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Try to check as many boxes as possible before sending songs out the door…

Music search. Creative brief. Whatever you call it, artists, pitching companies, labels and publishers all want to find one in their email inbox. Every third cold email from a new company asks to be included on search lists…despite that being somewhat of a fallacy. While most Music Supervisors don’t have one “brief list” that they reach out to for every search, we do have “go to” people for certain genres, budgets, types of artists, etc.

How to first get on the radar is a separate post entirely. But then how do you become one of those trusted sources? How do you get on the proverbial “search list”? This is going to seem like a Catch 22 – but the answer is by really delivering on any searches you do receive.

Fortunately this often has little to do with whether your song is actually selected. Certainly striving to meet the creative need is a part of it, but especially given how hard it can be to hit a target you can’t see, how the music prepared, packaged and sent plays a large role as well.

As with everything I write, I offer the big disclaimer that every Music Supervisor has their own preferences, so read every part of any search email you receive, and make sure to follow any delivery requirements specified. For those new to the pitching game or unsure where to start however, that the below should provide a good foundation of tips to follow (or avoid).

1. Time is of the essence. Music searches often require a quick turnaround. If you are an artist and have a label, publisher, administrator or anyone responsible for pitching your music it’s their job to act quickly, but if you don’t and you get the call – move fast!  Sometimes even waiting five hours before responding can cost you a placement.

Even if a Music Supervisor says they have some time, still try and be as efficient as possible. Directors and producers tend to love a song more and more the longer they live with it in a cut. Or sometimes the plan is to review and submit for weeks ideas, but then a selection is made in the very first batch of ideas sent. Bottom line, it’s almost always to your advantage to submit music as quickly as possible.

2. Take note of all keywords, phrases and references. This may seem basic, but if you’re given a track or artist to replace, please actually listen to the entire song. Don’t just go by the first 10 seconds or referenced artist and assume you know what the sound is. If it’s a first date scene, lyrics about heartbreak won’t make sense no matter how romantic the song is. If it’s a five year old’s birthday party, lyrics about sex or drinking will be inappropriate regardless of how fun and uptempo the song is. If a Music Supervisor asks for “authentic” tracks from a period they don’t want something created last week in a studio, regardless of how good the replica is. Unless wiggle room is specifically allowed (sometimes it is) operate as though we have selected every descriptive word and adjective for a reason and want you check as many boxes as possible when selecting songs to send.

3. Do as much ancillary research as you can. Okay so maybe you got a totally bizarre email from a Music Supervisor that cites an American Authors track as an example of the gritty, dark blues pop they are looking for and you are unsure they have any idea what “blues” or “pop” actually is, and the only information about the scene is the name of the show or film. We know we can be pretty vague and frustrating at times.

In these situations – and for even the most verbose searches – take some time to research everything around the music. If an actor or actress is referenced, look them up. Watch the trailer for – or even some episodes of – the series (if applicable) to make sure you understand the tone. This can be hard for films where sometimes a sparse IMDb page is all that exists – still though casting announcements for the most indie projects can sometimes pop up in Variety or Hollywood Reporter articles. Try looking up past projects from the director or production company.

Do as much as you can to understand the need from every angle and respond accordingly. For example, is it a network show or family film? Then chances are good they will want clean versions of any tracks with explicit language. If you pick up on such details without us having to specify you are a step ahead of many competitors.

4. Only send the best of the best. You may have a ton of sentimental singer songwriter tracks in your catalog, but please don’t send all of them. The more focused and specific you can be to the brief the better. Most Music Supervisors would prefer four songs that are totally on point than ten that are kind of close. We understand you want us to have a range to play with, and sometimes Music Supervisors do want to be loaded up with music. If a maximum number of tracks is not specified in the search however, assume less is more. You’re probably safe sending 10 – 12 at most. More often than not when we open a folder and see 20+ tracks we are immediately suspicious; chances are good more than half will be closer to a B instead of all As.

Along these lines, sometimes people do seem to try and circumvent these limitations. It doesn’t happen often (and never by the true pros), just barely often enough I wanted to mention it.

Please don’t continue sending 5 tracks a day until you are asked to stop. Send one email, and a second only if you find another track or two that you think fit the brief better than anything you’ve sent so far.

