Music Supervision: What We Do

The first question we are asked is often, ‘How much does music supervision cost?’ The answer here at TSM is, ‘it depends on how much work is involved.’ We offer a top to tail service but it’s possible to break it down into sections and have us take care of a single aspect of the process or even licence just one particularly tricky title. We can give you a round figure at the beginning but if there are too many changes requested or required along the way that can push the costs up.

Please note bringing in a Music Supervisor half way through, especially if the process has ground to a halt, may mean starting again from scratch and if there’s a deadline imminent, there’ll be cost implications there too.

The items below aren’t necessarily in chronological order and some may be concurrent. They are grouped into numbered stages to make easier to understand the process.

Most of the time the sequence of events is roughly…

1.01.      Discussion & Overview

The ideal starting point for a Music Supervisor is the script. Any earlier and the story arc and characters are too loosely drawn to be able to interpret musically. With a script there’s a sense of time, place and community which provides a context for the breadth and style of the music needed.

1.02.      Spotting

This means going through the script and noting where music appears or will be appropriate – both diegetic and non-diegetic. We often find reworked scripts have accumulated as many as twenty potential cues; usually too many to squeeze in and almost certainly too many to easily afford.

1.03.      Budgeting

We create a spreadsheet with all the music options and, without going to the rights holders, work out the ballpark costs for the music in the film. While individual track estimates won’t be exact, the overall total won’t be too far off. This exercise shows what needs to be trimmed – whether there’s too much music, too ambitious content or just costing more than is in the bank.

1.04.      Wish List

This is in two parts. Fun where you get to list all your favourite tracks and how you imagined them fitting into the film. Heartbreak when you are told you can’t have any of them and the substitutes are brought on.

1.05.      Deadlines

Unless it’s a biggish film where the theatrical release is booked long ahead of completion and a protracted marketing period is blocked out, this tends to be governed by festival entry dates. Allow six to eight weeks from going to licence to getting executed agreements. Coincidentally allow the same period of time from commissioning score to delivery of the finished recordings.

2.06.      Strategy

There’s an architectural methodology to building a soundtrack. An experienced MS knows how to look at the proposed cues, sense a pattern and then work out who to talk to first, second and last to get the best deal for the film as a whole.

2.07.      Track Requests

A request format is created, (a skill itself; sell the film as a good place to be without making it look as though the you’re spending the budget on everything except the music). Then it’s a lot of legwork. Twelve commercial tracks in a film can easily give rise to over forty individual requests… and that’s just the first round.

2.08.      Juggling

Editing has begun, some tracks are too expensive, some are in the middle of legal disputes, others just don’t sound right. The “Fun” bit.

2.09.      Deadlines

Check deliverables and dates. Plan. Don’t forget; people take breaks, files go awol, phone numbers change. Missing deadlines is not an option

3.10.      Licensing

When you get a manageable quote, you join the licensing queue. The bigger the company the longer the queue. There is no queue jumping and during holiday periods it slows down even more. A few dozen licences all worded differently which need shaping so they all grant the rights demanded by distributors and broadcasters. You don’t have the whip hand, so you have to plead and cajole if you’re up against it. This all takes time. The “Not Fun” bit.

4.11.      Score Requirements

Unless it’s a very particular kind of film, commercial tracks don’t always succeed. Commercial tracks are designed to draw attention to themselves and thus may take attention away from the film. Score is designed to complement the visuals and you have total control.

4.12.      Composer

Engaging the right composer is not just a matter of choosing someone who’s written music you like. They need to have empathy with you and your film, a willingness to compromise if and when needed and vitally, the ability to deliver on time.

4.13.      Commissioning Agreement

While there are composer agreements available online, many of them don’t achieve a fair balance between the composer and the film maker. The Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT) have drafted a template which serves its purpose well and is recognised by all the bodies that may wish to be involved in your film. It’s a well worded legal document nigh on twenty pages long and covers a lot of ground. It’s best drawn up with the composer and your film in mind by an experienced professional.

4.14.      Delivery Deadlines

Unless you’re privileged enough to afford an orchestra, the chances are your composer will also deliver the recorded master ready to sync to your visuals. Editing suites swallow money like Billy Bunter does pies and editors like music ready to feed into the computer. Major studios have red book standards plus a list of other requirements ranging from notated scores to inventories, a score cue sheet and all the completed documentation from collaborators and musicians.

5.15.      Cue Sheet

Everyone wants a cue sheet. No one wants to prepare one. Some people aren’t even sure what it is but know they’ve gotta have it. The final cue sheet is a collaborative effort and while a Music Supervisor can’t do it single-handedly they know what to shout and at whom.

6.16        Insurance

Not cheap, not always necessary. Your Music Supervisor should be able to offer a professional opinion, a comprehensive due diligence (shorthand for an “investigation carried out with due diligence”) on a song’s ownership or as final backstop insurance against the unknown or unsuspected.

7.17        Engagement

We are happy to have as many discussions about the project and process as needed and ensure all sides are clear and happy about the services expected, (and those not required). We prefer to agree this in writing and have a signed document before getting down to any proper work. Because we committing our time and resources a nominal commencement fee may be requested.