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Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes always knew that she wanted to be involved in the music industry, though not as a performer (quote: I have a bit of stage...

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes always knew that she wanted to be involved in the music industry, though not as a performer (quote: I have a bit of stage fright), but as someone behind the scenes.

Her career was interweaved with experiences at major music publishing (BMG Music Publishing) as well as record companies (Universal Records and Dreamworks Records) before she climbed her way up to become music supervisor at MTV where she has worked on some of the highest rated shows on its network such as The Hills, Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County, The Real World, Road Rules and many others.

It doesn’t stop there, Carrie tells us about how she dedicates her time to managing bands she thinks deserve more attention.

How did you become involved in a career that selects music for TV shows?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: Actually, I had the chance to work at BMG Music Publishing and, although I learned a lot, I always kept my eyes and ears open for new opportunities.

Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County

One day a friend who worked at a production company said they needed people to help coordinate music and I thought interesting, let me check that out. I decided to join and worked my way up to music coordinator pretty quickly. Eventually I became a music supervisor at MTV.

How did you move from a music coordinator position to become music supervisor?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: Three things:

  1. Music Knowledge: It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. You have to spend a lot of hours becoming as knowledgeable about music as you possibly can. I gave up my weekends to just to sit at home and cruise over to mySpace and other interesting sites to find as many new artists as possible. Then, a lot of my nights are spent at shows. I regularly go to the Viper Room and the Roxy to check out new bands and try to be as aware about new music and this community as I can be. Its just crucial that you have such a vast knowledge of music.
  2. Risk: The other thing is taking risks. If I had stayed at the company I started, it would have taken me a lot longer to become a music supervisor. I made that leap to allow me to move up more quickly and that means that sometimes you have to leave that comfort zone and jump somewhere else to move up.
  3. Networking: I was lucky in that I just knew people and I feel that its really what it comes down to! So by being able to demonstrate vast music knowledge and connecting with a lot of people in the industry I was able to find the right opportunities to allow me to move
    where I am today.

How do you know when you have good music on your hands that should be placed on TV?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: It’s a gut feeling for me. How do I explain this? After Ive watched a scene, I get an initial feeling that a specific artist would work well. Then I go to the artist’s music in my music library and listen to all their songs. Then, I decide which song is the perfect one. For me, it’s all about feeling – like this feels right, this feels like it should go here.

So you go to each scene and see which type of artist would be a good fit and then you go hunting?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: Exactly!

You mentioned your music library. How do you set up the library, how do you collect the music and manage it?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: It has taken me a long time to actually get my library semi-organized and that’s something I’m still working on. With the shows I’m working on now, we use mostly Indie artists. So I separate my music library into two main piles one for mainstream artists and one for Indie artists.

What’s really worked as far as organization is I’ve recently put everything on a drive, which has been a big help to me. I can assign a genre and write little notes for myself in the information column in the iTunes library.

I break up my music by artists, by genre, or by what scene I think it would be good for. I note really specific things (keywords), such as which artists would be great for a really emotional scene, etc.

The Real World on MTV

What is your typical day like? How does your day or week progress? Are you in the office all day?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: I definitely have some coffee first thing! I do have an office at MTV, but when I work on selecting music I primarily work at home.

Typical day: It depends. It’d be easier for me to talk about a typical week because my days vary.

I’m working on the MTV show “The Hills” now and I have a weekly schedule there. Our show airs on Mondays so we deliver our episode on Friday.

The Hills

Monday: On Mondays I block the cut we want to put music in. So the first day of the week is a really crucial day for me, because of all the music selection. I spend pretty much the entire day watching the cut 10 to 15 times and listening to different tracks that may work well with it. I put the video up on my TV and play the song next to it before I even bring it in to the edit bay.

I am pretty positive about all the songs I bring to the edit bay that they’re going to work. I know that there are some music supervisors who send tracks without fully testing, and the editor has to make it work. I find it easier for me to make sure the song works well with the pictures cut at home so I don’t waste anyone’s time.

Tuesday: Then on Tuesdays I’m usually in the edit bay with the editor all day. I work with him to bring out the emotion of the scene with
the way we cut the song.

