Recently, our Artist Development Manager Kyle James Hauser sat down for a virtual conversation with Music Supervisor Joe Rudge, whose supervision work includes Midsommar, Hereditary, The Lighthouse, and The Big Sick, among many others, as part of our workshop series called The Launchpad.
Joe had a lot to share when it comes to the role of music supervisors, a role that acts as the critical link between a director’s vision and the music industry to find and create the music to support that vision. Using the film The Big Sick, Joe gave us a ton of real-life knowledge and examples from his work on that film.
Some important ideas came out of the workshop that are directly relevant to musicians hoping to work in sync – so without further ado, here are five takeaways from our conversation with a Music Supervisor.
1. Projects each have a budget, and budget constraints sometimes provide opportunities for developing artists.
An important reason why certain songs are chosen for sync comes down to one thing: money. Normally, a film has a specific budget for music, and music supervisors have to think not only about what it would cost to license a song but also how many songs they may have to license in a movie and how that budget gets split per track.
In The Big Sick, for example, what started as a movie with eight spots for music (or “cues”) turned into a movie with twenty cues, which meant a smaller proportionate budget for each cue.
Directors may also want to license several well-known songs for pivotal moments in the movie. In the case of The Big Sick, that meant a Beck song for the opening, which, as you can imagine, was not cheap to license.
What does this mean for other musicians, particularly those who aren’t Beck? With so much of the budget allocated to a few choice tracks, that meant Joe had to turn to relatively lesser-known musicians he could afford for the other tracks.
In addition, some films could be in a position where their whole budget couldn’t afford a Beck track. In that case, they will turn to developing artists who are in the same vibe and could convey a similar emotion while still in budget. This is the hard work of a music supervisor – making the director’s vision come to life within the constraints of the budget.
2. If the difference between your track and another track is missing information or rights clearance, chances are the other track will be placed.
Joe’s job primarily takes place not on the set of a movie but in the editing room during post-production. If you’ve ever been part of a film production or know about the editing process, each extra day of editing costs more money, so everything needs to be 100% ready to go for the edit.
As a result, if your track is missing clearances – either from the publisher or for the master recording – most music supervisors will move right on to the next track, as any lag in production is both expensive and to be avoided in most circumstances. Music supervisors need to know that information quickly so they can get the right music on budget and without any issues.
3. Having a sync agent can greatly increase your chances for placement.
Music supervisors – particularly those for major motion pictures – generally do not interact directly with musicians on song placements (although this is different for composers – see number 4!). Instead, they work with a sync agency, which normally represents a catalog of songs from various musicians for placements.
For Joe, a condensed timeline means having a solid network of sync agents he can lean on. He can provide a description of the type of music he is looking for on his timeline, and sync agents can quickly deliver quality tracks within budget and vouch for ownership of the master recording and publishing. Also, a short timeline means he doesn’t have time to work with inexperienced agents – that trust is crucial.
So, if you’re looking for your music to be placed, finding representation with a sync agency is somewhat analogous to having a booking agent book your tour versus you booking it yourself – they will probably get more emails answered, and the existing relationship between the agent and the buyer means a much greater chance of having your music considered.
The similarities don’t end there – like booking agents, not all sync agencies are the same! When looking for sync representation, it is important to build relationships with quality agencies, as the agency is only as strong as the network with which they work.
Also – be wary of any site or service where you have to pay for sync representation. You may have sync representation via CDBaby Pro or Distrokid, but how many other musicians do as well? The difference between being in a seemingly infinite catalog from one of those sites versus having an experienced sync agent hustling on your behalf to reps who trust them is huge.
If you are looking for sync representation, our partner Assemble Sound has opened their catalog to Northern Colorado artists by way of a partnership with The Music District. Assemble Sound has worked with companies such as HBO, Hulu, and Apple – now’s your chance to pitch your music to join this roster.
4. To start composing for film, look in your own backyard.
If you are looking to get started in composing for film – which is a different process than having your existing tracks placed in a film – the best place to start building your portfolio and network is in your local film community.
For us in Northern Colorado, that means connecting to filmmakers through avenues such as the 53:14 Music Video Experiment, Horsetooth International Film Festival, and spending too much time at The Lyric.
Looking a bit further, Joe encouraged composers to connect with filmmakers at universities such as CU Boulder. Due to the advances in technology to make films, there are many more creators today who are looking for music for their films. He stressed how you would be surprised about regional films’ impact on your career – from building a portfolio to chance encounters at film festivals.
Also – meeting filmmakers early in their careers can result in important opportunities down the road. Joe did not use CU Boulder as a theoretical example – Derek Cianfrance, the director of films including The Place Beyond the Pine and Blue Valentine (where Joe was the Music Supervisor) as well as the HBO miniseries I Know This Much is True, is a CU Boulder grad.
Another note – you can also increase your chances of composing for film by making quality music in general. For the film Midsommar, where Joe was the Music Supervisor, director Ari Aster worked directly with the insanely talented musician Colin Stetson to compose the score, first and foremost because he knew Colin Stetson’s work and could tell he would do a quality job with the film (and, if you have seen the movie, you will know that he did an amazing job).
5. Sync, like many other areas of the music industry, is built on relationships – respect the hustle!
From early career house parties to cultivating a strong network, a common thread running through Joe’s experiences is the importance of building quality relationships, where trust and respect are stressed more than something purely transactional.
It’s important to respect the supply chain – Joe doesn’t normally deal directly with musicians, not because he doesn’t like them (he does!) but because he needs to reduce the noise while juggling projects. So, getting into sync does not mean multiple emails to music supervisors or even pestering sync agents.
Instead, focus on building authentic relationships. Research sync shops that your favorite artists are signed to, engage in a genuine way when you can interact with others in the industry through programming at the Music District or other avenues, and, above all else, remember that everyone in this business is a human who has a finite amount of time.
We heard from several people during the session with Joe who were interested in music supervision which, honestly, sounds like an awesome job.
Joe’s advice for those looking to get involved was to, first and foremost, develop a deep understanding of licensing. A good path would be working at a sync agency or under a music supervisor, but he cautioned those jobs are in high demand.
For Joe, this started with a job in clearances at Viacom, which gave him the understanding needed to act as a music supervisor. Another example: Kelly Ross, Head of Creative Licensing and Publishing Business Affairs at Zync Music, who will be joining us for our next workshop on sync licensing, started at Joe’s intern!
And while you may shudder at the thought, a presence on LinkedIn goes a long way in showing your professionalism in sync.
Finally, connect with us at The Music District, where we are interviewing sync professionals from across the industry. Also – Don’t forget to consider applying for Assemble Sound.