Ten Years of Change for Music Supervision
Over the last decade, many of the mechanics and operations of work for music supervisors has completely changed. And with the world, and music industry, becoming increasingly digitised, the changes suggest new challenges are yet to come.
The Changing Music Industry
The Digitisation and Abundance of Music
It was not long ago that music supervisors' libraries were only as big as their CD collection - and space- would allow them to be. Offices resembled caves, with rows of shelves jam-packed with CD stacks, CDs almost toppling out from overcrowded shelf space. But with the digitisation of music, all that has changed. Now libraries can be virtually endless and the possibilities to license music even greater.
Following this digitisation, music has become a commodity available to everyone. According to legal scholars Susy Frankel and Daniel Gervais (2014), on average 80,000 albums are released per year in the U.S. alone - a 100% increase on album releases compared to 1999. And only needing an Internet connection, today you’re just one click away from hearing the latest trending song on Soundcloud or Spotify, and at a truly overwhelming rate. Spotify itself has over 30 million songs in its library.
Now that a vast amount of music is available at anyone’s fingertips, it has become possible in theory for almost anyone to source the next biggest hit for upcoming films, TV shows or advertising. But with 20% of Spotify’s 30 million songs never heard and a huge amount of music out there to choose from, this does not mean that the music supervisor is out of the picture.
The sheer amount of digital music available just means that finding that one perfect song is even more difficult to source. With their expertise in sourcing, the role of music supervisor has now become a vital asset in this new digital world of abundance, where plenty to choose from does not necessarily make the job any easier. As a creative partner, they are still the key decision maker in finding music to fit the brief and licensing that one gem amongst millions.
Music Licensing as Still a ‘People’ Business
While it may seem that everything can be done with a click of the mouse, it is still in the hands of the music supervisor to source and license music in the real world. Certainly music libraries can be virtual, but music licensing remains a people business. One thing that has not changed over the last decade is that music supervisors still play a fundamental role in contacting and negotiating with music labels and artists in person in order to clear and license music for commercial use. In fact, with more artists than ever before now self-publishing or releasing music by themselves, including the likes of FKA twigs and Macklemore, it has become even harder to track down who are the rights holders of music in order to license and clear a song for a deadline. The difficulties of licensing still remain on the shoulders of the music supervisor.
The Changing Habits of Artists
While the licensing and negotiation aspect of music supervision remains certain, the state of the music industry has rapidly changed and the work of music supervision has reflected this. In the last few decades, it was not uncommon that artists did not want to license their music in adverts or on television shows for fear that this would mean they were selling out.
However, creative opinion on advertising has changed. With adverts now becoming more of an art form, artists are more likely to collaborate with brands that they feel share their creative ideals. Advertising has become cool. And for independent artists, a straight shot at the mainstream is making it into an advertising campaign. But it’s not just independent artists who aspire for the mainstream. One way in which artists are now making more money than ever before is through advertisements and exclusive deals with brands. For example, H&M recently worked with Katy Perry in their latest Christmas campaign. Perry has written exclusive music for the brand, as well as featured throughout their billboard campaign internationally. For music supervisors this trend has made music sources endless. No longer are artists shying away from working with advertisers, making music supervisors' options for music much easier than in prior decades.
The Changing Client Brief
The Challenges of New Mediums in Advertising
It is not just the music industry that has changed, but it is advertising itself. The rise of the Internet and new media in the past decade has created new ways to license and use music. There are now multiple possibilities for music to be licensed, such as in interactive adverts, on YouTube videos and in apps. It’s now even possible to use the Shazam app to recognise a song on TV adverts and unlock even more information about a brand. With these new uses for music, the work of a music supervisor has completely changed. There are newer challenges in understanding how music should be used and with the rate of new technologies developing, much of the process is groundbreaking, meaning that there are new mediums for music supervisors to discover how to best fit music to every day.
The Rise of TV
An ever-increasing trend has been finding the best new music to fit to television soundtracks. It is estimated that over 400 prime time shows will have aired in 2015 English-language TV, and with music needed for every show, TV now presents a rising field for music supervisors to work in.
While the budget allowance for music still remains the largest in the film industry, television is spending even more than before on music. As the Hollywood Reporter demonstrates, music is the biggest post-production spend for television shows, even on pilots. Take for example the popular long-running American series Mad Men. It was reported by the Rolling Stone, that the creator, Matthew Weiner, shelled out a whopping $250,000 in licensing fees for The Beatles’ track 'Tomorrow Never Knows’. And what made up his mind to choose to spend this much? The creative decision that the song fitted the period of Mad Men so perfectly.
Good music is now fundamental to a television shows success; it is a part of what makes the programming memorable for audiences. Such a trend has been reflected in deals made with artists. It is still the case that artists write original music for film soundtracks, but a new trend in the last decade has been the exclusive first play of an artist’s new single on a television show. For example, much to their fans surprise, the Icelandic band Sigur Rós once premiered one of their singles on an American teen-supernatural show, ‘The Vampire Diaries’. Likewise, the show also has an online playlist of all the music that was played in the latest episode. With television now becoming a source for audiences to find new music and becoming part of the dynamic of television production, sync licensing opportunities have exploded, meaning that work for music supervisors has become even more abundant.
The Soaring Budgets of Video Games
An equally newer development has been the rise of production spending on video games. Video games have become just as expensive as movies, according to the German statistics portal Statista. Their findings place video game ‘Destiny’ as the most expensive video game yet, with an estimated £310 million in production costs. And what is the biggest part of that cost? Marketing and advertising budgets according to the video-game blog Kotatku. The blog reports that video-game giant EA now spend on average up to three times more on advertising than they do on game development.
Take for example, November 2015’s almost cinematic ‘Call of Duty’ trailer, featuring a host of celebrities, and the sync license of classic Rolling Stones track ‘Paint It Black’. With bigger budgets now available for video games, the opportunities for music supervisors to work on more content than ever before presents both an abundant workflow and a more specialised creative use of music.
As the work of a music supervisor has changed over the last decade with new technologies, advertising mediums, and an increasing workflow with more content needed for both TV and videogames, what remains to be seen is how the complete digitisation of syncs will change the field.
Genre: Music & Sound Design , People