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A Milestone Year for Music Supervisors, but Perception Problems Remain

A decade after their guild was founded, some key battles have been won, but problems remain.

For music supervisors, 2019 was arguably the field’s best year yet. Finally accepted to the Television Academy as members four years ago, they received further validation in 2017 in the form of their own Emmy category. A decade after the Guild of Music Supervisors [GMS] was established, it seems now, at long last, the music supervisors’ suffrage movement has officially ended.

“Music supervisors are pleased to have been invited to vote in all seven music categories for the Emmy Awards,” says Thomas Golubic, the former president of GMS and a repeat nominee for his work on “Better Call Saul.” He’s one of five panelists who will discuss music supervision’s new world order at the Music for Screens. Summit. “The Academy was using good common sense,’ Golubic adds. “Music supervisors have more experience listening to, judging and helping to develop score than any other profession outside of composers. [We] have the expertise — and the objectivity — to help bring the best work to light” at the Emmys.

That may or may not be a dig directed at the composers who believe music supervisors lack the expertise to judge the other music categories, a hot-button topic of late.

“It’s great to see the progression of the role of music supervisor — and how it’s viewed — finally given the stature and the visibility through awards that were deserved for a long time,” says Kier Lehman, music supervisor for “Insecure,” whose responsibilities for Season 4 included finding a telegenic mariachi band to learn and perform a song penned by the show’s writers that first needed to be translated into Spanish. Or: just another day at the office.

“It was a hard-fought battle that the GMS succeeded in winning,” adds Mary Ramos, a longtime collaborator of Quentin Tarantino’s of the Emmy recognition. “And we have petitioned the [Motion Picture] Academy.”

Not only are music supervisors denied access to the music branch, but there is no Oscar category to recognize the best of their work. Granted, they are allowed to get voted in as “members at large” but that type of membership doesn’t have any privileges. “We’re not allowed to vote on musical achievements and we’re not recognized for our own contribution to the success of a story told in a film,” says Ramos.

Part of the problem, she adds, is “there’s a misconception of what music supervisors do. It is literally being the musical designer. It is being a musical casting director. It’s being — almost — a musical director.”

Or as Golubic describes it, “creating the architecture of musical storytelling.”

And so even during a celebratory year, there was one common complaint. For the second year in a row, the TV Academy awarded the Emmy to Robin Urdang, music supervisor of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” as well as to Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband, Daniel Palladino.

“It is a little daunting when the Television Academy nominates showrunners along with their music supervisors,” Ramos says. “You would not see that in any other category. You would not see a showrunner taking credit for costume design or for cinematography. It is a matter of having a defined presence so that your definition can’t be muddied or encroached upon.”

Lehman encountered a similar situation when he reluctantly interviewed for the music consultant position on “Insecure,” which was obviously not the top job. That position had already been filled — by Beyoncé’s sister.

“When I originally was hired, Solange was already involved in the project and had been brought in as ‘music supervisor,’ “ he says emphasizing the addition of air quotes.

Lehman ultimately acquiesced. “I was on top of it and Solange was also around and sending some music but at the same time writing her album,” he recounts. “And so she had a lot going on. Once they saw what my job as the music supervisor really was and how I was performing it, they ended up switching the titles so that I was the music supervisor and Solange was the music consultant. That was really gratifying and validating to me. Maybe they didn’t understand what a music supervisor does and once I was there showing them, they realized: ‘Oh, right. This is actually a real job and somebody needs to have experience to do it properly.’”

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