“What are music supervisors looking for?” asked the audience member during a panel at the most recent TAXI Road Rally convention. Rookie question? Maybe. But everybody in the ballroom wanted to know the answer!
Music supervisors are looking for whatever music works best with a particular scene. Music supervisors are NOT looking for music that is simply great! And that’s probably the biggest misconception among musicians.
The right music is better than great music. Music that’s both right and great is what music supervisors are really looking for! Music that gets licensed for film, TV, and commercials always fills a need.
Music That Makes Viewers Feel…
Plugging music into a TV commercial about a new anti-depressant? You’d most likely need a somewhat stripped down mid-to-uptempo, singer/songwriter style song with a lyrical theme about, “It’s a great new day,” or “The sun is shining, I feel good,” or “I’m living and loving my life.” You want prospective buyers to feel what the product is going to do for them.
In this example, the ad agency wants viewers to feel good about life instead of being depressed. The music and the lyric need to add up to making the viewer feel good!
Even if you had the greatest Heavy Metal song ever written, it probably wouldn’t be right for that TV spot. The same is true for scenes in feature films and TV shows. Music supervisors are looking for songs or instrumentals that enhance the emotion they want you to feel when you watch that scene.
Other considerations can include the time period of the film or TV show. The hit series, Mad Men exclusively features music from the 1960s to help authenticate the time period and make viewers feel like they’re in that era, along with the characters.
Music Has a Job To Do!
Music can help finish a thought or complete a story line. Ever notice the music that plays along with those montage scenes at the end of a lot of TV shows? The lyric often completes the thought or tells the rest of the story. A lyric that says, “I’m broken hearted and moving on” could work well for a scene with no dialog, that shows a character sitting in a candle lit room, all alone, trying to figure out what to do with her life after her boyfriend dumper her.
Conversely, oftentimes the music supervisor is looking for music that’s not too “on the nose.” They don’t think it’s “cool” to use a song that matches the scene or story line too closely. Most music supervisors wouldn’t be looking for a song with that same, “I’m broken hearted and moving on” lyric, for a scene in which the character just said, “I’m broken hearted. I just need to move on.”
As a friend of mine who is an interior designer would say, “That’s too matchy-matchy!” We already knew what the character was doing because of the dialog, so what was needed lyrically was something that supported the underlying emotion.
What Is That Emotion?
Well, it could be sadness. It could be relief that she’s figured out that it’s time to move on. A lyric that says, “Sadness can’t stop the world from spinning,” could work for that scene. So could, “The time has come, the weight’s been lifted.” Both support the emotion, but they aren’t too “on the nose.”
What Music Supervisors Are Looking For, Made Easy!
Everything you need is right in front of your face. It’s called your TV! Watch any show, and take notes as to what kind of music is used. Ignore the score. Pay attention to source music, like what might come from a jukebox or a car radio. Pay even closer attention to featured uses that have no dialog over them.
There are also several sites on the Internet where you can search for the music used on episodes of your favorite shows. Get to know each show’s musical signature, and you’ll start to see patterns emerge. And while you’ll never be able to predict exactly what music supervisors are looking for in specific scenes, you will get to know the genres, tempos, and lyric themes often used.
Another quick and easy way to see what supervisors are currently looking for is to scour TAXI’s Industry Listings. Looking at the Industry Listings is a great way to grab a consolidated look at current and immediate needs from some of Hollywood’s top music supervisors.
You can also sign up here to get fresh, daily updates when Music Supervisors need something in a hurry!