The ‘Aussie SXSW’ – also known as BIGSOUND – is upon us in QLD’s Fortitude Valley from September 4-7. In the lead-up, we’re taking a look at some of the most promising names who’ll be appearing at the conference and festival.
Appearing as part of the Supervisionary Supervision panel discussion, Alison Rosenfeld has the job us music/telly addicts all dream of. She gave us an early peek into the crannies of Music Supervision.
What do you know about BIGSOUND, and what are you expecting from the Australian music conference? Any bands you’re hoping to catch?
I was introduced to BIGSOUND by Rice Is Nice’s Julia Wilson, who is one of my most trusted resources when I am looking for cool, new talent. I’m looking forward to discovering new bands, but I absolutely can’t miss Gabriella Cohen (her new record is fantastic), Kwame, San Mei, and Oh Pep! Regarding the conference, I’m hoping to expand my professional and creative network beyond the limits of my American contacts. I’m interested in unearthing the local music scene wherever I go, and I can’t wait to hear what’s bubbling in Australia.
What does your role as a Music Supervisor involve?
The easiest way to sum up my job is to say that I choose the music for films and television shows – but of course, no job is really that simple! The nitty-gritty involves securing rights for songs, presenting pitches to the producers and showrunners of the projects I work on, and overseeing the music not only creatively but in terms of the project’s budget. The job also demands that I constantly expand my music knowledge across decades and genres. I know it’s impossible to hear all the music ever made, but hey, a girl can try!
It must be really rewarding when you find the perfect song to fit a scene. Have you had many moments when you knew that you had just nailed it?
Finding the perfect song is extremely rewarding. When we began working on season one of the Amazon show Goliath, we were given a brief description of what the main title sequence would be, as well as some relevant images. I was sorting through the music I’d already set aside for the show, and came across Bartholomew by The Silent Comedy. Everything about the song was a near-perfect match for the show and the main title sequence, both lyrically and sonically. Once I pulled this song, we knew that it’d be unbeatable.
Another favourite was in season one of NBC’s Good Girls. I had the song Come On and Move Me by the Monarchs pulled for this show already – I love that song, and had been waiting for the perfect opportunity to pitch it – and we found a really gorgeous use for it at the end of our second episode; a perfectly bittersweet song to underscore the emotion of the episode.
How do you find new music for projects you’re working on, and are you conscious of promoting new artists in your work?
I don’t discriminate – I’ll find new music any way I can. I love getting recommendations from friends, listening to college radio, reading blogs.
One of the greatest joys of the job is bringing visibility to new and obscure artists. As the music industry tries to keep up with technology, it can be near impossible for new bands to break through to the masses, and harder still to survive as a musician. I relish the opportunity to thank a band for their work by sending some money their way. I include indie bands in nearly every pitch I send. I don’t like to think of myself as someone with a big ego, but I love being able to say, “I licensed them before they were cool”! Helping emerging bands find an audience is a primary reason I got into this field in the first place.
Once you and the showrunner/producer are in agreement on a scene, how do you go about securing the rights to use a track? Are older tracks harder to lisence than newer ones?
The vast majority of the songs we license are owned by labels and publishers we work with regularly. Usually, I will look up the song to find the label who put it out first, then I search the PRO databases for writer and publisher information. If a band is unsigned, I am generally able to reach out to them directly via their Facebook or SoundCloud page.
Older tracks can be harder to license – if contact information for the rightsholders is outdated or the label is now defunct, I may have to follow a trail of breadcrumbs to find the appropriate owners. Most of the clearance issues I’ve run into have been on our show Fresh Off the Boat, which uses primarily ‘90s hip hop, which is rife with uncleared samples and undetermined writer splits.
Are there any backcatalogues a seasoned Music Supervisor knows to avoid, because gaining approval is a pipedream?
Definitely. They’re the obvious ones you might think of: The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd are all generally too expensive for even our biggest projects. There are other songs that are unexpectedly hard to license. For example, being granted the use of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car in Girls was something I never in a million years thought would happen, because as far as I knew, she never licenses that song. You’d be surprised which legendary bands are open to licensing for normal fees, and which lesser-known artists are more sensitive to licensing.
You also can be found behind the decks in LA (Music Supervisor by day, DJ by night); have you found anything special while crate-digging for records lately?
I love this question! I recently picked up a rather weird one called Mooncircles by Kay Gardner. A random pull from a random bin in a random record shop in Joshua Tree, this is a vaguely experimental record written and performed exclusively by women. The shop didn’t have a turntable to listen on, but, fuelled by feminism, I bought the record anyway. I’ve had hit-or-miss luck with taking chances on unfamiliar records in the past, but this one happened to be a wonderful find!
What advice would you give somebody aspiring to become a Music Supervisor?
Listen to and read about all genres of music – not just new, undiscovered bands (though that’s important too) – knowing all kinds of music from jazz/swing to doo wop to soul to hip hop to pop and beyond is a requisite of the job. If you’re too cool to enjoy the new Miley Cyrus album, you might be too cool to be a music supervisor! If you’re mostly interested in getting your own music tastes and obscure finds out into the world, you may be more fit to be an awesome DJ than a music supervisor.
Alison Rosenfeld will be speaking on the Supervisionary Supervision panel on Thursday Sept 6.