BY THEMBISA MSHAKA • JUNE 20 2019
We talked with the “Queen of Music Clearance” Deborah Mannis-Gardner about leading a company of women, racial profiling in music, and the future of music as it relates to the people who create it.
There is one person who Drake, DJ Khaled, Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, and more rely on to protect them from litigation over samples and interpolations. Their secret weapon is Deborah Mannis-Gardner, also known as the “Queen of Music Clearance.” She established DMG Clearances in 1996 to help hip-hop artists clear samples at a time when the genre was not the billion dollar industry it has become. She named her company after her initials; an attorney named Mike Selverne started calling her “DMG.” and it stuck. She may be just over 5 feet, but she’s a petite powerhouse with an equally powerful voice, backed by 30 years of experience.
She makes it possible for music to earn money from its uses, and to be heard by wider audiences through their placements on films. Mannis-Gardner negotiates the terms for using existing material on new original works, or for using a song in a game or a film. Her clients have been everyone from Run-DMC to Eminem. She also oversees the uses for the catalog of Led Zeppelin, a group that rarely gives the blessing of a clearance. In addition to song clearances, Deborah wields her superpowers for film and gaming uses. She spent four years securing clearances for the HBO documentary The Defiant Ones, earning a 2018 Guild of Music Supervisors Award in the process. Recent artists she’s cleared samples for include Big K.R.I.T., Logic, and DJ Khaled on the newly released Father of Asahd.