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sHeroes: “We spend most of our waking life working; It’s important to get along with our clients and the people we work with” With Deborah Mannis-Gardner

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, […]

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.


As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Mannis-Gardner. Deborah is the Owner/President, DMG Clearances, Inc. She’s become the go-to expert for global music rights clearances, whether for samples for recordings; song usage in movies, television, and video games; or innovative applications such as the history of hip-hop Google Doodle. DMG Clearances, Inc., is known for clearing difficult copyrights from artists such as Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Prince, and AC/DC, as well as intricate multi-song mash-ups. Whatever she is working on, Deborah’s first goal is to educate the client about the value of music rights, and she takes great pride in aiming for the fairest deal for all parties involved. After working for Diamond Time and RCA Records in the early 1990s, Deborah started DMG Clearances, Inc., in 1996, based out of Delaware. Her sample clearance skills quickly became legendary, and she has cleared releases for artists including Drake, Nicki Minaj, Eminem, Lil Wayne, Black Eyed Peas, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, DJ Khaled, John Legend, Lady Gaga, and more Frank Ocean, Macklemore, Rihanna, The Notorious B.I.G., U2, Mariah Carey, Yelawolf, and Beyoncé. She also handled Grands Rights clearance for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway sensation “Hamilton.” 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 will also serve as a judge for this year’s 40th Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards, her second year doing so. She is an advisor to the first two seasons of the FOX music competition TV show “The Four: Battle for Stardom” and has also cleared songs for the network’s programs “Empire” and “Star.” She is also the advisor to seasons 1 and 2 of BET’s “Tales,” which takes the lyrics of popular rap songs and turns them into a show; the J. Cole-produced documentary “Omaha”; and the Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams documentary “It Was the Music.” She handled all music clearances for Apple’s Cash Money Records documentary, “Before Anythang: The Cash Money Story,” which was released in February 2018, as well as the indie film “Farmer of the Year” And documentary “Memphis Majic.” Some of the many broadcast specials facilitated by DMG include concerts by Yolanda Adams, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Shakira, Beyoncé, and Rihanna as well as the HBO docuseries “G String Divas.” DMG has handled numerous projects for BET, including “Monica: Still Standing,” “Trey Songz: A Moment in Time,” and “The Michael Vick Project,” as well as their awards programs Sunday Best BET Awards, BET Hip Hop Awards, and BET Honors. DMG also works regularly with Rockstar Games, Inc., clearing music usage for video games such as Grand Theft Auto V, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, The Warriors, Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noir, and Max Payne. In addition, she helped bring designer Marc Eckō into the world of video games by clearing the music for Marc Eckō’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure as well as 4mm Games’ Def Jam Rapstar. DMG has also acted as a consultant for other video game companies such as EA Entertainment and Activision. Deborah has also been responsible for a variety of high-profile music syncs in major ad campaigns in the U.S. and around the globe. She has cleared music from Frank Sinatra for Ciroc’s campaign featuring Sean “Diddy” Combs; Nicki Minaj for Kmart’s Super Bowl spot promoting her fashion collection; Eminem, Lady Gaga, will.i.am, Robin Thicke, and Far East Movement for a series of Beats by Dre commercials promoting the company’s headphones, with one also premiering Eminem’s single “Berzerk”; and Common for a Lincoln Navigator commercial in which the rapper takes viewers on a tour of his Chicago hometown. Deborah has spoken at SXSW, CMJ, the Nashville Film Festival, and SyncSummit Nashville, as well as at Temple University and Widener College. She was also named 2016 Entrepreneurial Woman of the Year by the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce (NCCCC) in Delaware. She is a graduate of Emerson College, where she studied stand-up comedy (one of her professors was Denis Leary). DMG Clearances, Inc., is a dog-friendly office, with Deborah’s own Dakota and Peyton leading the pack. She loves to explore new places, both within the U.S. and internationally, meeting the locals and collecting art as she goes.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was working at a small U.K.-based clearance company called Diamond Time. It was 1990, and I was still actively immersed in the remnants of the punk and goth scene in NYC. I lived in a loft with several flat mates from London who were truly engrossed into the world of Hip-Hop. They turned me onto the music, and I became a lover of this new rebellious form of music. Hip-Hop and Rap felt like the same rebellious path as punk for me. I approached my boss at Diamond Time and asked if we could enter into this foray of music clearances, a true wild west of rights and clearances without rules or structure.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

It was February 2015. I was invited to see Hamilton at the Public Theater to discuss my role in assisting them with their music clearances. I remember speaking on the phone with Lin-Manuel Miranda prior to the show addressing his concerns about the music he wanted me to secure for him. Sitting in the audience before the show, I had the pleasure of meeting Tommy Kail to go deeper into the music clearance process. After the show, I ended up seeing Dave Chapelle’s intimate Fight Club performance. My head still spinning over the intensity and brilliance of Hamilton, I spoke to Lin’s manager the next day, John Buzzetti, and gushed my excitement over the show…how it crossed over the different genres of music and could have the ability to touch generations of people. John laughed and said, “from “your lips to God’s ears.” After it received 16 Tony Nominations, I sent Lin my copy of the Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey documentary book (which weights close to 18 pounds!)

