Prepare for a passing of the torch. Coming up on two intensive years as president of the Guild of Music Supervisors, Thomas Golubić announced recently that the organization is about to have a new leader.
Starting in September 2019, replacing Golubić in this critical post is another highly respected music supervisor, Joel C. High (The Shed, Saw, Weeds). Madonna Wade-Reed (Smallville, Felicity, One Tree Hill) will accompany High on the executive leadership level, taking on the position of Vice President.
As he is known to do with every music supervision project he’s helmed (Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Six Feet Under), Golubić went all in as GMS president. Over the course of a tenure that proved to be equal parts exhilarating and exhausting, he oversaw an impressive expansion of the Guild that included increased membership, the creation of the Friends of the Guild chapter, a robust calendar of awards and events, and a consistent newsletter to help keep everyone informed (full details can be seen via the most recent GMS Town Hall notes).
As a founding member of the GMS, High knows that serving as president won’t be easy. Nonetheless, he’s prepared to take on leadership of the not-for-profit organization, which aims to amp up advocacy for the field of music supervision, with the ultimate goal of making the world a better place for synch licensing practitioners – present and future.
In this conversation with Synchblog, Golubić and High teamed up to discuss the past, present and future of the GMS. As you’ll hear from High, the success that comes next won’t just depend on his leadership – he’s hoping to spread the credit across a highly active membership.
Thomas, you became president of the GMS in September of 2017 of Guild. In that time, how would you say that your perspective on the Guild has evolved?
Thomas Golubić: I’m not sure that I would say it has changed radically — the basic principles of The Guild have been in place really from the very beginning. When Maureen Crowe launched The Guild and a group of us became the founding members, Joel and myself included, we all felt that the profession needed to have a group that represented its needs as a whole, the ability to have educational resources and advocacy, and to bring a rather disparate group together, especially people who were very vulnerable because there was no union. There was no structure. They were a very exploitable group.
So I think that the building of a community was key. My hope, certainly in the time that I’ve been President, is that we’ve been able to further develop that community, and grow it, and find ways to make the job easier for many. And also to have people who have become high-level professionals be able to share their knowledge and their experience with younger professionals, to help the next generation have an easier time than perhaps the generation that Joel and I came up under.
“My hope, certainly in the time that I’ve been President, is that we’ve been able to further develop that community, and grow it, and find ways to make the job easier for many.”
– Thomas Golubić
In what ways has the GMS Presidency been most surprising?
It’s definitely been harder than I expected. It is essentially a full time job, and I don’t think I was privy to how much work was involved, how many different factors come into play.
Joel had been very active in the Awards, and I did not know how incredibly difficult the Awards is. I’m in awe of the work that he and Robin Kaye have done for many years on the GMS awards. It’s an absolutely mammoth undertaking. But having been introduced to it, I felt really good about getting into areas that I had not been that active in, like fundraising and helping to produce the show, bring all the people together, and making sure that we were filming it and treating it like a live broadcast. I think all of that was really exciting.
And likewise, I think it was important in my mind that we had better communication with our communities. So one of the first things that we started was structuring a new membership system because I think our membership system was getting out of date.
And then being able to have a newsletter. By having to write about something every month, it meant that we had to develop more programming, where we had been much more sporadic about the events that the Guild had. It was really important to me, and I think we were very successful at this. It’s putting together more events in more places, and using the newsletter essentially as a helpful framing device for a more active Guild, a more active board, being able to tackle a lot more in the time that we were here. In this way we’re building a structure, whether it be the newsletter or the podcast or just general events, and connecting our community more and more to each other.
I feel really good about that, but I had no idea how difficult the job would be, and I think I made it difficult for myself as well, all truth be told. I took on a lot, and I tried to do it as fast as I could, as well as I could. I’m really pleased with how it’s gone and thrilled about the collaborations. Working with Joel and Robin, on the Awards in particular, has been one of the most enjoyable parts. I adore both of them and I have such respect for both of them, and I feel really glad to be able to contribute to their baby a little bit.
Joel, shifting over to you. How long have you been a member of The Guild? What drew you to becoming a member, and from there, graduating to a leadership role?
Joel C. High: I was a founding member. So back in the days when it was just a few of us getting together over dinner, kind of commiserating, we saw we all had similar issues. Maureen was the initial spark to saying, “Why don’t we stop just commiserating and actually do something about it?” I was in the room with a lot of things and I was one of the first board members on the executive committee as well.
