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Music Supervisors And Editors On Building Resilience To Succeed In Music

Building Resilience Guild of music supervisors 2019

Guild Of Music Supervisors NYC Event Panelists Discuss Overcoming Challenges In the Music Business

By Michael Nova.


A few weeks ago we spoke with a number of music supervisors and music editors at the second annual New York Guild of Music Supervisors Event, at the Mondo NYC conference in Brooklyn. Everyone we spoke to who attended the event was impressed by both the presentation and the content.


As we did last year, we wanted to do another round up of panelists and other mavens in the industry to get their opinions on what it takes to become successful in the music industry. This time we went even more in depth to get people’s deepest thoughts on the subject, and what our phrase, “Fall down seven times, rise up eight” means to them personally, just to give you different ways of looking at how to build resilience in an industry where rejection is common.


CLICK PLAY To hear the featured musical soundtrack
to this interview by X: THC.


Jonathan McHugh rise up eightJonathan McHugh, who is an officer of the Guild, explained that becoming a music supervisor is “like the Bob Marley lyric, ‘Never give up the fight’. Just get off the mat and keep charging no matter what life deals you. Being a music supervisor is not easy. You have to hunt for your gigs. You have to really ask yourself if this is something you really want because it’s going to be frustrating trying to find jobs.


It’s going to move much slower than you would like and you have to really do some soul-searching and say, ‘I don’t care how much I make or how long it takes. I’m going to do this no matter what.’ You have to have that attitude. Without that attitude, it’s going to be frustrating. You have to be mentally and physically prepared.


As a music supervisor, you’re waging a war to try to get in so you’re going to have to be all things to all people and find that spot where you can get in as an assistant and really prove your worth. But it’s not easy. You have to find a mentor to go to bat for you and help you.


To find a mentor, go to industry events and network. If you are starting out as a music supervisor, find someone making a student film and get them to let you music supervise the film, and just like a composer has a reel to get hired as a composer, create a music supervision reel. This will show people what you can do.


As a musician, you have to do research on specific shows and films to make sure that your music is appropriate for it. It’s being in the right place at the right time to get a placement.”



David Hayman is an officer of the Canadian Guild with a literal perspective on building resilience:  “When I was starting out, working as a PA or an executive assistant behind the scenes, I was literally falling down… as a Goalie, in my little free time. I was always on the ice playing hockey and tried to work 10 times harder on set to prove my worth when I was on set. I believed in sweat equity in the film industry, carrying too much equipment and doing too much. When my meniscus tore during a hockey game, I pushed myself to come back and had a re-occurrence of the injury.


I participated three internship programs, and learned that running with coffee and sweating in front of clients will just make you look like an intern. This was misdirected heroics. I learned to work smarter, not harder.


However, it’s still that hustle that I have today, so I learned from that. Slow down, keep your ears open. Be a sponge. Learn how professionals interact with each other. Talk to them about their craft. You want to align yourself with talent and find people that are better than you, so that they elevate your game.


Make yourself available for collaboration in any way you can. Make yourself an invaluable member of the team by bringing something unique to the table. Always remember it’s not about you, it’s about the team, so be a great teammate. And if you believe deep in your heart that you’re going to do something, do it with passion, and people will notice. Don’t chase the money, chase the passion.”


Doug Bernheim rise up eight

Doug Bernheim: “Try to be open-minded and see the potential in every opportunity that comes your way.  Many people have dreams and ideas about where they want to be with their career, but focusing too much on that can prevent us from seeing different paths.


Not everyone has the same experience, and it might be that your journey has a lot of twists and turns. You’re still gaining knowledge along the way, making connections, learning from mistakes, and developing new skills. You might end up at the exact place that you were hoping to get, or you might arrive somewhere that you never imagined but really love.

To me, “fall down seven times, rise up eight” means dusting yourself off every time there’s a setback.  Whenever you come close yet fall short, try to focus on the good stuff that nearly got you there – and keep going.


If you’re an artist and your music is not connecting the way you hoped, continue writing and recording and building your body of work.  Maybe a new song will be the one that grabs people’s attention and leads them to dig deeper into your catalog. Good music is timeless, and it’s never too late to be discovered.”


Joe Rudge Rise Up Eight

Joe Rudge: “I can relate to fall down seven times, rise up eight because as a music supervisor, you are always stumbling and often in the dark. You’re self-employed, and you never know when someone’s going to engage you for work. That’s very scary if you need to pay the bills.


You just can’t rest your whole livelihood on it because these incoming salaries are so low that only people who either have no college debt or come from a family of means can get into the entertainment industry.


So there is no shame of being a bartender or a waitress or having a real estate license. I was temping when I started out. After I did the music supervision for the film, Blue Valentine, I didn’t get a lot of gigs. I thought I would, given the success of that film, so I had to go out there and hustle. Then with time, and accruing more projects, it all crystallized.


There are so many ways to reach out and connect with people creatively to inspire you to keep your vision going. On social media, you can reach out and set up informational meetings. If you just start knocking on doors, ask people if they know any filmmakers, producers, people in music publishing and licensing because you want to get involved in this, you will connect the dots quickly. “


Todd Kasow Rise Up EightTodd Kasow: “‘Fall down seven times rise up eight’ can happen on every job. When I start cutting music and maybe doing a temp with the director, I can go through 30, 40, 50 pieces music and then pick a few that I think are right, and show them to the director and he can hate them, but you learn something from the mistakes or the rejection just as much as you learn from stuff that is successful. And you just keep going back to the director with another one, and you’re building a trust with the director.


But it’s not being knocked down… it’s being directed, and then you have this give-and-take between yourself and the director and a lot of it is about trust. It takes a while to build that, so realize it’s not just a knockdown. I’ve had some serious knockdowns too, but you get over them and keep working. I think whenever that happened, we used to have a philosophy in the editing room that was “put your head down and do your job”.


