Hooray For Hollywood: Pitching Music for Film & TV (Tips from a Gatekeeper)

I’ve had the bits and pieces of this post rattling around in my brain for quite some time now, so when Aaron alerted Team PCC that he may not be able to post today due to an alleged “road trip” for a so-called “fashion show,” I figured now might be the right time to unleash it (in all seriousness though, Tsuru and Tsurubride are both rockstars, I’m happy to help).

When I’m not blogging, I spend most of my time in a cubicle where I work in TV music at a studio.  I also music supervise the occasional project on the side when people want me.  A good part of my job is keeping track of the flood of music submissions that come to my boss and I from all over – independent artists, major labels, indie labels, publishers, agents, managers, pitching agencies and the occasional publicist.  Having been in this role for a solid two and half years now, I’ve spoken to a lot of folks on the phone who don’t know that it’s unprofessional to send a handwritten letter with a chicken scratch title written on the CD in sharpie, or have no idea what yousendit is.  Based on my experiences there are a few things I believe every artist should be aware of in order to come off educated, to protect their own music, and give their tunes the best shot of getting licensed.

Big ‘Ol Disclaimer: While I’ve been doing this for a few years – I’ve also only been doing this for a few years.  All music supervisors have their own way of collecting and organizing submissions, so in no way am I saying that these are the definitive rules.  There are none.  If there are, I don’t have them.  These are merely my humble observations from my own job, having worked for two music supervisors, and from what I’ve heard from others at panels or in conversation.  I invite any music supervisors who might read this to add their own opinions.

1) Be educated about the business side. I know it sounds painful.  But on the most basic level you have to understand that their are two sides to a song (master and publishing), what elements are in a license, that samples from other songs always need to be licensed, and so forth.  I recommend reading All You Need To Know About The Music Business by Donald Passman; the book is an overview of the whole industry written for artists and does a great job explaining some pretty complex concepts in an understandable way.

2) Know who owns your music, or at least who has the right to license it for film and TV.  If there are three writers, would a supervisor need to get permission from all three or is there a point person with the power to make those decisions on behalf of the group?  Who owns the master recording of a song – the producer, the artist or the label?  Generally if you have a label, the label owns it, but basically just make sure you have these conversations with your team.

3) Make smart connections. If I were an independent artist I would not cold call a big studio pitching my music.  Studios and other big companies get so many calls and emails everyday it’s way too easy to get lost in the shuffle, not to mention there are other political agendas and relationships at play as well.  I recommend first targeting representation by pitching companies who have a strong catalog that your music would fit in well with, and more importantly – already have connections with all the people who are placing music.  There are big ones like Music Dealers and OurStage, who have huge searchable databases, and more boutique companies like Position Music (they have a big production music library, but a much smaller artist representation wing), Lip Sync Music, Ghost Town, and Secret Road Music Services.  And hundreds more all of which have their own specialties, set up and deal-making situation.  How to get representation by one of these companies (and deciding which company is right for you) is it’s own article so I won’t go into it.

4) Do your research. If you do insist on cold calling a large company, make sure you know what projects they’re working on.  With this great invention called the Internet, you can find out almost everything about a production.  Take a moment and think, “does my music really fit into anything they’re working on?”  if the answer is yes, mention that.  If not, then be clear that you are aware it may not work right now, but you’d like to be considered for the future.  I don’t know any music supervisor who doesn’t appreciate when artists show they’ve put in a little effort.


The Guild of Music Supervisors First Awards Brunch - Be nice to these people!

5) Be polite and professional. If you’ve never met or built any rapport with someone, don’t be their best friend right away.  I’m not saying you have to call me “Ms. Krieg,” but use  real words, complete sentences and proper punctuation.   I will seriously get emails from producers being like, “Hi.  I want to put music into your soundtracks.  Let me know what you’re working on.  Thx.”  Come on now.

6) Always include music to download, and try to avoid links that expire.  I personally download pretty much everything I get sent, right away, and just store zip files in a folder until I can listen, but I’ve heard other supervisors express the “no links that expire” sentiment.  On the whole, the more information about a band the better; a YouTube video, or an article including a stream of your track on Stereogum is cool, but the bottom line is that we can’t send those to an editor to try to picture.  Try services like OneHub or Box.net which both give the option of streaming and downloading. SoundCloud is also a good tool, but it can be a pain to download all the tracks individually.  I’m always on the hunt for better tools to upload and share music, and am definitely open to suggestions.

7)  Have high quality versions, instrumentals and lyrics for all of your tracks on the ready. I think some people would go so far as to say having stems available is also important, but in my job we rarely need stems.  High (or “broadcast”) quality files can be WAV of AIF and are necessary for the final mix.

