Music Supervisor Adam Swart
We sat down with Adam Swart who is the music coordinator and co-supervisor at music supervision and consulting firm 35Sound in Los Angeles, California.
Together with his partner and veteran music supervisor G. Marq Roswell, who founded 35Sound, Adam handles music supervision projects ranging from TV, and documentaries to major motion pictures.
35Sound music supervision credits include among others: End of Days (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Walking Tall (The Rock), Pay It Forward (Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt), Dawn of the Dead, Varsity Blues (James Van Der Beek), An Unfinished Life, Baadasss!, Spy Game, Auto Focus, The Hurricane, and The Commitments. Recently 35Sound produced and provided music supervision on Mario Van Peebles new movie “Hard Luck” starring Wesley Snipes.
Adam gave us an insight look into how the music selection process works and offers some invaluable advice when pitching music to music supervisors.
How did you become involved in selecting music for movies?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: I always had a passion for music and even played in several bands when I grew up. When I moved to Los Angeles, I basically hustled my way into two internships, starting off working at a music library and later I bumped into Marq Roswell at UCLA, which led me to music supervision by chance.
What do you like about music supervision and what’s a typical day in the life of Adam Swart?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: The thing that I love about music supervision is that it’s very creative and that there’s always a new challenge. In essence, every day is a new day and there isn’t really a “typical” day for a music supervisor. For example, yesterday I was out working on a score for a project and today I’m working on a high-profile assignment where we’re looking to cast singers. In that case, we’re searching not just for music but for the singers as well, which is quite exciting.
On other days, I might be working on clearing and licensing music or just finding the right songs for specific scenes. We even get down to the nitty-gritty by editing music in Quicktime for directors. As you can see there’s not really any sort of typical structure. It’s more just going with the flow and seeing what’s needed on a project-by-project basis.
How do you get involved with these projects? Do they usually find you or the other way around?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: The projects land on our desk mainly as a result of our relationships we’ve formed while working on assignments with past producer and director clients. They in turn also recommend our consulting and music supervision services. We’ve also received a number of projects through agents.
For what type of work do they typically come to you? Do you specialize in a particular area where people say “oh yeah, we’re going to go to Marq and Adam for this”?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: Actually, we try to be as open about projects as possible. We don’t pigeonhole ourselves creatively and very much enjoy working on a variety projects including documentaries, TV and feature films. For example, we recently finished work on Robert Greenwald’s documentaries “WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price” and Iraq for Sale. At the same time, we work on major studio films, anything ranging from African American to Country music films.
Who makes the decision as to which songs get picked for a film?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: The director along with the producers ultimately have the final call as to what actually makes it in. What we’ll do is we’ll edit 4-5 song choices into the film and then it’s a matter of seeing what works creatively, along with what we have in the budget. And sometimes what works creatively and what you have in the budget are two very different things. It’s a matter of matching up these two criteria.
How much music do you typically need for a film or a TV project?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: We primarily work on film projects and, on average, I would say we need 5-6 songs. The type of music can vary from original songs to customized scores to sound-a-likes.
How do you select songs? In other words, when do you say “oh, this is something we’ll present to the director or producer?”
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: For me personally, it’s primarily a gut instinct. When we receive a script that is in pre-production the first thing we do is break down each scene. For example, if there are people in a car and if it feels like a song could go there – then we’ll note that. Or if they are in a bar, etc. We’ll just take notes throughout the script and a lot of times the scriptwriter will already have thoughts on where he wants songs, so we’ll just do a complete breakdown on that, and then you really get a good sense of what music the script requires.
We then send two or three CDs off to the director and get feedback. At that point, the director might not like any of the music, but at least you get a musical conversation going from there. Or he might say “Hey, those 3 or 4 songs are perfect, let’s see how much they are going to cost.” It’s just a matter of getting a dialogue going from there.
Is the process different when selecting music for film than when it is for TV?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: For TV, there are a few more cooks in the kitchen because you’re dealing not only with the director, but also with the writer and there are many more producers. It becomes more bureaucratic and more political.
TV projects move much faster than film, since there’s less time available. For most films you have up to about a year from the time you begin to the mix date. In television, for example, we’re developing an eight part mini-series on ESPN and we’re basically mixing one show a week, which is a pretty hectic schedule for eight weeks. You have to basically clear the music ahead of time in anticipation of the mix.
To have one-stop shopping (i.e. master and publishing rights) especially in independents is really important and I’d say it’s even more important on television projects because you just don’t have the time to go out and clear the publishing and mastering. Especially, when you’re dealing with the large media companies. It’s a really laborious process and it can take up to a month and you know we don’t have time like that. One stop-shop is a gift in a way for TV projects and for any other projects for that matter.
