dBs Plymouth’s Marnie Rose Davidge is a composer and producer who has been working for London-based creative agency Wake The Town and Theodore since 2021, where she creates an essential link between music artists and the world of sync licensing deals that are the holy grail for musicians.
Getting your music sync'd for film, TV, advertising or gaming can make a huge difference for composers and portfolio artists alike. What you may not be familiar with are music supervisors, an essential link in the chain of sourcing music for screen.
For dBs Plymouth graduate Marnie Rose Davidge, music and film are her greatest passions, instilled in part from a young age by her father - also a composer for screen - and a love affair with artists like Radiohead, and that quintessential cinematic sound.
"I love storytelling, and it's always something that I've been trying to work on, but my own tracks always ended up being really long, because I like it have lots of transitions, lots of different journeys that they can go on. There's something about putting music to a picture… it becomes something completely different… And with any tracks that I write, I'm always thinking about it visually; thinking about the colours, or the movement or the story."
This was at the heart of her sound while studying the BA (Hons) Electronic Music Production degree, but like many other young artists, the role of music supervisor wasn't something she'd encountered. But that all changed when she began interning.
"When you hear a piece of music, it's easy to imagine a film that it could work for, but a lot of composers and producers aren't aware that it's an option they can explore. I certainly wasn't.
"I did a couple of internships at Intermission Film, a creative agency specialising in film trailers, as well as Factory, who focus on sound design and effects. There was another intern there who said they really wanted to get into music supervision, and I had no idea what it was. I did some research and it sounded like something I really wanted to do, and I just got really lucky in finding a place with Wake The Town."
The day-to-day of a music supervisor
Fast forward to present day, and Marnie now has almost two years experience within the role. So, what does a music supervisor actually do?
"In basic terms, a creative agency will receive projects and then you're the person who supervises the music, and that's everything from speaking to your clients, to a composer, etc.
"I actually work across two brands, so there's Wake The Town, but then we're also Theodore. It's all the same people on the team, but Wake The Town is bespoke composition and Theodore is licensing existing material, so the people I engage with will depend on what type of music the client is after.
"If it's bespoke compositions, myself and my team will be working alongside a roster of composers who we feel are suitable for the project. It's our job to decipher the vision of the client and then communicate that with the composer(s), as well as with other members of our team and the client themselves. There's a lot of back and forth and it's very rare for the composer to nail it on the first pass.
"For projects that come in through Theodore, I will be speaking with the rights holders and artists and licensing their work, which I'm now working on predominantly for television. It's mainly understanding who owns what, how much they own and getting the paperwork together so that everyone's on the same page.
"Outside of the communication side of things, it's everything from picking the music for the spots and the shows, where they want the sync spots, maybe figuring out where they are myself, speaking to the composer, who does the whole score and finding out all the different cue points, and sending that back and forth. Basically, anything to do with music that's what we sort out."
A keen ear
Understanding the desires of the client is paramount, but it's equally important to possess an eclectic knowledge of what music exists. For Marnie, the sourcing process is a mix of autonomy and refinement.
"The level of input we have can change quite a lot - it's largely dependent on the project. Each of us are working on different projects, so say for example, we get a brief in for an advert for Amazon, I'll send that out to the rest of the team and everyone will pitch ideas, we'll contact rights holders and get them to send us ideas and whittle down the options and find what we think's best. Then it's down to the agency and they will pick what they like, and then deliver that to the client. If we've understood the brief, then one of those options will land and then we push forward with it.
"Composition on Wake The Town can work a little bit differently because it's bespoke, so arguably, we have a bit more input there, but it's still dependent on the brief."
Prior to landing her role at Wake The Town, Marnie was freelancing as a composer for screen and scored the short film Las Mujeres De Fuego // Women of Fire during her internship at Intermission Film and a short advert for The Co-Operative Bank through Dentsu Creative. We asked her how this experience and her experience recording, mixing and producing her own music has fed into her work as a music supervisor.
"It makes a big difference, however when I started I realised I do need to step back a bit. I had lots of ideas of how to fix things and one of my bosses absolutely loved it like he was like, 'Oh my God, just say more.' But the most important thing is that it's still the composer's work, and the point is that you're working with them. I try not to suggest too much, unless it's something that is important. Most of the time it's being a mediator between the composer and the agency; making sure that their visions can marry and being the translator, but that compositional and production experience definitely helps."
Who you know
People are at the heart of a music supervisor's role and the success of an agency like Wake The Town owes a lot to the professional relationships they have fostered. While intimidating at first, it's a skill that Marnie places as much emphasis on as composition and production.
"It's definitely something I didn't know was going to be such a big part of the job and was quite nerve-wracking at the start. You're meeting so many people from different companies, and trying to remember all that information can be overwhelming to begin with, but it is really rewarding. We meet with lots of composers and it makes such a difference to meet everyone face to face and have an actual chat. Then when you're actually working together you have a rapport."
The secret to sync success
For the artists that find success in sync, it's something of a golden goose. As a result, it's highly competitive and an incredibly saturated market, and yet many students aren't aware it's a viable option.
"I think there needs to be more exposure of these opportunities in music. Sync is one of the biggest money-makers for composers, musicians and artists; it's how people can get their break. It can support their career and introduce them to all the right people, and I'm seeing first-hand that it's possible."
Marnie's in a unique position, having seen both sides as a composer pitching for work, and as a music supervisor sourcing the talent. We asked her how new composers and producers can enter this lucrative area of the industry.
"I always put composers into two categories. There are those who do absolutely everything and you could go to them for anything, and then there are those who have a specific niche of work they produce, and both are brilliant. You might be someone who sits in between those two categories, but first and foremost, you need to know where your strengths are and lead with them.
"If you're just starting out, we need new talent, and everyone on my team really cares about every opportunity. We really care about the extracurricular work you do, so any examples you can give that show both your talent and your passion will go a long way. It's a real pleasure to expose someone who hasn't had enough experience yet, but has potential. We will push them as much as we can.
"It's always a benefit to have examples of scoring you've done, even if it's rescores, but more importantly, make everything really accessible and be as visible as you can online through social media. Having your music on SoundCloud or being able to send us a DropBox link with your music, a bio about you… that makes our lives easier and you're more likely to be seen.
"It will require you to nag people, which can feel crappy, but they do want to hear from you, they're just incredibly busy, so you have to be persistent if you want to break through the noise."