Wednesday: On Wednesdays I’m usually waiting for notes from the producer. The producer always has the last say! The producer might decide all the songs are great or five of the songs are great, but they want to hear an alternative song for the last.

For “The Hills”, for example, we do present several options. We’ll go in the edit bay and mess around with all of them, and keep the best. When I get the notes back I start the process over and spend the rest of the day listening to the songs and addressing the notes.

Thursday: On Thursday we re-edit and watch the cuts again to get final approval.

Friday: On Fridays we do our audio mix with an outside audio mixing company. They really make it all sound fantastic!

So when the producer comes back to you and says sometimes a certain song you’ve selected won’t work, do you ever find yourself in a struggle to replace it?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: Yes! For sure. There’s been quite a few times where there is a difference of opinion. I may think a particular song is perfect, and they don’t. Obviously the producer trumps whatever I say.

There have been occasions where it is difficult for me, because I think a song works so well that I can’t get it out of my head. It is always in the back of my mind when I’m looking for the new song, that the old one is actually better.

When that happens, nothing I listen to sounds good enough. It is a hard process for me. I don’t get many notes, but when I do it’s difficult because it’s harder to find the song the second time around because I gave them what I thought was best the first time around. So then it feels like everything I’m giving them doesn’t live up to it.

Do you have someone you can talk to when this happens? Do you have someone you can brainstorm with?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: Yes, I have some great music coordinators that work with me that are very helpful. I also turn to my editors a lot. If I’m not sure of a song, I’ll ask them if they think it works. They are very involved in the process.

How much music do you typically need for an episode of The Hills”?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: For most shows it’s anywhere from 10 to 20 tracks, but on average it’s about 15.

In addition to “The Hills”, you’ve also worked on “The Real World” and “Road Rules” are there any musical differences between those shows?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: Yes, I did work on those for a while. Those shows actually require a lot more music, around 25-30 tracks per episode. The difference between “The Hills” and these shows is that there is a solid music bed under them – it’s pretty much all music! “The Hills” is more transitional music. The music plays to lead from one scene to another, not all the time.

Road Rules

Do you have a template that you follow for picking music for each of the shows?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: Yes, there is definitely a theme story-wise for “The Hills”. It is very dramatic, very girl-driven. The girls are always emotional and having issues with boyfriends, etc. So most of the songs are emotionally relevant to the scene (about love, relationship, loneliness, sadness, happiness, break-ups, etc.). We don’t just put a song in there to have it in there. We use a lot of songs about relationships with a lot of female vocals to fit with the theme.

Has there ever been an issue in terms of budgeting?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: Yes, there have been certain songs we’ve had to take out even though the producers were in love with them. Sometimes it is too expensive or we can’t get it cleared in time. It’s an issue with a lot of bigger artists, because they’re out on the road and we can’t get in touch with them. Other times they just want too much money!

How many music submissions do you receive? I’m sure you get a lot of people sending in MP3’s and CD’s.

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: I do. The majority are CD’s – I probably get at least 10 per week, sometimes more. I also get MP3’s and links to websites. I’m still kind of old-school in that I prefer to receive CDs.

With so much music coming in, you must be listening to music 24/7?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: Yes, exactly. The good thing about my week is that there is some free time in there, usually when I’m waiting for notes. On Wednesday through Thursday I usually have some free time. Those are times I can sit down and listen to music. I usually have a stack of 10 a week I’ll make myself listen to. I also have to do paperwork during those times. There is a lot of paperwork for this job!

What are some of the things someone should be aware of when submitting music to you?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes:

