|Bob Thompson Music|
Music supervisors decide what music to pair with a scene in a movie, video, or TV show. These 10 principles, if followed, will leave directors and audiences satisfied.
1. Use restraint: Like great musical composition for TV or film, great music supervision supports the visual presentation like the foundation of a house. Songs should influence the audience in an almost subliminal way. Of course, musically-minded people will always notice the music. The exception to this rule is when songs are used as a punch line to (or comment about) what is happening in the dramatic action. This should be avoided unless it comes from the impetus of the director or it is cleared with the producers first.
2. Be fresh: Using songs that are too familiar or worn-out should be avoided. Folks can hear Led Zeppelin--as great as they may be--several times a day on the radio. For example, the Mercury Rev song ("In a Funny Way") at the start of Laurel Canyon is really surprising and powerful.
3. Keep a healthy distance: If you know the folks involved in a song, promote them on your radio station or record label, leave them off your supervision projects. First, you will be blinded by your interests and association with the material and may choose something that does not fit the material. Second, you may invite trouble elsewhere. Your favorite band is the bane of someone else's existence.
4. Get the real thing: If you know that punk will fit a certain scene, get the real thing and not an imitator. You have to balance this principle with the mandate for freshness. In our opinion, Search and Destroy worked well for Nike (although it may have broken a few fans' hearts). Avoid canned production music, stock music, etc. like the plague. You and your audience will know the difference--really.
5. Have a couple of options: Always have a number of genres and songs ready in case the producers change their minds. This will often happen at the last minute during post production where music is swapped, changed, or suddenly seems not to work. For example, 70s California Rock or Reggae might fit the same scene equally well.
Wes Anderson revs up Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge" for The Life Aquatic.
(The music in Wes Anderson's movies has been broken down by Flavorwire.)
6. Choose something that inspires purchase of the soundtrack: You are hired to increase word of mouth for the movie and sell music. Most people will buy a soundtrack if the music is good and they feel they could not easily find the music themselves. If your music is foreign to the target audience of the project, you may be doing something wrong.
The Real Thing: Charlie Parker's "Segment" completely trips out
Ricky Bobby and the Gold Ol' Boys of Taledega Nights.
7. Know music licensing inside and out: Research the business of music supervision and licensing. Understand negotiation, the law, types of licenses, and industry precedents. This Business of Music is a great place to start. Knowledge and persistence can lock in songs you might otherwise lose.
8. Respect the artists and their reps: Demonstrate that you know that music is a commodity created by talented professionals and administered by hardworking publishers. You want to be fairly compensated for your supervision work—and know that they do too. Come up with an agreement that pleases all concerned and does not insult anyone or close any doors for the future. Like anything, you get what you pay for.
Part of the action: Jazz in American Hustle
from Duke Ellington.
9. Take your time: Do not jump at the first thing that seems to fit or comes to mind, or something easily available from a production house or electronic subscription service.
10. Work with experts: Often various record labels have licensors who are full-time advocates for a body of work they know fairly well. The reality is that labels and conglomerates own a lot of the good stuff. However, do not be sucked in by one mega licensor or be swayed by a personal relationship there. Talk to music nerds, DJs, and musicians who have no stake in your final choices. Music supervision is a team sport.
Those are my top-10 ideas based on what I've learned by casual study and my efforts toward placing Bob Thompson's compositions in TV and film. His music has appeared on Sex and The City, Old Navy commercials, and a soundtrack or two.
Spenser Thompson shares anecdotes, music, and videos from Bob Thompson's music career plus thoughts on artists from Duke to Devo.