A Rebuttal to: Patrick Duniven’s article entitled: TV and Film Music Supervisors Are Killing Real Songwriting

Originally posted Sept 2016 //

I want to write this rebuttal with a modicum of respect to not only you as an artist, Mr. Duniven, but to you as a human. I was raised to respect everyone, regardless of their manner or whatever insults they hurl at you, your friends, family…or colleagues.

As a music supervisor of 19+ years and one who has met dozens of music supervisors from the U.S., Europe, U.K. and Canada, I feel compelled to tell you that your article is filled with inaccuracies and insults.

Each and every music supervisor I have met – and all have very successful careers and are hired over and over again – are music lovers, first and foremost. Their respect for the song, the artist and difficulty with ‘being’ an artist, is part of their DNA, it seems. We recently hosted 17 supervisors at a showcase event in Toronto, Canada and the “supes’” effusive praise for the artists they listened to and met over those two days was excitable, honest, respectful and professional.

As a general note to your article: The Guild of Music Supervisors held their 2nd annual, day-long, education seminar on September 17th in Los Angeles. The entire supervision process was laid out for everyone to hear and comprehend. The seminar sold out. One of the first comments a supervisor typically makes when speaking on a panel is for writers/artists to write compelling songs with great vocals and great production. Some songwriters may be better at writing original songs for specific scenes than others, should the opportunities present themselves. It is not an easy job to write within parameters. If a songwriter is unable to do that, then there remains hope that their existing songs will work in a scene. There are millions of songs in the world and many fewer scenes to place them in. It’s not easy to get a placement, no matter who you are as a songwriter or artist.

As music supervisors, our job is to enhance scenes with music and not the other way around.

We find the song that “best” fits the scene for the budget we have been given by the producers who hire us. The process is quite involved; supervisors manage many moving parts while selecting and pitching music: finding a song that matches the correct genre, tempo, era, budget, lyrical content, energy to fit the scene and then wading through copyright ownership and negotiation, etc. Ultimately, the director or producer makes the final decision on which song will be used. Supervisors pitch a few songs for each scene; we may make a suggestion as to which song works best and, then, collectively, a decision is made – but we do not force any song into a scene.

As for your inaccuracies:

  1. You write: “You shouldn’t use the wordlove in your songs because it will be difficult to place it.” I call bullshit on that. In fact, the word ‘love’ and its universal theme can be – and has been – used over and over again in filmed media productions worldwide. By the way, there is a TV Series called Love – you should chat with that supervisor about what type of songs they might require. What you may have heard was that it’s tough to place a song specifically about a place (ex. Arkansas or Ghana) or a person named “Jamie” whose name is often repeated in the song. Any songwriter will understand that.
  2. You write: “Your songs stand out too much; try and write some stuff that blends into the background better.” I don’t even claim to understand this logic or even this creative interpretation of what supervisors “need”. Songs are placed in background, as a “feature” in a montage, over credit sequences, or they can be used for “visual vocal” scenes; while some material tends to work better for background spots, there are moments that call for extremely specific, avant-garde, arrhythmic or dynamically shifting songs. We love songs that stand out. We love unique production, vocals and lyrical metaphors and phrasings. If the music is good, virtually anything and everything can be synced in the right project.
  3. You write: “But today’s music supervisors, for the most part, play it safe. They would rather have a library of plastic, superficial musical designs than make the effort to seek out truly original artists with something to say.” Actually, supervisors would rather place unique, incredibly well-written, vocally strong, thoughtful and well-produced songs that work with the scene. I take major offense on behalf of my staff and fellow supervisors who work incredibly hard to add a sonic palette to a storyline. We, and supervisors we know, dive deep into creative waters to search for songs with something to say, with a voice and with an emotional weight that can help connect the audience to the emotion of the scene and storyline. Your inference that supervisors don’t make an effort is ludicrous, untrue, unfounded and, well, 100% inaccurate.
  4. You write: This is the music you’re being exposed to. Songs that are uninspired, but
    cover enough vague territory that they will eventually end up somewhere. And because TV and film placements are one of the few remaining parts of the industry that can offer artists a chance at a real payday, more and more are tailoring their music to the supervisors’ needs
    ”. I would like to correct you and note that audiences are being exposed to inspiring and varied music from major labels, indie labels, publishing companies and true independents with nary 100 hits on Soundcloud: Tanya Tagaq, James Blake, Sharon Van Etten, Ingrid Michaelson, Explosions In The Sky, Adaline, Jazz Cartier, Algiers, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Twist, Tegan & Sara, The Cinematic Orchestra, Agnes Obel, Whitney, Lo Fang, Darkside, The Soft Moon and countless others have all found success with sync. The list could span the globe 10 times over. All of these artists are unique, compelling and authentic, and supes have found them a home in film and TV because of their unique qualities, not despite them. To write off these and many other artists who are being placed as “uninspired” is as offensive as it is inaccurate. Your peers deserve more credit than that.

It is true that artists are thinking more and more about syncs and how to get their music placed in productions. But I have never come across an artist who does not write honestly and with integrity for themselves, with the hope that, concurrently, their songs can be placed. And if artists choose to write ‘vague and uninspired songs’, then they do. Which leads to my next point:

No one makes a songwriter write anything they don’t want to write. Thousands of incredible songs are written monthly and we are fortunate enough to hear so many of them. Some writers can write three-minute pop songs, some write seven-minute “suites”, all of which are filled with creative expression that may or may not find their way onto a screen. As previously touched upon, if you can write within parameters then you will be successful with tailor-made requests – but no one is looking for banal, plastic sounding/feeling songs. So your main theme of your argument is baseless, void of continuity and is a false indictment of an innocent party.

  1. You write: “Artists, don’t adapt to what someone else is telling you for the sake of getting a bullshit sync. The money will be gone soon and it will not make you feel better about yourself in the long run. Have the courage and vision to produce only what you truly believe in. As an artist, you have the ability to convey marvelous insights about the human condition, and a musical voice capable of projecting them. Fuck any publishing company or music supervisor who tells you to compromise that.”

Not only is this insulting to publishers and supervisors, but it paints a terrible image of your fellow songwriters and artists (who you should care about), and I believe that they won’t agree with you. We have the utmost respect for songwriters and have even produced a “Songworks Camp” in Toronto with 9 songwriters over 3 days, yielding amazing and, we hope, placeable songs.

You throw down an F-bomb to supervisors. Think that will ever help you land a placement?

I am proud to be a music supervisor (and I think I can speak on behalf of most other supervisors) no matter how many f-bombs you decide to drop…which by the way, have not, and will not, explode around us.

Michael A. Perlmutter, G.M.S. (Member, Guild of Music Supervisors)

instinct entertainment, Toronto, Canada



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