  1. Find out what we need: I would say the most important thing is to find out what I’m looking for. In the past, when I worked on shows like “The Real World” there was room for variety. If I ever got a heavy metal CD for “The Hills” I’d never use it! It doesn’t fit with the flow of the show. That’s why it’s so important for people to check what we’re looking for.
  2. Follow up: Another thing that is important is to know when to follow up with your submission. There are people out there who follow up too much! I have people who call me every day. I’m not going to license your music just because you want me to! Follow-up once every month or even every 3 weeks at most – once a week is a little too much for me. Some people don’t mind that.
  3. Build a relationship: Try to build a relationship with me. When I select music I like to go back to my library and I steer first towards those people with whom I have already established a relationship. The artists who send a CD and don’t bother to contact me first to say “Hi, may I send this to you?” go to the bottom of the pile. Definitely try to build that relationship and then I’ll want to place you more.One good way is to receive a personal introduction from someone I know and trust. Other than that, I do answer each e-mail that I get. It may take me months to reply, but I will. Trying to contact me before submitting your CD builds familiarity. When I receive it in the mail, I’ll remember you, because you’ve contacted me. Something I’ve never heard of gets listened to last.
  4. Be registered: Before you submit material make sure that you are registered with ASCAP, BMI, or one of those organizations. I know a lot of artists that are not and they’re not going to get any royalties that way. It’s also a very good way to learn about licensing and all the terms that are involved.

How much music should they send you?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: That depends. With Indie artists without publishers or record labels, I just ask them to send me their whole album. If it’s a publisher or record label we usually ask for 2 or 3 songs from their best artist for this show as a sampler. We’ll pick one and then ask for their full CD.

Once you place music from unknown bands or artists it must be very valuable for them even if it’s just a short clip that is featured?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: Oh yeah, it’s great promotion! We’re doing something that’s going to air in a couple of weeks with a band called “The Ruse”. They are on the show because the cast goes to the Viper Room to see them.

The Ruse

The band is performing live on the show, well use two of their songs and we’ll also be offering a download of their live song at MTV.com. They’re great!

Our viewing audience pays very close attention to the music that is played on the show even if its just a short clip – just the other week on “Newport Harbor” there were so many comments online on our message boards asking about a certain artist. So we posted the information and let everyone know who that was. That’s fantastic promotion!

Also money-wise what’s great about an MTV show is that they are played many times all over the world. Each time the show airs, the band gets a royalty. I know artists have been able to go on tour as result of earning enough royalties just by having placed music on TV shows!

I cant say for sure that some artists got signed directly because of a placement on shows, but there have been artists like “The Fray” who I licensed for the “The Real World” and “Road Rules” that were subsequently signed. Also, similarly, Will Dailey whose music I placed on a show called 24/7 was later signed. There are quite a few artists like that.

Speaking about new and up-and-coming artists and bands, you also manage new talent. I would imagine that there are lots of opportunities especially from the artist’s perspective to know a music supervisor that at the same time manages them. Are there certain things you see or learn being a manager that you did not see being a music supervisor?The Royal Heist

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: Yes, I manage a band out of Los Angeles called “The Royal Heist” and they’re fantastic. I have tried to place music for them on pretty much everything. I do what I can!

I have also started talking to another great L.A.-based band “Sink To See” about management – hopefully that works out, because they are also amazing.

Sink to See.

Any free time I have goes towards managing them and finding them new opportunities. It’s nice that I have the job I have because of all my contacts. I know other supervisors and managers, which obviously benefits “The Royal Heist.”

It would take me hours to explain the difference between music supervision and management, but management is so much more involved. Supervision, in comparison, is much more narrowly defined, concentrating primarily on licensing and placing music on the show.

Managing, on the other hand, is trying to get a band placement, record deals, shooting videos – all things I would never have done as a music supervisor. As a manager you have your hand in every aspect – that’s probably the only job that has the ability to be involved in everything.

Finally, there is a great difference between film and TV, would you always prefer to supervise music for TV shows, because it changes every week?

MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes: It’s hard to say because I haven’t really done films yet. What appeals to me, though, about films is that there is such a large budget, and you have so much more time with the whole scripted process.

We have such a time constraint in TV, especially with reality TV. It’s pretty much a week-to-week basis, whereas films you work on for 3 or 4 months. I get the impression that it would be a more leisurely experience. You could really dive into the music. I could spend a whole week working on one scene for the film! I could never do that with TV, but I am hoping to find out!

About MTV Music Supervisor Carrie Hughes

Carrie Hughes is music supervisor at MTV where she takes care of some of the highest rated shows on its network such as The Hills, Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County, The Real World, Road Rules and many others. Prior to working at MTV, Carrie has gained in-depth experience in the music industry at top companies including Universal Records and Dreamworks Records as well as BMG Music Publishing. She also manages new and up-and-coming artists and bands.

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