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What is a Music Supervisor?

Interview with Tim Bomba

Music Supervisor - "What the Bleep?"
Tim Bomba - Music Supervisor/Record Producer

What is a Music Supervisor?

A Music Supervisor is someone who finds and manages the licensing of music for a film or television production.

There are two parts to music in a film; The score which is written specifically for the film by a composer and then where the Music Supervisor comes into play is finding existing music to put into the film. Once the music is found, the Music Supervisor handles music clearance and rights licensing.

Q and A with Tim Bomba
How can someone get started in Music Supervision?

One of 2 things. You can either go to work for a music supervisor as an intern, do a couple of projects, see the sequence, see what people go through, see what the job is like. That’s certainly one route.

Some supervisors have a big enough operation that they can actually hire an assistant. I am basically a 1-man operation.

The other one is basically what I did - [learn by doing it]

"The Big Break"

I was working with a band called “Rusted Root ”, in the mid late 1990’s, and I was helping them put together their own recording studio. They had gotten a call from Amblin Entertainment [now Dreamworks] to write a song for some film about a tornado. That’s all they knew.

So we recorded the entire track in Michael Glabicki's[singer of the band] living room and we recorded the entire track in that apartment still not knowing what this film was.

We knew what the budget was, but we said 'well, you know, we’re all from Pittsburgh. We don’t have to spend that kind of money on recording a song.' We did it in this guy’s living room [and] we sent [the track] over. The Music Supervisor on that film was Budd Carr, who is one of the legendary Music Supervisors.

So I got a call 2 or 3 days later, from Budd Carr’s office. My first thought was "Did they realize we recorded this song in the living room and they are gonna' really be pissed off.” As it turned out he goes, “OK, you guys did a great job. We played it all morning in the office. Congratulations –job well done, it’s going to go into the film.”

Making opportunities

I didn’t know anything about the film. I didn’t know it was called “Twister”. I didn’t know it was Universal Studios. All I knew was that I was trying to talk my way in to a mixing stage. I kept calling and I got the lead mixer’s name, which was Steve Maslow. I put in about oh, maybe 350 calls to him at his office.

I think they started seeing the humor in it and I got a call one morning said, “OK, look, we’re going to put your song in sometime today... We’ll get you a pass to come in." Budd Carr happened to be there, the Director, Jan de Bont, and all the producers.

I still didn’t know who any of these people were. I didn’t know anybody... Budd came over and introduced himself and said, “You know, thank you for stopping by.” And invited me to stay for the day. And the end of that day, he said, "You seem to have an affinity for combining pictures and music.”and I told him I'd always done well when I’ve been mixing bands for films.

He said, "You should really try Music Supervision." Two weeks later I got a call to do a film. So that was my turning point to get started.

How much can Music Supervisors make?

On a network show with weekly pay, and a very intense schedule, you are probably looking at $1500 to $5000 a week for music supervision.

On a film? It depends on the project. It depends on the film’s budget. If you are doing a film for 2 million dollars, they are not going to be able to pay a supervisor what they would if you were doing and 80 million dollar film

On the low end?
$15,000 - $25,000 [fee]

On the high end?
the top end guys are maybe $150,000 to $200,000. That’s a full time commitment with a staff. It’s not like you put it in your pocket. A lot of people are involved in that. I’d say it really does depend on the budget of the project.

Tell us a bit more about your career path.

When I was in school, I was in electrical engineering and psychology and music. While in school I realized I did not want to be an electrical engineer.

I was going out of my mind learning how to design circuits for integrated circuit chips.

My real love - I graduated from Carnegie Mellon University and into my second year of grad school in music composition. I was doing better in music than I had been in doing anything in engineering.

I sent out a couple of resumes to touring sound companies and I started mixing concerts. I did that for about 6 or 7 years. Every opportunity I had to 'record' I jumped at the opportunity to learn from it.

I went to New York and took a job at ABC TV mixing the news and, in the mean time sending out my resumes. I eventually got hired at a recording studio.

As I was working in New York as an engineer, I started producing local bands. At the same time I started to work in Minneapolis and I started producing more and more indie bands in Minneapolis, which at that point was, as a music scene, just taking off. It turned into 7 or 8 years of working with a number of independent bands in Minneapolis.