Similarly, we can tell when you’ve thrown in “priority” tracks that are not related a search just because you know we are really listening. While we completely understand where this impulse comes from, it’s incredibly frustrating. If there is other music you want to bring to our attention, feel free to include it in the email, but in a separate link (“Also, I know you’re buried but I’m really excited about this single/artist/album/EP so wanted to include the link to for that here as well!”)

If you don’t have any tracks that fit the search parameters, that’s okay! Just be honest about it. We all would rather a pitching company admit to coming up empty over taking the time to go through twenty tracks that are all way off.

5. Explain anything that may not be clear. All of the above now said, we welcome and appreciate your creative instincts when they come from a place of true passion for project or search.

Perhaps you think you have a track that would be awesome for the spot…but doesn’t match all requirements of the brief. Maybe the lyrics fit, but the tone doesn’t, or the lyrics fit, but it’s a male artist and the supervisor said female only. You have a song that was written in 1920 and have meticulously ensured the sound quality matches that era…but it was recorded two years ago. You won’t face the firing squad for sending these tracks, but please, please be clear that you are aware these aren’t exactly what was requested, and as briefly as possible explain why you wanted to send them anyway. It may be a little extra work, but you only make yourself look good by demonstrating you paid attention to and really took the brief to heart.

6. Be uber organized. Yes, speed is important, but more often than not organization is equally valued! This is one area where Music Supervisors can really differ in their requirements. That said, most of those I’ve spoken or worked with appreciate when the following is all in order…

  • All key metadata is embedded in the tracks sent, especially accurate song titles, artist and album names, as well as company information (ideally including ownership percentages) and most importantly, contact information.
  • Include the list of songs you’re sending (song titles and artist names) in the body of the email. This list also facilitates any notes you might also want to point out to the supervisor, such as “begin at 1:00” or “explicit lyrics at 45 seconds in” or “tonally this matches the James Blake song you sent as reference, but the lyrics are about a sad clown preparing to end his life instead of a young girl coming of age.” Exceptions to this are if you are asked to send very large quantities of music. In such situations, consider attaching an Excel spreadsheet.
  • Make sure YOUR company name is somewhere in the download folder name. If I download ten folders of music at one time, it’s much more helpful for each folder to contain the name of the company it’s coming from, rather than my company’s name or just the project name. When we are digging through our bloated download folders anywhere from two hours to two months later we will never remember who or where that one folder came from. Other helpful labels to consider including in the download folder name: fee range ($5K all in), scene and/or search name (Gritty Dive Bar, Epic Rock) and date submitted depending on the priority indicated by the supervisor.
  • Send MP3s or M4As, but make sure to include the option to download high-resolution versions (WAV or AIF) in separate folder. That way if one is urgently requested by an Editor or Music Editor we can get it to them ASAP.
  • Include instrumental versions. For the same reasons as in #4. If a Music Supervisor does have to reach out to you for an instrumental or WAV version (something we do all the time), it’s generally not good to respond with, “Let me reach out to the artist/producer to see if I can get.” Whether you are the artist or represent them, it’s to your advantage to have all of these materials at your fingertips for every song in your catalog. To not be able to turn them around within an hour or two could easily cost you a placement.
  • Keep the Subject Line as clear as possible. I might be alone in this, but it’s a pet peeve when Subject Lines do not clearly indicate the project or topic being discussed. Yes, sometimes Music Supervisors will be in a rush and title search emails “HELP!” or “NEED POP NOW”. Instead of replying “RE: HELP!” impress them by re-naming your email containing ideas by the show and episode number (if you have) and then the type of scene or content (Sorority Party, Pop Like Katy Perry, etc.)
My Downloads folder status… Anyone else?

7. Aim for as few emails and clicks as possible. We fully realize that sometimes company mandated platforms make this impossible, but outside of that the less emails and clicks to get the the music the better.

This should go without saying, but never send files as attachments. If you’re not using something more advanced (SourceAudio, SynchTank) or proprietary, Dropbox, Hightail, WeTransfer and Box are the most widely used services for sending files, the most popular being Box. We generally like Box the best, because you can easily stream and download tracks, either individually or in bulk. SoundCloud is a lovely interface, but it is not as user-friendly for bulk-downloading as Box.

