Music Supervisors Explain How They Find Indie Music For Movies And TV [Part 1]

LicensorAfter posting about indie music in advertising, I was asked about the process of bringing one's music to the attention of music supervisors and others who can get your music on tv, in films and in commercials. I had already been gathering a series of interviews with music supervisors so it seemed timely to feature some of their comments on how they find music.

The following quotes from music supervisors who find music for movies and tv were taken from articles I discovered via the Music Licensing Twitter feed (also the source of the above thumbnail). Another avenue for getting into how music supervisors think and operate is NARIP's collection of Music Supervisor Sessions on YouTube. Please feel free to share additional resources in the comments.

Music Supervisors on How They Find Music

Andrea von Foerster, who places a great deal of music in movies, says that she has no system but clearly has some habits including checking her inbox for over a thousand daily emails:

"I listen to everything that comes my way, and sometime it can even be a year later, but I've placed songs that I've heard a year later, so, it's never too late for me to hear something, because you really only need the right project for it. I've definitely worked on things where people are like, this is out right now, you should listen to this, but I don't have a place for it. Maybe six months later I've got the perfect place for it. So, you never really know what you're gonna get. And, it's still kind of frustrating, because in film, you don't really get the chance to use something right away. You'll be on a film for a year to two years, so, in the meantime, you have to worry about TV or ads or trailers playing something before it can be in your movie…."

"Everything is about finding something within the time limit and price that you have. For the most part, I'm not really on the hipster blogs that everyone talks about. I don't care what other people's opinions of music are, because it might not fit their ears, but it fits my project. I do actually watch endless videos on YouTube at like four in the morning, and I'll just go from one thread to another to another to another. Having a British music background, I tend to watch as many British music videos as possible and find new artists that way."

Ann Kline, music director for the Showtime series Shameless, that features up to thirty songs per episode, is mostly focused on indie rock:

"There are so many indie bands out there that are accessible through the Internet and so many licensing companies that gather them and help you weed through what's appropriate for your show. I have a lot of great contacts but we definitely go out to independent companies almost exclusively. It's rare that we use any stuff from a major label. So we find it all over. Even when we were first gathering music for the show, I would call clubs in Chicago and ask for some of their favorite indie bands to kind of get that vibe."

Lindsay Wolfington, who supervises music for One Tree Hill, describes how she finds music in relationship to the process of picking it for a particular script:

"When I get the script, I read it and mark scenes where I think a song will go – sometimes it's obvious because we are in a bar, other times it's an emotional moment that I think we'll want to score with a song. Then I break down all the scenes in a spreadsheet, divvy up where we will spend our money (because we can't use big artists in every spot, hence our search for great indie artists!), and then put my headphones on. I go through new albums I've received from major labels, publishers and companies who represent indie artists. And then I also browse through folders I have been filtering music into. I have folders in my iTunes for mellow music, for dramatic "what's going to happen" moments, and then upbeat and quirky songs."

"I send my suggestions (2-3 songs per spot, usually 3-4 for the coda) to the editor cutting that episode and they temp them in. Then as the episodes become polished, we revise music accordingly. Sometimes the scene reads completely different in the script than it does on-camera, so I just put on my headphones again and find better choices!

Note that these supervisors mention music they receive from labels and from companies that represent artists for licensing as well as music they find on the web. They also employ personal approaches, such as Ann Kline calling clubs in Chicago. In the process they consider a great deal of music and turn down a huge amount of music that they like or that other people like simply because it doesn't fit the project.

So it's not just a matter of making good music, whatever the heck that really means, but of being discoverable via the multiple channels that music supervisors employ.  For an unsigned indie artist, that includes being on YouTube and other web outlets as well as utilizing the increasing range of companies that exist to get your music in front of music supervisors.

