How could I start choosing the music for movies?
January 31, 2006 7:07 AM   Subscribe

What goes into getting a job as a soundtrack advisor / consultant for film?

I'm aware of what's involved (per IMDB, "a person who researches, obtains rights to, and supplies songs for a production") and find that job description incredibly fascinating (not that I plan to jump ship from my current job which I like very, very much). But what's involved in actually breaking into a position like that?

How does one get a job like this? Is this a position where you start out somewhere else in the film industry - or as a suit in the music business? What credentials are required? Would I have to locate some bootleg pre-sound workprint of a film, edit it myself, send it in as a 'demo tape?' (and if so, to whom?) Last but not least, do you HAVE to live in L.A.?

(FWIW, I am not interested in score work, I know I am not qualified to do that. I at least have some of what I assume would be credentials for this position - including but not limited to production, broadcast, featured reviews for a well-known website - pretty much every stage without working FOR a record company)

I'm well aware of the dramatic marriage between music and film, and it excites me. Song selection can enhance or utterly destroy a scene, introducing subtextual elements that the script and dialogue together cannot. What would "Easy Rider" be without "Born To Be Wild?" What would "Donnie Darko" be without Gary Jules' cover of "Mad World?" Hell, what would any Cameron Crowe film be without ... typical ... Cameron Crowe ... music?

Do tell.
posted by kuperman to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Ten years ago now I worked as a production assistant for a small radio station in Woodstock, NY called WDST. I started as an intern and one of my bosses was an Australian DJ named Nic Harcourt. You may know Nic Harcourt now as the host of Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW in Santa Monica, CA. You may also know him as the Music Supervisor for the movie "About a Boy" and the new CBS show "Love Monkey" as well as several other film/tv works. From my observations of Nic and from sort of peripherally watching his career now and then I would deduce the following as means of going about getting into this kind of career:

1) Always be networking.

2) You need to develop a reputation for taste and integrity and for being ahead of the curve and you need people to think of your name when they want to know what's good in music (regardless of what you think of Nic and Morning Becomes Eclectic, this is the reputation he's built for himself).

3) You need exposure to the types of people that make these hiring decisions. I don't think you need to work in the film industry, but you need to work in some kind of field that either gets your name in front of these people or allows you to develop a relationship with them. DJ-ing, working at a record label, working at an Ad Agency in a creative role. Anything that would allow you access to showcase your talents.

4) Always be developing your ear for the next trend.

5) I think the only practical, traditional path into this would be as an Art Director or Creative Dirctor at an Ad Agency in which you are responsible for the overall look,feel and sound of an ad or other promotional film/video. Perhaps going the ad route with the goal of transitioning to music consultant while keeping the other 4 things I've mentioned in mind would be your best route.

This could be better written but I have to go to a meeting and I think you get the general idea.
posted by spicynuts at 7:53 AM on January 31, 2006

OH...also, you could go round to any local film school and find any students that would like you to serve this role for their projects. Then see my rules number 1, 2 and 4 above: maintain and nurture all those relationships. You never know who will be the next Spielberg. And at least you may get exposure to the school's equipment through these students. Which would be cool in its own right.
posted by spicynuts at 7:56 AM on January 31, 2006

The title you should use for searching is "Music Supervisor".

Here's a brief interview with the one from The O.C.

I started as a promoter when I was in college [at the University of Illinois], and worked for my university board, bringing acts to the university. [During] my senior year, I had my own small business where I was a promoter, bringing shows to small clubs. Following that, I came out to work in LA in the mailroom - - the fabled mailroom - - at one of the big talent agencies. I lasted about six months until they got tired of me, and then I went to work for BMI in the film and television department. That's where I learned about music supervision. I was intrigued by the idea of bridging the two industries, and also being able to work with all kinds of music, not just current releases. In 1998, I started my own business, The Chop Shop.
posted by FreezBoy at 8:18 AM on January 31, 2006

You're never going to "break into" a position like this from the outside. Not. Gonna. Happen. You'll have to develop a track record and a network, as outlined with the examples above. My advice -- don't think about hitting a home run. Think about the steppingstones you'll need to hit on the way there. The advertising route, above, is an excellent idea. Working as a production assistant in film/television is the common path. I also recommend you look into video game audio development -- it's a big industry hurting for smart people of all kinds, and it's a relatively easy means of developing the kinds of technical skills that might come in handy.
posted by frogan at 8:48 AM on January 31, 2006