So I’ve been involved since Day One, and been really committed and really energetic about trying to do stuff. But my roles have always been behind-the-scenes trying to help make it go, really concentrating on a lot of more infrastructure things, and making sure that, while we move forward, we can pay for a lot of the initiatives that we do, and that we keep a level head about a lot of it.
The origins of the Guild was a bunch of people getting together in a room and trying to make it up as we went. There was a lot of really, really energetic, well intentioned people who are also smart about a lot of things. I don’t necessarily think that forming a large organization was one of them! But we figured it out as we went. We’d had a lot of really good help and advice as we got there, and we’re getting now to a place where, when you compare us to a lot of other trade organizations, I think we’re on par with a lot of them, and we’re learning from the paths that they’ve already broken for us.
State of the Trade
How would each of you characterize the biggest opportunities available to music supervisors today? What are the current media industry developments that make music supervision a great profession to be in?
Thomas Golubić: I can field some of this. Number one, we have a lot more media than we had, let’s say, 10 years ago. Areas that had been very small a while ago, like games, have now obviously exploded. So the number of projects that are out there, the number of television projects, the number of film projects, the number of advertising projects, we have so much more media now than we had really only just a few years ago.
So the opportunity for work is much broader, and I think that it also allows people, not just in Los Angeles or New York, to find work. There are people from many other territories that we’ve spoken to that are really interested [in the Guild], because they’re basically working as music supervisors in different countries, and they’re finding themselves also, as we have been in the past, by themselves and looking for more support.
So I think the amount of work that is out there is much broader, and it’s also much more varied. I think that what people used to think the job was has now become exceedingly complicated, which means that the levels of qualities that the field has to protect and develop are also much more complicated. It means things like our conference has a lot more breadth and depth to it, and it has more variety as far as the subjects that it tackles.
“I think that what people used to think the job was has now become exceedingly complicated, which means that the levels of qualities that the field has to protect and develop are also much more complicated.”
– Thomas Golubić
It also means that we’re interacting with a broader sense of other professionals and other professional organizations. So everything has gotten quite a bit more complicated, and The Guild has had to grow into that situation as well to address a very new climate now than it was when we started 10 years ago.
Joel, what would you add to that?
Joel C. High: That was really well put. Thomas and I have been doing this for a good long while, and so we’ve experienced the arc of what it is to be a music supervisor. I started back in 1996 doing this when it was mostly film supervisors and a few television supervisors who are working independently, and now it’s grown to a place where there’s music supervisors working on video, on trailers, working on a broad swath of different kind of disciplines. And each one of them are using music in media in different ways and has to be kind of expert in that exact specific field.
The way that The Guild has had to grow has been to learn from the media as it expands. So we have our branches in trailers and video games and advertising, and we have to work closely with them to expand the role of what it is as a music supervisor.
The opportunities are really there because there is so much content being created, and there’s such a desire for a high level of work in music that the opportunities for people who are coming into it are now a lot broader than when Thomas and I started.
“The opportunities are really there because there is so much content being created, and there’s such a desire for a high level of work in music that the opportunities for people who are coming into it are now a lot broader than when Thomas and I started.”
– Joel C. High
Thomas Golubić: I think the expectations have also risen. In many ways, the parameters that I had when I started 20 years ago have changed dramatically. Joel and I have been kind of witnesses to that. But we’ve also been steering the ship at The Guild to adjust it. I can even look at the latest conference that we’ve had, and the breadth of subject matter has changed tremendously. That’s another great reflection of the changing requirements of the job, and the number of people who recognize the need for it: the number of different media projects that, in the past, hadn’t seen the need to have a music supervisor, whether it be for navigating the composer hire, or finding source music, or music clearances, or the creating or commissioning of new work. There’s so many different factors involved, and I think that people are realizing more and more that having a music supervisor on a project, no matter how music-intensive it is, is just really smart business.
Flipping that, my next question is, conversely, how would you characterize the biggest challenges music supervisors are facing? What is making music supervision more challenging than ever before?
Thomas Golubić: Very simply, I think the economics of music supervision is a serious problem, and I think that there has been a growing movement of music supervisors getting out of the business at the same time that new ones are coming in.
“I think the economics of music supervision is a serious problem, and I think that there has been a growing movement of music supervisors getting out of the business at the same time that new ones are coming in.”
– Thomas Golubić
Part of the difficulty is that the more experienced music supervisors who are tackling bigger projects and building teams, are often the ones who are leaving the industry because the economics do not make sense.
In the case of television, you have a situation where you used to have 22 episodes or you get a relatively large number of episodes in the season. And as things have moved more towards the cable model of 10 episodes and frequently less, you have supervisors doing a lot of leg work to develop those projects, building the creative pallets of them, putting it all together, and having the production window going much longer.
