Art Works Blog

Susan Jacobs on the Art of Music Supervision

Susan Jacobs has been curating music for film soundtracks since Spike Lee's 1986 feature debut, She's Gotta Have It. Since then, she's become one of the most prominent music supervisors in the business, perhaps best known for her celebrated work on the HBO miniseries, Big Little Lies. In short, music supervision is the process of researching and licensing composed or pre-written music for film and television. As Jacobs tells it, “The most important thing is to never assume that you know. The idea is to try to get them to think about how the scene should play. You're helping the director have that conversation with himself.” On top of realizing a directors’ vision, you have to negotiate payment terms with managers, record labels, and music publishers. The process is often grueling, expensive, and flat-out exhausting, especially if a song has international roots. Jacobs has long shown she has what it takes to help a director present his or her work in its ideal sonic light. Directors like Julian Schnabel (Basquiat, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), David O. Russell (American Hustle, Joy), and Jean-Marc Vallée (Wild, Big Little Lies) clearly value her grit, sharp ear, and out-of-the-box thinking because they repeatedly ask her back to supervise new projects.

In this piece, Jacobs discusses the art of music supervision and shares stories from her work on four projects in particular: Shortcuts, Keep the Lights On, American Hustle, and Big Little Lies.

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