Have you ever heard of « music supervision »? Do you know exactly what this job is all about? A guess? Well, this article attends to shed some light on the subject.
You may have heard of music supervision for movies, but in fact, music supervision applies to many fields like television, advertising, video games, live events, retail environments, new media, for which it is becoming an increasingly crucial aspect.
Let’s start with a short definition:
« Music supervision is one of the only careers that bridges the gap between sight and sound. »
Ramsay Adams, David Hnatiuk, David Weiss, Music supervision, Schrimer Trade Books, 2005, p. 121
So, the role of a music supervisor is basically to match music or sounds to media. This is a pretty specialized job that requires numerous skills, from picking the right music for each project (between commercial songs, original music, library music), to securing the rights to the desired music or sound effects, while adapting to the budget. Therefore, developing the legal aspects is important because of the negociations, clearances, publishing/performance deals this job involves.
Today, there are all sorts of different profiles of music supervisors: some of them are/where trained musicians, composers, music producers, DJs, music publishers, agents, managers, or come from audiovisual schools, but the common denominator is their talent of merging sound with vision.
Also, with the explosion of media experiences, this hat can be worn by web designers, programmers, animators or administrative staff, sometimes on daily basis.
As you can see, musical training is not essential to the role, but may be advantageous in the process of matching the right music/sound to picture.
MUSIC SUPERVISION IS AN ART
The art of selecting the right music implies to listen to as much music as possible, to keep current across all musical styles,
« because every additional style you can audition mentally while spotting is like another tool in your toolbox. »
Ramsay Adams, David Hnatiuk, David Weiss, Music supervision, Schrimer Trade Books, 2005, p. 112
But then, the rule is the same as for all forms of art: « you are talented or not to play the role of overseeing music for images », warns Laurent Favard, from the Publicis’ production company Prodigious.
MUSIC SUPERVISION IS A SCIENCE
Music supervision enters the field of sciences when applied to sonic branding: the strategic use of sound and music to build brands. As a matter of fact, creating mnemonics or sound logos is a perilous experience based on very serious studies. The main difficulty residing in encapsulating the identity of a brand in 0:30 to 3 seconds, here again, this is definitely not a job for everyone’s hands.
You probably know the mnemonic for Randstad (at 0:24 seconds), and be sure it took a complex process to create it and ensure that everyone remembers about it, and by extension, burns the brand into one’s memory.
MUSIC SUPERVISOR’S BABY BOOM
Going back in time, the first talkie movie synchronizing sound to picture, The Jazz Singer (1927), marked an important turn in entertainment and linked forever sound to media.
Since then, music supervisors’ number throughout the world has shot up: more and more music supervisors are hired to liaise between directors, productions companies, brands, records labels, etc.
The Bible of music supervisors, Music Supervision, offers an interesting explanation on how music supervision’s business spread:
« In the twenty-first century, the music supervisor’s job is made even more important and exciting by the phenomenon of convergence, wherein diverse media eventually combine to create new experience. (…) Because audio is such an enriching part of the human experience, convergence leads again and again to the inclusion of music and sound effects within various media. »
Ramsay Adams, David Hnatiuk, David Weiss, Music supervision, Schrimer Trade Books, 2005, p. 3
MUSIC SUPERVISION IS A BUSINESS
Music supervisors can be hired by music supervision companies (such as Creaminal or Chop Shop Music), at entertainment companies or within networks as « in house » staff members, or do freelance work on a project-by-project or show-by-show basis.
Their salary varies between 22 000€ to 180 000€, depending upon the project and the hiring process, and many of them also receive additional royalties, for soundtracks in particular.
THE FUTURE OF MUSIC SUPERVISION
Martin Caraux, from French music supervision agency Bande Originale, deplores that music supervisors tend to be better recognized in the anglo-saxon countries -where the job was born, rather than in France: for example, they are credited in the beginning of film credits (see Nora Ephron’s movie Sleepless in Seattle starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks).
One of the other differences he notes is that the accent is mostly put on the artistic sense of music supervisors, additioned to some legal knowledge, while in France it is just the opposite. He finally adds that these trends tend to reverse, which confirms that music supervision is a promising job.
Yes folks, the future of music supervision is wide open as long as you:
– Stay on top of advances in digital technology
Because music supervision is intimately linked to where technology is headed, it is important to stay intimately aware of all technological trends that affect all of the music business. Continuing self-education on new and more advanced digital editing, composing softwares used in studio and gaming technology, is one of the essential key to stay one step ahead.
« The possibilities are only limited by how fast mankind can invent new forms of media. »
Michael Lau, Warner Chappell Music
Note that music supervisor’s job has been highly simplified with the end of bandwidth limitation during the 90’s, and the progress of digital watermarking offers them a wide range of new possibilities.
– Stay aware of licensing conditions
Once again, the media phenomenon of convergence deeply modifies the distribution and subsequently, the licensing of music and sound effects:
« more and more money will be involved and some complications in license negociations will be brought, as all media will be released and so negotiated simultaneously. »
Ramsay Adams, David Hnatiuk, David Weiss, Music supervision, Schrimer Trade Books, 2005, p. 211
ARE YOU IN?
Okay folks, let’s resume: you want to become a music supervisor? Here are the key skills you will need to get the job:
- Passion and talent for the search and selection of music
- Good communication
- Negociation skills and legal knowledge
- Work to deadline and organization.
A quasi-A&R capacity! And keep in mind that those positioned best to succeed are music supervisors with an open mind and a broad understanding of the multiple possibilities of creative multimedia.
To be honest, my personal ambition is to become the new, French Alexandra Patsavas… I have a lot on my plate so excuse me: have to go back to my music researches!