Sounds like you must be listening to music 24/7?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: Yes! If I’m not at work I try to pick out 10-15 new artists which I listen to during the weekend. This way I can always listen to new things.
What issues do you encounter as a music supervisor?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: Sometimes you have to make compromises when selecting music. That is, sometimes what you think might work might be different from what a director or producer feels is right. And of course, financially, you’re working with a finite amount of money in your budget. So a studio says you have $200,000 to fit all the music and then it’s our responsibility to work out the puzzle, piece by piece. So even though a director might want a specific song, you might not be able to supply it, because of budget constraints. So in that sense you are limited and have to find creative compromises. You have to make the best of what you have available if there are certain constraints.
What type of projects do you prefer to work on? Big budget films, or independent and smaller budget projects?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: We don’t really have a preference as far as that goes. Independent films are a lot fun to work on, because you are collaborating more with the director. It also becomes a lot less political. On the other hand, these projects also require more work, especially if the film goes through the film festival circuit (such as the Sundance Film Festival or other). That means we’ve got to wait for a distributor to come in and then re-clear a lot of the songs for distribution, which translates to basically doing twice the work. Which is fine, but it’s lot of work.
Nevertheless, in the end it’s all worth it, because I just love the collaborative process and working creatively with the director and trying to find the right music for the film. Seeing the movie on the screen is sort of like a “delayed gratification”. You don’t really see everything until the end, because you’re just working on specific scenes and small pieces and once you see it on the big screen, it’s pretty magical.
How many music submissions or music CDs do you receive in a typical week?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: It depends, but on average I would say we receive around 100-150 CDs. CDs make up approximately 75% of all submissions with the balance of 25% either being FTP uploads and mp3s or virtual CDs. But it’s increasingly becoming more digital with virtual CDs or links to mp3s. It’s really nice, because when I get 100 submissions, I can quickly go through them and pick something for what I’ve been working on. I then download the songs I like and create another playlist and listen to them again. After that I create a couple of compilations and make CDs for the directors and producers. You can have things done in a 24 hour turnaround versus snail mail where it takes a week to receive a CD.
Is there anything people should be aware of when submitting songs to music supervisors?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: Two things:
1) I think you have to strike a fair balance between following up and being patient. Don’t push too hard, but do make a follow up.
2) Pay very close attention to what a music supervisor is looking for and don’t send music you just composed you think is great, but that doesn’t fit the scene. Don’t bombard with 5 or 10 CDs that aren’t specific to what they’re looking for.
The more precise you are when submitting music, the greater the likelihood a music supervisor will listen to your submissions. In other words, sending 5 songs that exactly meet the criteria rather than 5 CDs with lots of music will be much more appreciated.
Remember, music supervisors receive thousands of songs every week and don’t have a lot of time, so you want to be savvy in filtering your music to the exact requirements.
Do you also help in selecting composers when casting for a music score?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: Yes, we have worked with a few great composers. For examples, we worked withTyler Bates who we first collaborated with on a little Indie film called “Baadasss!”, which in turn helped him to work with “Dawn of the Dead” directed by Zack Snyder.
Zack Snyder didn’t hesitate to work again with Tyler on his most recent box office hit “300“. So it’s definitely very rewarding for us to help directors find not only the right kind of music, but also composers for entire film scores. Marq is really good at working with composers, because he’s also seen the whole label end.
Do you have any thoughts for composers who are trying to break into film scoring?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: Any composer that’s trying to break into scoring film projects should pick up any project, even if you are losing a little money on it, so you can say that you have a demo. Even if that means doing it for free. It’s all about momentum, because once you meet a few directors, they will have friends who also direct movies and so they’ll be able to recommend you.
Do you see yourself directing films yourself in the future?
Music Supervisor Adam Swart: Yes, definitely, I would like to direct a few films and have been pursuing that on the side.
About Adam Swart
Adam Swart is music coordinator and co-supervisor at music supervision and consulting firm 35Sound in Los Angeles. Adam handles all clearance requests for 35Sound film and TV projects.
About 35Sound Music Supervision + Consulting
35Sound, founded by industry veteran G. Marq Roswell, handles music supervision projects from TV to documentaries to major motion pictures.
35Sound music supervision credits include among others: End of Days (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Walking Tall (The Rock), Pay It Forward (Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt), Dawn of the Dead, Varsity Blues (James Van Der Beek), An Unfinished Life, Baadasss!, Spygame, Auto Focus, The Hurricane, and The Commitments. Recently, 35Sound produced and provided music supervision on Mario Van Peebles new movie “Hard Luck” starring Wesley Snipes.