Whichever one you choose, take time to learn how to properly utilize. Not doing so is a fast way to seem like an amateur. For example, Dropbox and Box both have functions enabling users to share folders with others (or invite users to a “shared folder”); in this scenario the shared folder lives in each user’s account indefinitely. Most Music Supervisors, however, prefer being sent shared links within an email. The reason being that if every pitching company shared folders with us it would quickly consume storage space on our accounts (assuming we have accounts with every one of these platforms), as well as cluttering our email inboxes with extra emails.

Ideally you should only be sending one email, regardless of the number of scenes you’re submitting music for. Copy and paste the link(s) to stream/download your playlist(s) into the email body, a function fairly intuitive in all of the services listed above.

8. Know your co-owners. One of the most common, cringe-worthy phrases cited by Music Supervisors is, “I don’t know about the co-publishers or master owner, but I can clear my 15% share quickly and easily!” We all have stories of songs being pitched as “easy clear” or for certain fees by one rights-holder, and then calling the co-publisher or master owner who laughed in our face. We realize you might only represent a portion of the song, so yes we often try to do our due diligence in making calls to the other owners regardless. At the end of the day though it only benefits you and your clients to have relationships with those who control the rest – especially if you are new to the game and trying to establish trust with a Music Supervisor.

This is extra important if you are pitching for a particular fee. In our office, when we specify a fee (or fee range) in a search, we expect that you have vetted any songs sent with all other rights-holders prior to sending. The same applies if we are clear about questionable content, previous denials or any other struggles. In these situations we are turning to you for your help in solving a problem, and if the opposite occurs there is a good chance you may not hear from us for a while (yes, even if the problem is self-inflicted). We would rather you take your time to make sure there will not be complications on a song pitched than rush to get us tracks.

If for whatever reason this is not an option, at least be well aware of the licensing (not just clearance) history of those tracks you only partially control. Are you turning around quotes quickly, but notice nothing ever gets to the finish line? It’s possible another rights-holder is complicating the process. The more information you can pass along to Music Supervisors on potential red-flags or roadblocks the happier we will be and the more we will trust you know what you’re doing.

Lastly whether or not you have spoken to the other right-holders or not, it would be extremely helpful if you could either have their company names in the metadata as mentioned above, or in the body of the submission email. Again, this is especially important for restricted budgets or fast turnarounds. Knowing something is one stop (or not) upfront massively speeds up our process, and we’ll be forever grateful.

9. Keep it confidential. If a music search or need comes your way via email or phone, whether or not it is specified in words, it is never okay to forward it to writer or producer friends, or post it on your website or social media feeds. If at all possible, avoid blasting it out in any fashion.

Most of the information included in music searches is confidential (budgets, scene synopses, songs that need replacing, etc.) and we could get fired if word of it leaks out. Publicizing a search will quickly get you omitted from that Music Supervisor’s list, and could earn you a bad reputation throughout the industry.

If you do hear about a search you weren’t included on, please don’t take it personally. If we reached out to every person on our list (even just the people we like) for every search we would be overwhelmed with music. Assuming you already have a relationship with the Music Supervisor, if you know what the brief is, and feel confident you have songs that fit, give them a call and ask if it’s okay to submit. I don’t find any harm in this, but be polite about it. Please don’t act hurt or insulted.

Liam Neeson

10. Don’t follow up. Please trust that if any of your tracks were used you would hear from us – asking for an instrumental or WAV version (assuming you didn’t initially include) is usually a good sign, as is any sort of clearance request, that your song is still in the running. With that said, “Did any of those tracks work?” is one of my least favorite follow up emails after a search. 

Also please be prepared that if you ask for thoughts or feedback on music sent those requests will likely go unanswered. We understand and appreciate that you want to know how to better serve us, but we rarely have time to respond. If you really truly want feedback on your music I recommend checking out events and conferences geared entirely for that, such as The Durango Songwriters Expo or ASCAP I Create Music Expo. Organizations such as AIMP and the Society of Composers and Lyricists also very informational events for their members.

At the end of the day we’re always on the lookout for stellar music and great collaborators who will make our professional lives easier. Prove you can be that resource and we’ll come back again and again!