5 Things You Should Know
About Music Supervisors
By Michael Laskow
1) They’re passionate about music.
I’ve never met a music supervisor who isn’t a passionate lover of music. Many of them are also musicians themselves! Many of them have their own music blogs which are a great way to hear what the tastemakers like. Reading their blogs and listening to their playlists on Spotify will give you a look into artists, genres, and styles that are likely to be the next big thing.
Why is that important? Because the TV and film producers that supervisors work with are often looking for music that’s very current, and often times what will behot in the near future. Currency is often a factor in what they select for their projects.
2) Music Supervisors don’t typically look for music they personally like.
When given the opportunity to get their music to a music supervisor, many musicians will simply give the supervisor their latest and greatest song or track. While it’s good to impress them, and show them what you sound like; even if they love what you’re doing, it might not be what they need.
What the music supervisors like personally may not always indicate what they need! The music they need and pick has to work with the scene, and may oftentimes reflect the taste of the supervisors’ boss—the show or film’s producer!
Giving them what they need is the key to getting placements! If they’re searching for moody Singer/Songwriter songs and you give them an EDM song, you might land in their “stash” for future projects. But doing your homework to learn more about projects they’re currently working on, and giving them something that’s in that ballpark, you stand a much greater chance of landing a placement sooner, or period!
3) Budgets for music are shrinking.
The advent and proliferation of really good audio gear and virtual instruments at prices much cheaper than they’ve ever been, means there is more great music to choose from. Economics dictate that supply and demand will set market prices.
With a glut of great, well-produced music on the market, prices paid to composers and songwriters has dropped—even for bigger name artists, not just indie artists or composers. While it used to be common that many music supervisors would turn their noses up at “library music,” today’s libraries have been stocking up on music that is either made by real bands or artists, or at least sounds like it!
With that glut of great music on the market, supervisors have been using libraries more and more frequently than ever before. They can get high quality “product” for reduced prices. With library pricing setting the new “ceiling,” indie artists and composers are expected to license their music at those same prices.
The most successful artists and composers have figured out that with the commoditization of music, volume is the way to keep making a good living. To crank out that volume, artists and composers have needed to learn how to become more productive. High quality and a prolific output are now key.
4) Music supervisors work under extreme time constraints and live in a high-pressure world.
Supes who work on episodic TV that’s on a weekly schedule often have to find as many as dozens of tracks or songs each week, and they can’t blow their tight deadlines. If they do, the show doesn’t go out, and that’s just not an option.
Even if the supervisor only needs a few songs or instrumental cues for a weekly dramatic series, they still have to meet with the producer to “spot” the show (find out what is needed, and where it’s needed), source the music from publishers, libraries, and artists or composers they know personally, listen to hundreds of songs or cues in a short amount of time, play the selected music against picture, pick the best, then play them for the show’s producer.
Inevitably, there will be changes and music needs to get replaced in a very short amount of time as the airdate looms ever closer—maybe just hours away! They also have to “clear” all the music and get the license agreements signed before the music can be synced in the show and played on air. In other words, nothing ever goes exactly as planned, and music supervisors are always scrambling to meet deadlines.
As a rule of thumb, TV supes are on tighter schedules than film music supervisors. In both cases, everything moves at lightning speed, and there’s no room for mistakes or roadblocks. That leads to the next thing you should know about...
5) Music supervisors have no patience for musicians who aren’t professional in their behavior and actions.
I don’t mean “professional” in the musical sense, although that’s a given! I mean professional in the business sense.
Delivering the right music in a very timely manner is key because of the tight deadlines. But the composers and artists also need to have their ducks in a row when it comes to being affiliated with a Performing Rights Organization – ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC in America.
The supes also need you to guarantee that you own or control both “sides,” meaning the master recording and the composition’s copyright. They can’t take chances that other writers will come out of the woodwork after the show or film goes public. That could end up in a lawsuit.
They also need to know that any session players appearing on the masters (even friends who play on your tracks) have signed work-for-hire agreements that release the creator and ultimately the show or film’s producers from any financial liability. If your music is going straight from you to the supervisor and notthrough a publisher or library, the supervisors will need to know that you have a publishing company name that can go on the cue sheet to make sure you get all the money you are owed.
Here’s another music supervisor pet peeve! A friend of mine who is a Hollywood music supervisor recently told me, “If I get music from an indie, the last thing I want is for them to add me to their contact list and ‘follow up’ with me. I don’t have the time to field phone calls or emails from musicians asking, ‘Are you going to use my music? Why not? If I change it will you check it out again? Do you want to hear some other music I’ve got?’”
The best thing you can do if trying to pitch directly to music supervisors is know what they need, when they need it, pitch it to them at just the right time. Make sure you have a PRO registration for the music, work-for-hire agreements in hand, proof of master and copyright ownership, and a publishing company name they can put on the cue sheet to make sure you get paid the writer’s and publisher’s royalties.
There’s always more to learn, but...
If you know these five things, you’re probably well ahead of many folks who’d like to compete for the same slots you’re pitching to. The market for music is always changing and there is always more to learn. In today’s film and TV music licensing industry, it’s no longer just who you know, it’s also what you know!