How to Become a Musical Film Director: Education, Role & Careers

Jan 24, 2022

Find out how you can become a music director for the movies. Learn about the college majors, entry-level experiences and professional organizations that can help you start a career in music directing.

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Musical Film Directors

Have you ever wondered who chooses the music for tv shows? Are you interested in learning how to make soundtracks for movies? Musical film directors are business management professionals who select the music used in movies. These professionals are also called music supervisors. The music director oversees the composer and other musicians involved in creating music for a movie and creates the atmosphere of a movie through the soundtrack selection. Music directors who work on films create the atmosphere of a movie through the soundtrack selection. Because of this, obtaining permission to use songs on a movie's soundtrack is a major component of the job.

Although music directors for movies may work all over the country, most jobs are concentrated in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Work hours can vary widely and may include nights and weekends. Travel is often required. However, many directors are able to set their own schedules. Work environments include music studios, offices, or even personal residences.

Role of a Music Director in Film

While there is no specific degree requirement to become a music director, a bachelor's degree is often beneficial. Technological skills are very useful to possess for those interested in learning how to make music for a movie, however. Music directors for movies should be able to use computer hardware and software associated with digital audio workstations and musical instrument digital interface synthesizers, also known as MIDI synthesizers. They should also have good budgeting and negotiating skills and a strong knowledge of legal music licensing.

In May 2020, music directors and composers earned a median annual salary of $52,250, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. From 2020 to 2030, they can expect a 6% or as fast as the average change in jobs. Let's explore the steps that can help fulfill your dream of becoming a music director for the movies.

Degree Level None; bachelor's degree beneficial
Degree Field Film scoring, composition, music business, music and entertainment industries, or a related field
Experience Varies by specific entry-level position
Key Skills Negotiation and budgeting skills; tenacity and patience; familiarity with teleconferencing equipment; strong knowledge in the area of legal music licensing; ability to use computer hardware and software programs associated with digital audio workstations and MIDI synthesizers
Salary $52,250 (2020 median for all music directors and composers)
Job Outlook (2020-2030) 6% growth

Sources: Berklee College of Music; McNally Smith College of Music; University of California Los Angeles, New York University and Mercy College; Upstart Business Journal; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Become a Musical Film Director

Let's take a look at some of the most important steps that you can take in order to become a musical director:

Step 1: Education

According to the Berklee College of Music, obtaining a bachelor's degree is the first step to becoming a music supervisor. For example, aspiring music directors for movies may major in film scoring, music composition, music business or entertainment. Most programs take approximately four years to complete. Once enrolled, students score a movie, work with musicians, compose music, manage contracts and obtain licensing agreements. Coursework may also cover topics in music theory and arranging, editing music for film, and tonal writing.

Work as an Intern

For those wondering how to get into soundtrack work, undergraduates may be able to participate in an internship to gain an understanding of soundtrack composition. Undergraduates may be able to or have to participate in an internship at a recording or movie studio through which they can become familiar with the responsibilities of a music supervisor and gaining better understanding of the field. Interns may work with the technology used in the profession and develop skills using digital recording and synthesizers.

Step 2: Entry-Level Job

Aspiring music directors for movies may find entry-level jobs at record companies or music departments of film or television studios. For example, they may find positions as administrative assistants. An administrative job can be a valuable opportunity to establish contacts while learning the business from the ground up. It can also help future music directors to learn to work in a fast-paced environment and draft licensing agreements and contracts.

Build Skills and Relationships

Successful job seekers make numerous connections across film and music industries and establish strong working relationships with fellow professionals. Honing communication skills is essential for making contacts and persuading movie executives that a song is right for a film. Learning to negotiate licensing fees and find new musical artists are also indispensable skills.

Step 3: Graduate Education

A large part of the music supervisor's job involves understanding and clearing legal hurdles to obtain rights to music. Job seekers must know how to approach publishers and labels to get permission to use a song while keeping a project within budget. Because of this, supervisors should be familiar with the difference between foreign and domestic rights and how to draft licensing agreements. A master's degree in music business or technology includes courses in the legal and financial aspects of the musical entertainment industry.

Step 4: Staying Current

Music supervisors must keep abreast of the latest trends in musical styles and lyrics. They should also keep current on film and television productions in progress to know where the next job opportunities could be.

One way of doing this is by joining a professional association, such as the Guild of Music Supervisors. These organizations can provide support to music supervisors in the process of establishing their careers. Experience in the industry is required to become a member of the guild. Membership affords benefits such as networking opportunities, educational resources and interaction with related guilds, such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Society of Composers.

Remember, you'll most likely need a bachelor's degree in film scoring or a music-related major to start a career as a music director for movies. As of May 2020, music directors and composers earned a median salary of $52,250 a year in a field that's expected to experience as fast as the average growth through 2030.

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