For a significant part of my life, music supervisors only existed in the credits of my favourite films and television shows: people with a cool job title but ultimately unknown, ethereal beings. Now that I have the pleasure of counting myself amongst their ranks, I’m distinctly aware that many people, even some filmmakers, are still unsure of their role and importance.
To decipher the role at a simple level, a music supervisor’s job is to choose and license the music on behalf of the director, producer or creative agency, making sure their musical vision is translated (crucially) to budget. We regularly work alongside the better known film composer who creates the original score, often working as a translator for the filmmaker, expressing their visual requirements in musical terms.
The reasoning behind the choices of tracks made by a supervisor for a project is varied, juggling emotion, importance, and budget. Emotionally, a number of factors play a part; musical elements such as the key, tempo, and instrumentation can provide emotional support to a scene, but often lyrical content and social factors can have a huge impact on how we suture the music with visuals. It is vital that a supervisor takes into account recognisability and even how prolific a genre is in a location or socio-economic group - the track chosen has to be able to represent the audience’s view of what that music implies for the narrative. That said, you can never satisfy everybody: a friend of mine once hated a film character purely for the fact that the track used was his ex-girlfriend’s favourite song!
As with most things, however, budget often plays a large role in which tracks are possible to get licensed for a project. There are a number of different methods a supervisor can employ to get the cost closer to budget (such as using library music for less noticeable, background sound), however, if a filmmaker is insistent on a track, sometimes they just have to pay!
It is this collaborative partnership between the music supervisor and filmmaker that really pays off in the end. Ultimately, a music supervisor is realising a filmmaker’s vision, so suggestions and feedback will always be integral; the key to our role is compromise, by showing the filmmaker viable alternatives to expensive tracks, drawing upon our music knowledge and expertise in the complex world of music licensing.
As for me, I have no preference for what kind of film or music I work with - I love working with directors and producers on varied, excellent films where music is a standout feature. That said, if anyone wants a great listen, Sampa The Great’s new album Birds and the BEE9 is a particular joy!
There’s no one set route to become a music supervisor, although obviously, a love of both music and film is vital! If you need any advice, the UK & European Guild of Music Supervisors is a great place to start.
If you’re a filmmaker who’s interested in transitioning over, I’d recommend keeping on top of musical trends/new releases and getting up to speed with musical terms and lingo. If you’re a musician, make sure you don’t get too tied up with your own preferences; there’s a place for every kind of music in film and you have to be agnostic for this job. Overall though, an in-depth knowledge of licensing law is crucial, so get learning!
Find out more about the films Will has worked on and his portfolio here.
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