Pitching Music for Film & TV: Tips from a Gatekeeper (Second Edition)

By Amanda DK

Recently a handful of independent managers, artists, songwriters (and friends) have reached out to me asking the same question in slightly different ways:

How do I get my music into television and films?

I hope those people don’t find it impersonal or rude that I’m answering them with a public article.  I’m writing this because I want to help…honestly, helping them is helping me.  It’s just that these sort of questions come up multiple times a week and I am always giving the same answer.

Just about a year ago I wrote an article on this subject for the Paper Crane Collective. Consider this the “second edition” of that piece. A year later, I’ve worked at two more companies, going from music for scripted television at a studio, to an unscripted television production company, and now work with an independent music supervisor on feature films. I have another year in the field, receiving pitch emails and cold calls from companies, producers, you name it. While most of what I said then still holds true now, I’ve incorporated a some feedback I received on the last article, as well as some additional thoughts from over the last year.

Disclaimer: While I have been doing this for a few years – I’ve only been doing this for a few years.  All music supervisors have their own way of collecting and organizing submissions, so in no way am I saying that these are the definitive rules.  There are none.  If there are, I don’t have them.  These are merely my humble observations from my own experiences and from what I’ve heard from others at panels or in conversation.  I invite any music supervisors who might read this to add their own opinions in the comments.

1. Make strategic connections.  If you are an independent artist, it will be more beneficial in the long run to try and gain representation by a pitching company rather than cold call a big studio or an independent supervisor.  Studios and other big companies get so many calls and emails everyday it’s way too easy to get lost in the shuffle, not to mention there are other political agendas and relationships at play as well.  And a lot of places flat out do not take any unsolicited material.  Not all of them of course, but your music is definitely more likely to be moved to the top of the bin if it comes from someone a supervisor already knows and likes.  Before reaching out to any supervisors, I recommend first targeting representation by pitching companies who have a strong catalog that your music would fit in well with, and more importantly – already have connections with all the people who are placing music.  There are big ones like Audio Network and Music Dealers, who have huge searchable databases, and more boutique companies like Position Music, Lip Sync Music, Ghost Town, and Secret Road Music Services.  And hundreds more all of which have their own specialties, set up and deal-making situation.  How to get representation by one of these companies (and deciding which company is right for you) is someone else’s article, so I won’t go into it.

2. Be educated about the business side.  I know it sounds painful.  But on the most basic level you have to understand that there are two sides to a song (master and publishing), what elements are in a license, that samples from other songs always need to be licensed, and so forth.  I recommend reading All You Need To Know About The Music Business by Donald Passman; the book is an overview of the whole industry written for artists and does a great job explaining some pretty complex concepts in an understandable way.

3. Know who owns your music, or at least who has the right to license it for film and TV.  If there are three writers, each with their own publishing entity, would a supervisor need to get permission from all three or is there a point person?  Who owns the master recording of a song – the producer, the artist or the label?  Generally if you have a label, the label owns it, but basically just make sure you have these conversations with your team. Don’t do any deals with pitching companies without talking to the other owners of the song, or even better – get everything in writing. The first rule in licensing music is never assume. In this scenario, never assume that just because you wrote a song with your best friend they’re cool with you pitching it all around town, and approving its use for little or no money, or for any kind of film.

4. Do your research.  If you do insist on cold calling a large company, make sure you know what projects they’re working on.  With this great invention of the Internet, you can find out almost everything about a production.  Take a moment and think, “does my music really fit into anything they’re working on?”  if the answer is yes, mention that.  If not, then be clear that you are aware it may not work right now, but you’d like to be considered for the future.  I don’t know any music supervisor who doesn’t appreciate when artists show they’ve put in a little effort.

Music supervisor Julia Michels on doing your research and attention to detail:

5. Be polite and professional.  If you’ve never met or built any rapport with someone, don’t be their best friend right away.  I’m not saying you have to call me “Ms. Krieg,” but I will seriously get emails from producers being like, “Hi.  I want to put music into your soundtracks.  Let me know what you’re working on.” Also, please save any emoticons for the second or third email into a conversation.

6. Say No to Social Media. I know, I know, I just posted a whole article extolling the virtues of Twitter. But Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn – I don’t recommend using any of these services for artists trying to connect with a music supervisor, especially Facebook and Twitter.  LinkedIn is technically a “business” networking site, so I’ll let that fly (if anyone feels differently please speak up), but I know many executives who try and keep Facebook only for social interactions. Definitely don’t friend anyone you haven’t already corresponded with via email, or have met face to face. And personally, I think tweeting a link at someone is kind of lazy (it shows you didn’t do your research). If I ask for artist or song ideas on Twitter or Facebook, that’s a different story, and it will likely never be for a music search at work.  When it comes to pitching music for licensing though, do a little bit of digging and you’ll probably find an email somewhere.  Yes, there are a few supervisors who do publicize music searches on Twitter and Facebook.  I understand both sides – why social media can be a useful tool, but also uncontrollable and unpredictable – however, since the majority of supervisors I know aren’t tweeting their needs, I would err on the side of caution and stay away from social sites.

