Music is an extremely crucial aspect in media. Whether it be for TV series, films, theatre plays, commercials, news, or even video games, its presence plays a significant role as it essentially creates—as well as amplifies—the mood and scene of a specific scene or situation.
However, placing the right music and song is not straightforward. It takes a specific skill to figure out the right music to use. Administrative works such as licensing as well as overseeing all the legal aspects such as the song or music score’s copyright.
Thus, the importance of a music supervisor.
What Is a Music Supervisor?
A music supervisor, as its name suggests, is a person who manages and oversees everything music-related in a media production. These include “film, television, advertising, video games, and other existing and emerging visual media platforms as required,” per The Guild of Music Supervisors.
The job involves a wide array of tasks—which I will explain further in the next sections—as well. From listening to songs and music scores, proposing, selecting, to licensing and obtaining music clearances, all these are handled by a music supervisor.
When it comes to employment status, however, the job can be done in two ways: by freelancing and by regular employment.
But usually, music supervisors are freelancers and work on a per project basis. Although some are employed and work regularly too. And these folks often work directly with a production company or an agency that handles a team of music supervisors.
But whatever the status of their employment is, all music supervisors work for clients often called Showrunners, which consists of directors, film producers, and TV creators.
Moreover, while the demand for music supervisors in media production has risen since the 1980s, the job of overseeing everything music-related in media production is relatively new. So, to promote it, the Guild of Music Supervisor was established to further spread awareness about the importance of music supervisors in films.
What Does a Music Supervisor Do?
As mentioned, a music supervisor’s role covers not only two but several important tasks. So, to give an idea, below are a few of the most important things you need to do to fulfil the job.
- Meeting with directors and producers. As a music supervisor, the first task you must do is to meet the director and producer and, naturally, discuss what the project is about. The supervisor will then recommend different genres or styles of songs and pieces.
- Spotting the visual media. Part of the discussion is the spotting of the visual media. In this process, the supervisor will assess which scenes or situations must have background music. And oftentimes, these parts are the opening and closing remarks, as well as credits. Some instances may need an original score as well.
- Selects, negotiates, and licenses music. Among all tasks, a music supervisor’s top priority is to select songs and secure all legal aspects such as music licenses and clearances. Having said that, selecting songs or music scores can be done in two ways. The first is by licensing an existing song or piece, and the second is by a new song or score.When licensing existing songs or scores, the music supervisor usually seeks help from either a music publisher or a third-party licensing company. Both will then pitch a song or a piece, and let the supervisor choose a suitable material.When creating new music, on the other hand, music supervisors often ask for help from composers and songwriters. Such a task essentially gives them the power to bring additional roles and work to the production team, including the facilitation of the recording and production process and completing the post-theatrical uses of the tracks.
- Handling all legal aspects of the music. After the selection and licensing, the music supervisor must manage and secure all legal aspects of securing the songs’ rights. As such, a music supervisor must have (at least) have an idea about how music publishing operates, the process of music licensing, as well as sync rights.
- Administers payments and ensures royalties are properly distributed. Lastly, music supervisors are responsible for managing payments and royalties too. Royalty collections involve the arrangements of the artist’s revenue and are paid by Performance Rights Organizations such as the BMI, SESAC, and the ASCAP.
Music Supervisor as a Career
Now that you have an idea of what a music supervisor is and the responsibilities it entails, let’s talk about it as a potential career. And see if it is right for you.
Income-wise, a music supervisor’s average annual pay differs from one person to another. A number of factors will influence it as well, including the person’s overall skill and experience, as well as connections.
But on a large scale, a music supervisor’s income will depend on his employment status. A freelance music supervisor working with small and major studios, for example, earns as much as $250, 000 a year. Someone who is only starting and is working as an employee, on the other hand, earns as much as $35,000 a year.
Music supervisors are entitled to receive payments through the song or score’s royalties, whether they are working as a freelancer or as salaried employee. This, however, may change depending on the agreed conditions of both parties.
Education and Training
When it comes to education and training, there is no specific degree or program required to qualify as a music supervisor. In fact, whether you have higher education or none, you can still apply and work for the said job.
However, that does not necessarily mean you don’t need any education at all! You would still need to, at least, get training relevant to what a music supervisor does.
For instance, opt for a college program that has a course that is related to, say, music or film industries as these types of programs will give on-the-ground experience. Learning music is crucial as well! Berklee College of Music, for example, offers a professional certificate for music supervision online. It comprises five courses (a total of 15 credits) and is open to anyone.
All in all, the idea is to take an education and train yourself with skills that are relevant and handy for the job.
Qualities of a Music Supervisor
Having said that, what are the qualities a person needs to meet to qualify as a music supervisor?
- Comprehensive knowledge about music
- Comprehensive knowledge about film
- Knows about music licensing laws and processes
- Communication skill
The role a music supervisor plays in a production team is indeed extremely important. Not only because music could set and amplify the mood of a scene but is also because placing the “appropriate” song or piece evokes the right emotion the situation is giving. Overall, having a music supervisor managing everything music-related is better than none.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.