I want to get this out of the way first. Music clearance is a fluid process, highly dependent on negotiation and relationships. Very little of what I am about to tell you is true 100% of the time.
That said, I’ve worked on a wide range of projects and often come across misconceptions that are 95% false and detrimental to the creative process. A few come up so frequently that I’m convinced there is someone going around to film schools and production companies actively spreading the same incorrect information.
As a filmmaker, an educated approach to music clearance will produce results beyond ensuring you don’t inadvertently cripple your film with an improperly cleared song (which is of course very important). Demonstrating patience and understanding of the process will also give you a greater chance of obtaining your “dream” soundtrack…both in current and future projects.
Music supervisors love it when the outside world references the less “sexy” side of the craft. The parts of our job that are not just breaking bands and making mixtapes for directors. This clip from David Letterman a week or so ago made the rounds on Facebook, and it hits on several major misconceptions about placing music in media. You may have seen me point them out on Facebook, but I thought it would be good to do so here as well:
Among all the skills necessary for a music supervisor to master, perhaps the most difficult is how to be an ally to everyone. No two collaborators are the same. Different taste. Different agendas. Different levels of tech savviness. The list goes on. Producers, Studio Executives, Music Editors, Editors, family friends, spouses…I’ve seen all of these folks be called in to submit their opinions on song selection at one time or another. Of course, the most important person to please on the creative team is the director. The director needs to feel taken care of, confident that you are doing everything in your power to serve their vision and make their precious baby come to life exactly how they’d like (which I don’t mean in a derogatory way – I’m sure any director will agree to the film/baby analogy).
But it’s not just those making the film or television show that a music supervisor has to attend to. Even when there are zero dollars in the budget to bargain with, labels and publishers also need to feel appreciated and valued. To know that you are always fighting to get their artists paid what they are worth. It’s their job to support their artists, and to do so they need you to support them. For a music supervisor, problems arise when these two core desires (to complete the director’s vision and ability to pay artists a good/fair price) come into direct conflict.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been bugging people to vote for two panels that I proposed for the 2013 South by Southwest Film, Music and Interactive Festival (and hopefully come December I’ll get to tell you all that they were accepted). One of these panels is on a topic that I’ve been interested in for quite some time, The Future of The Soundtrack, and I am nerdily excited to get the chance to moderate a discussion between experts.
In my time working around and on soundtracks and various marketing initiatives for film and television, there are also certain observations I have made that I hope to debate, to get an official opinion. Until I (fingers crossed) find myself in a position to consult those supervisors and executives that I admire so much, here are my thoughts on the topic.