Sound & Vision: The Role of the Music Producer in Film

In my last post, I highlighted three movies whose characters, narrative, and style, work together to define the essence of Chicago’s spirit. These films are so strong because all of their productions elements work in harmony together. One aspect of this production that often goes unnoticed (perhaps because its lack of visual effect) is the influence of the soundtrack on the audience.

Have you ever watched a movie that escalates in a car chase? What did you notice?

Let’s take two examples.



This first is from Blues Brothers. Jake and Elwood are on the run from the cops. They take a speedy detour through – you guessed it – the mall. All throughout the shots of Jake and Elwood’s incessant bickering, squeals of police vehicle tires, and screams from interrupted shoppers, Otis Redding’s I Can’t Turn You Loose hums joyfully in the background.

Now, let’s look at The Matrix Reloaded. The slick hacker Trinity soars on her Ducati motorcycle as the symphonic opera voices transform into pulsating techno beats. These two scenes essentially have the same goal; a character is moving from point a to b. So why does the music make such an impact? And why is the role of the music producer so important?

Few people know about the technical intricacies involved behind the scenes of a movie’s soundtrack. Brooke Wentz from the International Documentary Assocation provides some background on the importance of a music supervisor and his/her role in a production’s music soundtrack in “Behind Your Film’s Soundtrack: The Important Role of the Music Supervisor.“

Imagine a film production works like the United States government. So, the director is the president and the music supervisor is a member of his/her cabinet. A music supervisor is there to facilitate the director’s job regarding all things music. As an adviser to the director, he/she must understand the goals of the director. Their task is to understand the various moods and sentiments portrayed in specific scenes. They also provide choices and options of possible song choices. Once this curation is complete, it is their job to hop over the bureaucratic hurdles of obtaining rights and licenses.

Music is art, just the same as a novel, painting, or poetry. Songs and compositions are copyrighted, meaning that permission is needed before putting them to commercial use. Acquiring secured permission from copyright holders may be a daunting task, especially for someone who is not experienced with the music industry. During pre and post production, a music supervisor performs the various administrative tasks involved with acquiring licensing permissions and negotiating royalties. Depending on the song, you may either need permission from the composer of the song (generally represented by the music publisher), and/or the artist who recorded the song (generally represented by the record label).

The clearance process is definitely an arduous one. It is becoming increasing difficult due to the rising prices of media and usage rights. These media rights include “all media rights in perpetuity now known here and devised” and “all media rights step deal.” The former is naturally more expensive because of the broad nature of the deal, while the latter’s cost depends on the financial success of the production. Another obstacle involves dealing with licensing personalities. These are the people who will sometimes charge three times a standard amount to inexperienced filmmakers. If you’re looking to place a song into the your new movie or documentary, definitely look for experience and tenacity in your music producers.