Music Supervisor Profile :: Andrea von Foerster

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Music Supervisor Profile is a recurring feature on Rollo & Grady: we interview the top supervisors in the business to learn their secrets and get valuable advice on how to break into world of music supervision. Some of our previous interviews have been with such heavyweights as Thomas Golubic, Liza Richardson, Scott Vener, and Gary Calamar.

We recently interviewed the brilliant and insightful tastemaker Andrea von Foerster of Firestarter Music. Over the last decade, Andrea has handled music supervision responsibilities for both television and film. She was the music coordinator for hit television shows Grey’s Anatomy, The OC, Rescue Me, and Roswell. She is best known for supervising the Fox Searchlight film, 500 Days of Summer. The movie’s eclectic soundtrack included Black Lips, Doves, The Smiths, Feist, and Hall & Oates. During our conversation, she made a point to tell me that she feels blessed to have the best job in the world.

Music Supervisor Profile :: Andrea von Foerster

R&G: How did you get started in the music supervision business?

Andrea: Accidentally on purpose. I went to film school at USC. I was a production major and a double minor in music business and music recording. The music business program was amazing and almost everyone I went to school with in that program is still in music today. During my junior year summer at USC, I got a temp job at Disney in live action feature soundtrack and worked on Armageddon, High Fidelity, Coyote Ugly, and Simon Birch. They said, “We can hire you.” I said, “I’ve got one more year of college.” They said, “Come back when you’re done.” So I did and that was my first entertainment job. It kind of went from there.

Music Supervisor Profile :: Andrea von Foerster

R&G: What does your day-to-day job entail? Can you discuss both your film and television responsibilities?

Andrea: With film, there’s a lot more time. You can work on a film from six months to two years or longer. With TV, it’s usually about a two-week turn around per episode. The pitching is always fast and furious because everybody wants something yesterday. Every day I will pitch music: I research and find and pitch. You hear what they like and don’t like and you go back and start over if you need to. If you find something they like, you go and research who has the publishing, who has the master, and then you send out requests, which I do every day. It’s a lot of paperwork. Then I’ll go ahead and send confirmations out for anything that we’re definitely using for the mix. Right now I have about eight films happening and they’re all in different stages. I have the full evolution of music supervision in one day every day.

R&G: What’s the most difficult part of your job as a music supervisor?

Andrea: Funny enough, it’s not the job itself; it’s the perception of the job. Because of the internet and technology, everyone thinks that they can be a supervisor, or if they take a class at a school, they think they can be a supervisor. Obviously, if it were just picking music according to your tastes, it wouldn’t be a job. Picking music is not just about your tastes. It has to fit the people who hired you: the writers, the editors, the director, the producer, the studio, the network. You have a lot of people to please. You’re the ultimate in the co-dependent department, because you have to make everybody happy. Your projects hopefully fit within your taste levels because that’s hopefully why you’re hired – your taste and your credits. Still, everybody thinks if they can find a song on YouTube or iTunes that that’s all you do. They’re like, “Oh, I would use this song.” And I’m like, “You have to fit it within your budget. You have to know who to go to to clear it within a certain amount of time and for a certain amount of money.” That’s the real part of the job: knowing who to go to and how to get it for the money you have and in the time frame you need it. Unfortunately, everybody thinks they can be a supervisor because they have good taste. If that were the case, then everybody would be a supervisor, but really there’s a lot of politics and paperwork and psychology in the job. You’re part of a big community of people; it’s never just one person who makes a show or a film. You’re part of a family.

R&G: What’s the best way for an independent or unsigned artist to get on your radar?

Andrea: Excellent question. I go to a lot of music conferences and festivals; I was just in Montreal. Every time I get invited to an event, I go because I want to meet people who pitch music on the label side, development side, agency side, management side, the artists themselves. As much as I hate to say that I don’t have time to meet everyone in the world, face-time really is important. When I’m at one of these events, already I’m in a good mood because I’m away even though I’m still trying to get my work done, which I am. I’m seeing new music and meeting new people. I love new people. I love new music. I love new places. So I’m already in a good mood and if you meet me at an event, you’ve got me in the best possible light. This is better than listening to you for the first time on my iTunes for a couple seconds maybe in the 14th hour of my day, when I’m kind of grumpy. It’s really great when you can play a conference or a festival or something in your area that you’ve been invited to. Also, send a proper email. I read all my emails and I get back to as many people as possible as soon as possible. I can’t say that I get back to everybody because if a question isn’t really stated in the email and somebody’s just throwing something in my direction, I don’t feel the need to get back to that person. But I do listen to everything.

R&G: What’s the best way for an artist to get your attention when they are emailing you regarding placing their music in one of your projects?

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Andrea: I don’t need an entire press kit. I don’t need a bunch of pictures. What if I think you look kind of silly but I love your music? I really just want to know who has the publishing, who has the master, where are you from, and are there any samples. Then of course I want the music. I don’t need to know your story. If I want to know your story, I’ll ask later once I like you. I get a thousand emails a day, if not more. In all honesty: I actually get a thousand emails a day, it’s in my email signature. It takes a lot to get my attention, to break the monotony of all the emails I get in a day. If it’s just short and concise, maybe be funny somewhere in there, that’s awesome, and I’ll remember that, but I really sort of compartmentalize where people are from, so if I have an idea of where you are from, that helps me remember you.

