Help From the Hand That Feeds: Music Supervisors on Film and TV Placement

ASCAP recently partnered with the Guild of Music Supervisors to offer advice to musicians on getting their songs tv placement as well as in movie soundtracks – an important source of income for many artists who may not make the sort of money that people like Jay-Z or Katy Perry do.

tv placementThe nine music supervisors who offered up advice all have relevant experience in the industry, and doled out helpful opinions to all the musicians out there who would like to earn some money from their art, but don’t see themselves selling out Madison Square Garden, or even the Barclays or Prudential Centers, anytime soon. Much of the advice offered can prove extremely useful for musicians. Below is a breakdown of the advice the music supervisors had to give.

Advice on tv placement and film placement from three music supervisors

Gabe Hilfer, a music supervisor on projects such as “Black Swan,” “The Drop,” “Fury” and “Sleeping With Other People,” suggested bringing up other artists with similar sounds. For example, a singer-songwriter that makes use of jazz phrasings and pop hooks may want to cite a similarity to successful artist John Mayer. His music works well in mediums such as movies and television, which means a similar-sounding artist may also have a good chance of working well with these formats.

Sean Fernald, another music supervisor who has worked on films such as “Maggie,” “Wishmaster,” “Forever Strong” and “Rage,” noted that it is always useful to develop a friendly relationship with a particular music supervisor. Cold calls, he explained, don’t work nearly as well as building a friendship. He suggested making appearances at industry get-togethers, movie premieres, panels and anywhere else where you might come across music supervisors who may help you out.

Some of the experts who offered their opinions worked in areas besides the movie industry. For example, Cybele Pettus, the senior music supervisor at Electronic Arts, a developer, marketer, publisher and distributor of video games, had his own advice. In a nutshell: Keep it short. The EA music executive – whose company’s sports games make heavy use of varied soundtracks – advised to send just one song, and to make sure it is the very best. He also suggested researching the company the music is being sent to. Know everything about it, just like heading into an interview. With an amazing song, as well as a short, simple and concise pitch, chances are better that the song will be accepted, according to Pettus.

Checks may vary, and they might take awhile to arrive

As ASCAP notes in its “Music, Money, Success & the Movies” guide, the sort of contract and money that comes with getting tv placement or in a film may vary, depending on how negotiations go. There are no set rates for song placements. A single song may end up earning very different royalties depending on where it ends up, as well as depending on how the negotiation process goes and what the final contract looks like.

One important thing to remember about pay is that it may not come upfront, according to Ari Herstand, a singer-songwriter who is able to support himself these days through his music. Instead, many times the music is provided for free, and then payment is eventually offered through a performing rights organization, such as ASCAP. It will take a long time to see that check – up to a year or more – but over time, these placements can add up to a significant chunk of change.

For help negotiating film and tv placement contracts, and making the most of these opportunities, consult an experienced entertainment attorney.

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Anthony R. Caruso is a business transactional attorney in New York and New Jersey with experience in structuring, negotiation and completion of legal deals involving business, entrepreneurs, athletes and performers.

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