How to become a music supervisor (with steps and skills)
Updated 1 May 2023
In various types of media, there are music supervisors who are responsible for the music-related elements of a production. These supervisors can therefore work in film, television, gaming, theatre or advertising. If you're interested in music supervision, understanding the requirements of the role can help you get the job you want. In this article, we explain what a music supervisor is, how to become a music supervisor, the responsibilities of the role and the key skills.
What is a music supervisor?
A music supervisor is a professional who's in charge of everything related to music for a production. The role involves a mixture of creative and organisational work. Music supervisors can have a role in generating creative ideas for accompanying visual work, working closely with directors, selecting composers, securing the rights to other music and budget management. This is a broad role with responsibilities that are going to vary significantly from one project to another.
How to become a music supervisor
Knowing how to become a music supervisor can help you get the role you want. Here are some steps to consider if you're interested in the role:
1. Get some A-levels
There are various routes which you can pursue to become a music supervisor, and some A-levels are usually going to be useful or necessary. The number of A-levels and the subjects may differ depending on the route you pursue. For instance, a university degree usually requires you to have at least two or three A-levels in relevant subjects. Alternatively, some apprenticeships or college courses may only require one or two A-levels or even just some GCSEs. Good subjects include music, business, information technology, drama, English and maths.
2. Complete a degree (optional)
One way of starting a career as a music supervisor is with a degree in a relevant subject. There typically aren't any bachelor's degrees in music supervision, but you have some closely-related options to consider. These include a degree in music business or music management, although other business or management degrees can also be useful. If your degree isn't specifically about music management, try to find elective modules which relate to music or media production.
If you have any work placement or internship opportunities as part of your degree, try to seek music production or supervision companies to get relevant experience. If you have any projects which allow you to choose topics of interest, these can also be good opportunities to learn about music.
3. Seek training courses (optional)
Since a full degree isn't always necessary for a career in music supervision, a relevant course can be a good alternative if you want to save time. You can look for dedicated music supervision courses or similar training related to media supervision and management. A good place to start is with potential employers, who may suggest certain training courses or even provide them.
4. Acquire experience
Entry-level work is a good place to start for aspiring music supervisors. Although a degree or training can be useful, this isn't always necessary. In some cases, these qualifications can allow you to start with more responsibilities. Look for work that allows you to work under a music supervisor as an assistant. Some production companies may also offer useful roles related to organising musical productions, allowing you to gain relevant experience and learn more about music and the industry. Since many music supervisors are freelancers who work on a project basis, you may also work similarly in many cases.
5. Apply for music supervisor jobs
Once you've got some experience working with or under a music supervisor, you can start to look for opportunities to become one. Your experience in the field might've brought you some contacts through networking, which can help you identify potential jobs. A lot of music supervisor work is freelance, so prepare to work on a per-project basis. Initially, you may find work on smaller projects, and then move on to bigger projects with more substantial budgets as you gain experience and boost your CV.
Responsibilities of a music supervisor
Here are some of the common responsibilities of a music supervisor.
Generating creative ideas: A music supervisor has a lot of control over the musical accompaniment to various types of visual media. Together with others involved in the production process, they can suggest or generate ideas for music and sound.
Working with media professionals: As a decision-making professional, the music supervisor collaborates with a wide variety of others to ensure that all media fits together. This means working with directors, composers, editors, writers, music editors, producers and others.
Talent acquisition: Music supervisors usually don't actually produce or perform the music, but instead they look for talented individuals to do this. These can be composers, instrumentalists, singers and music editors.
Music acquisition: In addition to hiring people to produce original music, a music supervisor can also acquire the right to use existing music. This involves negotiating with artists and other intellectual property holders.
Spotting: The spotting process involves assessing an unfinished film or other visual media to determine where it's going to require music and what to include. This is often a collaborative process between the music supervisor, composer, director and others.
Organisation: The music supervisor has a key role in ensuring that everything related to music production remains organised and complements the work of other media professionals. This can include managing paperwork and contracts, getting licences, liaising with various professionals and ensuring that everyone meets their production deadlines.
Key skills for music supervisors
Here's a list of some of the most useful skills and competencies for a music supervisor:
Music supervisors are essential for keeping the music production process organised. They hire or otherwise contract the services of the various artists, editors and others involved in the process and try to ensure they meet their deadlines. They also act as intermediaries between the music production teams and others, such as directors, actors, developers and producers. This requires them to have excellent organisational and time management skills.
Although music supervisors rarely contribute musically to a production, knowledge of music and its principles is a valuable competency. Many music supervisors might also play an instrument and know a lot about composition and music theory. This allows them to collaborate better with composers and other musical professionals, in addition to helping them make valid contributions to the creative process. Some may also have a musical background as performers or similar, before transitioning into music supervision.
Communication and negotiation
Music supervisors are constantly collaborating and communicating with various other professionals and stakeholders. These include music production professionals, artists, directors, executives and external contractors. Excellent verbal and written communication skills allow them to do this effectively, understand the requirements of others and give clear instructions to those they lead. For negotiating contracts and acquiring the rights to use music, they also benefit from good negotiation skills. Since many music supervisors are freelancers, they're typically going to be negotiating their own terms and contracts for every new project, which is another reason why negotiation skills are so important for them.
As leaders, music supervisors benefit from having confidence. A lot of this can derive from their experience and knowledge of the industry, which is why music supervisors typically have significant industry experience prior to assuming their positions. Their confidence allows them to give instructions, negotiate effectively and make the necessary decisions. For freelance music supervisors, confidence can also help them attract new clients and negotiate favourable contracts.
Since music supervisors are often responsible for the acquisition of the rights to music and licensing, they require some knowledge of the law relating to intellectual property. This can include knowing the procedures for licensing music, creative rights and royalty distribution. Knowledge of the law is essential for ensuring that there are no copyright infringements and for protecting the intellectual property of their clients' productions.
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