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Finding Music’s Place on TV

LOS ANGELES, CA—Music placement in television productions, while hardly a new phenomenon, is becoming of increasing interest to major label and independent artists alike as record sales continue along a downward trend.

LOS ANGELES, CA—Music placement in television productions, while hardly a new phenomenon, is becoming of increasing interest to major label and independent artists alike as record sales continue along a downward trend. That’s good news for music supervisors, who can find themselves with steady work when a TV series takes off.

While TV series have traditionally employed a composer to create a theme, incidental music and underscore, some episodic television, especially youth-oriented productions, uses current and even upcoming releases in the show. Perhaps the most prominent primetime example is the Las Vegas-based CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its New York and Miami spin-offs, which have adopted three songs by The Who as their respective themes and frequently feature commercial releases.

“Music was always a part of the show, but in Season 2, they decided to put more into that and hired a music supervisor,” according to Jason Alexander, whose independent, boutique music supervision company, Hit The Ground Running (HTGR), was tapped to fill the role. “Music has always been integral to the sound and feel of the show.”

Although the show initially launched in 2000 with a different theme tune, The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” has since become the iconic show opener. Over CSI’s 10 seasons, composer John M. Keane’s scoring elements have often played an important storytelling role. It’s also not unusual for certain songs, including other songs by The Who, to get used repeatedly through a season or from one to the next.

But while The Who, tongue planted firmly in cheek, made their statement on commercialism with the band’s third album, The Who Sell Out, in 1967, how receptive are artists and rights holders these days to licensing requests from TV productions?

“It’s gotten a bit easier in recent years,” reports HTGR music supervisor Rudy Chung. “There is less of a stigma attached to licensing your music to film and television. There are certainly artists—both known and unknown—who are still very particular with how their music is used. Main title placements are particularly valued and lucrative, so it’s difficult to imagine an artist these days who’d turn that opportunity down.”

Indeed, as Alexander noted at a recent panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges of the production music market, his licensing requests for placement in CSI have only been rejected three times. The show has even been notable for its music tie-ins—for example, using various songs from U2 in late 2004 on the eve of the release of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, and guest appearances by the likes of Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts.

Alexander reveals that the push for a tie-in can come from the show or from the artist. “When we can create a positive synergy and make something special happen, everyone wins.”

The pair arrived at music supervision via two different paths. “I worked as a recording engineer and tour manager,” says Alexander. “Rudy was a grant writer for a nonprofit organization supporting emerging film composers and musicians. “We came from different backgrounds, but essentially we ended up here through our shared passion for music and how it brings moving images to life.“

HTGR is currently music supervising not just CSI but also CSI:NY, also for CBS, as well as The Forgotten for ABC and Dark Blue for TNT. The company is also working on two independent films: The Big Bang and Truth in Numbers: The Wikipedia Story.

Artists and rights holders now realize the importance of the music supervisor, but not everyone understands the job. Chung elaborates: “We manage every aspect of the music process from start to finish in a production, including finding songs creatively, licensing and negotiating fees, managing the music budget, finding the right composer for a project, producing pre-record sessions, managing artists’ oncamera performances, soundtrack deals, etc.”

These days, music supervisors are looking beyond even major and independent label artists, thanks to the economic downturn. “It’s affecting how films and television shows are being made,” says Alexander. “These days, networks and studios are demanding high production value at half the cost, and music budgets coincide with that. We have to dig deeper into the independent and unsigned music world, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s all about being creative with the creative.”

Speaking at the California Copyright Conference in January, Alexander offered some advice to any artist hoping to attract the attention of music supervisors: “You have to be a cut above everybody else, you have to be really determined, very different, and you have to make the connections.”