Music Supervisor James Hyman
Music Supervisor James Hyman worked for over 12 years at MTV producing and directing content, including all of the evolving Pop culture shows, documenting protege and big name people in the industry before anyone else did.
A highly sought out DJ, James put his skills to the test by successfully moving people not only on the dance floor but by marrying music with moving pictures on screen in film, TV, advertising or computer games. He talks to us about why DJ’ing is his unique advantage vis-a-vis other music supervisors and what industry trends are affecting the music market place.
You have done voice-overs, worked as a presenter, a host, and even as a deejay, in addition to doing music supervision. How has this diversity influenced your work? Do you consider yourself primarily a music supervisor, or do you consider yourself a jack-of-all-trades?
Music Supervisor James Hyman: An interesting question. Actually, I’d say, if you think about it, a music supervisor, in a way, is a form of being a deejay. You can show people your taste in music on a film or in a computer game, which, in essence, is just another form of deejaying.
That’s quite abstract, but I’ve always loved music so I find that music is always involved in one way or another. I love pop culture, I love music, films, TV and I just try and really do that in whatever shape or form I can – whether it’s putting together a soundtrack for film, deejaying in a club, or promoting some else’s music.
How do you feel deejaying has helped you in your music supervision work? Are there things that you’ve learned from deejaying versus music supervision or do they also compliment each other?
Music Supervisor James Hyman: They compliment each other, but deejaying helps a lot, because you get to hear a lot of music. If you play that music in a club or on the radio, you can test it and get a reaction from the public instantaneously. It’s probably an advantage for me and makes my approach to music different from other music supervisors.
My next deejaying gig is in Barcelona in a couple of week’s time in one of the biggest clubs in Europe called ‘Razzmatazz‘. I see it almost as a way of going into a ring like a boxer training for his next battle. I like that constant flow in a club, as it allows me to keep up with music by watching people’s responses. It’s a great way to test new, up-and-coming music.
When you place music in film, TV or advertising, are there different ways to go about it? Is there a specific methodology that you use when you place music for these projects?
Music Supervisor James Hyman: I use many methods, but ultimately it’s just believing that the song you selected is the perfect track for the scene. You have to take the brief and really react to it as best as you can and judge about what music is going to work best there.
I think in many cases, there’s not always just one song that’s going to work, but many. A lot of adverts get stuck on a “Hey, this is a cool new track, let’s use it” mode, but the problem is that this cool new track is going to work on so many adverts, but might not be 100% right for the campaign you are launching.
From my perspective what really makes a difference when placing music in a film or an advert is that you’ve really thought about that advert more, that you’ve really communicated with the team and that you believe the selection of music you made can make the difference to the product or service or brand.
What elements of a song make it appealing enough for you to place it in a film, a TV show or an advertisement? Is there a difference between the types of songs used for these different media?
Music Supervisor James Hyman: A song is appealing if it has something that’s going to get you hooked. This is particularly true in advertising. Advertising is meant to hook you so the music has got to do the same. But you have to be careful because you need to make sure that the music doesn’t distract from the visuals where people start tapping their feet, unless that’s the desired response, allowing for the ad to become more memorable.
Music for a film, however, is different – a good score should not distract from what you’re watching. It’s about balance; you want the music to suit you well, but not overpower your medium. While not overbearing, I still look out for a good hook when placing music for a film.
You must be getting a ton of music sent to you. What are some common mistakes you hear when receiving music for a brief you sent out? What is the best way for someone to catch your attention?
Music Supervisor James Hyman: To catch my attention, everything does, I listen to everything I get sent. When I send a brief to people, which includes composers or publishers, some people really don’t read that brief right or not at all and end up sending music that’s simply wrong.
Just because they have a cool new track, doesn’t mean it fits the brief. As simple as that – many just don’t carefully read the briefs. If you don’t have something that fits perfectly, don’t send it.
Do you have a preferred method of receiving music?
Music Supervisor James Hyman: I listen to everything that gets sent to me – whether in physical form (CD) or digitally. Sometimes I find downloading somewhat time-consuming, since I can’t really listen or screen the music before I get it. As such for now I just prefer the old school method: getting a CD.
Also, if someone puts a little bit of effort into a CD (presentation, pictures, etc.), it gives me a little bit of an indication of what the music is going to be like (hopefully!). Then once we receive a CD, we encode and digitize the music and enter it into our database for quick retrieval.
How do you see cultural differences and industry trends affect the future of music and music placements?
Music Supervisor James Hyman: Music has been, and always will be, a subjective thing. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are. Lots of people are going to like your music, and lots of people aren’t.
Different countries have different music cultures and many factors affect what music is going to be popular in a particular country. For example, L.A’s music taste is going to be very different from that of the UK. Record labels change, business models change, and many things will affect music supervision companies over time, but I still keep my perspective in that music is music.
I’m never prejudiced to a certain label when choosing music for a project. In other words, I would never say I’ll have to be more favorable to EMI or I don’t like Universal Publishing. There’s still a lot free choice. When choosing music, the most important thing is creatively choosing something that you believe in.
Other trends affecting the future of music include new media and marketing outlets such as MySpace, where people can push their music and actually can achieve success. If you market yourself right, David can be as big as Goliath. Sean Kingston, who did ‘Beautiful Girl’ for example, pushed a lot of the A&R guys at Epic Records by marketing himself through MySpace.
What would surprise people that they may not know about you?
