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Music supervisors step into the spotlight with new Grammy eligibility in soundtrack category

Music supervisors step into the spotlight with new Grammy eligibility in soundtrack category
The compilation soundtrack for the musical "The Greatest Showman," starring Hugh Jackman, earned a Grammy nod. For the first time, music supervisors are eligible to win in that category, not just producers. (Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Fox)

It’s a banner year for film music at the Grammys. Works from “Black Panther” and “A Star Is Born” are in contention in some of the top categories. “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack was the first album to sell a million copies in 2018.

But a small rules change may also herald a shift for an overlooked craft at the Grammys: music supervision. This is the first year in which supervisors are eligible to win Grammys in the compilation soundtrack album category. In a time when music curation plays an ever-more important role in film and TV, the Recording Academy is finally acknowledging the importance of this job in the dialogue between music and visual media.

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“It rises and falls over the years, but this feels like a peak year for music in media influencing the Grammys,” said Thomas Golubić, president of the Guild of Music Supervisors. “There’s a growing understanding that supervision is a key contributor to storytelling. That credit is long overdue.”

In announcing the rules change, the Grammys body itself described music supervision as a “growing role” in the industry. Music supervisors have, of course, always been essential to curating Grammy-winning soundtracks. But the nominating rules previously excluded them from eligibility in the compilation soundtrack album category unless they were also credited as producers.

The work of curating a soundtrack is a distinct craft from traditional score work or soundtrack production. “A lot of people muscle in on producer credit,” Golubić said. “Sometimes producers are actively involved, but that shuts out supervisors’ key role in stitching projects together. Producers were winning awards when they hadn’t been as creatively involved as supervisors. Supervision is a creative craft with a huge influence on the quality of a project.”

This year’s nominees for compilation soundtrack for visual media — “Call Me by Your Name,” “Lady Bird,” “Deadpool 2,” “The Greatest Showman” and the Netflix series “Stranger Things” — have wildly different takes on the craft. Take for instance the unexpectedly moving use of the Dave Matthews Band in the millennial coming-of-age film “Lady Bird,” or how Sufjan Stevens’ music provides the delicate framework for some of the most powerful shots in “Call Me by Your Name.” “Stranger Things” would be unimaginable without its menacing synth soundtrack.

Saoirse Ronan, left, and Laurie Metcalf in a scene from "Lady Bird."
Saoirse Ronan, left, and Laurie Metcalf in a scene from "Lady Bird." (Merie Wallace / A24)

As the Grammy Awards mature and evolve, diversity is much more of a factor. The years where [supervision] was five white guys doing similar work is changing.


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The Guild of Music Supervisors has its own awards (the ninth annual event hits the Theatre at the Ace Hotel on Feb. 13). The crossover is significant — four out of five of the Grammy nominees for compilation soundtrack album were previously nominated for the guild’s awards as well.

As the Grammys look to correct for its white- and male-dominated reputation, recognizing savvy supervision work in film could be part of the solution. The diversity of supervision plays out all over the Grammys, from “Black Panther’s” expert dive into contemporary South African club music to “The Greatest Showman’s” crowd-pleasing, ambitious read on the movie-musical tradition.

“As the Grammy Awards mature and evolve, diversity is much more of a factor,” Golubić said. “The years where [supervision] was five white guys doing similar work is changing. There’s lot of diversity and inclusion [this year], and palettes expanding benefits everyone.”

There still is no dedicated Academy Award for music supervision, an omission that’s become something of a white whale for the Guild (the Emmys do have a dedicated award). The creation of one could even help clear up some instances, as with 2014’s “Birdman” and 2016’s “Arrival,” where powerful scores were deemed ineligible for the original score Oscar for using pre-existing compositions. But as the Grammys become more and more open to acknowledging the craft, that influence could spread throughout the industry.

“It opens doors, ultimately,” Golubić said. “Our influence, especially in the time of Peak TV, is huge, when you look at how much [supervisors] have contributed to the storytelling process. As the Grammys opens their doors to us, we’ll contribute to their community and add our own influence to the conversation about what makes culture exciting.”

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