Now that the Hollywood actors’ strike is over, music supervisor Justin Kamps can afford to keep his 3-year-old daughter in daycare. “Things were getting a little bit scary these last couple months,” says Kamps, who picks songs for Bridgerton, Grey’s Anatomy and other hit TV shows. “We were going through the financials and cutting back whatever we can.”
SAG-AFTRA’s 60,000 members voted to approve a deal with studios last Friday, after halting work for nearly four months, following a screenwriters’ strike that lasted from early May to late September — both of which were devastating not just to Hollywood but the $2 billion music-synch industry. “That’s been quite a dark thing,” Stephanie Diaz Matos, head of music supervision for writer-actress Issa Rae‘s music company Raedio, told Billboard in July.
With Hollywood going back to work, TV shows and movies have already resumed sending out briefs to publishers and record labels requesting songs for key dramatic moments and soundtracks. “It’s definitely a relief,” says Alison Dannenberg Frost, vp of film and TV creative for music publisher peermusic. “We saw a slowdown on the creative side and licenses coming in the door. We really just started seeing it affecting our monthly numbers.” The synch business makes up 50% of Spirit Music Group’s publishing revenue, according to Amy Hartman, the company’s senior vp of creative services, film and TV music, who adds, “It’s incredibly important.”
Had the strikes continued much longer, Spirit would have had to consider cutbacks and “do some reevaluating,” Hartman says. “Thankfully, we’re pretty lean and mean, so we weren’t forced to face that question.”
By contrast, music supervisors for films and TV shows are generally freelance contractors and had to scramble to stay afloat financially during the strikes. Laura Webb, a supervisor for Love at First Sight, Monster High and other shows, spent the first month of the strikes on post-production for existing shows, but one of them wound up getting canceled and cut the pay for that job in half. “We have no protections. We were expecting to get that money, and we just lost it,” she says. “The last week has been slower, for sure — the slowest it’s been. But hopefully good timing for things to turn around.”
Webb and her colleagues faced a separate setback over the summer, when the National Labor Relations Board ruled against part-time freelance Netflix music supervisors who’d requested a union certification election in October 2022. After Netflix refused to recognize the union, the supervisors argued they needed collective-bargaining power to improve their financial conditions: “Their responsibilities have expanded, their conditions have deteriorated, and their pay has stagnated,” the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which collaborated with the Netflix employees, declared at the time. But Danielle M. Pierce, the NLRB’s acting regional director, wrote in August that “music supervisors are independent contractors who are not employees of Netflix.”
“We’re regrouping and trying to figure out next steps,” Webb says. “It’s not over, but really a big blow.”
Throughout the strikes, music companies pivoted to an increased focus on pitching for synchs in video games and TV commercials — continuing to take music supervisors to lunch to maintain relationships and help out their struggling freelance colleagues. Peermusic donated $100 grocery-store gift cards to out-of-work members of the Guild of Music Supervisors, a non-profit organization.
Although Spirit’s Hartman is ready for the synch faucet to turn back on and “all the beautiful amount of licensing and briefs to come our way,” peermusic’s Frost expects a lag, possibly extending into early 2024. Movie and show projects are likely to restart at the “script and filming stage,” she says, while synch work generally begins during post-production at the end: “I’m predicting it’s going to be a slow pickup, especially now we’re going into the holidays.”
Because Netflix, Disney and other top studios have said they would pull back on new content, the synch business may also begin to flatten after years of growth. Frost predicts a post-strike boom in synchs in early 2024, followed by a longer-term drop-off: “I think it’s going to slow down as streamers adjust to this new world, and they’re picking up less content.” Heather Guibert, a music supervisor working on a documentary about songwriter Diane Warren, adds: “Disney used to make, let’s hypothesize, 100 projects a year; suddenly, that goes down to 50. That’s 50 fewer projects for the music supervisor to work on. It’s rough.”
During the strikes, Amanda Krieg Thomas, a music supervisor for American Horror Story and Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, had to slash the hours for the three employees of her company, Yay Team — forcing one of them to quit for another job. She’s hopeful — and “still a little cautious” — that the post-strike era will restore her company to maximum financial health. “What’s the new normal? Is there actually going to be less content, and what does that look like for music supervisors?” she asks. “But everybody’s excited to really get going again.”
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