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The Emmys Allowed Music Supervisors In, But Tension With the TV Academy Remains

It’s been a long road to Television Academy acceptance for music supervisors. In 2015, after years of lobbying, music supervisors gained entry to the music branch. In 2017, they got their own category at the Emmys, but weren’t allowed to vote in any other music competition. This year, music supervisors can vote in all seven music categories, thrilling some, enraging others.

In fact, you could say no one was happy. For the many composers and songwriters who make up the bulk of the approximately 600 members of the Academy “peer group,” as the branch is officially called, their efforts to keep music supervision out of contention as a category worthy of recognizing, have been thwarted. At the same time, some music supervisors are upset with how the new outstanding music supervision category is being handled — essentially questioning the Academy’s ability to judge the placement of songs or other musical works into programs.

“The TV Academy allowed all this to happen without the membership of the peer group being involved at all,” says former music governor and Emmy-winning composer Mark Watters, who at the time presented the Academy president with a petition, signed by every living former music governor, opposing the addition of music supervisors. “It was completely ignored.”

Deepening the chasm, many composers believe that music supervisors are not qualified to judge the other music categories and, despite the official term, are not in fact “peers.” Also, many music supervisors are now in a position to hire composers on shows and that, contends another composer (who requested anonymity for this story), “is unfair and against the bylaws of the Academy to be judged by someone who has the power to hire you.”

For the most part, music supervisors — who are still barred from joining the Motion Picture Academy music branch — are happy to be included. “The TV Academy has validated the role of the music supervisor,” says Tracy McKnight, the sole supervisor on the Academy music peer-group executive committee. “All the peer group is trying to do is move with the times. This is part of our culture now.”

But complicating matters even more is the internal controversy over the inclusion of showrunners as “music supervisors” two years in a row. Says former supervisor P.J. Bloom, now an executive at Warner Records: “The Academy, as far as I can tell, has zero vetting process for the music supervision award. Nominations are not based on the actual role we serve or as defined by our guild. You have ‘music supervisors’ getting nominations who simply aren’t.”

It happened twice last year: When “Sean O’Meara” was nominated as “Westworld’s” music supervisor, and it turned out to be a pseudonym for producer Jonathan Nolan. The winner, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” was awarded Emmys not only for music supervisor Robin Urdang (pictured, at right) but also producers Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, who claimed credit as music supervisors for Emmy purposes.

“It would be nice if the Academy’s position on nominations mirrored our true contribution to projects as well as how our community defines the role,” says Bloom. “Clearly there is a creative piece and that is always a group effort, but it’s not the whole pie.” Urdang and the Palladinos are nominated again this year for “Mrs. Maisel.”

Academy music governors are struggling with these issues, too. “If you’re a composer, you’re going to work with a music supervisor,” says Rickey Minor, nominated twice for outstanding music direction this year. “A lot of the older composers either had bad experiences with music supervisors, or the [supervisors] were doing paperwork and not so much creative. But all that’s changed now. … Many music supervisors are responsible for the overall music budget and are hired to bring the musical tone to the project. They’re not only finding songs.”

Adds Thomas Golubic, president of the Guild of Music Supervisors: “These are all steps in the right direction, because ultimately we are advocates for each other’s work. We are thoughtful and professional storytellers. The more supervisors and composers can work in harmony, with a tacit understanding of what each of them brings to the table, the better the work that results.”

Officials declined to comment on the specifics of the process. The Academy also won’t give out exact statistics, but the group is believed to have increased by 15 percent since music supervisors were permitted to join, suggesting that at least several dozen are now voting members.

“It’s not going to go away, whether you like it or don’t,” says Minor of music supervision. “It’s an important part of the process. Time has moved on, and we should look for ways to be more inclusive to all of our community.”

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