Doug DeAngelis is a producer, engineer, composer, and music supervisor who entered the music industry as a teenager. Today, he is recognized today as a global thought leader for the music industry. His professional career began at 18, as a programmer and engineer on the groundbreaking Nine Inch Nails album, Pretty Hate Machine. Spawning thirty-one singles that reached #1 on the Billboard Dance Charts, his work with the trailblazers of dance music shaped the trajectory of EDM in America. He has also pioneered independent song production and placement in television and film; the industry practice now termed sync. In addition to writing over 3,000 pieces of music for television and film, Doug is the co-founder of leadership groups like A3E and BlackSleeve Media. His goal is to develop new technology capable of applying the monetization practices of the video game industry to the music industry. Doug was kind enough to sit down with Level 77 Music to discuss his vision for music, television, film, and business.
How did you get your start in music and specifically music supervising?
I began in music as a young kid who was fascinated with synthesizers and sound. I fell in love with the sound of the early 80s, and spent my teens in bands, before attending Berklee College of Music as a Music Synthesis major. My career began as an engineer/producer in Boston and New York City, where I was heavily immersed in electronic music, remixing, rock, and pop music. I had the great fortune of working on some amazing records with popular artists, and ultimately moved to Los Angeles to continue as a record producer.
When I moved to LA, there was a TV show called Next Big Star that was looking for a “music person”, and I was recommended to the Executive Producer. My role was to produce all of the music, and also act as the Music Supervisor for the production. It was the first of the performance/talent shows in America, before American Idol and the rest that would soon follow. I had never worked on a TV show, and this was trial by fire. But after choosing and producing hundreds of songs over the first season, TV became my home. I found a unique role in Hollywood as a person who could write, produce, and music supervise at the same time. I did that on dozens of shows throughout the next 15 years.
Did you have to have any formal training to become a music supervisor?
I think like most things in entertainment, the best formal training is getting on a job, and learning as quickly as possible from the people who are the best in the business. It normally happens that way whether you are becoming a director, or writer, or music supervisor. Humility, passion, and big ears are the most important thing in learning these crafts. I had the great fortune of learning about music clearance from Evan Greenspan at EMG. He is the OG of music clearance and still a major player in it today. He was my mentor from my first show, and we still work on shows together now.
What advice can you give musicians and composers when pitching their music?
The number one piece of advice I teach all my students: if you have the perfect piece of music, then send it. If you don’t have the perfect piece of music, just say “I don’t have what you are looking for this time.” Musicians often make the mistake of sending ‘the closest thing’ they have in their catalog, or a bunch of songs they wrote, even though they aren’t exactly what the supervisor requested. Their thought is that the music supervisor will be impressed with the quality of the music, and remember to come back to them next time, or maybe the supervisor will love the music so much that they will change their mind and go with a different sound for the scene.
Unfortunately, the message it sends to the supervisor is the exact opposite. It actually implies that the musician either doesn’t understand music, or can’t hear the difference between what was requested and what they submitted, and ultimately it wastes the music supervisor’s time and takes them off of that supervisor’s trusted resource list. You will gain respect from that music supervisor if you don’t waste their time, and in turn they will remember to call you again next time.
Can you share any secrets on how you go about searching for the perfect song for a scene? How do you know when you’ve found it?
The perfect song for a scene elevates the emotion, and focuses the viewer on the dialogue, the story points, and the characters. The goal with music is not to draw the viewer’s attention to the music, but to make their emotional state heightened and make the scene more impactful. Songs and underscore do that in many different ways. Some are obvious, but in a more nuanced way, I try to create an emotional connection between the environment, people, or time period of the scene to the viewer’s real life experience.
Music is extremely powerful in shifting your mindset and making you connect in a personal way. If you can make the viewer relate their life experiences to the song, and have that song be the connective tissue to the characters, then the storyline becomes personal and highly emotional to the audience. I am also always looking to capture the feel of the cinematography, and editorial style of the picture, as well as guide the heart rate of the viewer. Do I want the viewer to feel relaxed? Do I want them to be caught off guard? Do I want their emotional state to be getting more intense gradually with the scene? Music can guide all of those things without being noticed.
How do you balance the need for custom music versus licensed cues when you are supervising a project?
It used to be purely a budgetary issue, but now most of the networks and major streaming outlets have blanket deals with the large libraries, so the expectation on a reality show, special, or docuseries is usually to stay within those catalogs for the show. If there is a music budget, it opens the door for custom music to be created, or published songs to be licensed for the special moments that call for lyrics or need a song for creative reasons.
Custom music is more critical when you need something to feel like popular music, but have a situation that requires some unique musical parameters. For instance, combining two genres of music for creative reasons, or needing specific tempo shifts that you wouldn’t find in a licensed song or library track. So for the most part, we are dividing the musical needs into groups based on the discussions that happen in the spotting session with the showrunner or director.
What advice do you have for someone who’s aspiring to become a music supervisor?
There are two sides to the job. Creatively, I would say that understanding filmmaking, and the specific needs of the characters are really critical. The dialogue tells the story, and the music needs to get under the surface, and emphasize the core reason the scene is happening. It also needs to solve any number of problems in the edit, like story point clarity, environment changes, time shifts, character relationships, etc. So, knowing a lot of music is great, but understanding the filmmaking process, and how to make the story and the characters come to life is the art of music supervision.
Administratively, the music supervisor plays a huge role as well. Organization and people skills are critical. You’ve got music that needs to be 100% clear for airing on TV, and a very short time to make it happen. Building great relationships with labels and publishers, time management, and back up plans are the essential survival tools!
Is there anything else you’d like to add for our readers?
If you want to learn more about the craft, please check out the blogs on my site, Soundtrack Production. There is some good info there, and I will be offering an online course again soon for people who are interested in a career in this field.
Thank you to Doug for sitting down with us. His innovative take on the interaction of music and visual media has transformed the television and film industries, and we cannot wait to see and hear his next projects!