R&G: If you receive a 1000 emails per day, I assume you don’t like mp3 attachments clogging up your inbox. What’s the best way to submit music to you?

Andrea: Never never never never never send an mp3 to somebody’s inbox without asking them first. We all get a lot of emails and that many people sending you mp3s will just clog up your inbox. I like things that don’t expire: ftp sites, box.net, Dropbox, Yousendit if you have an account and the link won’t expire. I will actually write to people and say, “Hey, I didn’t get to it in time. Can you send it again?” I do that all the time. If it’s some sort of file that doesn’t expire or you’re not too mad at me when I reach out and say, “Hey, can you send it again,” I’m fine.

R&G: What’s your best advice for somebody who’s trying to get into the business as a music supervisor without previous experience?

Andrea: That’s the thing. You need to have some previous experience in licensing. Taste is taste and if it fits the director’s work or the producer’s work, that’s great. (In the film world it’s more the director who’s the point person and in TV it’s more the producers.) But get out there and do a film or do anything you can do to try to clear songs on someone’s project to get experience, because without any experience at all, you’re not really very useful to the supervisor, so you can’t really get a job with a supervisor. Have a music job. Pretty much everybody who’s working now worked at labels, booked bands, worked at a publishing company, whatever, so we had some sort of basis for what it was like on the other side. I think that makes you a more well rounded supervisor.

R&G: Where do you see the music supervision business going in the next five to ten years?

Andrea: I think that independent supervision will always be around as long as indie films are around, but as far as television goes, I think that most of it is going in-house with the studios and the networks. It’s a shame and I don’t really know how much in-house departments can take because that’s a lot of shows for very few people doing all of them. The music industry itself is sort of imploding, so I think it’s going to get to an absolute point where we kind of just have to explode and start over again. It’s kind of an interesting time and I don’t really know where it’s going, but I know that until music divorces me, I’m still in it.

R&G: You’re saying that it’ll go in-house for all of the networks, where they’ll do the negotiations for, say, Fox and NBC, and that they’ll have their own team that does all the work instead of the independent supervisors?

Andrea: Yeah.

R&G: That sucks.

Andrea: It does suck, and the problem is too that it’s bad for all musicians in the world and all the companies because the musicians will have fewer people to get to, and even these people will be already overworked. They can only know so many people in a certain time bracket, so they’re going to know fewer people and less music is going to be used from as wide a pool of music.

R&G: They’re not going to have time to be pitched or discover new music?

Andrea: It would be impossible.

R&G: Just handling paperwork all day, right?

Andrea: Yeah. Obviously, you’re going to have your own taste and I don’t know anyone in the business that doesn’t have great taste, but that’s not really the point. When you have to get the job done of clearing the film and making it fit with your budget and in time, and you’re working on however many shows for the network, and you’re responsible for all the administrative stuff on the other side, which the network normally does and the studio normally does, on top of what the supervisor does: that’s a lot of work. For example, you may be responsible for payment, and the supervisor isn’t responsible for payment most of the time, so there’s that much more work added to your plate. Independent supervisors have the opportunity to pull from a wider pool of music.

R&G: You’re heavily involved in the Guild of Music Supervisors. Can you tell me a little bit about the organization and what you guys are trying to accomplish?

Music Supervisor Profile :: Andrea von Foerster

Andrea: Yeah, I’m by no means the right person to ask about details, but it’s time. We don’t have any type of representation. We don’t have a union. We are sort of considered a fringe group of people and so we finally – it’s been years for some people – gathered together and said, “We’re looking for the same things that the other people get in the entertainment industry.” Health insurance would be great, as would a certain definition of what the job of music supervision really is. It’s not just sitting around and listening to music all day and saying, “That works.” That’s not the job. Bringing a certain amount of respect to what the job is is very important, and having a stamp of approval. Right now, health insurance is the strongest thing I think that we’re looking for.

R&G: How about 500 Days of Summer? The use of Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True” is one of the all-time best placements, in my opinion. Can you tell me a little bit about how that scene came together and how the music evolved with it?

Music Supervisor Profile :: Andrea von Foerster

Andrea: Yes. Scott Neustadter, who’s the writer, is a musical genius. We originally wanted Hall & Oates to be on camera, not actually singing the song but sort of in the scene or something, maybe shooting looks to Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his post-coital moment. They said yes originally and then something fell apart and they said no. We said that we didn’t particularly want to keep the song if they didn’t want to be in it, because that was kind of going to be part of the fun. I’m not sure if they thought it was cheesy or what. We went on this crazy tirade of finding something else that was feel-good and ‘80s that could still work with the artist actually on camera. We went through so many people and all of them weren’t available because of touring and others wouldn’t clear because of our budgets, and all the rest of it. We really could never beat it, and we finally just realized that it would be stupid to keep trying, so we did it without Hall & Oates on camera and of course it was perfect. It was the best day of shooting on our production ever. Everyone was in a good mood. That song can start and stop anywhere and you’re just happy. The entire crew was doing the choreography on the set. It was one of those rare moments when I think everybody was just so ecstatic to be where they were. There’s also another writer on the film, Michael Weber, but Scott is the one who wrote that in. The film is sort of Scott’s story.

Related Posts:
Music Supervisor Profile :: Thomas Golubic (click here)
Music Supervisor Profile :: Gary Calamar (click here)
Music Supervisor Profile :: Scott Vener (click here)
Music Supervisor Profile :: Liza Richardson (click here)
Rollo & Grady Music Supervision (click here)



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