7. Always include music to download.  Sure, the more information about a new band the better; a YouTube video or an article including a stream of your track on Stereogum is cool, maybe a couple press links too, but the bottom line is that we can’t send those to an editor to try to picture.  Try services like OneHub or Box.net which both give the option of streaming and downloading.  SoundCloud is also a good tool, but it can be a pain to download all the tracks individually. I used to download everything I was sent right away, but now I get so many submissions emails I can’t even read through them to find out what they’re each telling me to do (stream, download, check out a show) I just file them away until I can get to downloading them, maybe a month later.  So whatever service you choose to send your music – make sure those links don’t expire.

8. Have high quality versions, stems and lyrics for all of your tracks on the ready.  High (or “broadcast”) quality files can be WAV of AIF and are necessary for the final mix.  Music editors will also often request instrumental and “a cappella” (vocals only) versions of the track to cut the song better into the scene, but if you can provide other stems as well, even better.  And with regards to lyrics, it’s always great when we can find them easily online – at the very least though, have some a Word Doc or PDF that you can fire off right away when someone asks.

9. Metadata. Metadata. Medatata. This should go without saying but always, always, always make sure track titles, artist, and album (if applicable) details are embedded in any tracks sent.  It’s appalling how often people forget to do this. If pop in a CD or open a zip file I received a couple months ago, and see “Track 1,” “Track 2,” “Track 3”…I probably won’t take the time to chase down whoever sent it to me for the missing information.  Assuming of course, I know who it came from.  So equally if not more importantly – make sure contact information is embedded in the track information as well.  If I can’t figure out where it came from, I don’t know who to reach out to should I want to license it, and since music searches generally have a quick turnaround, I may move on to another track.

10. Less Is More. Especially when first introducing yourself to a studio or music supervisor.  As I mentioned, if you can research their current projects and gear to that – great.  Otherwise maybe go with a selection of tracks that best represents your catalog.  Either way, don’t ever send more than ten or fifteen songs unless specifically requested.  Any more than that can be daunting for the supervisor who already has a mountain of music to go through.

11. Don’t Follow Up. I’m not sure if I’ve made this clear yet, but MUSIC SUPERVISORS GET SENT A LOT OF MUSIC. Sometimes it takes us a really, really long time to get around to listening to all of it.  Weeks. Months. It all comes down to the projects we are working on.  If you happen to send hip hop while we’re in post on the twentieth Fast and Furious film, I’ll probably put my ears on that before some new punk pop or experimental folk.  It’s all a waiting game, and unfortunately, you have to be patient. Trust me, if you sent us something, and it works in a film – we will find you. If you must check in to see how we liked your EP, give it a month or so.  Another way to get priority? See tip number one.

Music supervisor Andrea Von Foerster’s thoughts on the subject of reminder emails and when to follow up:

Sometimes I get asked to give my feedback or opinion on music I’m sent, and I honestly don’t know what to say.  From where I sit, I only really feel qualified to comment on whether the song or artist is a fit for any of the projects I have a hand in at that moment, not how good or bad they are.  That’s what bloggers and other critics are for.  I tell people on the phone all the time, “if you don’t hear from us, it doesn’t mean that we don’t like your music or it’s bad – we just don’t have the right fit for it right now.”  In my experience, pitching for film and television is like trying to hit a moving target.  I do not envy (and highly respect) anyone who does it.  As they say, “success is when opportunity meets preparedness.”  Hopefully this helped at least a little with the latter.

In the coming weeks be on the lookout for a follow up post with a few tips on how to kick ass if (or when) a music search comes your way (and it has nothing to do with whether or not your song is chosen in the end).

4 Thoughts on “Pitching Music for Film & TV: Tips from a Gatekeeper (Second Edition)

  1. Pingback: SoundCtrl – Music:Tech Daily Wrap – Friday, May 11

  2. Marcus Hawthorne on October 11, 2013 at 11:58 am said:

    Thanks for the tips and advice. It was really helpful Amanda.

  3. Mike Fleenor on November 5, 2013 at 9:52 am said:

    Hey! great job, This helped alot.. just got the book. Thanks

  4. Awesome, comprehensive article. Thank you!!

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