Take Two for August 12, 2013

Odd Hollywood Jobs: Music supervisor

Mike Turner

Mike Turner

Music supervisor Mike Turner.

This is one in a series on Odd Hollywood Jobs — not acting or directing, but rather the tasks you haven't heard of. You can read other segments in this series at the links below the story.

Sometimes a song fits so perfectly into a movie scene that its almost as if it were written just for that moment. But finding the perfect song doesn't just happen magically, it's the work of people like Michael Turner. 

As a music supervisor, it's Turner's job to help source and procure the rights to music that fits the tone and identity of a visual medium. While his job can be quite creative, Turner says a lot of the job is about making sure a production has the rights to use a certain song or piece of music. 

"I like to tell people that it's basically keeping everybody from getting sued," said Turner on Take Two. "Music is expensive, and there's a lot of people involved in owning those copyrights. As volatile as you might imagine artist to be in their exploits in hotel rooms, they're equally as protective of their music. When people start using music without asking, or not paying enough money, people get very upset. You just make sure everything is on the up-and-up."

Turner joins Take Two to talk about how he got into the business, what it's like to work with film directors, and what part he likes best about his job.

Interview Highlights:

On the fun part of his job:
"I love putting the perfect song in the perfect scene. I also really enjoy being able to make money for independent artists. If you're able to use a song from a baby band and pay them a few thousand dollars, that might finance their tour or their next record. They're beside themselves with the exposure opportunity as well, and that's very gratifying."

On directors not especially liking suggestions:
"There is a bit of an art around that. It depends on the personality of the director, but yes, sometimes you need to make them feel like it's all their idea. You suggest things in a way where they'd maybe come back later and be like, 'You know what would be great? This thing,' and you're kind of like, 'Yeah, I brought that up weeks ago, but great idea!' In some ways, I have to do that for every director. These are very creative people who are very passionate about what they do. In close quarters, over a long period of time, you go through these love/hate cycles with people. You're just like, 'I cannot believe this guy! I want to rip his head off!' Three weeks later you're  drinking buddies again. It's a passionate field."

On how he got into his line of work:
"I've been a musician my whole life. I still write and record music on my own. After college, I went back to school for audio engineering, started working in recording studios and ultimately ended up working in music publishing. Publishing is the intellectual side of the industry. That's where you have to go to get clearances to use songs in movies. From working there, I realized that maybe I'd rather be a buyer than a seller. I wanted to do the creative aspect of placing stuff as opposed to selling music to people."

On possibly putting his own music into movies:
"I'm actually pretty shy about pitching my own music. To some extent, I feel like it can be a conflict of interest. I feel like I kind of owe my services to the artistic community. The record labels, the publishers and the artists I'm sourcing material from. To be putting my own music in there seem a little iffy. Maybe I'm the one person in Hollywood that has some ethical quandary about that."

On the music for "The Canyons":
"The tone definitely encapsulates the tone of the film. The score is done by Brendan Canning, who is a really amazing Canadian producer. He's a founding member of the band Broken Social Scene, and his score is very chilly, icy, pulsating and electronic. There isn't much other outside music besides his score in the film. That's one, and that one did end up in the trailer, but it fits in with that soundscape that Brendan created. It worked really well."

On the music for "Portrait of a Pimp":
"The main trailer queue that was used in there is a song called 'My Habit' by Cunninlynguists, who are phenomenal, by the way. They were a big part of the score for the film. They took a lot of their existing tracks and remixed them custom for the film. They were really excited because they're huge Ice-T fans. They became the de facto composers of that film. A huge part of Iceberg Slim is tracks and remixed tracks by Cunninlynguists, and they were pretty psyched to be involved with one of their idols, Ice-T. Ice-T found a new hip-hop group that he really likes, so I like to feel that I can take some credit for that."

On the effect of music on a movie:
"You can have a terrible lifeless scene, but if you put the right track over it without changing anything else, people are like, "Hey, that's not so bad." It's very powerful, but also, because of that, can be abused because sometimes people rely on it too much. You need to wield it carefully."

On a good transition from his segment:
"I've always wanted to be played off by keyboard cat, to be honest."

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