Exploring the World of Music at Netflix with Andy Lykens

Published May 7, 2024

In a captivating episode of our SAS Speaker Series, we welcomed Andy Lykens, Director of Music Services at Netflix, who offered invaluable insights for composers aiming to make their mark in the industry, what the day-to-day is like at Netflix, and most importantly, his love for "Weird Al" Yankovic. Let's dive in, shall we?!

Exploring the World of Music at Netflix with Andy Lykens

Jordan Passman: I recently read the No Rules Rules book, which is about the Netflix culture. It's an incredible place to work for a lot of reasons. How has that changed and evolved since you've been there for the past decade?

Andy Lykens: It's been an amazing ride. My early conversations at Netflix with music folks were just trying to describe what we were doing, right? It wasn't quite what they were used to with network TV promos and with film trailers. It's just a little bit different and somewhere in between. These days, I feel like we just have way more of a shorthand and we have really strong relationships with our music partners. So yeah, I would say it's nice. It's nice to be in this world where things have gone from sort of cloudy murkiness to like, okay, this is Netflix. We know these guys now. So it feels good.

Jordan Passman: Just looking at personal inspiration, who are your musical heroes?

Andy Lykens: Okay, I love this question. When I was really young, I was into two main artists. It was the Beatles and "Weird Al" Yankovic. I was a huge "Weird Al" fan. As I got older, it was more jazz stuff. Today, I still listen to the Beatles a lot, but I gravitate more towards jazz. So Bill Evans and Chick Corea. I like stuff that's a little farther out. So, you know, Kurt Elling, who is one of my favorite vocalists. I love listening to Charlie Hunter as well, and there's also this guy named Ray Anderson. If you've never heard of him, he is insane when it comes to the trombone. I'm also a big John Mayer fan, I love Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, and Terrace Martin.

Jordan Passman: Have you ever been to a "Weird Al" concert? How good was it?

Andy Lykens: I have, and I could not believe how good it was! Even if you don't like "Weird Al," you should go see him. It is just so entertaining. I could not believe how good it was. If you're not familiar, he dresses up in costumes and dances around, kicking his legs up by his ears—it's truly insane and he hits every single note. It's unbelievable.

Jordan Passman: Shoutout to "Weird Al"! He really is such a legend. When you were working on the sales side of things at Netflix, networking was crucial. Focusing on who you know and building relationships. How did you go about networking when you were first starting out?

Andy Lykens: This is a great question. I'm going to answer it as how people should go about it rather than how I went about it because it took me a while to learn this one. I think that there's a way that everybody can be helpful to somebody else. When people think about sales, they think about cold calls, business cards, and asking the person for a particular thing, right? Asking for the sale, all that stuff, which is all true. That's all necessary, but I think underlying that needs to be this perspective of how am I actually helping this person? What is the stage of our relationship? If you're talking to somebody that you've just met and you've had a decent conversation, it's not necessarily the best time to ask them to put your music into their next project. Ultimately, that person's problem at that moment in time is not that they are looking for the exact piece of music that you happen to have in your back pocket. Networking is about giving first. It's about being helpful and thoughtful and doing it in a way that only you can do.

I went through various phases of this. Early on, I would do cold calls or I would show up and knock on people's doors because at the time music libraries were all on CD. I would do that and it didn't really get me anywhere because people don't associate that with anything meaningful. However, as you go along, you start to learn that what makes you valuable is whatever it is you bring to the table. As a young person, it took me a long time to figure out what that was. Part of it is figuring out what that is for yourself too. What is it that I'm doing that's different, interesting, and could be helpful to this person? That answer involves a deep understanding of the person you're talking to. If you can't clearly define the person that you're talking to, or truly understand what problem they might be having, then you're probably not in a position to sell anything yet.

Jordan Passman: I want to move onto some advice, and we can address them in a few categories: composers, people who run music companies, and then, people who are more on your side of things. But let's think about the people that are graduating right now. What advice would you give to somebody who is just trying to enter into this crazy world? Where would you start?

Andy Lykens: Whatever it is you're doing, try to participate in the ecosystem as soon as you can. When you start something off, you're not going to be very good at it. One of the hardest parts is learning how to get better, but you don't just do that right away. It's just like practicing an instrument. You don't get better unless you spend time doing it every day. It feels so painful at the beginning, even in the middle, even past the middle, like even today, right?! It feels painful when you're having a new learning, but it compounds over time.

Let's say you're a musician and you're looking to get into the sync world or you're looking to compose. I would just start writing every day and I would put it out where people can hear it as often as you can. That will be the best litmus test for your work. For one thing, you'll be able to execute something from start to finish. Number two is that there's a feedback loop and people either respond to it or they don't. If you're working in a world like sync, you need people to be responding to your music because it's meant to drive some emotion. So I would say that would be the single best thing to do is just start. Stop making up all the excuses why you're not doing the thing and just do the thing.

That's a Wrap with Andy Lykens!

A huge shoutout to Andy for spending time with us and sparking some incredible motivation. Keep an eye on our next SAS Speaker Series interview by following us on LinkedIn or Instagram. Until next time!