PUTTING THE ‘SUPER’ IN MUSIC SUPERVISION
It’s one of the most important and least understood roles in film and TV music
While music supervisors have gotten a lot more respect and attention in recent years, they’re also finding the field increasingly crowded with charlatans. In fact, says veteran supe PJ Bloom, the job title has gone “from a respected sector of the entertainment industry populated by a small group of seasoned professionals, with an expert knowledge of both music and production, to simply an awards category available to anyone who claims the title.”
He’s referring to both the Emmys, which added a music supervision category last year, and the Grammys, whose award for score soundtrack for visual media now recognizes the music supervisor as part of the winning team.
But with all of that in mind, what does a bonafide music supervisor do? Jonathan Mchugh, a veteran director, producer and supe who serves as secretary of the Guild of Music Supervisors, defines the person as someone who “works with the directors, producers, talent agencies and TV studios to find the right music for a project, as well as making sure the score composers are on the right track. We also deal with the nuances of the individual clearances, coordinating all the different parties.” But, he adds, there are “all these people working at music libraries pitching songs who call themselves music supervisors. It’s misleading. They’re taking the credit, but not doing the work.”
This topic along with such issues as pay scales, health insurance and credits will be discussed at the inaugural Variety Music for Screens summit’s Synch or Swim — Music Supervisors in the Digital Age panel, which features Bloom (who is Warner Bros. Records senior VP of film & television music and soundtracks), Alexandra Patsavas (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Riverdale”), Morgan Rhodes (“Dear White People,” “Queen Sugar”), Maggie Phillips (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Juliet, Naked”), Thomas Golubić (“The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad”) and Season Kent (“13 Reasons Why”).
Along with nearly every other music industry job, the role of music supervisors has changed over the past two decades. With the decline in CD sales has
We want to push the craft forward, let people know what we do and how important it is.”
come a drop in the popularity of soundtrack compilation albums, which used to be hit- generating cash cows but have fallen from ubiquity in recent years (although this year has seen an unexpected resurgence with “The Greatest Showman” and “Black Panther,” in particular). Thus, music supervisors have had to be more creative in making do with less.
Howard Paar, who served as music supervisor on current Oscar hopefuls including Tamara Jenkins’ “Private Life” and Marielle Heller’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” says the demise of catalog soundtracks has enabled supervisors to pivot into using more original music, as he did on “How to Be a Latin Lover,” creating songs from L.A. alt-indie band Jungle Love and composer Craig Wedren.
“We didn’t have a large budget, but the soundtrack album ended up really connecting,” says Paar. “It reminded me of how much fun this job can be.”
“The true value in today’s market is in exclusive content that can only be found on the soundtrack release itself,” Bloom says. “If a music supervisor is involved in its creation, they can share in the fruits of that soundtrack’s success.”
The way streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are making all the episodes of their series available at once also impacts music supervisors’ jobs, enabling them to bypass the need to create for a single pilot.
“That’s a dreadful experience for music supervisors,” Bloom says. “The streaming services have created an environment where supes can work more consistently on higher- quality episodic content.”
Still, supervisors are playing the same marketing and promotion game as most music executives. “If two artists being considered are otherwise equal, but one has a much larger social media following, that becomes a determining factor in placement,” says Mchugh.
“I’m bullish on music supervision,” he says. “We want to push the craft forward, let people know what we do and how important it is. I mean, set dressers get more love than we do.”
Quick to contradict that statement is Randy Frisch, head of the indie publisher Lovecat Music, who says supes “are comparable to the great major label A&R executives of 20 years ago. It’s a golden era for them with a promising future.”
Music-driven pic “Juliet, Naked” enlisted Maggie Phillips as music supervisor; she’s also a panelist at the Music for Screens Summit.