8) Always include contact information embedded into your tracks (or stuck onto your CD case for physical CDs, or both).  Often times I end up listening to a file months after it was sent to me, and can’t remember where I got it from.  If I can’t figure out where it came from, I don’t know who to reach out to should I want to license it, and since music searches generally have a quick turnaround, I may move on to another track.  You don’t want that!

9) Be quick about it. As I said above, music searches can require a quick turnaround.  In fact, most of them do.  If you have a label, publisher, administrator or anyone responsible for pitching your music it’s their job to act quickly, but if you don’t and you get a call about a potential opportunity – move fast!  Sometimes even waiting five hours before responding can cost you a placement.

10) Patience is a virtue. Sometimes I get asked to give my feedback or opinions on music I’m sent, and I honestly don’t know what to say.  From where I sit, I only really feel qualified to comment on whether the song or artist is a fit for any of the projects I have a hand in at that moment, not how good or bad they are.  That’s what bloggers are for.  I tell people on the phone all the time, “if you don’t hear from us, it doesn’t mean that we don’t like your music or it’s bad – we just don’t have the right project for it right now.”  In my experience, pitching for film and television is like trying to hit a moving target.  I do not envy (and highly respect) anyone who does it.  As they say, “success is when opportunity meets preparedness.”  Hopefully I helped at least a little with the latter.




9 comments for “Hooray For Hollywood: Pitching Music for Film & TV (Tips from a Gatekeeper)

  1. April 2, 2011 at 12:16 AM

    I’ve been very interested in the business of building a soundtrack for a film for a while & would love to hear more about the process from your side of things, rather than what an artist should pay attention to. Don’t know if another post(s) is in your future, but you can count me in as someone who’d read it.

    That said, living in Nashville (where the Tsurus may or may not be on this alleged “fashion show”) the past handful o’ months has offered an interesting crash course into the side of things that I had rarely been exposed to: publishing, etc. Most definitely something that artists have to inform themselves on.

    Know the Rollo & Grady dudes are heavy in that scene & at one point I was trying to build a series that essentially critically assessed a movie’s music and re-edited that film’s soundtrack. Goal was to figure some video editing software out and do proper scene edits, but I ended up just writing about the changes I thought could be made. The work vs. payoff was more than a bit imbalanced, so my “series” began and ended with the same post, but I still think it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever had: http://www.culturebully.com/a-prophet-film-review

    Point is: very curious on a personal level to learn more about this stuff.


  2. Heather
    April 2, 2011 at 12:38 AM

    Very well said, Amanda! As a Music Supervisor, I absolutely agree with all of the points you’re hitting. The chances of getting a song placed in a project is on par with getting struck by lightning or winning the lottery. However, there are many steps that can be taken to help those chances and you’ve done a terrific job of highlighting them (I especially love the download links that don’t expire advice). Music Supervisors all operate differently, but being knowledgeable and prepared will always help an artist’s ability to get past ‘the gate.’

  3. April 2, 2011 at 1:49 AM

    Amanda! This is a fantastic article I agree with all points, but would add a few:

    – Metadata: When you send mp3’s, embed ALL metadata into the track. Time management is a major part of supervision. With the constant onslaught of songs, we don’t have time to label all of your songs for you, or go back and email you to figure out the track title or artist. Often times I throw out un-labeled tracks without listening because I literally don’t have time to deal.

    – Amount of submissions: On the subject of time management, if you are responding to a music search, or are introducing your company, please don’t send your entire catalog. We are much more likely to pay attention if you send a succinct and appropriate list of ideas.

    – Read thoroughly: When we send a search we try to be as detailed as possible. If we ask for an acoustic love song in the vain of Colbie Caillat, please don’t send a Megadeath sound-alike. This sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not.

    – Stems: I do find that our music editors request stems for about 10 – 20% of the songs on a film. Having these readily available is so helpful and can mean the difference between using your track or replacing it.

    – Writing On Spec: Long gone are the days when we can pay you to write a song for the picture. If you would like to try to nail a cue, know that you will have to write on spec, aka, we can’t pay you to write and record a track you hope will make it into the film. Only when it lands does the checkbook come out. To further that note, if you are writing on spec, it’s always best to turn in a near-polished demo. If it’s too rough you may come off as unprofessional, and most of the time that’s not something we can cut to picture.

    There’s plenty more to say on this topic, but I’m procrastinating. Sadly, I need to listen through a big stack of music right now. Time management is a bitch.

  4. April 2, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    Excellent article and comments.

  5. April 19, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    I would love to see an article, Amanda, about how to become a music supervisor!

  6. February 12, 2015 at 2:59 AM

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