Music & Movies
A great soundtrack can make a movie. But how does the music end up on film in the first place? Kenn talks about music placement and music supervision.
Hello Kenn and thank you for talking with us today. So you have a really interesting vantage point in the industry. You’ve been a recording artist. You’ve been an audio engineer for leading studios in New York and the UK and you’ve helped place music on countless films and TV shows. That’s what I’m most interested in talking about today. See, I really want to pick your brain about how and where music and pop culture intersect. So lets get right into it, what is it about music that makes it so emotive?
That is a great question. Who Knows?? In my mind music is very powerful language. But the crazy thing it’s a language that people can understand without actually speaking it. It’s amazing what kind of emotions it can convey universally.
OK. And just how important is music to film and television?
Personally, I think it’s crazy important. Look at films like The Third Man or Close Encounters where just the simplest melody can carry the whole picture and stay with you long after the film has largely faded from memory. And then you have films like Car Wash where the film seems to be a vehicle for the music. I think directors like Wes Anderson really get the power of music and film today.
And what’s more important — creating an original score or setting a mood with an established track?
I think it all depends. You can have a great piece like The Kinks Strangers which was lost to time and totally given a second life in Darjeeling Express and really carries the scene it’s in. And you can have totally original work that really carries a film like Clint Mansell’s work with Darren Aranofsky.
Interesting. So let’s back up for a second. How does music actually end up on a movie or show? Can you walk us through the whole process? I’d love to hear about all the moving pieces.
Ha ha! I know I keep saying this but it all depends. Sometimes a director will have specific idea of what he/she wants music wise. In that case, the supervisor’s job is to contact the rights holders and license the tracks within budget constraints. Sometimes a music editor will place a track against picture in the early stages and it will just stick. At that point, it is all about getting the rights. This can be a little tricky if say the Editor has placed say a Rolling Stones track in as a temp track. Those fees can be astronomical, if the artist is even willing to have the track used for the movie in question.
There are also label and management people looking to place tracks. I prefer the first two scenarios. I’m not a fan of being sold on a track.
That makes sense. So what makes a good placement?
I think a good placement satisfies one or more of the following: does it work with the Story, does it set a an excellent emotional mood, or does it really say something great about or vibe with the characters?
Sometimes music is just filler in film and TV. I think that is a wasted opportunity. But I am old fashioned.
OK. So what makes a good music supervisor?
Ha ha. A good phone manner is key. A great supervisor needs to know how to work the phone and be sensitive to the egos of the Directors and the Artists and rights holders involved. It’s not an easy job. There is a lot a placating and negotiations as well as having a great understand of the Director’s message for the film.
Got it! So help me understand this piece of the puzzle. When an artist is creating a song, they aren’t really envisioning it being part of a show, are they? I assume they’re writing the song to be part of an album — something that will be heard on the radio and performed live. Maybe I still have an old view of the industry but in a sense, music placement is sort of a repurposing of the original content and context. What am I missing?
Well there are artists who compose for film for sure, but I don’t think many artists think “Wow this song is going to be great in a film.” and write towards that goal.
And what about placement for video games and commercials? Does a music supervisor take care of all of this as well? Is it roughly the same process that you mentioned above or what’s different?
Most of the work I’ve done on commercials have been using custom music. Sometimes there is a budget to license a known track; usually there is not.
So what’s the real take home for musicians? How can they best benefit from all of these different markets?
It’s hard out there for musicians. Record sales, as we all know, have kind of tanked. It’s important to leave all options out there to get paid for creating music. There was a time when getting music placements in commercials was considered “selling out.” Not anymore. I think you gotta sell to whomever is buying. As long as the product in question lines up with how you want your music to be perceived, I say go for it.
Lastly, should musicians be reaching out and creating relationships with music supervisors directly? What’s the best approach? And actually, how would a musician even start to determine who to call?
I think that should be the manager’s job. I think musicians should concentrate on making great music. It will find its home on its own when the time is right.
Thank you Kenn. Thank you for sharing your expertise.
It’s my pleasure. Thanks for asking.
Kenn Richards is an accomplished musician, DJ, producer, music consultant and audio engineer with more than twenty years of experience. Kenn leads F#’s audio production in the US, creating compelling audio ads for music-based audiences and pioneering new technologies including 3D Audio. Prior to joining F#, he worked on more than 50 films and TV shows through his company Secret Projects and as a consultant, including Any Given Sunday, Pi, Gossip Girl, Bones and The Adjustment Bureau. Kenn also worked as an audio engineer for leading studios in New York and the UK and recorded dozens of artists including Razorlight and The Charalatans. He was also a recording artist for Elektra Records and Mute Records as a solo artist and with the band Research. Kenn studied Film, TV and Radio at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
This interview was originally published by Mike Dias for Ultimate Ears