As the music supervisor for TV shows like 'Dear White People' and 'Queen Sugar,' Morgan Rhodes is equal parts curator and DJ.
Whether it’s on the big or small screen, a perfect scene can amplify its impact with the perfect song. That’s where music supervisors come in. They’re charged with choosing the songs that match the pace, emotion, and tension of a scene, a responsibility that is equal parts curator and DJ. Morgan Rhodes, the music supervisor for movies like Selma as well as TV shows like Dear White People and Queen Sugar, exemplifies that blend of sensibilities. We talked to her about where she gets her inspiration, how she finds new artists to work with, and why as an artist you should always be easy to find.
Spotify for Artists: What does a music supervisor do day-to-day?
Morgan Rhodes: If you're actively working on a production, we go through the process of not only securing music, which means looking for it, but also figuring out how to pay for it, which means clearing the licenses and circling back and forth researching rights. You meet with editors, show runners, and producers to look at various cuts. You get sent a cut of the film or the show and then you audition music for it and you sit in a room with all those people I mentioned—that’s called a “spotting session"—and then you go over each cue where music is supposed to be. And you sort of divide that between needle drops, which is all the stuff music supervisors choose, and score, which is stuff the composers create. So to figure out what works here, do we need to change that, is the tempo fast or too slow. That's your day to day.
How has your strategy for choosing music evolved over the years?
The first thing I do when I start looking for music is I start in all my favorite places—and my favorite places are music blogs, record stores, streaming platforms. The only thing that's changed is that at the beginning, Spotify wasn't around. That's the only new thing, but everything else is pretty much the same. I think a lot of music supervisors who didn't start in radio get submissions from publishers and labels all the time, but since I started in public radio, I got used to finding my own music to play. My approach to looking for music for projects is the same as it was for radio. I look for everything myself. I love to do that.
How do artists get on your radar?
If you're an unsigned or indie artist the best way to get on my radar is to make sure that your music is in one of these aforementioned places. Make sure that it's on Spotify. Make sure you're on someone's music blog—all the ones that your friends are talking about and that are on social media because that's the best place to get on most music supervisors’ radars. If you're working in television like I am, we're in a tremendous time crunch, and so we need to be able to access the music fast. Sometimes it's easier to log onto a site than it is to check our email, which is flooded with submissions. I would say make your music available in those places particularly if you're unsigned because otherwise it might be tough to find you.
What’s one way for artists to put themselves in a good position to be part of a new film or TV project?
I think the most important thing that I could pass along to artists is to prepare your submission. It is more than just putting yourself in a position to be found. It's been heartbreaking for me in some situations where I find an artist that I really love online, and they've got their whole EP up there and no contact information. I'm like, “Wait, what?” That's super important. The other thing is that we need WAV files and MP3. These are just small details, and then it goes without saying: provide every possible piece of contact information. Not just your social media handle, but your cell phone, and your email, and then check both your cell phone and your email like you check your timeline. Because you answering that phone call is gonna be the difference between me working with you or not, because if I can't find you and I'm in a hurry, it's tough to chase. The other thing is to look at all your favorite shows. If you've got an idea, if you've got a song that you want to see on Better Call Saul or Insecure or Blackish or Atlanta, look at the music that you tend to see on there and if it's a fit. Find out the music supervisor that’s working on that and then talk to them. Most of us are on social media. I love Instagram because I always have accidental discoveries. One of my friends will mention a great band that they like and that'll lead me down a path, and once I find you on Instagram I want to be able to reach out and touch you.
—Spotify for Artists