Music Supervisor James Hyman: I can surprise people with my music taste. Maybe my surprise is, I also look at some of the old, doesn’t have to be the newest, freshest thing. Digging out an old track could be new to you. Look at that amazing track ‘A Little Less Conversation‘ from Elvis Presley they remixed and placed onto the movie Ocean’s Eleven.
Music is music and there’s a lot of incredible stuff out there. That’s the exciting thing. Some kid in his bedroom somewhere is going to make an amazing record, you just have to find it.
Another surprising fact about myself is that some people might not know about the scope of my musical knowledge and appreciation – thinking that because I come from a dance music background, that that would be what I focus on. Nothing could be further from the truth – dance music is my trump card, yes, but my love and musical comprehension arches over all possible genres imaginable.
As such I have placed music into film, TV, commercials from all sorts of musical styles. For example, I remember I placed a really crazy Indie-Rock track (the 22-20s “Such A Fool”) on the trailer of a Guy Ritchie film; it makes my hairs (and hopefully yours!) stand on end!
Speaking about placing music, do you find it very difficult to clear music these days?
Music Supervisor James Hyman: The challenge is that, sometimes the time it takes to clear music can be very frustrating. You find a fantastic track and it just takes too long to clear. I hope that will improve/change.
Another frustrating thing can be when you found something you really think works (creatively and to budget) and somebody in the decision chain doesn’t like it – be that the artist, a manager or even the client. So if you have nine people that like it, but one doesn’t buy it, you may have to start from scratch putting pressure on deadlines etc.
What projects have you recently worked on and which ones are you particularly proud of?
Music Supervisor James Hyman: I handpicked the opening track (Blackstrobe’s “I’m a man”) for Guy Ritchie‘s movie ‘RocknRolla‘ to be released in the fall of ’08. I also sourced and licenced music for Paris Leonti’s Indie film ‘Daylight Robbery‘ and selected tracks (by Queens of the Stone Age) on the upcoming computer game, Race Driver: GRID, due for release in June 2008, which is the first title in the franchise to appear on the current generation of consoles, including to PS3, Xbox 360, PC and Nintendo DS. Advert wise, clients have included Orange, Visa, Eurostar, Fosters, Becks and Morrisons.
Keeping busy in between, I also met and hung out with Quentin Tarantino a few times and having made this crazy “Tarantino” themed mix CD for him, he loved it and even kept quoting it back to me at the UK launch party of “Death Proof”.
Aside from those recent projects, I’m really proud of the work for the Discovery Channel which included some re-branding for which they made 10 x 3 minute “Emotional Connection” movies for Animal Planet.
I managed to secure licenses for some really big acts/tracks and part of the reason I succeeded was because the artists loved what they were seeing. Music tracks that were licensed included “Frozen” by Madonna, “Protection” by Massive Attack, “Lullaby” by The Cure & “Believe” by Elton John.
The Madonna track ‘Frozen’ for example, was featured in a film about polar bears and global warming. I was so please to secure it because many people thought you’ll never get consent and someone as iconic as Madonna really doesn’t license too many songs for such projects.
What projects would you love to work on?
Music Supervisor James Hyman: Projects that I’m simply excited about and that can be with up-and-coming fresh blood or established actors/producers/directors etc. I really love music. It’s my passion and a life force. Generally, I love working on projects where everyone sits up and goes, “Wow, that was amazing, not just the movie, but the music too!”, whether it’s a film, a game, advert, radio show, DJ gig etc.
My role is, in a way, similar to that of a director. When a director, such as Tarantino, seeks out the perfect actor for a role in his film, I too, must find perfect music that fits for each part of the film.
So on a Tarantino film, not just the acting has to be great, but everything else, including the music, the set design, costumes, the make-up, etc. And so I would love to make sure that the music is a 10 out of 10 if I would work on a project like that. I can’t ask for more than that.
About James Hyman
James Hyman worked at MTV as a Senior Producer/Director/Programmer and navigated through the evolving UK dance music scene from its acid house emergence to its global pop culture status, covering industry giants known and unknown at the time from the likes of The Prodigy, Goldie, Moby, David Holmes, Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Paul Oakenfold, Aphex Twin, and many others. Putting on multiple hats, James’ talents swept over to producing, directing and editing over 250 pop videos, including clips for Fatboy Slim, New Order, Mike Oldfield, Moby, Prince & Michael Jackson.
As an ubiquitous industry insider, James navigated the evolving musical terrain for various international publications including Music Week, Televizier, Hip-Hop Connection and even serving as key expert and commentator on UK television. Hyman was voted #22 in MUZIK Magazine‘s poll of the 50 Most Powerful People in Dance Music.
As a logical extension to his expertise, James tiptoed with great success into the field of music supervision, taking credit for music on films such as “Mean Machine”, “Suzie Gold”, “Alpha Male”, Guy Ritchie’s “Revolver”, Alan Bennett’s “History Boys” & “Kidulthood” or advertising campaigns for giants such as Ford, Lynx, T-Mobile, Gordon’s Gin, Lux, Levi’s and Head & Shoulders.
James is a highly-sought out DJ, spinning at film-premieres, corporate events and for artists such as Britney Spears, Eminem, Madonna and even for actors such as Will Smith. He owns and operates JLH Music Consultants, managing a library of 1.5 million digitized tracks for film, TV, advertising and video games.
Agent: Amanda Street (DNA Music Ltd).