What is a Music Supervisor?

Written by 90 Seconds
Last updated: October 4, 2023
What is a Music Supervisor?

When it comes to adding that extra element that brings a production to life, few positions have the ability to create an impact like a music supervisor.

Music has the power to take a project from merely good to great, and it’s the responsibility of the music supervisor to find, oversee and manage all talent related to music during the production. Films such as O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Graduate, and Titanic were all elevated above simply being just films and into the minds of the worldwide public due to their excellent musical accompaniments.

It was the music supervisor who largely orchestrated these soundtracks, choosing what pieces appeared where and when, and dealing with any talent related issues that may have arisen.

And, music supervisors also have the added benefit of potentially being paid royalties for successful soundtracks, making the position both highly competitive and sought after.

Primary roles

Choosing the music

As the job title suggests, the music supervisor oversees all aspects of the music for a project.

Much like a director who manages the entire film or video crew, a music supervisor works within a given budget in order to execute their creative vision.

Working closely with both the director and producer, the music supervisor must research songs and pieces that enhance the scenes within the film.

Negotiating with the talent and publishers

After finding that perfect piece of music to accompany a film, the music supervisor must begin the process of ensuring that it can legally be used in the film.

If it’s a preexisting song, that means communicating with the creator’s publishing firm in order to negotiate the film rights for the desired piece of music.

And while it is not required, a legal background can be very helpful for the aspiring music supervisor, as it will allow them to navigate the murky waters of copyright ownership and fair use.

Secondary roles

Overseeing Project Finances

Being a music supervisor is like being the manager of any business venture; you have to keep a keen eye on the project’s finances, or risk going over budget.

Securing the rights to a critical piece of music can often be expensive, and it’s not unusual for supervisors to have to make the decision of choosing a popular piece of music for one scene and potentially cutting corners somewhere else.

A great music supervisor knows how to stay within budget without allowing music choices to negatively impact a project.

Ensuring artist royalty collections

A supervisor’s interaction with an artist and their publisher doesn’t end at securing the rights to a song; they must also ensure that the musician receives their due royalties.

After a piece of preexisting music appears in a film, the music supervisor must submit its appearance to one of the Performance Rights Organizations.

These organizations monitor how music is used in visual media, enabling an artist to receive their proper due.