Last month we held a webinar with music supervisor and founder of Creative Control Entertainment Joel C. High (Monster’s Ball, Crash, Weeds, Saw). In this post we look at his advice for aspiring music supervisors.
You need much more than great taste in music
“A lot of people don’t appreciate what we do; they think that it’s just about picking cool songs but there’s a lot more that goes into it. The responsibilities aren’t just being creative of what you see and hear, it’s also hiring the right people, it’s about setting budgets, it’s about making sure that the business affairs side is all taken care of and that negotiations are done properly.
So when I see that somebody is calling themselves a music supervisor I should know that they are able to set a budget for a film’s music department, do a composer deal, negotiate the sync and master use license rights and fees, book a studio day, book an orchestra, handle side-lining musicians for on-camera work, and all the other things that go into it. These are the skills that are necessary to be a full-fledged music supervisor.
A lot of it is also about personality. When you’re an independent music supervisor the product that you’re selling is yourself so you’d better have good relationships and people who want to continue to hire you.”
It’s all about diversifying your income streams
“People getting into music supervision have to work in many different mediums. It’s not the case that you’re going to get paid $175,000 just to be a music supervisor on a big movie. Instead there are lots of people who are picking up a bunch of reality shows to find cool music, doing a documentary, working with an indie film, doing all that stuff and having to get the skills to work in each of the different mediums, and be able to figure out the new landscape.”
Be upfront and trustworthy
“My philosophy has always been that I want to be totally upfront and frank with everybody I do a deal with. I never want anybody to do a deal that they later regret so even with tiny budgets I say, “look, I have no money, I’m trying to pay everyone basically the same fee so you’re not getting screwed when everybody else is getting rich, and if you don’t want to do the deal please do not do the deal.” If you’re feeling bad about it don’t do it.
But also when you’re working on negotiations you need to have people that you can negotiate with who trust what you’re saying and know that you’re not going to screw them over. You’re not going to go around people’s back unnecessarily because people remember and the negotiation won’t go so well the second time.”
“Most music supervisor’s work is in post-production and most (US) shows will be posting in Los Angeles. So you can be anywhere but it’s difficult if they need you immediately to go and do a spotting session or to be there for a recording session. A lot of times what it takes is to go and meet on a film so being in LA is pretty key. I work on movies all over the world and when I’m out in Atlanta, for example, and I’ve got a show that’s working in Los Angeles, I can get online and do a lot of the work, but that’s because I’ve been doing it long enough so they’ll give me some latitude to be elsewhere. But for the most part LA is where things post, so that’s kind of key.”
A degree alone isn’t enough
“A music business degree path is great – it’ll give you the basics but the best thing you can get out of that is their internship program. Intern as much as possible, get any job when you’re out even if it’s a job in a sync department at a label or something and you’re not actually being a music supervisor. What you will be doing is meeting all of the music supervisors and learning the skills and connecting with people, and everybody meets through odd jobs in this industry. You learn under people because there’s stuff that is not in books and you don’t get it in class for sure.”
Learn more about the Guild of Music Supervisors
“Back in 2010 myself and a group of other music supervisors who’d been doing it for a while decided that we needed to get together. There was a lot more activity with people going to music business school with the ambition of becoming a music supervisor, and there was a lot more need for music supervisors out there. And so what we saw was a real need to set up a system of almost credentialing – making sure that when somebody says they are a music supervisor they have the skill sets to earn it.
The Guild of Music Supervisors is actually going to be hosting an education forum in September in Los Angeles. It’s going to involve very high level, technical kinds of conversations around topics such as how to run a business as an independent supervisor, and how to negotiate a deal. We’re also going to be putting out a unified metadata format so it’s going to be a lot easier when someone asks, “how do you use metadata?” The Guild are going to publish the golden rules for metadata use.”
We’d like to say a huge thanks to Joel for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to us. To hear a full recording of the webinar head to our SynchStories Podcast.
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