A Cougar Clears the Music for Jimmy Fallon

BYU Alumna at The Tonight Show

By Sarah Ostler Hill

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he takes the L train from Brooklyn into Manhattan, transfers to the F and gets off at the Rockefeller Center station. After scanning her badge at the turnstiles she takes the second elevator bank to the 17th floor. Passing the Saturday Night Live writers’ rooms, BYU alumna Laura Ostler begins her day’s work as music administrator for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

From an early age, Ostler was drawn to music, often dressing up and performing for her family or anyone who would listen. She immersed herself in piano and flute lessons through high school. At BYU, she was accepted into the School of Music on piano, but soon transitioned to the media music program.

“I really loved a lot of the classes I took and had fun exploring my creative side,” Ostler says. “But there was also an expectation of excellence that pushed me to study, practice and work hard. I think that work ethic has helped me to stand out and do well in my career.”

She moved to New York City without a job, but with a passion to work in music. An internship at EMI Music Publishing turned into full-time employment with them. There she learned the business of getting music clearances and licenses for television shows, negotiating fees, and sending music suggestions if the particular song was unavailable or denied. She worked with American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance and soon took over all music requests from all NBC shows, such as The Office, Parks & Recreation and Saturday Night Live, and those from others like Breaking Bad, the Ellen Degeneres Show and Oprah.

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When EMI merged with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Ostler’s job was secure but the vice president of music services on the east coast for NBC called Ostler to say they had an opening.

“At first I didn’t even know what show the position would be for,” Ostler remembers. “But I had worked with a lot of the people on the team because of my position at EMI, and I knew a lot about licensing. I went in for the interview and found out it would be for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. They offered me the job within the week.”

A few months later, it was announced that Fallon would be taking over as host of The Tonight Show. Ostler says her job didn’t really change, but it became busier because the show started using more music.

Today, a typical day for Ostler starts with the production meeting where the staff runs through an outline of that day’s show as well as the lineup for the following day. They will also do a rough overview of the next week or two, highlighting any big sketches or planned music uses beyond the artist performances. The rest of her day is spent on a variety of tasks such as researching songs, obtaining approvals from licensors (since each song requires approval from the writers as well as the performer, a song may require anywhere from 3 to 5 approvals, sometimes up to 10 or more), getting necessary updates from the show’s producers and writers, finalizing paperwork and payments and tracking budgets.

“Then I watch the taping,” Ostler says, feigning fatigue at this requirement. “I keep an eye and ear out for any spontaneous singing from Jimmy or the guests and any other music issues that might come up. Depending on the usage, I might have to start a quick approval process.”

While her position at what has been called the hottest ticket in New York is impressive, she remains grounded and appreciative of her beginnings.

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Ostler and her sisters cheering on participants of the ING New York City Marathon.

“I think BYU prepared me for the world in many ways, most importantly by teaching me the value of hard work,” she says. “Having good relationships with people is certainly important with regard to networking, but those relationships mean much more when you’re known as someone who works hard and goes above and beyond.”

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Ostler and her sisters
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