Alex (the OC music super) is basically the best in the business right now. Too bad you didn't post this a couple months earlier -- her assistant quit back in December and she was looking for someone new. Right now, that's really your best way in -- assist a music super currently working. The ones I know take care of their own and hand off smaller gigs when their plate is too full, allowing you to segueway into the job yourself. Thing is, there really aren't that many music supervision jobs (as you can see, one person can handle more than a few gigs at once, but the good part is that the 'it' person in music supervision changes rather quickly).

All that stuff Spicynuts writes about looking for new music or getting exposure to those who hire isn't half as important as two things: know your shit and know the right people. However you want to accomplish this, doesn't matter. Nic Harcourt gets all those music super jobs because he's a tastemaking DJ in LA (who I think is absolute trash anyway, not to derail with a Harcourt screed). That's a great way in -- start DJing and break some bands who go big and make Hollywood think you know who the next big thing is. The aforementioned assistant route is good too (as long as you're with the right person). Getting a job in the music business is a good route, but only if you're working in the film/TV licensing division. I don't really know why Spicy's suggesting working at an ad agency, except that some ads use contemporary music, but (for instance) I doubt the guy who decided Nick Drake is the perfect guy to sell Volkswagons went on to do the music supervision for "Veronica Mars." Oh yeah, and then there's knowing someone who's directing a feature and convincing them that you can do it for cheap, although if you just jump right into it without knowing a lot of people, I'd think your second job would be just as difficult as your first.

The key here is building critical mass. Making a 'demo tape' such as you call it would be absolutely useless. Besides, as music super, you'd suggest a bunch of songs for each scene to the director/editor/producer, who would then put them in the scenes themselves. So actually, if you're interested in marrying music to film, maybe what you really want to be is an editor. Go to film school (or editor's school -- there is such a thing) for that one.

Should you move out here? C'mon, let's get real. If you want a job with Microsoft, are you going to move to Redmond? Yes. If you want a job on Wall Street, are you going to move to Wall Street? Yes. If you want a job in Hollywood...
posted by incessant at 8:52 AM on January 31, 2006

I know two music supervisors both of whom are former record company people. To be honest, neither person seemed particularly skilled in music supervision or even interested in film when I knew them so I think it was mostly a matter of them meeting the right person and falling into the opportunity.

Both were outgoing and knew a lot of people in the music industry which I'm sure helped. As Spicynuts says, networking is key.
posted by gfrobe at 9:02 AM on January 31, 2006

I'd second spicynut's idea of getting into student/low budget films as well. It's a great (lower risk) way to find out about the realities of the job at hand and it's good for the CV. And, if you're lucky, one of these films could do extremely well and get your name recognised or at least add more weight to your CV.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:20 AM on January 31, 2006

All that stuff Spicynuts writes about looking for new music or getting exposure to those who hire isn't half as important as two things: know your shit and know the right people.

Which is precisely what I said: Always be networking and always be ahead of the curve. I suggested working at an ad agency because creatives or production people there often transition into film or tv production roles: Michael Bey, etc. Also, I mentioned that because when I lived in LA I dated a girl who was the office manager for a studio that produced and recorded soundtrack music for both ads and films/tv so I figure there's some crossover.
posted by spicynuts at 9:34 AM on January 31, 2006

Great book available on Amazon-

"Music Supervision: The Complete Guide to Selecting Music for Movies, TV, Games and New Media"

new, comprehensive, and definitely worth picking up immediately.
posted by BillBishop at 10:21 AM on January 31, 2006

I knew somebody who was interested in becoming a music supervisor, and she dropped polite and friendly letters to a bunch of music supervisors who had done movies who music she admired, asking if they'd be willing to meet up with her and give her advice on breaking into the field. About half of them said "Yes" and gave her from 15 minutes to a few hours of chatting and advice. I got the impression that music supervisors don't often get this sort of request, and they're more willing to say "yes" to somebody would be who is constantly hounded with fan mail.

Of course, this kind of requires that you live in LA, since that's where most of them are.
posted by yankeefog at 1:18 AM on February 3, 2006

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