Tips from music supervisor Gemma Dempsey

We spoke to Gemma Dempsey, music supervisor and now consultant for Sound Cheque – A great company providing a route for artists (signed or unsigned) to have their music pitched for syncs.  Enjoy:

1. What does a music supervisor do?

A music supe can be brought on a production to do a variety of things – research and clear the rights to pre existing music; research / interview composer for the underscore to a film; find a songwriter or band  to create new tracks for the film; coordinate pre records for tracks that are needed for playback on the set ( e.g Glee) .  The music supe may also be the producer on the soundtrack working with the musicians contractor and composer to work out the live recording  sessions and being at the studio each day to make sure the cues are recorded in time and work with the picture cues or arrange for any re-writing or recording if needs be and ensure they are completed in a format that the music editor and dubbing mixer need. They are present at the dub & mix.

They must provide all the paperwork for all aspects of the soundtrack as required by the film’s completion guarantors. Failure to do so could impede the release of the film. If there is to be a soundtrack album the music supe can shop for a deal with a label or arrange for a digital release. He/she can liaise with the sales or distributors of the film to ensure the release of a track/album or music video featuring scenes from the film is released to coordinate with the release of the movie ( which will vary according to territory). Some films e.g some Disney productions will swop out opening or closing title music/songs to ones that will work better in that territory. All  of these aspects to the job are done in consultation with the director, producer and music editor on the film.

2. Which films/programmes have you worked on?

I’ve mainly worked in feature films & the last 20’years have been spent on working on those   as well as being a radio producer in Los Angeles at NPR affiliate KCRW – most recent work includes  the Italian film ‘No Mercy’ directed by Michele Alhaique; ‘Suspension of Disbelief’ & ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ by Mike Figgis: ‘The Last Emperor’ & ‘Little Buddha’ by Bernardo Bertolucci & ‘Shallow Grave’ by Danny Boyle.

3. How important is the ‘right song’ for motion picture?

The ‘right’ song is important to represent & embellish an emotion / theme of a scene or the entire film. Same as the finding the best cast of actors. Music is a character within the production.

4. How do music supervisors find music and who decides whether it is used?

How/where you find the music will depend on the film – is it historical or contemporary? What is your budget aka what can you afford to go after and which companies or catalogues can you use depending on your needs/resources? Before the internet (!) this was extremely laborious so you worked with the various labels & publishers whose jobs were to know their catalogues & make money for their clients (writers & artists) by having their works licensed for use in a film. You can still go that route but there are so many more options available online – YouTube , Twitter, Spotify, indie radio stations recommendations, websites like nme, pitchfork, quietus, lastfm, Nowness – as well as ‘one stop shops’ that have pre cleared music. If you don’t have much money you can look for less famous versions or ‘ covers’. As for who decides it’s usually the director!

5. How would an unsigned band go about getting their music to people in your position?

If you like a particular tv show or film track down the director or music supe & send them you music! Try to get gigs that will expose you to a media savvy crowd , have some product to sell or give away at gigs; make a cute or quirky video , if you have any contacts in the film/tv/ ad worlds try to get them involved in what you are doing whether supplying equipment or having a cameo ( George Ezra & Ian Mckellen Listen to the man) network at events like The Great Escape & other festivals. Consider getting a manager!