So on some projects I will be literally on a show for 14 months. It’ll be over a year of time of development. But, because supervisors are paid an episodic fee, the numbers get less and less. And because the job is getting more and more complicated, it becomes a job that requires two or even three people to put it together, and you simply can’t pay three people on one person’s salary.
So let’s say that there is much more work. The problem is that the fees for supervisors have not risen, and in many cases they’ve fallen. At the same time, the challenges and the requirements of the job have gotten far more complicated and far more ambitious, and music supervisors are forced into the position of having to accept money-losing projects, in order to keep existing relationships going. That creates a run-to-stand-still phenomena, which has become, I think hugely problematic, and The Guild is trying to find ways to address that.
Joel C. High: That’s one of the big things that we have going forward, absolutely, is to find some sort of pay equity for the amount of work we do and also the amount of value we bring to projects.
“One of the big things that we have going forward is to find some sort of pay equity for the amount of work we do and also the amount of value we bring to projects.”
– Joel C. High
So, if you’re going to be an independent supervisor, one of the first things you have to learn is that you have to be an incredible entrepreneur, and you have to hustle and be able to land these independent jobs and establish real loyalty with showrunners, directors and producers who really rely on your taste, but also your business acumen in being able to make deals, and if you know your way around doing a playback or a prerecord, or how to work with a composer really well and establish great relationships with the creative people that we husband through this process, it’s that kind of stuff. That’s basically what our business is.
If you’re going to be an independent supervisor, you have to be really good at that, and also really good at the business side because you’re running your own businesses, and even though there is a lot more kind of media that requires the work of a of a music supervisor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the paydays are going to ascend to the same level.
In fact, if anything else, they’re getting stretched even thinner because, even though there’s a lot more requirements for this stuff, the dollars are being stretched, whether its ad dollars going into different kind of contents or anything else. You have to be able to work on a bunch of projects at once, and you have to be able to advocate for yourself really well.
Joel, in the recent Town Hall notes that the GMS issued, Thomas noted accomplishments or highlights of his tenure that included the following: size of the membership, size of the email list, friends of The Guild membership, event growth for the GMS awards and GMS Conference, and growth of the GMS podcast. Do you plan on focusing on these same touchstones? How else do you plan on measuring success and progress for The Guild?
Joel C. High: Robin, John McHugh and I, who are the Executive Board, have worked really closely with Thomas in helping him fulfill his vision and expanding to necessary things like the newsletter and podcasts. That’s been part of our core of what we need to do, which is to get the word out about music supervisors, clear up any misconceptions about who we are and what we do. And that goes along with education, the Conference and the Awards. These are ways of establishing ourselves in the entertainment world as very important factors towards storytelling.
The Guild, for the past 10 years, has been the fruits of the labors of a very small group of people who have been on the forefront fighting for firsts like getting GRAMMY recognition, and then membership to the Emmy’s and our first Emmy Awards, which we’ve had now for two years, and expanding to our awareness to working with the Film Academy as well.
Part of what I want to do, is to continue on this path of letting people know who we are and how we can really help with the production and giving value to what we do. And making it so it’s not the fruit of a few people’s labors, but really more democratizing, reaching out more to some of the committees, strengthening their abilities to do outreach, whether it’s the film committee, reaching out to the Academy to kind of have a relationship with them and set up a dialogue.
That includes working with the video game committee, which is one of the most exciting groups of music supervision. They’re most unique because they are working on a medium where you complete a film, it’s done, and you can see it for the ages. In the case of a video game, it’s very fluid. It keeps developing and changing, and it’s incredibly different and dynamic. If you can think of something exciting, you can do it in the video game world. So, we’re working with people like that to advocate for their different crafts.
We’re also building on things like real benefits in a way that helps the membership. Trying to achieve some sort of pay equity, that makes sense for studios and networks, but also can make music supervision a viable career path for somebody who’s looking to get into it.
Those are the main places that I’m looking to build on. A lot of what Thomas has already done, strengthen them, and make sure that financially we’re on solid ground going forward, so we can follow through on a lot of the promises that we’ve been making for the past 10 years.
Joel, how do you define an “ideal” member of The Guild beyond paying dues? What is your call to action for GMS members?
Joel C. High: What I want, and what I’ve been hearing more from, is more people in the general membership who want to be engaged, who have some great ideas. I want to empower them to be able to follow through on it, and a lot of it involves, again, strengthening the ability for committees to act with board guidance and board support, and find ways of empowering the general membership.
