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Music Supervisors’ Fight for a Front-Title Credit Has Mostly Been a Losing Battle; Here’s Why

Variety — James Patrick Herman

There’s nothing like validation from your peers, especially in Hollywood, but seeing your name emblazoned in a front-end credit on TV is something music supervisors have found elusive — even when the show centers around, or is chock full of, music.

”I worked on a very music-intensive show and asked for a front-end credit because the show was based around music and dance,” says Jen Malone, who this year won a Guild of Music Supervisors (GMS) Award for her work on “Euphoria” (the HBO series shows a title card in lieu of main credits). “The studio said the Directors Guild of America will not allow it because they consider a music supervisor to be a technical credit. Even the TV Academy now recognizes our work with an Emmy category so I’d hope that the DGA reevaluates their stance.”

Guild president Joel C. High puts the big picture into perspective vis-à-vis the small screen. “There is a long standing precedent that a main title credit in a film can be granted in the right circumstances, but TV can be much trickier,” he says of the DGA’s vetting of waivers from music supervisors. “I have been told the DGA does not have a policy against it, but it is a negotiation.”

GMS members contend it should be non-negotiable. “We music supervisors have had to fight for years to get our creative contributions to storytelling recognized in this industry and not be labeled as just paper-pushers,” says Malone. “Calling our work ‘technical’ as opposed to ‘creative’ is antiquated and misinformed. And as far as I have found, the DGA does not have clear, transparent, reasonable rules and guidelines in place for us to even fight for a front-end credit in TV.”

She’s not alone in seeking clarity. “Credits are a very complex system that even I often feel like I don’t have any insight into,” Amanda Krieg Thomas says. A surprising admission considering the veteran music supervisor has worked on so many projects by Ryan Murphy, himself an advocate of the importance of music in visual media.

“The DGA will consider waivers of some, but not other, screen and advertising credit requirements on a case-by-case basis,” reads the DGA website in regards to protocols. A spokesperon for the guild further adds: “The process is the same across the board for all companies.”

While the vetting process may be the same for film and TV, success rates are dramatically different on the big versus small screen. “It’s definitely something I would love to see happen [on TV],” says Kier Lehman, music supervisor for HBO’s “Insecure” in addition to such films as “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “Queen & Slim.” “I get main title credit on films so it makes sense that you should also get it on a TV show since the DGA controls [approval] on films as well. I’m supportive of those pushing for this now.”

Consider Ashley Neumeister’s experience: the music supervisor for BET’s “American Soul: The Untold Story of Soul Train” wanted to see her contribution reflected in the front-end credits. The show’s creators agreed. So did the head writer, the network and the composer, who offered to share his card via a split-screen. Only the DGA had the power to deny her request — and it did.

Presumably the decision was based on a few factors: Neumeister was asked to submit her bio, a list of the number of songs she cleared and information pertaining to her stature in the industry, such as awards nominations and wins. It’s worth noting that music supervisors have only been eligible for Emmys since 2017 and twice the winners were the showrunners of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” who claimed co-credit for the job along with the series’ official music supervisor, Robin Urdang.

“Ashley’s work was integral to the process and, don’t get me started about the complex intricacies involved in music clearances, especially when they fall through,” Judith McCreary, executive producer of Season 2 of “American Soul,” wrote in a letter to the DGA. “‘American Soul’ is a behind-the-scenes look at the 35-year television show, ‘Soul Train’ — it is wall-to-wall music, which includes re-mastered performances, original music created by Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds, score by Kurt Farquhar and last, but not least, needle drops. I cannot tell you the sheer amount of creative work involved in making seamless musical transitions between scenes over disparate musical styles.”

The showrunner also challenged the DGA’s definition of music supervision as technical. “I’m only asking you to reconsider what music supervisors provide to the moving picture,” McCreary added. “Imagine if they weren’t there to provide suggestions, guidance and multiple choices to transition well to score, original songs and needle-drops.”

Neumeister herself pleads: “I worked hand in hand with the head writer of the show to create the world in which these characters live. There may have been a time that the music supervisor’s role was more technical than creative, but that was long before I was born.”

According to the production attorney who submitted Neumeister’s waiver, the DGA was willing to make a deal. But instead of responding to the lawyer, they went over his head — and straight to the network — with their demands for prominent placement in the end credits. Approval hinged on moving the unit production manager and the first and second assistant directors to the first card (ahead of the co-producers, staff writer, director of photography and guest stars). “They wanted a trade-off, which the network would never agree to, mainly not to squash the credits and play ads over them,” says Neumeister, who felt like a pawn in this power play.

Who has received a front-end credit for music supervision? Sue Jacobs — notably the very first Emmy winner of the category —  did for HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” an accomplishment that seems to impress her peers more than her Emmy win.

“I was excited when I saw it because I thought, ‘That means it is possible and that we can fight for it,’ “ says Lehman.

But it wasn’t a singular achievement; the two music supervisors who took over for Jacobs on Season 2 also received front-end credit as did Randall Poster on “Vinyl,” another show with no composer.

“I don’t believe I even tried to get that credit and I don’t have an agent,” Jacobs says. “It must have been a fluke, but anyone can get a main title if they ask and the DGA feels the work is warranted.”

This may explain Questlove’s front-end credit as executive music producer of Hulu’s “High Fidelity” while the show’s trio of music supervisors — Manish Raval, Alison Rosenfeld and Tom Wolfe — were relegated to the end credits (the ones skipped by those bingeing).

As Dahvi Waller, the showrunner of “Mrs. America,” tweeted: “Hulu has decided to obscure the end credits of shows on their platform (very rude!) [so] I took screenshots of all the frames so our amazing cast and crew can be acknowledged for their unbelievable work.” Walter then shared a series of 24 screenshots highlighting, among others, music supervisor Mary Ramos — a veteran of Tarantino movies who made her TV debut on the series along with Cate Blanchett.

“I’ve gotten main title credit in films but in TV, I’m buried in the end crawl,” a slightly incredulous Ramos says.

She’s not alone: Nora Felder’s credit on Netflix’s “Stranger Things” follows the electricians, drivers, on-set medic, animal wrangler and caterer.

“I personally find all credit provisions ridiculous,” Jacobs says. “In my idealistic world, it would be a merit system, but I suppose that will never happen with all the unions dictating who gets what.”

The issue of credits does, however, connect to another problem that music supervisors face. “It’s similar to our goal of the Oscar category and raising awareness about the impact our work has on projects,” Lehman says.

And as music supervisors’ per project pay indicates, the sector’s skills look to be widely undervalued. “The people who get opening credits get them because of their level of creative input,” Neumeister says. “Their role is so important that the show would not be the same without them. Music and how it is used creatively does not happen by itself — it’s the end result of an astronomical amount of work.”

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