Super-Secret Pro Tips for Approaching Any Music Supervisor

Music supervisors discuss the trade at Musexpo on Sunday. (l-r moderator Ritch Esra, Music Business Registry; Amanda Krieg Thomas (Neophonic); Alicen Schneider (NBCUniversal Television); Alex Hackford (Sony Interactive Entertainment America).
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Music supervisors discuss the trade at Musexpo on Sunday. (l-r moderator Ritch Esra, Music Business Registry; Amanda Krieg Thomas (Neophonic); Alicen Schneider (NBCUniversal Television); Alex Hackford (Sony Interactive Entertainment America).
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Music supervisors talk shop at Musexpo in LA on Sunday. (l-r moderator Ritch Esra, Music Business Registry; Amanda Krieg Thomas (Neophonic); Alicen Schneider (NBCUniversal Television); Alex Hackford (Sony Interactive Entertainment America).

Music supervisors are really, really, really busy.  Don’t take it personally.  But here are some tricks to approaching them and scoring a huge placement.

Let’s start this article out with a definition of what a music supervisor is — and isn’t.  Essentially, the term ‘music supervisor’ applies to anyone overseeing the musical direction of an audiovisual production.  That includes TV shows, movies, games, ads, and everything in-between.

You need them to like your music, so they put it into one of their shows that they oversee.  Once that happens, you will usually see some upside, not to mention some money.  And if this is a huge production that takes off — for example, the intro music to a just-launched show called Friends — then you might be set for life.

They pick the songs, and help match the musical motif to whatever the main producers are trying to accomplish.  So they’re important.

But they’re not the only people that can do this.  We’d highly recommend you check out synch licensing platforms like Songtradr, which music supervisors — and many others — use to source music.  In fact, this is probably where this entire space is moving eventually.  But regardless of how a piece of music is sourced, there’s always a human involved at some point.  That’s especially true for bigger shows, games, and film productions.

All of this falls under ‘synch’ licensing, short for synchronization.

Basically, this applies to anything that matches music with action, and where music supervisors are called into action.  Technically, this is a separate copyright license that involves separate, deal-by-deal pricing and negotiations.  There’s no statutory rate.

So, try to get the best deal you can for the use of your music — without scaring anyone away.

Music supervisors sometimes get bad reputations, simply because they’re rejecting about 99.9% of all the pitches they get.

It’s just the nature of the beast.

Now, there are actually some music supervisors who are actual assholes.  Sometimes this is the result of them getting constantly hounded by people.  Maybe that burns them out, creates a God complex, or both.  But most of the time, they’re just people that love music and enjoy the very creative challenge of their jobs.

On Sunday, three seriously influential music supervisors got together at Musexpo in LA.  These guys definitely weren’t assholes.  But they were very, very busy.

Alicen Schneider of NBCUniversal Television sometimes manages more than a dozen shows — all at the same time.  And they all seem to pile up at the same moment.  Every single show is different: some absolutely revolve around music, some not so much.

Amanda Krieg Thomas, the music supervisor at Neophonic, seemed similarly avalanched by projects and submissions.  Actually, Thomas says she rarely has any time to listen to music she likes anymore.  She’s constantly under the gun to find a piece of music that fits a specific show or scene — that was due yesterday.

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That’s why you probably won’t get an email back from Thomas unless she needs to use your music.  So, if you’re managing a catalog of 50s vintage Cuban recordings, and she’s working on a film about that time period — bingo!  Otherwise, she’s going to save your music for later.

And not email you back.

So here’s the thing: Thomas might need that 50s vintage Cuban music a year from now.  She’ll put it in a folder for later.  Then she’ll email you to talk.  Which brings us to pro-tip #1…

1. Don’t send links that expire!

Expired links means she can’t listen to your music in a year from now.  When she has two days to come up with a perfect, vintage catalog of 50s Cuban music.  Alex Hackford, a top music supervisor at Sony Interactive Entertainment America who was also on the panel, agreed.  As did Schneider.

And this brings up the second pro-tip:

2. Don’t send MP3 downloads.

Make it easy.  Just send a link to a stream that works.  Keep it simple.

3. Don’t be general.  Be specific about what you have.

Also, the key to making a match is to be very, very specific about what you have to offer.  “Don’t say you have everything,” Thomas implored.  You’re either going to pin the tail on the donkey, or get considered later (with your active, working link).  Or, just get rejected (it happens).

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4. Size doesn’t matter.

Also, it doesn’t matter if you’re famous, not famous, big in Japan, whatever.  They really don’t care.  In fact, if you’re a bigger name, there’s a chance that your licensing will be more complicated.

What matters is that there’s a fit — a really good fit.  And that they can license you easily and quickly.

5. Be on Spotify.

I haven’t been to a synch/music supervisor panel in a long time.  This time around, they’re all using Spotify — constantly.  Alicen Schneider said she’s constantly sending playlists and ideas back and forth with producers, other supervisors, etc.  It ends up being a huge time-saver.

Thomas said she’s actually diving into Spotify playlists and recommended artists for ideas, especially when she’s supervising productions set in some historic period or place.

So, just upload onto Spotify with really good metadata.  It could spark something amazing.

6. Declare your clearances.

One of the biggest headaches for every supervisor is getting stuff cleared.  In a worst case, an unexpected clearance headache can get a supervisor fired.  So, tell a music supervisor exactly what you own.  If you wrote and control everything, your music is a ‘controlled composition,’ which is excellent.

But, if you’re copyright situation is complicated, just state that up front.

7. Simplify your catalogs.

These people are overwhelmed with submissions.  Just to give you a sense: Schneider even admitted that she needs time to not listen to music.  She’s that overloaded with music that she needs a break from the thing she loves the most.

Accordingly, don’t drop an entire catalog of 100 songs onto any supervisor.  Pick out ten songs that are highly representative of what you’re pitching.  If there’s interest, you can go further.

“I find that getting a full catalog is too much,” Hackford said.

8. Just be cool.

Actually, all three of these panelists got surrounded by a crowd after the panel finished.  And they’re completely approachable.  But don’t take advantage of that.  Just say hi, make it quick, tell them your specialty and hand them a card with your details.  Get on their radar.

9. Use platforms.

This one I already stated — and it’s like the anti-tip because it doesn’t involve directly approaching a music supervisor.  Basically, uploading onto synch platforms is a great way to obtain a synch license.  It adds an entirely new source of possible licensors, and greatly expands your possibilities.

It also saves a ton of time, which is always consumed in pitching.

For right now, most of the licensing for bigger shows requires direct work with a music supervisor.  So ideally, you’re working both fronts to secure licenses big and small.  And, making as much of a splash on platforms like Spotify has well.


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3 Responses

  1. Jane

    That’s a well written & an informative article. Thank you.