From ukuleles to diplomacy: the art of music supervision

Research, negotiation and tracking down a 1920s Hawaiian ukulele piece are all part of a day in the life for Kim Green, Norman Parkhill and Gary Seeger.

As music supervisors, they’re working with filmmakers who have their ears set on particular music and the publishers who represent the composers of these works. It’s a job that requires both considerable industry knowledge and diplomacy. It’s also a role that looks set to get busier. With the recently announced government package of support measures to boost film production, it’s hoped that there will be a flow-on effect, with more films demanding more music licensing deals.

Norman Parkhill, who has over 20 years experience working in publishing, recording, artist management and A&R, established his company inSYNC in 2005, and has worked on such films as Kenny, Suburban Mayhem and Candy.

“Together with the director and composer and possibly the producer, writer and editor, my role is to help establish the musical tone for a production,” he said. “It’s then to research copyright, negotiate and deliver licences for pre-existing musical works to be used, and to work with the music editor or sound mixer in laying up and cutting in music.”

And after the final sound mix, the work still isn’t over. “There’s submitting cue sheets and there may also be a role in soliciting interest for a soundtrack album or releasing and marketing the album myself,” Parkhill said.

Kim Green worked as a Professional/Creative Manager for several large publishing companies before setting up Music Licensing five years ago. Her credits include world-wide music supervision for Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage (set to open in 30 countries), as well as recent television productions Bastard Boys, The Librarians, Kath & Kim and The Wiggles.

“I basically picked up the part of my job in publishing that I’d enjoyed so much,” she said. “That is, working with filmmakers.”

And, having worked on the publishing side, she understands the importance of maintaining this relationship.

“We’re working together daily,” she said, “either on different active productions, or I’m sourcing ideas from them. Part of the effectiveness of a music supervisor is having this good relationship, knowing how each publisher operates, what their catalogue can offer and what they need from producers to offer the best deals and creative ideas.”

Gary Seeger, who works for Music Mill describes himself as offering a “creative service from the early script stages, on-set if required, to the eleventh-hour post production crisis!”

“I’d see us as brokers sent down from the music halls of heaven to relieve the pressure of the complex details of the dreaded copyright,” he said.

Seeger says that when a job is on the boil, he works very closely with publishers, often on the phone to them several times a day.

“I’ve been on both sides of the fence and I’m very fortunate to have good friends in the music industry, most of them in licensing. We touch base regularly, during and in between productions.”

It’s a two way street, with publishers also working hard to bring their catalogues to the attention of the supervisors.

“Most are great at pushing their songwriters for film and TV,” Parkhill said.

“It’s so competitive out there,” Green said. “Publishers help by having promotional materials available to circulate when needed, and by talking about their composers when there’s some new activity and useful information.”

In terms of clearing rights for film, Seeger recommends that producers obtain all media rights for the world in perpetuity, in order to avoid the costly mistake of being caught without the necessary clearances.

Green advises her clients to ensure they allow plenty of time for negotiations and that they have a realistic budget for the music they want.

Parkhill agrees: “Producers can expect champagne on beer budgets. We can advise on the best approach to meet creative expectations while staying within budget.”

Although straddling the two industries can be challenging, it’s never boring. As Seeger said: “I love music and I love films. I’ve dealt with many colourful characters over the years. There’s always a fresh song to listen to, a new film to view or a great script to read.”

“And seeing all the threads of a project finally come together and finish up as a piece of captivating entertainment is very, very exciting,” said Green.

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