PUT­TING THE ‘SU­PER’ IN MU­SIC SU­PER­VI­SION

It’s one of the most im­por­tant and least un­der­stood roles in film and TV mu­sic

Variety - - Focus - By ROY TRAKIN

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.”

Jonathan Mchugh

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.”

Supe’s On

Mu­sic-driven pic “Juliet, Naked” en­listed Mag­gie Phillips as mu­sic su­per­vi­sor; she’s also a pan­elist at the Mu­sic for Screens Sum­mit.

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