Recently a movie director called me to arrange permission for a song track from one of the bands we manage, “All in God’s Hands” by the Sweet Comfort Band. We have pitched this song to music supervisors for years, but here it is 5 years later and it now getting picked as a theme song for a major movie being produced after the first of the year. I guess the lesson that we have learned over and over again is patience. Probably the only thing we can take any credit it for, is putting it in the right hands. There are many services out there that boast they can get your songs on films, but 99% of these are scams that will waste your time and money.
Like any creative endeavor there is no film or TV show that is handled that same way every time. Some films or episodes have on-camera bands or characters that are singing or dancing to a well- known song. Some projects are period pieces and a large part of the sup’s job is to research the era to make sure the songs and sounds are all historically accurate and some are based on much loved literary works that already have a well established and often highly regarded (and discussed) sonic templates. Some require all brand new exclusive tracks and some require very little source at all. All projects, though, do have a certain rhythm.
Supervisors often get involved before the movie has been shot and after the script has been written. Picking a song from a rather large vault of material, a creative meeting takes place with the director and producers to talk about the music in the film. Any on-camera appearances by a band, dance sequences that are shot to music and musical references in general are discussed at this time. In addition, the tone and feel of the music for the main title and end title sequences and any additional licensed songs in the body of the film are talked about as well. At this point, an “ideas compilation or 4” is sent down to set so that the director and music supervisor can begin a dialog, and the supervisor can get extremely important feedback and start to hone in on the sound.
After the scenes start to come and are being assembled in the cutting room by the picture editor, to pitch to specific scenes where the director might want to hear some song options. Supervisors send lots of options – the more the better to get it exactly right. Quite frequently, directors have some specific songs ideas in mind already – and we check to see if the track is “clearable”. Requests are sent to the master owners (the record label in most cases) and publishers with an exact scene description, timing, and script pages detailing the intended use. In certain more sensitive synchs, the scene itself might be forwarded for the artist to consider. The process is repeated for every licensed track in the film. Rights are researched, requests sent, quotes given and negotiated and with a little luck cleared within the music budget allotted.
After the picture has locked, the director, picture editor, music editor and composer and supervisor sit down for a meeting called a spotting session. Music (or silence) is discussed in detail for every scene in the film and at that time some final song selections are signed off on and others are pinpointed as needing different options to consider.
Often recording artists are brought in to the cutting room to create a custom work for a scene or a moment in the project. Mixes and different versions go back and forth as the musical conversation develops and changes between artists (director and band) until the there is a version that feels exactly right. The end result in a movie is often a combo of carefully selected previously recorded tracks and brand new material that will be heard for the first time as the film is experienced. Like all the aspects of film making, the final decisions are made by the director and producers of the project. Like some of the other creatives on the project – editors, production designers and costumers -the supervisors’ job is to put forward the very best options for consideration.
Songs like “Every Breath You Take” by The Police is a good example of a base song that can be tweaked a little to fit a movie: