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Film Music Supervisors and TV Music Supervisors


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Music Supervisors and Music Supervision

Music Supervisors Looking for Music & Songs
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Music Supervisors and Music Supervisors looking for music

What do Music Supervisors do?

Music Supervisors act as mediators between Production teams and Composers and their teams, which may include Orchestrators, Engineers, Copyists, Musician's Contractors, etc. They also suggest ideas, and research and obtain rights to source music for films. Music Supervisors oversee spotting sessions (deciding on where the Director wants music, and why), recruit and contract musicians, book recording studios and attend sessions, ensuring that delivery requirements are fulfilled. If the music is to be published, they ensure that it is registered properly, and that cue sheets are dispatched. Music Supervisors are usually employed at the post production stage, but they are occasionally required earlier in the production process, e.g., to source tracks for on camera dancing, or to organize an on camera concert, involving musicians and singers miming to pre-recorded tracks. In this case, music must be arranged, pre-recorded versions must be produced for playback during mimed performances, and clearances and licenses must be acquired. Music Supervisors organize and arrange the budgets for music requirements, liaise with the Set Designer, the Sound Team, and the Playback Operator, and ensure that the Sound Team has the pre-record in the correct format. They also check synchronization issues during on camera performances. 

Responsibilities of Music Supervisors

Music Supervisors negotiate deal points and contracts, prepare budgets, and attend scheduling meetings and spotting sessions. They oversee the compositional process, ensuring that the required music is being written, listened to, and reported upon. They organize music orchestration and copying. When larger sessions are required, e.g., involving an orchestra, they liaise with the Musician's Contractor about rates, line up, and invoicing. They also check Engineer and Studio availability and, when necessary, hire a Conductor. When organizing source music, Music Supervisors prepare source music schedules, and keep everyone informed and updated, e.g., about deviations from allocated budgets. Music Supervisors check licences, and forward them to the Production company, highlighting any possible issues, and act as the liaison between the Record Companies, the Publishers, and the Production Company. They produce the music cue sheet for final delivery, ensuring that the duration of the music used conforms to the terms of the negotiated contract.

More info at Top Ten Reasons to Hire a Music Supervisor early, or a resource for Filmmakers and Music Supervisors looking for music located at Music Supervisors at

The following article by music supervisor Michael Rogers is the first in a regular column for Film Music Magazine, a must-read for anyone interested in writing music for film and TV. This is a great introduction to what music supervisors do.

Adventures in Music Supervision 101

This is the first in a series of columns on the craft of music supervision. As a relatively new specialty in film production (and sometimes pre-production-more on this later), this monthly column will attempt to both educate and (with any luck) entertain you.

For the past 20 years, almost every feature film has had a music supervisor or coordinator. Their role is often misunderstood, and they are in all fairness not quite as powerful as frequently perceived. However, they are inherently essential to the contemporary filmmaking process.

LESS IS MORE (or, wouldnít it be cheaper to just have the director hum a few bars?)
It might prove fruitful to begin with what music supervision is not. Apart from the superstar music supervisors (including among others, Budd Carr, Bonnie Greenberg, Peter Aftermath, Sharon Boyle, and Karyn Rachtman), most are not the initial decision-makers about which composer to hire for underscore and/or which source songs to license. In the affable words of composer John Ottman, ďmusic supervisors are dead wood.Ē In theory, the director and producer(s) usually provide the suggestions from which to select film music.

A typical scenario involves the director/producer leaning toward a particular composer with whom they already have a previously successful working relationship or whose work has made an impression. Likewise, particular source songs may be dancing around their heads as they shower (hopefully not singing too loudly-as only their loved ones would appreciate). The music supervisorís job tends to be as creative as his or her collaboration with the director/producer allows it to be. Contrary to some popular views, part of a music supervisorís job is not to interfere with the freedom and creative process of the composer. If a supervisorís background happens to include composition, arrangement, production/engineering, theory, or even tin-ear syndrome-so be it. But once a composer is hired it is always advisable to oversee at a distance to allow him or her to actualize the talent they are hired to utilize.