I had been producing bands, and a number of the bands had ended up in films. Then I started hanging out in film studios and got infatuated with the film making process.


What it takes

Two Distinct Skill sets

First, and I don’t think it’s unique to this job, is an amazing ability to deal with people. I think you have to be able to deal with people more than anything. And if you can deal with people, you can adjust a situation. It means that you are going to rebound and are able to smooth the egos that are involved.

I would say the relationships you need to have are with music publishers, which is essential, because that’s your first place to go to get a price for a song– the publisher.

Also, you are going to get good relationships with record labels, both large and indie, because they are going to have to come on board.

The Bands and their managers—because sometimes you are going to have to go to a lot of recording studios. The bands have to be comfortable with your being there.

So I think that the people who are the most successful are the ones that definitely have people skills to the highest level.

Second, comes the emotional intuitive sense of when a piece of music is working well with the scene on the page. That instinctive drive.

Typical Day...

As the film progresses I get an average of 80 to 100 CD’s a day from bands for this film and part of my responsibility is to hear those CD’s during the course of the day.

That’s 80 to 100 CD’s, not songs, but CD’s. Along with that, I’m also getting scenes from the film sent to me, where I have to start matching up songs to the film.

Additionally, I’m getting licenses and clearances, so I have to stop what I’m doing with the music side to deal with the business side. Then I’m getting the new scene changes, new bands, and I have to go back and hear more music.

If I start at 10:00 in the morning, I can easily go until 10 - 11:00 at night. It’s basically non-stop either listening to music - or on the phone with people working on contracts.

When the phone dies down I might sit down for 3 or 4 hours and start looking at scenes from the film and actually trying to take some of the music and place it

The next morning, out go the 'quote requests' to get price and availability for a song for a particular scene. Once I get that done, I will send them on to production staff and suggest my 3 or 4 ideas for this scene.

Then I go back to listening to the next 80 CD’s that came in that next day. So the 12 hour day is not hard to fill. Basically you can do this non-stop. You can always be doing something

Lessons along the way...

The biggest lesson I had to learn was if you don’t promote yourself some portion of the day, even if it is to take half an hour in the morning and send out a few e-mails to people you know who are in the business to give them an update on what you are doing, you will most likely end up flat as soon as you are done with your project.

It is essential that you take a small portion of your day, every day, and just try to promote yourself

What you like most...

I would say the final product definitely and then second to that I would say working and finding newer acts. Seeing where they go from that film. Definitely I think one of the greatest things again is developing and learning how to deal with different personalities, because every film is going to bring out that element of you in a different way.

But definitely the final product, at that point you forget about everything along the way that it took to get you there.


The biggest misconception is by people who haven’t done it, is they think this is the easiest job in the world. People believe that, “This band or singer is going to want to be in my film because it is such a unique film.” Not necessarily.

Because it has little to do with the artist. It has to do with the publishing company, licensing people, and the record company label. You know, these companies get a hundred requests a day. And everybody says the same thing. They hear 100 times a day how unique this or that film is. I think the misconception is how easy it is.

Tips on getting started..

Search out student films if you’re in an area where student films are being done. You will find that it will teach you the process. What you’ll do is you’ll be able to go after songs, you’ll be able to start dealing with publishers and labels. Most of them have special divisions strictly for student films and festival licenses.

The music companies know there’s not a lot of money. Certain artists won’t be available. But you will be able to go through the process of doing the research, getting the paperwork together, and then submitting the songs that are available. You’ll be able to see how it fits into the film making process and be able to work with budgets.

Find somebody whose an indie film maker putting together a film and then go after the music. Learn about the job that way. I’m a big believer that you’re going to learn more by doing, that than you are sitting in a classroom somewhere or a seminar. Not that those aren’t valuable, but until you are doing it, you’re not really learning it.

That would be my biggest suggestion. Again, if you can go as an intern with a major person or work with him or her on a project, you’ll pick up quite a bit. But there’s nothing like doing it yourself, and being responsible for everything.

Look for the follow up article with Tim Bomba's experience working on the film "What the Bleep"
If you have any more question about Music Supervision, just ask. We will select a few questions and answer them in the follow up article.
      10/23/2017 5:57:04 AM 
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