Ever wondered what music supervisors are really thinking? I can help. I’ve invited an established music supervisor to give you that insight with the condition that they remain anonymous.
Read this blog post for the inside scoop…

_____

Music SupervisorHi. I’m a music supervisor. My confession? I’m an “anti-music” music supervisor. I don’t want the best song for my film and I don’t even want to think about your song. Got your attention? Let me explain…

My Background

I actually do love music. I have played music since age four and was on a college music scholarship as a business and theater major. I’ve been a music executive, songwriter and producer in the music industry for many years. Even some of my best friends are musicians!

The Film Business

So why am I an anti-music music supervisor? Okay, let’s not call me that anymore, it sounds so negative. However, in my role as a music supervisor, I’m not in the music business anymore. I am in the film business. Taking that perspective allows me to approach my work in a unique manner.

The “anti” element comes from my belief that when watching a film, the audience shouldn’t “notice” the music. Whether it’s quiet background songs, subtle score or loud energetic in-your-face music, it should be a part of the film experience. Just like you don’t want to “notice” wardrobe, or set design or an actor’s accent, you just want to be inside the film experience when watching. Now this isn’t to be confused with also believing that music and songs are integral parts of a film experience. Using songs in the right way gives us a sense of place and time and reality. The best scores help us feel and think in ways that are sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle and manipulative (directors are tricky that way). But my goal is to never pull a viewer out of the film experience.

This leads me another related point. When listening to songs, it’s not about the music. It’s about the film. Remember, I am in the film business. I service the film. I have one agenda – the film. This really relates to how you have to think about pitching your songs to a music supervisor or producer.

The “Best” Song vs. the “Right” Song

Let’s say you have a great new song you just finished. You are excited about your song and believe it’s a hit. You love your production and performance. You might think it’s a great match for a film or scene description that you heard about. Here’s something to think about. If I were to get pitched ten songs for that scene and they were all good and apropos, please answer a resounding YES to the following question… The best song wins in the selection for that scene, right?

Actually, the answer is NO. The “best” song doesn’t win – the “right” song wins. What does that mean? We usually only use a piece of a song, it may be mixed back under dialogue and help set up the ambiance of scene (imagine a restaurant, dinner party or car radio scene). So if your song is perfectly crafted, has a perfect rhyme scheme and then has a great twist in the bridge that brings all the meaning together – wouldn’t that be the “best” song for the scene? Not necessarily, as perhaps the snare drum is so prevalent that when we mix the song under dialogue we just hear a constant clicking sound, or maybe the song has a busy verse lyrical flow or repetitive chorus lines that may be distracting under dialogue, the melody might be beautifully soaring and therefore attract too much attention, or perhaps it’s a simple lyric but too close to the literal happenings in the scene which would sound silly. As you can see, quality does matter (seldom does a bad song win) but we need the “right” song.

It’s All About Perspective

Here’s my final thought. When thinking about pitching your song for a film use, you should think from the perspective of the recipient. They are not listening to your song because you think it’s a great song. They are visually listening to your song, keeping in mind how it works against picture, how does it pace the scene, how does it play against dialogue or sound effects (e.g. birds chirping, cars screeching, dishes clattering), what emotions does it evoke, does it sonically highlight one character versus another in the scene, etc.

If your song doesn’t work for a film pitch, don’t take that as a critique on your song. It just didn’t fit for reasons that are about the scene and not about your song. And you MUST do your research on the film, the music supervisor, the director and producer and then listen to any info that you find out about the song needs and do not pitch “off target.” Don’t take your “best” song shot. Take the “right” song shot.

Doing the Research

In a future article, I’ll touch on the research. How you do it, why you do it and how you use it. For now I’ll leave it at this – I actually DO love music and love to discover great songs and new artists. There’s a place for all songs somewhere, even if you don’t know where yet – so go and make the music that you want to make!!

The World of a Music Supervisor

In this confession, I’ll share a bit about what music supervisors go through in our world. With the assumption that readers here want to learn how best to interface with music supervisors and film projects – this insight can give you a leg up by knowing how it all works.