A SUPERVISORíS RESPONSIBILITY (or what does that guy over there do, anyway?)
An initial determination must be made about whether there will be a need for pre-recorded music to be used in coordination with principle photography (i.e., a scene requires a character to write an original song because he/she plays the part of a musician in the film). In this case, the supervisor will usually be required to hire an original songwriter (details about songwriter deals will be covered in a future column) to create the original song, book studio time, hire any necessary vocalist(s) or musicians to record the song, and oversee the mixing and mastering processes to ensure that the song is ready prior to principle photography.

Depending on a music supervisorís industry credentials and relationship with the producer and/or director, he or she may or may not be involved in the composer selection process. The final call is that of the director and producer. Once the composer has been selected, the supervisor may negotiate and structure the composer deal. The music supervisor may be present during spotting (watching the footage to determine where music will go) but it is usually advisable to leave this process to the director and composer. In fact, the supervisor undoubtedly works more closely with the music editor than with the composer. Music supervisor Gerry Gershman (Buffalo 66) confirms, ďFor the most part, supervisors oversee that the big-picture musical vision is being realized and that the composer is staying within budget. Usually the music supervisorís creativity is in deciding what source songs will most seamlessly match the tone and theme of the composerís underscore and vice versa.Ē Part of the job also becomes the fine art of ensuring fair compensation for the artists while at the same time staying within the studio/production company music budget.

Next, the supervisor must work with the director and producer to determine what, if any, source songs will best enhance particular scenes and sequences in a picture. This process can often be the most creative aspect of the job. However, going about the business of clearing and licensing songs is an art in and of itself. The supervisor must close a deal with both the songís record company (who owns the Master rights) and the authorís publishing company (who owns the Sync or publishing rights) before permission is legally granted to sync the song (a sync license is a fee paid by the film company to wed (synchronize) a song to a visual image).

A music budget range for a major film is typically between $500,000 to $2,000,000. Attempting to get film executives to appreciate why composers and source songs are worth shelling out some cash for is often an arduous process (but one well worth the effort for truly talented supervisors who value how the right music can literally make or break a film). For student films or projects to be shown at festivals, publishers will often quote a significantly lower price to accommodate the budget (issuing a limited festival license). However, if a festival film is picked up by a commercial distribution company, the distributor will usually have to re-negotiate a commercial license.

Once the songs are decided upon, the race is on to get them licensed, cleared, and into post-production in order to meet the filmís release date.

Despite the challenging expectations and pressures under which music supervisors are expected to deliver, the good ones are invaluable and very well-compensated. The next time you watch a film or television program, ask yourself if you would be as engaged in it if a music supervisor hadnít effectively overseen the strategic placement of music.

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By Peter Spellman - Film and TV song placements aren't just for the big stars. For the past ten years or so there has been a trend to look for something edgier and offbeat, like an underexposed pop tune or a song from an undiscovered band. In turn, the placement can catapult them into hits. Moby, Feist, Band of Horses, Wilco , Of Montreal and numerous others have experienced career accelerations through the visibility created by film and TV music placements.

What follow are some guidelines for approaching these markets with your music. The key is first understanding the context of each market, then forging an approach that makes sense.

Ready? Here we go.

Context: Film

         Music and film (whether in theaters or on TV) have been intertwined since the earliest days of the cinema. Film music is music, primarily instrumental, which works in conjunction with dialog and image to establish the mood and tone of a movie. Classical, jazz, electronic - regardless of genre, any material composed or scored expressly for use in a motion picture can be defined as film music.

         A soundtrack album, on the other hand, is not necessarily film music, as many of the songs which make up the record (as with those for American Graffiti, The Big Chill, Napoleon Dynamite and so forth) were not originally intended for use in the movie, and other times (as in Batman Forever) don't even appear in the actual feature at all.

         Over the last few years, as entertainment conglomerates have acquired both record labels and film studios, the bond between the film and music industries has tightened. Motion picture soundtracks have become a magnificent cooperative marketing opportunity for movies and music, in which each drives sales of the other.

         It is usually the director of the film who decides on the music used in the production. The director works through a network of music supervisors and music editors to find the music he requires for the production.

