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How Music Supervisors are Making and Breaking Artists

The music industry is pretty competitive. Digital music makes it easy for artists to get their work out there but it also makes for a big pool of musicians who are in it to win it. So how does one stand out? How about trying to submit your music to be played in a movie or on television?

Image Credit: Sonic Bids Blog

When music is included in a movie, television show or commercial, it can really get into people’s heads and as listeners are shifting away from radio, many are searching online to find out more about the artists being played as soundtrack and background music.

So, how would one go about submitting their music for consideration? They would submit it to a music supervisor.

Music supervisors are industry professionals that are assigned to certain shows, ad campaigns and movies to find the background music for those visuals. It is not unusual for a music supervisor to get as many as 50 artist submissions a day from musicians hoping it will be their song millions of people will be hearing.

The term for matching a song to what’s happening on screen is known as ‘sync placement’. Licensing the song can bring in a paycheck for an artist that can range from a few thousand dollars to $100,000 but there are challenges involved.

Before the song can be included in the show, the rights have to be cleared with the record label and all the songwriters. The song also has to match the showrunner’s vision. The creators of the show will have a certain sound in mind and it is up to the supervisor to find music that matches that sound.

Many artists have broken through by having their songs featured on television and in movies. One notable artist is Rachel Platten who was lucky enough to have her song, “Fight Song” featured on a Ford commercial. Platten benefited from the repetitive exposure and eventually her song went to number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and she became a multi-platinum selling artist.

The music supervisor behind Platten’s breakthrough is Gabe McDonough. McDonough started out as a radio station deejay but he was eventually invited to work on the movie Middle of Nowhere. Since then, he’s been dedicated to his career as a music supervisor.

Although McDonough started out in movies, today his main focus is finding songs for television ads. When explaining what music supervisors are looking for when finding music for commercials, he says music should be “up tempo, it’s positive, a lot of syncopation.” He also says he avoids anything that is too cliché and he looks for songs that will tell a story on 30 seconds or less.

Because television and movies are such hot vehicles for getting music noticed, music supervisors are being recognized in the industry as the new A&R. However, getting your music placed won’t necessarily make or break you. There are many artists who have had their songs successfully featured and still remain unsigned. In any case, it’s a hell of a way to start.

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