The Directory of Music Supervisors: Only Part of the Success Formula

A list of music supervisors might look like the Holy Grail to the uninitiated. But having a music supervisor directory is only part of the puzzle when trying to pitch your music for film and TV. Knowing what the people on that list are currently working on, and what kind of music they’re looking for at the moment is the true key to success..

Music supervisors aren’t just looking for good music, they’re looking for great music that fills a need. And more often than not, what they need is music that supports the central emotion of the scene. They also need the music to enhance that emotion without getting in the way of the story the script and dialog are telling.

What Music Supervisors Are Not Looking For…

In other words, they generally don’t want a song that tells a story of its own. More than likely, that would conflict with the story already being told. Obviously, instrumental music doesn’t have the issue of conflicting lyrics, but the mood, texture, or overall vibe of just the track could also conflict with the mood.

Imagine a scene showing family and friends mourning at a grave site with a happy, uptempo track playing in the background. Incongruous, unexpected, and probably un-cool!

A music supervisor might also be looking for music that puts the viewer in a physical place or location like an elegant restaurant or a redneck bar. Can you imagine that redneck bar scene with classical music coming from the jukebox? How about the elegant restaurant scene with death metal blaring in the background?

A Music Supervisor List Isn’t Much Help On Its Own

So having a list of TV music supervisors or a directory of the top music supervisors in Hollywood in your hot little hands won’t help you much if you don’t know what they need! How do you find out? Do your homework. Watch TV! Make a list of songs or types of instrumental tracks that particular music supervisor uses on that specific show.

Get Inside the Music Supervisor’s Head

Most shows that use a lot of music have what I would call a musical signature or “sound.” Some of that signature sound is determined by the time period the show takes place in. For instance, Mad Men is going to need a completely different type of music than a show like NCIS. One takes place in the 1960s, and the other is current.

Mad Men sometimes uses 60s-sounding songs to act more like what a score would normally do, while NCIS is more likely to use source music—meaning that it comes from a source like a car radio in a scene where a character is driving somewhere.

Beyond how the time period or types of scenes can dictate the music used, many music supervisors like to be on the cutting edge of cool. They want to be known for using music that’s fresh and new. They want to impress the producers they work with by staying ahead of the curve.

That can be critically important, especially when licensing music for a film. The film might not be released for several months, maybe even a year ahead of when the music is selected and mixed into the movie. If they load the film up with music that was on the charts six months prior to completion, then it could easily be out of fashion when the film is finally viewed by the public.

Music Libraries. Friend or Foe?

While music libraries are arguably being used less these days by music supervisors, I don’t think they’ll ever go completely away. They serve a purpose—providing pre-cleared music at a reasonable price. And many of today’s libraries include songs with lyrics, not just the canned instrumental music found in the libraries of yore.

As a parting thought, you might find it more productive to get your music placed in libraries or repped by a film/TV music agent rather than buying a directory of music supervisors, doing all the research yourself, and trying to contact them on a one-to-one basis to pitch your music. You might be smart to give up a piece of the income in exchange for increasing your odds of success and doing much less of the leg work.

After all 50% of something is always worth more than 100% of nothing!

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