Nope Chuck TestaEveryone knows music supervisors receive dozens of emails every day from people trying to get their music heard – artists, managers, publishers, labels, third-party pitching companies, publicists, agents, etc. Respectively, we encounter a range of tactics all seeking to achieve the same goal – to convince us to click the link, stream, download, save, file, flag and of course, ultimately place their music.

As you’re likely already aware, there are many factors at play, and in the past I’ve offered advice on the overall pitch email and submission methods. The focus of this article, however, is purely on the words. I wish I could divulge specific keywords to rise to the top of every music supervisor’s inbox…unfortunately these do not exist. Everyone has different preferences, expectations and pet peeves. For better or worse, it’s much simpler to call out some of the wrong approaches to take, especially since there are some cringe-worthy phrases that show up in emails again and again. After polling a handful of music supervisors responsible for overseeing the music in many of the top films and television shows out right now, here are some of the most common phrases that make us all wince:

“I have the perfect song” / “I have exactly what you need”

Just strike out the word ‘perfect’ when you’re pitching, period. There is never one perfect song for any scene, and besides – you haven’t read any scripts, seen any cuts or had any creative conversations with the production team, how could you know?

“You work on a show called Puppies In Space? I have songs with ‘puppies’ and ‘space’ in the title, and some that are even about space. I’m sure you want to use them, and I can give you a great deal!”

It is extremely rare that anyone wants to use a song this “on the nose” as they say. In fact, we try to avoid them. However, if the overall lyrical content of the song seems relevant to the themes of the project the song may still be worth sending – do your research first though to make sure that is indeed the case.

“My music is very cinematic, and great for film and TV” / “My music is very syncable”

Every medium and every project is different with different creative needs. What works in an action trailer is different than an IKEA commercial, which is different than what works in a TV show like True Blood, which is still different again than a studio film like Fifty Shades of Grey. Yes, there are absolutely some similarities, but saying something is “cinematic” or “syncable” is vague and reductive. Syncable for what? A TV drama? An advertisement? A hipster indie film? A montage in a studio film? Be specific about where you see your music, own what it is and what it isn’t, or we will immediately question your understanding of what “syncable” means.

I will actually be moderating a panel of experts discussing this very thing; “syncability” in TV, film, trailers and ads in a few weeks at South By Southwest on Thursday March 17 at 12:30pm CST. If you’ll be in Austin, come on by!

“Can I be added to your search list?”

Personally, I don’t have a go-to distribution list, I have a massive Excel spreadsheet organized by both types of company (label, publisher, pitcher) and also by genre. I try and add every person who reaches out to me onto this list, if for no other reason than to keep track of what companies have emailed me. I also include email, phone and brief notes on specific strengths or key information (e.g. great vintage catalog, easy clear hip hop, all one stop, etc.) If I reached out to every person on this list with every search I would be downloading music for months. It’s admittedly not a perfect system, but it’s worked for me thus far.

Instead, I use this spreadsheet, with my notes and past experiences, to search more effectively and efficiently. If I need authentic salsa music, I go to those who I know have a strong catalog of Latin music. This way I get music closest to my needs, and the recipient isn’t wasting time pulling music that probably won’t be quite right. Most music supervisors are suspicious of anyone who says they have “quality music in every genre”, because this usually (though not always) means they signed some “pretty good” artists for the sole purpose of filling gaps. When reaching out, be loud and proud about your unique tastes and strengths. You may not get every search we send, but you’ll be the first call every time we need jazz from the 1920s.

All of that said, there are plenty of music supervisors who do have blast, search or brief lists (depending on personal preference). These, however, are just as personal and curated as a handpicked search, comprised of established pitching companies a music supervisor knows and trusts – trusts to send only high quality music to the creative and financial specifications of the brief, trusts that there won’t be any clearance snags, and trusts that any information about the project will be kept confidential. If trust is broken in any one of those areas it could potentially cost a music supervisor their job.

That said,  it should make more sense why there might be some hesitation in adding a total stranger to the search list. First, you have to prove you’re someone should be trusted, then the searches will follow, whether your added to “the list or not”.

“This artist is buzzing”

Music supervisors have a complicated relationship with popularity or “buzz” as they say. Sure, everyone likes to “break” a band or look cool to a director by pitching them the “next big thing”…if the opportunity presents itself. More often than not though all parties are significantly more concerned with how well a song fits in a scene than which blogs have reviewed the track, or how many Twitter followers the band has. If you’re going to use the word “buzzing” there better be a real story building around them – multiple reviews on notable websites or blogs, an upcoming tour opening for a major band, major label or publisher interest, etc.

“I don’t know about the co-publishers or master owner, but I can clear my 15% easily and quickly.”