“What I want, and what I’ve been hearing more from, is more people in the general membership who want to be engaged, who have some great ideas.”
– Joel C. High
So somebody can come in and say, “Look, what’s really important to me is talking about how do we make this a career where we have a fair pay, but also something where it’s not just a gig economy where we’re doing a gig, then moving onto the next?” There’s got to be some way this is a sustainable career where we are maybe getting some sort of healthcare benefits. Maybe we’re getting some sort of pension, something that we can put away for retirement someday. These are all really important things.
So, if membership has great ideas, I want to do everything I can to empower them to move that forward without being just a small group of people who are acting on it. I want to really have the membership be able to do that, empower them to move forward.
Thomas, do you have anything you want to add that?
Thomas Golubić: I think Joel said it really well. Ultimately it has been a very small group that has been doing a lot of the heavy lifting, and when I came in, I had a similar plan in wanting to engage more of the board, and I wanted to engage more of the membership.
I think that’s just part of any organization. You have to figure out how you can best motivate folks, how you can manage their efforts, and how you can do that well. I’m excited to see how Joel tackles that, and I certainly hope he has great success in that. If we can operate well, as a strong moving army, a lot can get done.
Joel C. High: This is something I really want to emphasize, too: It has been a core group who formed the board for years. People who are really at the top of the game in the craft, who come in to lend their expertise to help form The Guild.
We’ve had basically the same board for as long as we’ve had the board. But we’ve realized that we need to really open it up and expand people who have a say in this. So, in the Town Hall also, we made a big announcement that we were going to be having new board elections for the first time in a good long while. At this point we have seven seats that are going to be up for election, and some of the current board members are going to be retiring. So you will absolutely have several new board members who are going to be bringing fresh idea and energy onto the board to work with us as I start my term as president.
I’m encouraging people who have big ideas to sign up and register to run for the board and bring those ideas with them. In the past we’ve always tried to say, “This is a board made up of volunteers, people who understand the trade and really get it.” But we also want to have board members made up of really active people who have the big ideas. We really benefit from that.
Here’s the last topic I want to cover: how would you define the demographic that you feel should be members of the GMS right now, but haven’t joined yet? How can you reach those potentials and entice them to join?
Joel C. High: Thomas has really expanded the membership during his term and through his energy, and through things like the newsletter, which has been really well received, and people say they finally feel a connection to things that the board and The Guild is doing.
So let’s use those tools to do outreach to people who maybe had thought about joining, but hadn’t yet, people who didn’t know if the board or if The Guild was actually doing anything that would benefit them, to say, “This is more than just an organization that has amazing awards every year. This is an organization that has the education summit, that does these podcasts, that has events, that does outreach, that is working with the other Guilds and professional organizations to really improve the lot of music supervisors.” Hopefully this will encourage people who might not have registered before to say, “This is good. This is where I think I can put some energy in.”
And also because of the way it’s expanding, I’ve made a personal outreach to a lot of the video game people who generally would be corporate members because most of them work in-house. But a lot of them don’t take credit as music supervisors, whether it’s a corporate rule or that just a cultural thing. To get them to understand the job that they’re doing, while it might be different from a film or a television music supervisor, still is the job of a music supervisor, and they should proudly claim that title. So it’s about reaching out to places that are underserved, and also places that may not realize that what they’re doing actually has a long history and getting them to be a part of it.
Thomas Golubić: Joel’s vice president is Madonna Wade Reed, and she’s been really key to our efforts in doing outreach to different communities that hadn’t been approached previously. We have Ed Gerard, a board member who’s based in New York. He’s been actively reaching out to many people, as Joel mentioned, who are in-house, especially in the ad agencies and similar areas, often doing the job of a music supervisor, even though they haven’t credited themselves as such, and essentially opening the doors to them and saying, “You’re part of our community. We want to know what you think. We want to help you with the problems that you have. We want to offer you educational opportunities, and also opportunities to celebrate the excellent work that you’ve done.”
“I think that utilizing both Joel’s and Madonna’s outreach, and engaging this fresh new board as it comes in, and directing them to connect to the communities who have been missed or have not been active and offer motivation to become a part of it – that will be part of that activation that Joel’s looking for.”
– Thomas Golubic
I think that utilizing both Joel’s and Madonna’s outreach, and engaging this fresh new board as it comes in, and directing them to connect to the communities who have been missed or have not been active and offer motivation to become a part of it – that will be part of that activation that Joel’s looking for. There’s a lot of exciting things coming up, and I think this is the right team to make that happen.
Find out more about the Guild of Music Supervisors here.
Cover photo credit: Andie Mills