Masterclass: Music Supervision

Matt Biffa and Ian Neil

Ever wondered how a particular song ends up getting featured in the latest Hollywood blockbuster, television advert or computer game? BIMM Brighton recently played host to Ian Neil and Matt Biffa: two industry experts whose job it is to select and match killer tracks for this purpose.

In industry terms, ‘syncronisation’ means setting music to a moving image. If you’re a songwriter or composer, it can be a great way of making your music work harder for you, especially if it’s for a big movie or well-known brand. If you’re an aspiring Music Supervisor, it helps to have a good imagination for what sorts of music work well over a particular type of footage.

Ian is director of TV and film at Sony Music and is in charge of licensing music for film and moving image. He looks after the master recording and distributes it for his clients.

Matt has been a music supervisor since 1996. He started as a receptionist in the company, Air Edel, and continues to work for them as one of their most senior staff members. Some of his proudest moments include syncing music for films like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Paddington and The End Of The F**king World.

“If you’re going to be a music supervisor and don’t take things on like licensing practice, negotiation techniques, cue sheets, etc, you will find it rather difficult.” Said Matt. “In the end it’s a collaboration and you have to be open to the tastes and opinions for other people involved. “

“So, how do you become a music supervisor?” Asked masterclass host and Songwriting Tutor Jake Shillingford.

“Back in the day, you had to put yourself out there and be lucky. These days it’s a bit easier.” Said Matt.
Previously, if you wanted a song, you had to ring up the record label and ask them for a cassette. These days we have PRS or MCPS databases where we can get song credits and the people to get in touch with if you’re interested in a song. In the current digital age, it’s also easier to cut certain parts of a song to suit specific parts of the movie, which wasn’t that easy to do with cassettes. Key skills of a music supervisor are: being creative, a negotiator, good instincts, good film knowledge, A&R and an understanding of the industry.”

Music supervisors don’t have any rights on the music or movie, they’re just helping to tell the story. Usually, you get a certain amount of money to spend on the usage of sync deals. Naturally, some songs are worth more than others. And musicians/songwriters will charge a fee depending of the success and exploitation of the song.

There’s no fixed figure for a track, but a good music supervisor should know rough figures and be reasonable when negotiating. You have to work out in your head what the budget is, what is appropriate to offer, what the publisher expects, etc. You also need to understand how publishing, percentage splits, side artists and different rules for different territories work.

“So, when is a Music Supervisor likely to come on board during the production of a film?” Asked Jake.

“There’s no specific time. The film could be finished, which is easier in terms of time management. Or you could come in when only the script is done and the film production could take up to three years. Unfortunately, you don’t get paid by the hour but by the job, which makes it difficult to work on long-term projects. Also, working for a director that doesn’t listen to you is just as bad as working in a job where you don’t get along with your boss for example. You have to work out who is who on a job and either walk out of a job or go with something that you’re not happy or agreeing with. You shouldn’t forget that you work for hire and be diplomatic about your work.”

One student in attendance asked: “What do you search for when you’re looking for a specific sound?”

“I use my memory and library.” Replied Matt. “You can’t know everybody’s repertoire and just because someone thinks it’s the right music for a specific film that doesn’t have to be the case. You have to be good at research and consider song titles and similarities between artists and the tracks. You either know how to do it or you don’t, it’s purely instinctive.”

An interesting question came from another student, who asked: “Is it a conflict of interests to be both a songwriter and a Music Supervisor?
“Only if you try to pitch your own music to movies as your ego gets involved.” Said Matt. “Your music probably doesn’t always suit the film.”

A final question from the students asked: “How do I get my songs into the world of sync as an upcoming artist?”

Neil responded with the following advice: “Be careful with how often you chase somebody up. Email them, but don’t constantly send out emails. Send out your songs and be patient. Do you research as well. If you think something works for a specific series, make sure you know what the show is aiming for and if your music will support that.”

Student Quotes:

“It was good to learn about how to send music to supervisors and how to get started.”
Oliver Price – BA1 Music Production

“It was very interesting to hear the view of someone in the middle of the artist and the film world and how they connect them.”
Lisa Ten Bulte – BA1 Songwriting

If you’d like to gain access to exclusive masterclasses such as this one, why not Apply Now for a course at BIMM and start your journey to a life in music today.

POSTED ON: January 22, 2019
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  • Brighton, Music Business, Songwriting