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Bob James has a publishing company called Remidi Music and a label called Tappan Zee Records. It was administered by a grouchy (yet lovable) man by the name of Peter Paul. I used to be afraid to have to send him sample requests. Sampling and sample clearances were new at the time. He would tell me in his snarly, gruff voice that my clients were not musicians and they were robbers (of music). He would correct the terminology in my letters as he was old school publishing. I would spend hours proofing my letters before we had a messenger deliver my request letter along with an audio cassette tape of the new song to his office for consideration.

We ended up becoming friends, and I cried when his son called me to let me know he had passed away. I don’t know how many times I cleared the Bob James recording “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” with Peter Paul. My greatest lesson from Peter was to learn from those with experience and teach those without knowledge.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think what has made DMG Clearances stand out the most is that we are a “family” based company of women. I set up my business so that my staff could work from home and take care of their children or family members while still kicking out 40–80 hours of work keeping our clients very content. We are cloud-based as well, so I am able to check my files even on safari in South Africa. At DMG, we do not have a specific number of sick days. How can I when no one has the ability to know how many days they might be sick in a calendar year?

Vacation means vacation, yet we all seem to always check our emails to make sure nothing spins out of control and our clients are being taken care of. I also pay 100% of health insurance so that my staff never have to worry about their well-being. But how do I describe our unconventional family? Last year, our whole team gathered in New Orleans during the Essence festival. Everyone brought their husbands, partners, and children. Snoop Dogg was kind enough to get us tickets to his show at the Super Dome, and we ended with dinner and drinks in the French Quarter. Conversely, our clients are like part of our family. When my son’s father took his life two years ago, past and current employees came together to help me through this crisis, and clients put their projects on hold out of respect. It’s during good times and bad when the true colors of people become visible, and DMG is very fortunate to be surrounded by so much light.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am working on several music-themed documentaries, a few video games, around 50 albums, an audio book by Sophia Change, and I am the music supervisor of biographical film “Spinning Gold,” the story of Neil Bogart and Casablanca Records. Working with Evan and Tim Bogart is not only fun and exciting but an amazing experience. I have been involved in bringing this picture to life by securing the music since 2013. These long-lasting projects (like HBO’s Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre docu-series The Defiant Ones) hold a special place in my heart. I’m off to Canada to join in the shooting of the film and look forward to its completion.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

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.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Sometimes women think they have to be bossy and aggressive to be a superpower. It’s truly the opposite. We shouldn’t be a mother figure to our team, but we need to supportive. Structure, open communication, education, foundation, and fun are key.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My sister, Wendy Mannis Scher, 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 just published her first book of poetry entitled “Fault,” one of the strongest compilations of female empowerment in a small book of written poems. Currently she is fighting a battle with breast cancer, but I know in my heart not only will she win this battle but will become unyielding as an end result.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Many young aspiring business women have reached out to me for guidance and patronage. DMG hires (and pays) interns from different colleges for year-round experience. Those who aren’t close enough to work under my direct supervision email me just for leadership and instruction. Even young women at entry-level positions at labels and publishing companies have contacted me to help them navigate their careers in the music industry. It’s my success and exposure that has given me the opportunity and insight to share everything I have learned and experienced.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Being stubborn should not always have a negative connotation. By being stubborn and holding my ground, I have made sure that my clients are treated fairly.

2. Integrity about who I am, the services I offer, and the fees I charge define DMG.

3. Without courage, I would never have made it as far as I have. Being a single mom, running a successful business, and overcoming the obstacles I have encountered has been extremely difficult. I would not have succeeded without perseverance.

4. As an individual, I would not have been as successful as I am without the amazing team that defines DMG. It is this exceptional group of individuals that has allowed my company to become as big as it is.

5. Don’t burn your bridges. We can’t be liked by everyone. I would still offer my advice and guidance to those who do not agree with how I conduct business, even if they have wronged me.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Rather than inspire a new movement, I would prefer to add to the growth of the Women’s Movement. I broke through the barrier for women to do what I do and to be acknowledged and compensated in a business that was only for men. This could and should spread to other professions. My gender does not define what I can and cannot do, and it never should. Of course, women still have a long journey ahead of them as the glass ceiling has transformed into concrete, but as long as we encourage and champion women around us, we have a fighting chance of changing the dichotomy.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I think it’s important that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Music is extremely powerful, and we have the privilege to work together respectfully to support such an important medium. If we fail to be the best versions of ourselves while doing that, then no one is winning.

We work in the music industry and bring pleasure and entertainment to people. Hostility, anger, and blame have no place in my company or with people we deal with. Conversely, a “thank you” or positive re-enforcement truly goes a long way.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

A few women pop into my mind, but I think the one I relate to and respect the most and would be honored to meet would be the Notorious RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsberg). Like me, she is petite, Jewish, smart, and a ball-buster. She is a woman of firsts, an advocate for women’s rights, excelled as an oral advocate, and overcame obstacles and challenges she encountered as a woman in college and in the earlier portion of her career. I’ve had to do the same. As I explain to many people who know my history, I would never ask for any part of my life to be changed as I would not be where I am now had I not had those obstacles to overcome.

Connect with Deborah on Social Media:

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