What's Your Job? Music Supervisor for Film
Name: Brian McNelis
Job: Senior Vice President of Music & Soundtracks at Lakeshore Entertainment
There's more to being a Music Supervisor for Film than just picking out a few songs.
Music supervisors never work alone. The film's director and producers usually have a clear vision for what music they want, so the music supervisor collaborates with them to track down that music and in some cases, suggests other songs that are similar. The music supervisor is also responsible for working with the director to find a composer for a film's original score. And most importantly, the supervisor makes sure that purchasing the rights to these songs is within the film's budget. If it isn't, the supervisor can provide other options that fall in line with the director's creative vision.
"We navigate all of the political and financial complexities of getting music into a film," says Brian McNelis, the Vice President of Music and Soundtracks at Lakeshore Entertainment. "The goal is to always strike the balance of affording the music you agree upon creatively."
Brian has been in the entertainment industry for more than 30 years, starting out at a record store and working his way up the ranks at indie record labels like MetalBlade and Cleopatra. When he started at Lakeshore Records, the music arm of film production studio Lakeshore Entertainment (The Lincoln Lawyer, Underworld), it was was all rock and electronic music.
"If you're a record company with offices on the Paramount Pictures lot, soundtracks seem like the right place to go," says Brian. "Our producers realized that there was value with having the guys in the music department start working on our films."
Brian became Lakeshore's music supervisor in 2002, and eventually being named the Head of Music and Soundtracks, meaning he oversees every aspect of music as it relates to the company. This includes supervising music for the films, hiring and negotiating composer deals, managing the company's catalog assets, and more.
The music supervisor's role varies from film to film. Sometimes they will rarely suggest any music at all, but just facilitate the licensing and rights process. "When I worked on the Drive soundtrack, Nicolas [director Nicolas Winding Refn] had a very clear vision for the film," says Brian. "Sometimes the best thing you can do as a music supervisor is support the director's vision and not get in the way."
And depending on the film, music supervisors are involved in the entire production process or just come in during post. According to Brian, if there is a musical performance by an actor in the film, or even if an actor is just singing along to a song in his car, the Music Supervisor is involved in that process from the beginning.
So, what does it take? According to Brian, a good background in music and business is important. Music Supervisors need to be able to speak the language of music, but also be really good at negotiating and have a strong understanding of music publishing and rights. You have to be very good at working with others and able to respect others' creative opinions, but know when it's important to speak up and give your own musical input.
And how do you get there? "Make yourself invaluable," says Brian. He suggests volunteering to do the music clearances for a friend's or someone else's film, where you can start to learn the blood and guts of the business. You can work up from there.
"It's a pretty awesome gig," says Brian. "I get paid to work intimately in the two areas of the arts that I'm most passionate about: music and film. For whatever challenges there are, to get up in the morning and know you're going to be screening a film with a director and working creatively with him on music choices, it's pretty awesome."