How do music supervisors fit into their production team? We do creative thinking but work to fulfill the director’s vision. We research rights and quotes and availability of songs, but must deal with the producers’ budget parameters. We need to fit the creative into the visual space, and then fit the logistics that please the people on the business side. Then the director and/or producer make their final decisions. Yes it’s true – we develop working relationships with our director and producers where they rely and trust our instincts – but it is their legal and fiduciary responsibility for the final decision.

I tell you this so you know that we aren’t just listening and making final judgment on you – there is a lot to the process including putting our reputations on the line when we have to ‘pitch’ to our directors and producers. It’s a constant process up the ladder. You pitch to me, I pitch to my director and report to the producer and then the project as a whole has to get pitched to executive producers and sales agents and potential distributors. Yes, there are many moving parts in a film that all must converge perfectly. Wow, to think, it’s not all about your song!

It is good to know this process so you don’t stray too much from what a music supervisor or producer asks for. They are asking for a reason. Remember, my job is to service the film and each scene is a part of the ebb and flow of the whole. My job isn’t to make your song famous or discover a new artist (though finding new talent is nice). My goal is to be part of the filmmaking team with one agenda – the best film we can all make together.

Now that you know the ocean we swim in – insert your own shark or barracuda reference here – I know what you really wanna know, since my peers and I often get asked the obvious, yet important questions: How do I get my song in a film? How do I find out who needs what music for their film? How do I get in touch with the right person to pitch my songs to?

As the saying goes – ask an obvious question and you are likely to get an obvious answer. As songwriters and artists, we sometimes don’t take time to take a step back to think about the situation or sometimes we just don’t want the answer we know we will get.

Advice

First of all, if I had to give ONE PIECE OF ADVICE to an aspiring songwriter or artist who would like their songs placed in a film, it would be this: RESEARCH!

When I speak at seminars and festivals, I start with the question – who here has been to my website? Invariably at least fifty percent of the attendees have not. My answer? Shame on you (said with a smile, of course)! Just like you should research your doctor, mechanic, school, restaurant, job interviewer, etc., you should especially research the person you are meeting with if you want something from them! Who are they? Where do they come from? What might you have in common with them? What are they looking for? What does their personality seem like? In this age of search engines and computerized articles and databases, you must do your homework. If you have a smartphone you can do that research in the minute before you walk into a meeting.

Tricks of the Trade

I can give you some other tricks of the trade – like using imdb.com or allmusic.com or the ASCAP/BMI/SESAC websites, even LinkedIn and Facebook (don’t friend request them, just learn about them), etc. But also, look at films you think your music would have been good for, check the end credits or IMDB and find out who the music supervisor is. Then google and hunt down a contact email address, research what projects they are working on next and perhaps make a gentle contact asking what they need and when and do they have protocols on how you can pitch to them. You shouldn’t be surprised that so much info is out there if you spend the time to find it. You might be surprised to know that most music supervisors are accessible to those that have respected the process and their time and have done their homework.

Conclusion

So that wraps up this little rant. Remember, do your RESEARCH first and foremost. Pitch in a targeted manner. Have some empathy for our process (as we have to put our reputations on the line with our selections when we pitch them to the directors/producers) and don’t tell us how great your song is. If you did your research, aim for being the ‘right’ song for the scene. Then your song will have a chance to get deeper into the consideration pile (remember my confession in Part 1. The best song doesn’t win. The right song wins!!).

I hope some of my ramblings are helpful because I’ve been in your shoes and it’s likely that you may be in my shoes someday. That’s a humbling and very hopeful thought and one we should always keep in mind.

Now go and make the music that you want to make and do the research. There’s a place for all songs somewhere. It’s just a matter of connecting the dots!

Need your songs critiqued?

Click the image to find out about Cliff's consultations.

5 responses to “Confessions of a Music Supervisor”

  1. Great perspective. Love the article, especially for nubes.

  2. Shane Blaze says:

    Very helpful article! Research! Research! Research!

  3. Maryann says:

    Thanks for that hopeful note “There’s a place for all songs somewhere.” I have noticed music in films and how songs should not stick out, or overwhelm what is happening in the film. However my thoughts had never been put into the words you so eloquently explained – – clarifying what I was grappling to understand. Also your notes on research are timely for me. Thanks.

  4. Paul Gross says:

    A thought-provoking piece. I found this very illuminating. Thanks.

  5. Pat Porter says:

    Such good info. Thanks Cliff!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.