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Power of Friendship: A Music Supervisor and Publisher Bond Over Songs

“I think we were connected at birth,” says Emmy-winning music supervisor Susan Jacobs of her longtime friend and collaborator Carla Wallace, co-owner of Nashville-based Big Yellow Dog Publishing. The two first got to know each other through a mutual acquaintance (Al Anderson of country-rock band NRBQ), “Sometime between ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘My Idiot Brother’,” Jacobs says with a laugh. As both their careers flourished – Jacobs’ work with a trifecta of directors, Julian Schnabel, David O. Russell and Jean-Marc Vallée, reached new heights, while Wallace’s roster grew to include hitmaker Meghan Trainor and country breakthrough Maren Morris – so did their bond rooted in music.

In a way, both a music supervisor and a publisher have common goals: to expose a worthy piece of music to as large an audience as possible, and to discover and help break new artists. “Finding a real contribution to music – something that everyone stops to hear,” is at the top of Wallace’s list when it comes to signing talent, which, she says “might not fit a certain mold.”

Adds Jacobs: “For me, it’s always about whatever it takes to facilitate [the director’s] vision. When I first brought a film to Carla, she didn’t send me 40 different songs, she sent me one guy. He and I met at a bar, I showed him some scenes and a trailer, and within 24 hours he wrote this amazing song.”

Many in the music business — and even enthusiasts and fans — think of music supervision as the ultimate dream job. But the responsibilities go beyond plucking and plugging songs at your whim. There are budget issues to contend with, clearances to secure, and sign-offs to gather. Says Jacobs: “You have to make the business part creative. A lot of music supervisors hire clearance people. I could never do that in a million years. There’s no point in me pitching a song and handing it off to some lawyer. I need to be on the front line explaining why this song is important to my director. So the clearance and business side are equally creative.”

“I’ve seen her work and Sue has the skill-sets for the creative and the business side of it,” adds Wallace. “Because you can’t drop the ball on either.”

Indeed, financial limitations are among the toughest hurdles when it comes to music placement in films. “I find it’s getting harder and harder,” says Jacobs, noting that prices have gone up across the board and don’t vary all that much — or at all — if a movie is budgeted for $5 million or under $20 million or $100 million. “It’s all the same now,” she adds, “but that’s only pushing us out the door and to give Carla a call. That’s the beauty of these great independents.”

Considering Jacobs is the first ever winner of the brand new Emmy category for music supervision (for “Big Little Lies”), and that Wallace runs a top 10 publishing house in the U.S., it begs the question: Is there a particular skill-set that women have, or something more visceral — an ear for music and picture — that allows them to thrive?

Jacobs has one theory: “Patience is a really big apart of it,” she says. “And it’s about being really comfortable being a facilitator. Maybe that’s a strength women have over men — not being so goal-oriented.”

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