Film and TV drama
What does a music editor do?
Music editors are responsible for all the music in a film or TV production, including the soundtrack and any music created by the composer. The extent of their role varies considerably depending on the type of production concerned.
On a medium-budget film, they usually start work while the film is being edited. They work with the director to decide on the purpose of the music, find a style to suit the story and mark the points in the film where music is required (spotting). Then they develop the temp (temporary) score.
Music editors then work closely with a composer, who is usually appointed by the director, and who composes the music using the temp score as a template. The temp score is also used by the film editors to achieve the right tempo with the cut. Music editors often act as a bridge between the sound and picture teams.
They attend all recording sessions, helping with any revisions and design a 'click track' which is used to help the musicians achieve synchronisation with the movie. Working with a specialist music mixer, they create different mixes, lay down the tracks and fit them exactly to the picture, ready for the final mix or dub.
One of the final tasks for music editors on films is preparing the cue sheet - a detailed breakdown of all the music featured on soundtracks. This is sent to the Performing Rights Society and all exhibitors so that royalties can be paid every time the film is screened.
- Day at work: film composer
- What does a music editor do?
- Inside Game of Thrones: a story in score (HBO)
- Gabriel Yared on composing for film
What’s a music editor good at?
- Music: know the history and construction of music, compose in different styles and genres, improvise, read scores, create themes quickly under the pressure of deadlines
- Understanding film production: appreciate the process and techniques of making films, know how music affects images and adds drama, have a passion for the industry
- Collaboration: listen to the director, translate the vision into music, be flexible, communicate the vision with the editor, composer and other musicians
- Using software: produce electronic scores using technology such as ProTools, use editing and mixing software
- Business: know people in the music, film and TV industries, build up contacts, understand contracts and copyright clearances, organise, communicate and negotiate
Who does a music editor work with?
Within the post-production house, music editors work closely with the supervising sound editor. They also work with the following:
Music supervisors negotiate deals and contracts, prepare budgets, and attend scheduling meetings. They oversee the composing process, ensuring that the required music is being written, listened to, and reported upon. They organise music orchestration and copying. If the music is to be published, they ensure that it’s registered properly.
Composers write original music. They write themes to pictures and deal with any revisions, collaborating with the editor. Composers prepare the score, usually on midi files, for the orchestrator and copyist. They also prepare the score's electronic aspects for the recording sessions and deliver the score to the producer, together with all recordable media.
Music agent or composer agent
Music agents are responsible for representing their clients, keeping up to date with the industry, finding out what productions are greenlit or in development and cultivating relationships with producers and directors. They supervise contracts, negotiate fees and act as a buffer during contractual negotiations. They also promote clients' work and manage their showreels. Music agents often look for new clients to complement their existing roster.
How do I become a music editor?
Music editors are usually graduates in sound technology or music. After graduating, they may work their way up the post-production sound department, starting as runners, training as assistants and progressing to re-recording mixers or sound editors. See the post-production runner job profile for details of how to get in.
At school or college:
If you want to go to university, A-levels or Highers music, film studies, media studies or English are useful. Or you might want to take a Level 3 OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma/Extended Diploma in Performing Arts.
If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:
- Aim Awards Diploma in Creative and Digital Media
- BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Music Technology
- BTEC Level 3 National Diploma in Film and Television Production
- BTEC Level 3 National Diploma in Music
- BTEC Level 3 National Diploma in Sound Production
- RSL Subsidiary Diploma for Music Practitioners (Composition)
- RSL Subsidiary Diploma for Music Practitioners (Technology)
- UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Creative Media Production and Technology
- UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Music Performance and Production
Build a portfolio:
Create work that you can show off to employers. This is essential. Go to build your music portfolio to learn how.
Get an apprenticeship:
Apprenticeships are work with training so they can be a great opportunity to earn as you learn. The following apprenticeships might give you skills that can set you on the path to being a music editor. Even if you can’t find a job as an apprentice with a post-production company, it might be worth taking one in another area, developing your skills and moving into the film industry at a later point.
- Post production technical operator (Level 4, England)
- Technical Theatre: Lighting, Sound and Stage (Level 2, 3, Northern Ireland)
- Creative and Digital Media (Level 3, Northern Ireland)
- Sound Recording, Engineering and Studio Facilities (Level 2, 3, Wales)
- Technical Theatre: Lighting, Sound and Stage (Level 2, 3, Wales)
- Creative and Digital Media (Level 3, 4, Wales)
- Creative (SCQF Level 6/7, Scotland)
- Creative and Digital Media (SCQF Level 6/7, Scotland)
Before taking any apprenticeship, check what you’ll be learning with your prospective employer and college, so you can be sure it will be giving you the skills you want. Go to how to become an apprentice to learn how to find apprenticeships in your region or approach companies directly.
Start composing and recording:
Write your own original compositions. Collaborate with friends making videos and write the score. You will learn from doing this and you can build your sound portfolio which will impress admissions tutors and employers.
Get a degree:
You might choose one in music, sound technology or sound engineering. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses in film and TV. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the film and TV industries.
Take a master’s degree:
The National Film and Television School does a course called Composing for Film and Television.
Become a trainee:
Apply for ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder scheme as a post-production trainee.
Go to ScreenSkills events, especially Open Doors where you can meet people who work in the industry. Give people in post-production your details and ask if you can do work experience.
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there’s a Facebook page or other social media group for people making films or videos in your area. Join it. Create a ScreenSkills profile.
Look for post-production companies:
Most are in London, but not all. Sign up to Production Base to learn who is making what. Contact them and look out for music jobs.
You might also be interested in…
Being a music composer in the games industry.
- Sonic Arts Network
- Sound on Sound
- Music Tech Magazine
- Audio Media Magazine
- The Association of Motion Picture Sound (AMPS)
- The Association of Professional Recording Studios (APRS)
- Perspective, a forum for film, TV and media composers
- The Audio Engineering Society
- Sound and Music
- Screen Daily
- Box Office Mojo
- BAFTA Guru – YouTube Playlists
- ScreenSkills resources directory