On finding work, be proactive. Don’t wait for the phone to ring. Go out and make connections at film schools. Walk in there and meet those people and offer your music services. To get started in the industry, you might have to work for next to nothing or even free for a little while. That’s how I started when I was really young. Find out what your friends are doing. That’s how people survive. Francis Ford Coppola was good friends with this guy Barry Malkin and Barry became a picture editor and did almost all of Francis’ films.


You have to keep in touch with people, and being in touch doesn’t mean calling every day. You need to be politely persistent. Send an email that says, “just checking in”. Then you can become a person that’s not annoying to them. They trust you, and then all of a sudden they need a song and the person who has been constantly checking in will be the one they get to first.”


Shari Johanson Rise Up Eight

Shari Johanson shared a story with us about how she began as a messenger for a production house. She offered to do anything to break into the industry and was willing to get on the NYC subway to deliver heavy packages for the studio on foot. After doing this for several months, her supervisor noticed her work ethic and promoted her to actual work on music projects.


Shari suggests that it’s all about persistence. Regarding our slogan, “fall down seven times rise up eight”, Shari says, “Every time I fall down, it gives me more power to move forward. I always tell people that if you really want something bad enough you will get it as long as you work hard on it. You just have to be persistent.


In the 90’s had a student that was assisting me and I preached persistence to him over and over. When he graduated college he called me up and said that he got a job on some new reality show, and they are sending him to Thailand. That show was called, Survivor. He ended up being the editor on the show.


Understand that at the darkest points of your life is when the best things will follow, so don’t be discouraged when things don’t work out. It just means something great is around the corner. Persist!”


Jonathan Schultz Rise Up EightJonathan Schultz“Be honest about your concerns and in your collaboration with others. Realize that asking good questions and learning from mistakes is how you develop in your growth as a professional. Be very thorough in everything you do because that care will be recognized. Listen through your work and make sure email communications are clear so you won’t have to chase after and jump on your own grenades! 


Word-of-mouth is usually how most work is granted or how opportunities present themselves. So be focused and dedicated, especially when working as an intern, because that’s how you build your reputation as one who exceeds expectations. People will appreciate your concentrated efforts and want to work with you.

Sara Tembeckjian Rise Up EightSarah Tembeckjian: I think that being afraid to fail is not a sustainable way to achieve growth. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Through perseverance, learning and self-reflection you can achieve stronger results.


For me, the best mindset that I like to maintain is that you’re always learning and that you’re always growing. People respond to honesty and transparency, and even if you’ve been in the business for a long time it’s perfectly acceptable to ask questions. I think that’s a really important factor when you’re first starting out, too, because that energy of curiosity will make people want to engage with you. 


To paraphrase Woody Allen, ‘99% of life is showing up’. Being physically in the room whenever possible with people of the industry that are doing things that you want to do, or are tangentially related to what you want to do, is important so you can share that curious energy while still navigating the social landscape and reading the room. I think that combination is really key.


This industry is not one where you can apply to your dream job online. That dream job comes through networking, making connections, asking questions, working hard and being open to committing a lot of your time to what you do. Keep pushing, and then you can find your own rhythm to see which groups of people and what type of projects you gravitate towards. With that mentality, you have to go all or nothing and if you fall down seven times, rise up eight!”


Stephen Stallings Rise Up EightStephen Stallings: “Open yourself up to more varied experiences and explore new avenues that are in connected to what you’re interested in. Anything in media is going to be interconnected to anything else in media. I did several internships in from music distribution to TV production and everywhere in between and was able to meet varied people and get a more well-rounded view of the music industry than had I only focused myself on one thing.


I was applying for all different types of jobs in the industry and wasn’t getting anywhere for months. Then suddenly, I got an offer, followed by another offer for my current job which I accepted. But this was all due to the fact that I had created lots of contacts through all the various internships I had done. So you just never know when that bigger fish is going to come by. It blindsided me, but ended up being a great situation where I’ve been for eight years now.


So if you can get through the tough times, realize that good things often happen in bunches. The way to be ready for it to happen is to expose yourself to as many things as you possibly can. I had interned at a place where my friend also previously interned, and he got me in the door for the interview at my current job. So that pedigree of people saying good things about you leads to where someone will take a chance on you, regardless of the fact that you don’t have much experience.


It’s all cumulative, and if you value everyone along the way, whether it’s someone you meet at a networking event or an internship that you have, nothing is so small that it can’t come around to help you in the future.”


We’d like to thank all the kind people who have contributed to this inspiring article and The Guild Of Music Supervisors. Bottom line – everyone on this list has had times when they had to struggle to reach the next level in their career. Whether you are an aspiring music supervisor, musician, filmmaker, music editor, or someone behind the scenes, each of the above success stories prove that putting yourself out there and never giving up is the key to getting ahead in the entertainment industry. Building resilience is not easy, but with these tips, we hope that it helps in you in your journey. Fall down seven times, RISE UP EIGHT!

4 thoughts on “Music Supervisors And Editors On Building Resilience To Succeed In Music”

  1. Stephen, I’m also doing an internship now. Thank you for sharing your story. it’s helpful to know that it may not be important for me to have an internship specifically in music supervision if that’s what I’m aiming for. given that however, do you think I should try to get an internship in music supervision in my next semester?

    • Absolutely! If it’s available and attainable, you should definitely go for it. Just because having generalized/varied experience isn’t a bad thing, having a specialized background can also be a great asset.

  2. wow this is an amazing group of supes! Congrats on putting this together. Very helpful! Can I ask what to do when trying to find the right supervisor for a film? What’s the best way to screen for the right match, as I am a director with an indie film in production and looking at candidates.


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