A film or television show is not complete without a variety of music cues. The composer’s melodies flowing beneath the visuals lend emotion, suspense, and a depth of experience, as do source cues (heard when an actor turns on the radio or walks into a nightclub), or songs performed on camera. Part of the post-production department under the supervising sound editor, the music editor is responsible for editing all music for a film or television show’s sound environment, including the original score, source music, and songs.
The music editor typically begins work during post-production once the picture is locked; that’s the point at which the director and producer have approved the picture edit of the show. During a spotting session, which is a review of the edited film without the completed sound effects and dialogue tracks, the music editor will consult with the producer, director, music supervisor, composer, and supervising sound editor. He or she makes notes for intended music cues (usually represented by a temp track) that will later be used by the composer in writing a score complementary to the picture in terms of tempo and mood. A cue breakdown may be required, which amounts to rewriting or annotating the script to identify pacing, scene length, frame rate, and other information useful to the composer. The music editor also designs the click track that aids the composer and orchestra in precisely timing the score to the picture.
The music editor will monitor the completion of the score and attends all recording sessions. This person does not supervise the composer, but is there to offer assistance and act as a liaison between the post-production staff and musicians. If editing changes take place that will affect scoring, it is the music editor’s task to make the composer aware and quickly make the appropriate revisions to the cue breakdown and click track. Once all original music is recorded, the music editor works closely with a mix engineer (also known as a music mixer in film) to balance the score with the picture and strip in music at emotionally appropriate and impactful moments. He or she must take special care to consider the volume of the background score to ensure that dialogue is still clearly understood above the underlying music. Upon completion, he or she will be responsible for delivering cue sheets, necessary for calculating royalties owed for the use of copyright music.
Skills & Education
A formal education in film and television production with an emphasis on post-production sound editing is recommended. A college degree in music production would also be applicable. Coursework should include training on mixing and editing consoles, as well as software like Pro Tools. Additional study of composition, music history, and film history is also beneficial. The music editor should have a terrific sense of story and how music can emotionally support the visual action. Similarly, he or she must have a thorough understanding of musical styles and genres. The ability to clearly communicate abstract ideas in the creative environment and to interpret a director’s vision is crucial.
What to Expect
A path toward a career as a music editor may begin with work in post-production sound editing, or through employment as a mix engineer, recording engineer, or similar recording industry position. Entry-level, full-time positions exist at independent post-production studios that cater to the film and television industry, as well as in the post-production facilities of major studios. Additionally, major motion pictures and television series employ union trainees and non-union interns. Perhaps the easiest—or at least the most abundant—source of post-production work is on reality series. With experience, a post sound crew member can advance to the role of music editor. From there, future opportunities may lead to freelance or permanent employment as a supervising sound editor in sound design.
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