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Guild of Music Supervisors President: ‘The Economics of the Job Don’t Work Anymore’

The Guild of Music Supervisors (GMS) hosted its 5th annual “State of Music in Media” conference on Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Los Angeles Film School. Featuring a wide array of panel discussions on all manner of issues related to music in film, television and advertising, the confab drew top composers, music supervisors, licensing and clearance executives as well as academics to a day’s worth of programming.

The conference was followed by a performance by Daniel Lanois, who produced the soundtrack for the game “Red Dead Redemption 2.” Lanois participated in a Q&A earlier in the day with the game’s music supervisor, Rockstar Games’ Ivan Pavlovich.

The Guild, founded in 2010, is turning a decade old, and in that time, the business of music for screens has only grown as more content creators and distributors churn out projects at an unprecedented rate.

Variety talked to outgoing GMS President Thomas Golubic about the wins and challenges he’s faced as a for-hire supervisor and leader (Joel C. High takes over the top spot this month) to scores of professionals who put music to picture.

How did you choose the panels for the conference?
We programmed practical things that would be utilitarian for emerging supervisors, like how to make a temp track and clearance panels that are really fundamental. Also: How does A&R fall into play at this time? And more topical stuff like the team from “Euphoria,” which is such a music-intensive and unique project. And this year we did a wonderful AV history of music and film.

One I’m excited about is a lecture on the ecosystem of the entire media business: What does Amazon own? What’s part of Jeff Bezos’ empire? What is owned by Netflix? What is their production slate? How much money are they investing? It’s a way of establishing the trickle-down — how it applies to post-production and specifically music supervisors. How do we survive in a world which ultimately has all these big owners and consolidation happening? Some panels are business-oriented, some are more creative and some are just inspiring and fun. We have video games in there as well and Daniel Lanois performing.

When you examined the media ecosystem, what surprised you?
How many content creators are also distributors — and the conflicts of interest that come into play with that. Netflix is a good example. It will be interesting to see what will happen with Warner Bros. or Sony or these other companies who are selling stuff. When the platform doesn’t need the product anymore, how will that work? It all applies to us because we’re at the low-end of the trickle-down system. If everything is getting squeezed and we are in a situation where there are only three companies, then we’re not in a position to be bargaining. And I think that’s hugely impactful on us as an industry. A lot of us are realizing as this consolidation happens and as these companies have more and more control, it gives us less options.

What is the biggest challenge facing music supervisors today?
Economics. The economics of the job don’t work for us anymore. We’re not paid enough. We have to be spread so thin on projects. The production schedules, especially in television, are getting longer and longer, but we’re paid by episode. So what used to be six months is now a year. And in that window if you have to hire people, you’re now paying those people out in that time period — but you have the same rate. All the studios are squashing the rates. They’re making us settle for less and less. I’m getting paid less now than I was in 1999.

One panel I was hoping to see: Why isn’t there an Oscar for best music supervision?
The film academy, at this point, I don’t think they’ve had that “come to Jesus” moment. But they’re the ones who are beginning to look like they’re behind the times. Not us. Part of the problem is that you have a lot of entrenched groups. In the Television Academy, for instance, the composers didn’t want to bring in supervisors because a lot of them felt threatened or didn’t really understand what we did. They viewed us as being competition instead of being colleagues. As our profession gets more sophisticated and as some of our leaders articulate how we operate in this ecosystem, how we work with composers, how we support them, how we have some of the same interests and goals and the same problems, I think that will change. The TV Academy made their changes partly because they realized we are major contributors to the storytelling, Also, they had a problem with white male membership. We have an almost 50/50 male-female split. We have greater diversity in our community. The fact that the film academy hasn’t done that yet is, in my mind, just an example of them having further entrenched problems and maybe the same communication issues.

And speaking of diversity: You’re interviewing Hildur Guðnadóttir, one of the few female composers who has broken into the business. (Guðnadóttir would win the Emmy the following night for her work on “Chernobyl.”)
She is one of the great composers of our time. Somebody in the audience is probably a composer and is going to see her up there and think: That could be me.

How do you feel about show runners who insist on sharing the credit for music supervision?
One of the good things about having an award is that we have recognition. One of the bad things is that you now have an opportunity for people to hone in on it. And because we don’t have enough clarity on what we do, there are misconceptions about what our contribution is. What we’re trying to do with this conference and with our awards it to articulate what the job is. In some situations you have filmmakers who are major contributors to the music, and if they feel that it’s appropriate for them to take that credit, we can’t stand in their way. But did you clear the songs? Did you build those relationships with people over 20 years to be able to get things done? Or are you simply choosing some tracks and think that they’re cool? Ultimately, I think it’s a shame that it happens. If I were a show runner, I wouldn’t want to be in another category.

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