By Dominic Bastrya / Wake The Town
When did you first learn about supervision and decide it was something you wanted to pursue?
As a kid growing up in suburban Northern Virginia, I spent a disproportionately large amount of time at the cinema. My obsession with music started at around age 4, and my passion for film didn’t follow far behind that. I landed my first proper music industry job in the late ‘90’s at a small, independent House music label and, although I was thrilled to have my foot in the door, I grew frustrated with label management as I felt that I wasn’t able to make creative decisions. I was fascinated with the seemingly boundless opportunities within the heavily male-dominated field of A&R, but it was a part of the business that seemed off-limits to neophytes (especially female ones.)
At the time, I had several friends working in the UK film industry and a few of them asked me if I’d ever considered being a Music Supervisor. I’d never even heard of such a thing, and couldn’t believe such a job could exist. Someone would pay me to marry sound with picture? It felt like playing God – needless to say, I was instantly obsessed. Little did I know at the time that music supervision is a bit more complicated than that…
What were you doing before?
My first music industry jobs prior to being a supervisor were at small recording studios and independent record labels, where I started as an assistant and then worked my way up into label management. It was actually my last record label job that facilitated my first lucky break into music supervision back in 2002. At the time, my screenwriter/producer friend Jack Barth was producing Jonathan Ross’ documentary series Japanorama for (now BBC3) BBC Choice and he knew that because of my previous label role I was familiar with J-Pop and Japanese electronica, so he brought me on as a music consultant for the show. Like most things in this business, it was a classic case of being in the right place at the right time.
Was there a particular ad/film/tv show that inspired you to explore supervision?
Not specifically, although having grown up in the US, I was always blown away by the music in foreign/British adverts. The most complex soundtrack to any American commercial I recall as a kid was never more than a jingle, but in the UK, adverts launched recording artists’ careers and scored number one singles.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the job?
The hardest part of my job is when I’m not able to deliver the music that the agency and/or client want. Usually this is due to financial or time restraints, but occasionally it’s simply because the approval parties aren’t happy being associated with the brand itself. Those are tricky conversations to have with the agency team and client, but ultimately you have to respect the wishes of the musical creators – it’s their consent to give, or deny. I swiftly move on to finding an alternative solution in this situation and remind everyone (including myself!) that sometimes losing ‘THE’ track is a blessing in disguise. You never know what’s around the corner.
What’s your dream project? Are there any particular directors, brands, artists or composers you’d like to work with?
My dream project would involve working with a brand that is fully committed to supporting a long-term music strategy with relevance and authenticity. This sounds easier than it actually is; brands need to learn to be brave and play the long game, but sometimes it’s tempting for them to just jump into bed with ‘cool’ cultural partners just for the sake of gaining some quick credibility. I always strongly advise against that – most consumers can smell the bullshit a mile off.
The only way for brands to achieve authority in the music space is to create and execute a sustained strategy that is meaningful and relevant to the brand’s philosophy. Those are the brands that I dream of working with.
What’s the best/your favourite use of music in a film or advertising?
Too hard to answer (obviously!) but I once had an almost religious experience when I first heard Thomas Newman’s score for American Beauty, specifically in the ‘plastic bag blowing in the wind’ scene.
What advice would you give someone looking to become a supervisor?
If you’ve decided to become a supervisor for all of the right reasons i.e. deep love of music, passion for film/tv/advertising/gaming, desire to contribute to an awesome creative community, helping recording artists/songwriters/composers etc…then with a lot of hard work, determination, Red Bull/coffee and positivity, you can absolutely have a thriving and fulfilling career.
However, if you think you might want to become a supervisor because you fancy scoring free gig tickets, VIP guest lists, seats at The Brits, long expensive lunches bought by record labels etc, then I’m afraid you’re getting into the wrong business for the wrong reasons. Of course, all of these above-mentioned perks are lovely, but they’re by no means guaranteed, and none of them pay the electric bill. If you’re comfortable knowing that by being a music supervisor you might only ever make just enough money to cover your rent, and you’re still madly in love with it…then this is a path worth pursuing.