As TV soundtracks top the charts, the Primetime Emmys are finally embracing music supervisors
For the first time in the Emmy Awards’ nearly 70-year history, music supervisors will be recognized for the artistic role they play in crafting the tone of TV programs.
Outstanding music supervision is one of 10 new or amended categories added to the 69th Primetime Emmys, which will air Sept. 17 on CBS. The award will go to a single episode of a series, TV movie or special, and it honors creative contributions through music, including original or pre-existing songs, scores and performances. Voting for all 119 categories begins June 12.
Two years ago, the Emmys admitted music supervisors into the Television Academy as full members for the first time. The Guild of Music Supervisors (GMS) lobbied for both that and the new award, to challenge the notion that they serve primarily as rights-clearing administrators, says music peer group executive committee member Tracy McKnight.
The award comes at a time when TV music is resonating strongly with viewers. Since 2015, 12 TV-show soundtracks have landed in the top 30 of the Billboard 200, including two No. 1s: Empire: Original Soundtrack From Season 1 in March 2015 and Disney’s Descendants in August 2015. And the theme from the hit 2016 Netflix series Stranger Things, written by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of the band SURVIVE, has tallied more than 3.4 million on-demand audio streams, according to Nielsen Music.
Late last year, several top music supervisors, including McKnight and GMS president John Houlihan, made their case for the award before the Emmys’ board of governors, arguing that a supervisor’s role was as valuable as Emmy-eligible craftspeople in wardrobe, casting, hair and makeup. “It was nerve-racking, because we knew that there was a culture in the academy to limit the number of Emmy categories, and most requests are shot down,” says Houlihan.
For now, supervisors are not eligible to vote for the five other music categories, says musical director/producer Rickey Minor, who is one of the music peer group’s two governors. “Until we are all educated on how it works, it makes sense to go slow,” he says. “Just because you’re a composer or director, that doesn’t mean you understand the job of a supervisor.”
For the GMS, which honors its own in a February awards show, this is a first step in broader recognition for the role supervisors play. Next up is persuading the Motion Picture Academy, which puts on the Oscars, to invite music supervisors to join the music branch as full members. “Our conversations are in early stages,” Houlihan says. “We are looking for a new era of consideration, but we’re not antagonistically gunning for film academy membership. We come in peace.”
7 Supervisors To Watch
1. Season Kent, 13 Reasons Why
The use of emotional, melancholic music in the Netflix drama about a high school student’s suicide has drawn comparisons to John Hughes‘ coming-of-age films.
2/3. Jen Ross and David Jordan, Empire
Though ratings for the show have fallen, Fox’s drama about a rap label remains a creative leader for the music-immersive show’s use of both licensed source cues and strong original music performed by the main characters.
4/5. Zach Cowie and Kerri Drootin, Master of None
Aziz Ansari’s Netflix comedy about his search for love isn’t afraid to go for obscure tunes, even including music from Burundi.
6. Liza Richardson, The Leftovers
Bold, bizarre, beautiful and bitter, the choices on HBO’s critically-acclaimed existential drama accent the show’s far-reaching plots and accent its twists.
7. Nora Felder, Stranger Things
The Netflix sci-fi horror thriller, set in the early ‘80s, is noteworthy for its eerie score and smart covers, such as ’s haunting rendition of ’s “Heroes.”