Being a Music Supervisor

Music supervisor listening to music snippets on headphones while standing in the office by the window.
•••

A Green / Getty Images

Music supervisors place music in media such as movies, television shows, video games, and commercials. They work with studios, musicians, and their representatives to select appropriate music, and then secure the licenses to use it. The nature of the work makes being a music supervisor a high-stress job at times, and a music supervisor's pay is based on a project's budget.

Job Basics

To understand this career, consider a music supervisor working on movie production. First, they meet with the production team to find out what kind of music the movie needs. The producers may have specific tracks in mind, or they may have a general idea of the kind of music or feel they want.

The supervisor then finds appropriate music and begins the licensing process. There may be several licenses needed per song, and the final approval cannot come until filming is complete. Music supervisors often have a small window of time to secure licensing ahead of a movie's release date.

Salary

Music supervisors typically earn flat fees for their work. The amount of money they earn is based on the size of project budgets. Most television music supervisors get paid a few thousand per episode, while the most sought-after music supervisors make upwards of $200,000 for their services for major movie productions. Music supervisors sometimes negotiate royalties on soundtracks and receive bonuses if the productions on which they work surpass pre-determined earnings thresholds.

How to Become a Music Supervisor

Like most music careers, there isn't a clear path to becoming a music supervisor. Some aspiring music supervisors take classes to become knowledgeable about music licensing rules, so to that end, music business classes can help.

They may also seek music industry internship opportunities to learn the ropes, make connections, and get paying work. Up-and-coming music supervisors often start by taking low and non-paying​ jobs to build their portfolios. Many music supervisors work as freelancers, so portfolios show their experience to prospective clients.

Challenges

Music supervisors handle tough negotiations. Even films with multi-million-dollar budgets tend to earmark only a small amount of money for music. The musicians and rights holders usually believe that studios can pay a lot more for music, so they tend to set their prices high. In the middle is the music supervisor, who has to find a plan that works for both sides.

If that isn't a tough enough position to be in, negotiations cannot conclude until a movie has wrapped. Further, each piece of music requires multiple licenses. Because of movie release dates, the turnaround time for a music supervisor's work can be extremely tight. The turnaround for television productions can be even tighter.

The tense negotiations and tight deadlines are not for the faint of heart, but these are the parts of the job where music supervisors earn their stripes. Those who lead a few high-profile projects to a successful conclusion often have long and lucrative careers.