Be Sure to Check Out This Excellent Interview with Detailed Advice:
7 Questions For A Real Live Music Supervisor: Sarah Gavigan of Get Your Music Licensed


Hypebot Features Writer Clyde Smith maintains his business writing hub at Flux Research and blogs about dance at All World Dance. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. Hi Steven,
    Love some advice on how to best get music on TV shows. see you’ve had some experience. Mind emailing me some tips.
    Best regards,

  2. Steven, what’s your experience been with LicenseQuote? Just curious. The presentation isn’t fantastic, but it does seem full-featured. Can you give an idea of how well direct licensing (through LQ) has worked for you?

  3. I am writing to inform you I have a large catalog of original music I composed and recorded all the parts on. I own all the rights as a BMI artist.
    I am interested in selling rights for use of my music. I can also compose pieces on commission for specific uses and styles.
    Please visit my website http://www.roundtownsound.com These songs are great for film and ads.
    You may purchase my songs for listening at over a dozen digital retailers online also.
    Thank you
    Craig Morrison
    215 906 5103
    ps: please visit our lighthouse this summer http://www.lighthouserestorations.org at your leisure

  4. Excellent, unique & informative.
    What some people consider a crap song/instrumental etc might be absolute gold in the right film/tv scene.
    I learned a LONG time ago to stop seeking others opinions of my music, cause it ended up being counterproductive.

  5. Hello:
    Just a note to thank-you for some great comments on the placement of original music. I am a member/signatory for a 1960’s rock act called The Brymers. The group has four albums on the market and currently mastering the 5th album. The Brymers own all rights and 100% publishing to over 120 tracks in our music catalog. We have instrumental versions of most vocals tracks and cover many genres of music (classic rock, country rock, Americanna, Italian, Ragae, and bluegrass). The group has over 45 videos on You Tube and is known for their hits of “Sacrifice” and “I Want To Tell You.” Visit our web site, Sonicbids, Taxi, iTunes, Napster and you will get a flavor of the group’s classic rock sound where the result is The Brymers meets The Kinks, The Byrds, and The Rolling Stones.
    Visit: http://www.thebrymers.com

  6. Hi Steve?
    Are there music supervisors interested in traditional African music or African music in general. I have a collection of these.

  7. Great article on music supervision!
    I’ve have been blessed to have 100’s of songs placed on TV, Films, Commercials and more and no matter how great the song is… it has to fit the scene the supervisor is looking for.
    Got good songs? Keep plugging away as it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to make it in this industry!
    Diamond Dreams Music

  8. Aloha,
    A few years ago I read a story about Kris Kristofferson. I don’t know it it’s true, however. It went like this: He had been writing songs and didn’t seem to be able to get anyone in Nashville or anywhere else in the music business to listen to them. So one day he rented a helicopter and flew over (I won’t mention names here) and landed in the front yard of one of the more prominent figures in the music industry. Because of his dramatic entrance, he acquired immediate attention of the residents inside (Don’t know if he got arrested or not) and managed to get several of his taped songs in the hands of the music executive. The rest is history. He had to step over the boundary of what is considered normal negotiations.
    It hasn’t changed that much.
    It is still difficult to get anyone’s attention in the music industry. A person could write the most beautiful orchestral pieces of music ever written and still be stuck in a dark closet. Sometimes Lady Luck really plays a part in being discovered or perhaps divine intervention. Or maybe just outrageous, controversial behavior.
    The most popular word of the 21st century is DISCOVERY. And it would be a jolt so powerful for me if it discovery were on its course to me, to be discovered by a Music Supervisor.
    I wrote this instrumental a short time ago called “Slumber of the Lycans.”
    Link: http://soundcloud.com/surferboy-3/slumber-of-the-lycans
    Thank You,
    John “Keoni” Morris

  9. Very well balanced article. Thanks you for taking the time to explain these things to us folks. Please drop by and listen to Zero, Unconditional Love, What the Hell, Can you hear me Ray, Beautiful, & MUCH MORE music. Bless you folks. Happy New Years. Wayne Sanelli

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