What is a Music Supervisor?:
Music supervisors place music in other media: movies, TV shows, video games and advertising. They work with both the studios and the musicians/musician representatives to first select appropriate music and then secure the licenses for that music to be used. The nature of the work can make music supervisor jobs high stress at times. Pay is commiserate with the budget of the project the music is being placed in.
Music Supervisor Job Basics:
To understand a music supervisor's job, let's consider a music supervisor working on a film. They will meet with the film production team to find out what kind of music they need. The producers may have specific tracks in mind or they may just have a general idea of what they want. The supervisor then finds songs they think will work and begin the negotiation process for licensing the music. There may be several licenses per song, and the final approval cannot come until filming is complete. Music supervisors often have a very small window of time to wrap up the licensing in time for the film release date.
How Are Music Supervisors Paid?:
Music supervisors get a flat fee for their work on a project. These fees can run the gamut and are very much tied to the budget of the project. Most TV music supervisors get paid a few thousand per episode while the most sought after big budget film supervisors may be paid upwards of $200,000. Music supervisors may also be able to negotiate for a royalty on the soundtrack and a bonus if a film surpasses a pre-determined earnings threshold.
How Do I Become a Music Supervisor?:
Like most music careers, there isn't a clear path towards becoming a music supervisor. You will need both a deep knowledge of music and of music licensing rules, so to that end, music business classes can help. Experience counts a great deal. An internship will help you learn the ropes and make connections to get your own paying work. As you are trying to establish yourself, don't be afraid to take low/no paying jobs to build up your portfolio of work. You will need this experience and these contacts to step up to bigger things. Many music supervisors work freelance, so you will need to create your own opportunities.
The Hardest Part of The Job:
Music supervisors are caught in the middle of some very tough negotiations. Even films with budgets of tens of millions of dollars tend to earmark only a small amount of money for clearing the music. The musicians/rights holders usually believe that studios can pay a lot more than they really can for music, so they tend to set their prices high. In the middle is the music supervisor, who has to find a plan both sides can live with.
If that isn't a tough enough position to be in, these negotiations cannot really be concluded until the film has wrapped. Further, each piece of music can require multiple licenses. Because of film release dates, the turnaround time this work must be completed in can be extremely tight. The turnaround for TV can be even faster.
This part of the job is not for the faint of heart, but this is also the part of the job where you will earn your stripes. Pull off a few of these projects under a tight deadline successfully, and the job can be extremely lucrative.
Learn more about other music careers in Music Careers 101.