“Music Supervision Taken Seriously: The Rise of the Music Supervisor in Converging Televisual Environments,” by Tim J. Anderson

by Mike D'Errico on July 25, 2013

Throughout July, the IASPM-US website will be previewing articles from “Sonic Visions: Popular Music on Television,” the upcoming special issue of The Journal of Popular Music Studies.

On the face of it, it may seem counterintuitive that placing songs on television and the recent rise of the music supervisor would be the “way of the digital age”. Indeed, music supervision has risen from what was once an often disregarded, below-the-line dimension of the film and television community. In the first decade and a half of the twenty-first century, music supervision has blossomed into a sometimes pricey, above-the-line consideration for navigating a new media ecosystem that is focused on issues of licensing and clearance. In an ever-increasing multichannel universe, gaining the ear of a well-placed music supervisor is not simply important; it is a key tactic to any marketing strategy aiming to break new music.

Until the late 1990s and early 2000s, most music supervisors were considered by film and television producers to be little more than below-the-line personnel whose main duties were to manage licensing deals with the less-than-glamorous, back-of-the-house “special products” divisions of record companies. Jeff Smith’s 2001 article, “Taking Music Supervisors Seriously,” succinctly outlines the relative disregard for the trade at the turn of the century. After conducting a number of interviews with film music supervisors throughout the 1990s, Smith points out that the profession was viewed with general disdain for the profession at the time and claimed that, “Margot Core (supervisor of Big Night and Mickey Blue Eyes) told me that several directors with whom she worked regarded her as little more than a clerk or administrative assistant, whose only task was to fulfill their will regarding the kind of music that appears in their film” (2001, p. 125). Although it would be a stretch to say that the profession of the music supervisor has completely overcome this level of indignity. But by the 2000s, the demand for music on expanding numbers of television channels and in new media stretched into previously uncharted artistic territories, and grew both demand and respect for intermediaries who could administer quality music supervision. By 2003 it was clear that the “landscape” had shifted, as television and film producers started to rethink the value of music and to see the new way in which the recording industry had begun to interact with television. No doubt the attention the music industry began to pay to film and television was due to the fact that increasingly, labels believed that such onscreen exposure often led to better CD sales. In the first half of the 2000s, programs such as The O.C. and The Sopranos found success by including music in their episodes that both moved soundtracks and the records of the artists they featured (Crisafulli, 2003). The O.C. in particular generated significant sales. Supervised by Alexandra Patsavas, by 2007 the program had produced six separate CD volumes of “Music From The O.C.” and moved more than a million units worldwide. Matt Shay, then VP of A&R and marketing at RCA Music Group, pointed out in 2007 that the right “placement can bring an artist attention it might otherwise take years to cultivate” (Paoletta, 2007). Justifying their belief in the online TV/web series Rockville CA, Josh Schwartz and Alexandra Patsavas argued that this could be a space to feature new acts in which they could be prominent parts of the narrative. Produced for Warner Brothers Television, the series revolved around characters in the music business and was positioned and attempted to provide discovery via both television and digital domains. With each episode shot at the Echoplex, an actual club in Los Angeles, the storyline centers on one night per episode, featuring a single band and two of their songs as part of the setting (Newman, 2009).  As Patsavas explained, “[online discovery is] how people find music now. They don’t go to their record store anymore” (qtd. in Karpel, 2009).

Josh Schwartz explaining his inspiration for Rockville, CA

Works Cited

Crisafulli, C. (2003, November 21). New program: ‘TV is the way to sell records’. The Hollywood Reporter, from http://www.allbusiness.com/services/motion-pictures/4883338-1.html

Karpel, A. (2009, March 15). Welcome to the Net, Mr. ‘OC.’, The New York Times, p. 16. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/arts/television/15karp.html?_r=3&

Newman, M. (2009, July 7). New Kids on Net. Daily Variety, A3.

Paoletta, M. (2007, September 22). One Man, One Soundtrack, Billboard.

Smith, J. (2001). Taking Music Supervisors Seriously. In P. Brophy (Ed.), Cinesonic: Experiencing the Soundtrack (pp. 125-146). North Ryde NSW, Australia: Southwest Press Pty Ltd.

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