Supervisor Spotlight: Toby Slade-Baker

By Dominic Bastyra

When did you first learn about supervision and decide it was something you wanted to pursue?

I don’t think I ever really decided. It just happened. I had been a club DJ and promoter for years and someone in the ad industry approached me in Auckland while I was playing records at a party. He asked me if I had ever thought about choosing music for film and TV and suggested I get in touch with his wife who was head of marketing at Extreme Music at the time. So I did and she offered me a job the following week. It was my responsibility to know the catalogue inside out and to pitch tracks to ad agencies, and broadcasters. I was already producing music so I started doing detailed edits to picture to deliver to my advertising clients (which no-one in library was doing at the time but I have always really enjoyed) and it just went from there. I built up a good network, got some experience commissioning original music and got my head around the TV production and music rights landscapes. It was always exciting to get tracks I had put forward signed off by the client, especially when there was a bespoke element to what I delivered, so I guess that was the buzz I wanted to pursue. 

What were you doing before?

I started DJing at about 16 / 17 and I had been collecting records for years before that. I started a club night with some friends because it was the only way to get a gig at the time and it was perfect. Tiny. Dark. Loud. Messy. I never looked back. I ran various club nights between 1997 and 2002 and did a lot of DJing for other clubs and events. In 2002 I was asked to look after promotion and production for the Big Beat Boutique by Norman Cook and his team. It was pretty much the dream job on paper as far as Brighton was concerned, but after a couple of years touring the UK with big names in Big Beat, Breakbeat, House and Techno the reality of that lifestyle was less glamorous and I felt I needed to do something a lot more sensible (and profitable). Amazing experience though, and some great times.

Was there a particular ad/film/tv show that inspired you to explore supervision?

It probably seems like a cliché but I would have to say Kubrick’s 2001. I have always loved sci-fi, but that was just so unique. Patient, epic and beautiful… and so many moments where the music is everything. I also have very strong memories of the Levi’s ads with ‘Inside’ by Stiltskin and ‘Spaceman’ by Babylon Zoo (1994 / 1995). Those are probably the first sync placements I paid attention to.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the job?

I think the most challenging thing has also been the most rewarding. Getting my head around actually running and developing a business. + Balancing the business side with the personal. I love just getting on with the creative production work and not having to constantly generate more work, and manage staff etc. In starting my own business I’ve been able to find a unique way of working – more like a network of collaborators –  which gives me a decent balance and I think enables others to develop and grow more quickly. I have also worked hard to establish long-term relationships with different types of client outside of the commercial production environment so it’s not always a fight for the next big TV ad. 

What’s your dream project? Are there any particular directors, brands, artists or composers you’d like to work with?

I love any project in which the people I am working with are pleasant and professional, and on which we truly collaborate to provide a great service or to create something memorable. I have been fortunate to work with many of the brands and agencies I admire (for their creative output) on several occasions, and also on many great projects for important humanitarian causes which always adds an extra layer of satisfaction. In the future I would love to focus on content, long or short form, that is daring, experimental, unusual, genuinely creative…   I’m not so interested in helping big pharma sell toothpaste (but I’ll probably still do it if the money is decent 🙂 )

What’s the best/your favourite use of music in a film or advertising?

Too difficult to say ‘favourite’. Maybe the way they communicate with the aliens in Close Encounters. 🙂  I’m a big fan of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto and a lot of the Revenant score is beautiful. Oneohtrix Point Never score for Good Time is up my street.  The Imperial March from the Empire Strikes back ! Thats the one. (My 5 year old loves Sing! and i was quite impressed by how many songs they could cram into one soundtrack)

What advice would you give someone looking to become a supervisor?

Obviously there are different types of supervision and it varies a lot from features to tv shows to advertising. As supervisors we are often fence sitters. Straddling two very different industries. So I’d say it’s very important to understand the landscape. To know how all the pieces of production fit together. To know how all the pieces of the music industry fit together. Then you can more quickly work out which kind of musical response tends to work in which context and why, and quickly be able to advise your clients on what is and isn’t achievable. It’s a great start to have deep, broad music knowledge and to fastidiously keep on top of new developments in music and where they have impact globally. It’s even better to have an intuitive understanding of what works on picture in a particular scene or context. But there’s a lot that only comes with experience. If you have a good grounding in the business as a whole, on both sides, you’ll get a running start. 

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