Context: Television

         TV production moves at a quicker pace and, while still requiring scoring, more often uses already recorded songs and compositions in its many shows and programs.

         Each year over 5000 individual series episodes are produced for the ABC, CBS, and NBC television networks, the Fox, UPN, and WB networks, first-run syndication, pay television, cable services and PBS.

         In addition, many movies of the week, miniseries, and one-time specials add to the annual total of television production.

         Production costs for an individual television episode can range from $750,000 to $1 million for 1/2 hour network shows and from $1 million to over $2 million for 1-hour shows.

         Since network license fees normally cover only between 60-80% of production costs, production companies must look to future local television syndication, cable and foreign television sales, home video, and in certain cases, foreign theatrical distribution merely to recoup.

         It is usually the producer of the TV production who decides on the music used in the production. The producer's staff works through a network of music supervisors and music editors to find the music he requires for the production.


         Understand how music supervisors work. The music supervisor has come to be the person responsible for all the musical elements - technical, creative, and administrative - that are exclusive of the score and its production. As described by music supervisor Mark Roswell, (Sleeping with the Enemy, Wild at Heart), "We provide a service to the director to find source songs that are right for the film. To do this we follow the same instinct - creativity - as the composer, but with an entirely different execution."

Another veteran music supervisor, Barbara Jordan, says there are many more opportunities for beginners writing these generic background songs for movies than in getting songs cut by top recording artists. "For consideration by a Dolly Parton or a Whitney Houston, you need to have a song that is nearly perfect because you're competing with top-notch songwriters for a limited number of cuts. But there are many more opportunities for placement of songs in film and TV, and it's not as critical that these songs be 'perfect.' They just have to set the right mood."

         As with jingles, don't make a move until you understand the publishing intricacies of film / TV music: "synchronization rights", "performance rights", "blanket rights", "public domain rights", etc.

         As with everything in music, business is driven by relationships. So first, think of all the people you know or know of, even remotely connected to the film and TV industries. Start networking with these people: this means reaching out with polite, purposeful letters, emails, faxes and phone calls. Ask questions, read online and offline, and respond.

         Have your presentation (message, business identity, demo tapes, etc.) ready for the asking. TV and film producers need both songs and instrumental music.

Network around film schools, find the most talented director and offer to put your music on his movie. The UCLA Graduate Film Students Program approached Warner Bros. Records for someone to score first-time director Jeff Fines' No Easy Way, and ended up with American Music Club Mark Eitzel.

         Take a movie by a director you'd like to work with and create your own score for it. When Robert Rodriguez first asked Los Lobos to do the score for his movie Desperado, he suggested they get a tape of his first film, El Mariachi, and put their own music to it as an exercise.

         Find out who the leading film and video editors are and send them your music. Editors often put their own "temp" music track on films they're working on to liven up the cuts and sometimes they and the directors become so enamored of it, they end up using the music in the final score.

         Learn how to work with music software. We've come a long way from the first synthesized movie soundtracks, but now everybody is using a PowerMac, MIDI sequencers and ProTools. Get used to it.

         Let your publisher, ASCAP, or BMI know you are interested in film work. Performance Rights agencies are in touch with the film community and know if a movie is coming up that is looking for someone to do a soundtrack.

         Establish a distinct musical identity, but be prepared to abandon it in favor of diverse vocabulary. Sound like yourself. Artists like Hispanic-American Los Lobos and Irish-American Seamus Egan originally broke into films of very specific ethnic genres but have managed to convince directors they can either work outside that style or make the style work apart for its normal connotations.

         Be able to work as part of a team and accept direction. Your typical modern pop artist is used to being his own boss, answering to no one and having absolute creative freedom. In movie, TV or commercial soundtrack work, the musician must answer to a director, a producer or a client.

         You must communicate with people who know nothing about music. Says Lobos' Steve Berlin, "You have to forge a new language to reach that common ground."

         Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. A rock star can work on a record for as long as he wants. Soundtrack and music supervisors are working on strict timetables. Usually, they need it "yesterday."
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