacart's costs. "We are going to incur workers' compensation, different payroll taxes like unemployment, social security and Medicare," Saul says.
But Instacart was willing to take on those costs, because converting independent contractor shoppers into employees improved the company's customer service.
"Our shoppers got more accurate picking items," Saul says. "We had more on-time deliveries."
The company attributes the change to improvements in training and supervision made possible because workers were employees.
Instacart has some 7,000 contractors, only a few hundred of whom are affected by the change so far. But of those given the option to switch to employee status, Saul says 75 percent did.
"Wages will vary by market for the part-time employees, but we will be competitive in each market to attract and retain shoppers," Saul says. "The hourly floor is above local minimum wage in all regions." She did not detail specific numbers.
The conversion from independent contractor to part-time employee is an important distinction. Other companies have fought such a change. Last week, a California regulatory agency ruled that an Uber driver was an employee. Uber is appealing that decision.
"What we're caught with are 20th century definitions for a 21st century workforce and economy," says Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, who has been vocal on the issue and says it is time for a new way of defining work.
"The idea that everybody fits neatly into being an employee, unemployed or an independent contractor really doesn't reflect the changing nature of this economy," Warner says.
One proposal is to create a dependent contractor designation, which would provide some employee-level benefits to independent workers. There are a host of other ideas, too.
Jeffrey Hirsch, an expert on labor law and a law professor at the University of North Carolina, says the issue is heating up as the on-demand economy explodes. "The indecision and the confusion involved is what's most harmful, both for the companies and for the workers," Hirsch says.
The pace of existing homes sales increased just more than 5 percent from the month before, according to the National Association of Realtors, but perhaps more interesting is who it thinks is doing the buying: almost a third of buyers in May were first-timers. That's moving closer to the 40 percent that the organization sees as normal for the housing market.
Ben Fein-Smolinski and his girlfriend, both 26, were among those first-timers who leaped into the housing market in May.
“We figured that it was maybe time to stop paying rent and to get a place more permanent,” he says.
Buyers like Fein-Smolinski are an important piece of the housing economy. They tend to buy smaller homes, perhaps from people who might have decided they need more space for the kids. That family might then buy a home from baby boomers looking to downsize.
But Fein-Smolinski’s decision was also an economic one.
“We also thought it would be a little more cost effective, instead of finding a bigger apartment to rent,” he adds.
“Rents in this country have never been less affordable than they are now," says Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow. “If you can scrape together the down payment and qualify for a mortgage, it makes home ownership look very attractive.”
Other driving factors may be the improving job market or, perhaps, people who want to lock in low interest rates.
However, Richard Green, a professor at the University of Southern California, cautions not to get too excited about one month of data. Housing supply is tight and he says an even more important metric to watch is new construction.
“When you see a pick-up in existing home sales, that indicates there’s more demand for housing, and that extra demand for housing could boost the demand for new construction,” he says. “Things are better than they were three years ago, but we’re still not close to being normal.”
Currency wars are being waged in the Treasury Department.
Secretary Jacob Lew has plans to take Alexander Hamilton off the $10 bill and replace him with a woman.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke weighed in today and said he's appalled by Lew's proposal to drop a man Bernanke calls "the best...economic policymaker in U.S. history."
Far better: Bernanke goes on to suggest that a woman should replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.
I'm with Ben.
For Effie Panoutsakopoulou, it’s been another bad day at the office. Little wonder: she works in a bank in Athens, and her branch has been besieged with customers clamoring to empty their accounts and even their safe-deposit boxes.
“Today I had to open a deposit box for a lady. But I couldn’t turn the key. The lock was stuck. I tried three or four times," Panoutsakopoulou says. “And the lady started screaming because she thought we didn’t want to open the safety deposit box for her. Everybody’s very stressed.”
Including Panoutsakopoulou. Her husband lost his job as an architect three years ago, and today they and their two young sons depend totally on her pay of $300 a week. Effie is worried that if the bank run continues, the banking system will collapse and her job will disappear.
With unemployment at 25 percent, millions of Greek households have been reduced to one precarious breadwinner. Christos Mavrou, a 35-year-old sales manager, ekes out a living on $270 a week for his extended family.
“My brother has no job, so I must support him, and his wife is pregnant, so their needs are higher now,” Mavrou says. “I’ve been helping a friend financially too. And, of course, I must support my parents.”
Which means picking up a $6,000 medical bill for his mother after her insurance failed to cover the aftercare for an operation. Mavrou is left with almost nothing to spend on himself, but he insists that he does not feel put upon.
“No, not at all,” he says. “It is my duty and my pleasure to help and support my family.”
Panoutsakopoulou admits that it hasn’t always been a pleasure being the sole breadwinner in her household. Her unemployed husband was paralyzed by depression for more than two years.
“He was feeling useless. Because he thinks that, as the male of the family, he has to bring in the food. He was very, very depressed.”
This put the marriage under severe strain.
“I had to take care of him. I had to take care of the two boys as well. And I had to work at the bank. I was very, very tired of my husband being depressed, so that caused us a lot of fights,” admits Panoutsakopoulou.
After counselling — paid for by her bank — Panoutsakopoulou restored her own mental equilibrium, and she says the marriage is on the mend.
Mavrou says the crisis strengthened his family and that he feels appreciated by his relatives.
“They don’t tell me they’re grateful,” he says. “They show it to me with their eyes. I can see gratitude in their eyes.”
Amid their country’s national humiliation, the breadwinners, at least, can feel some personal pride.
Arguably the dominating narrative of the U.S. Open was 27-year-old golfer Jason Day's ongoing struggle with benign positional vertigo.
When Sen. Marco Rubio's parents came to the U.S., they put down roots in West Miami, a nearly all-Cuban neighborhood. That's where the senator and his family still live.