“Hollywood’s New Power Players”: Music Supervisors and the Post-2010 Culture of Music Supervision and Sync
The current, relatively amorphous job description for the music supervisor—the individual generally responsible for overseeing all music-related elements of film and television projects, as well as advertising campaigns, video games, and other forms of audio-visual projects—has shifted since the role’s emergence. What began as mostly an administrative position has become one of the trendiest, most sought after roles in the contemporary entertainment industry. This dissertation, the first monograph-length academic study of music supervision, seeks to map this transition, exploring its complexities, identifying affected industry players, and examining critical issues that have ensued. I draw on methodologies from musicology, ethnomusicology, media studies, popular culture studies, cultural and social theory, and business strategy and management. I also incorporate fieldwork experience, as well as material from interviews I conducted with key individuals working in sync.
Chapter One provides a brief history of the profession and field, which serves as the foundation for an examination of technological, structural, procedural, and relational changes affecting cultural intermediaries and other individuals involved in sync. I argue that hierarchical shifts in the music supervision supply and value chains, as well as the impact of neoliberalism, have given rise to the need for what I call “spry intermediation,” which one-stop music licensing shops can offer, and I propose a multifaceted understanding of the chains’ hierarchical infrastructure to illustrate diffuse power and shared decision-making authority in the culture of sync. Chapter Two offers analysis of descriptive language and musical, financial, and legal trends in contemporary music supervision in order to deepen understanding of the field and its influence on “syncable music.” Chapter Three examines some of the critical issues relevant to the profession, such as power dynamics, creative freedom, compensation and employment, professional ethics, and gender representation, within the context of neoliberal capitalism. Chapter Four explores the past and present function of the Guild of Music Supervisors and related professional organizations in addressing the critical issues presented in previous chapters. Chapter Five offers concluding thoughts on issues in music supervision and implications for further research.