This is helpful to precisely no one. A song can’t be used unless 100% of the master recording and publishing is cleared, so an easily clearable minority share isn’t going to sway us to put (or keep) a song in the mix. If you do have a small share of a song, at least be familiar with the licensing history before pitching it. Has it regularly been licensed at the requested fee (or any fee), or have you cleared your portion…but nothing ever gets to the finish line? This may mean that another controlling party is making things difficult.

In our office, we regularly ask that those pitching songs have pre-cleared them with any third-parties involved before pitching, and get a range of responses – some pass along contact information for me to reach out, some are befuddled that I would even ask (“Of course I can only speak to my share”) and some simply ignore the request. It’s those who send tracks and specify that yes, they’ve spoken to the co-publisher and master owner (who, by the way, are BMG and Warner Music Group) and they have confirmed they are fine with the budget – that impress me and I will continue going to again and again.

The bottom line, it’s in your best interest to be familiar (and even friendly) with the co-publishers and master owners on every song in your catalog.

“I’d love your feedback!”

This is a big one for me. Music supervisors get so, so much music, that we can’t keep up with listening to it all, let alone take time to think critically and provide feedback to an artist. Usually I listen, file songs/albums into playlists for future reference, and move on. It’s actually a big ask of someone to do this, equitable to requesting someone’s time for a meeting. Besides, see the above about the amorphous meaning of “syncable” – what kind of feedback are you looking for exactly? Songwriting? Production? I can tell you if it will work in the projects I am currently working on, but definitely don’t feel comfortable speaking to another music supervisor’s needs, especially in a medium unfamiliar to me (trailers, for example).

If you really want feedback on your music, I recommend checking out a conference like the Durango Songwriter’s Expo, where the music supervisors in attendance are there specifically for that purpose.

“Did you get a chance to listen to my music yet?”

Ah, the follow up. Again, music supervisors can barely keep up listening to the music we get, let alone have time to confirm with each sender their music was listened to and catalogued. I personally sometimes don’t get to links for months (or years) after it is sent, when a specific a need arises (e.g. “I need to find a cover of a punk rock hit, what have I been sent in the past…”) It’s been said again and again – never send links that expire, and doing so in order to force someone to download a track or album will only end up irritating the music supervisor and risking that your music will get lost in the Downloads folder, which for me, is almost as large as my various “Music Submissions” folders (I have 5 or 6 of these, I’m an obsessive filing nerd). If we like and want to use something you sent, trust that we will call you. Following up doesn’t get you any closer to a placement.

“Can I send you my music?”

Yes, some music supervisors don’t take any unsolicited submissions. Those people will simply delete your email. By asking first, you’re actually creating extra work for us in the form of another email response. As an artist (or anyone pitching music) you should strive to make hearing your music as easy as possible for the music supervisor. The absolute worst place to use this phrase though? On social media. Tweeting, “how/where can I send you my music?” will only make you look worse for not taking the time to track down an email address.

“What are your needs?” / “What are you working on?”

They may seem inoffensive, but these phrases came up the most frequently among music supervisors asked. It shows a lack of research, which in turn shows a lack of effort. Similarly, any “general placement inquiry” email with no personalization or eye toward what the supervisor may actually have a need for is also often greeted with an eyeroll. Most of our current projects and past credits can easily be found online, while not always 100% accurate IMDb is a good place to start.

And to wrap up, here are a few phrases that are absolutely fine (or even encouraged)…with an asterisk.

“Easy clear”, “Quick turnaround” or “Budget-friendly”

Many pitchers writing cold emails selling their catalog think that these are the magic phrases when getting a music supervisor’s attention, and they are absolutely important and should not be excluded. Which is to say, always be clear about your process, ownership, etc. upfront. Are you a label only? Publisher? One stop? Representing songwriters? Don’t claim to be easy clear if in fact most of your songs have multiple approval parties. Honesty will serve you better in the long run.

Where I’ve found folks miss the mark though, is assuming they are breaking new ground, or providing a rare service. Given the amount of independent artists and composers interested in sync licensing today, almost every new company is making the same claims. Being yet another one stop catalog won’t do anything to help you stand out from the crowd – specializing in authentic Thai music pre- 2000 will.

Now of course, if you are in fact claiming to be all of those things, at the end of the day you’d better deliver when a call comes in. If not, what words you use won’t matter – you’ll be off the search list faster than you can say “what are you working on?”

  • Thank you Amanda, very helpful for us on the other side of the fence!

  • Arthur Stoller

    Informative ideas – I was fascinated by the insight ! Does anyone know if my assistant might be able to access a sample a form example to type on ?