A Day’s Work: Film soundtrack producer

Ed Gerrard

According to Ed Gerrard, Music Supervisor and Soundtrack Producer, good music is what makes a bad film watchable, a good film great and a great film exceptional. Originally from Long Island, Gerrard has lived in Saugerties since the early 60’s. Gerrard and his wife currently divide their time between New York City and Saugerties.

How did you get started in this line of work?

When I was 16 or 17 years old and people would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up I would say I want to be a rock and roll manager. Not something you hear very often. So I started working locally here, sort of managing bands and trying to get record deals. I was able to get in contact with Alice Cooper and his manager, Shep Gordon. He is fantastic. This guy wrote the book on management. I went out to California and started under his tutelage and started working in a management capacity. At the same time, Shep started one of the first independent film companies called Island Alive. One of the first movies we did was Kiss of the Spider Woman which won an academy award. During one of our meetings, it was asked if anyone knew how to clear music for films and no one was raising their hand but I said “No, but I will figure it out.” That was my first foray into being a music supervisor. I started working on the independent films. In the beginning it wasn’t necessarily a creative job, it was more learning how to get music licensed for film. It was probably the best side to learn first because it keeps you out of trouble. There might be something in the film that you just can’t get cleared and you need to know that before you go forward.

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After that, Shep started thinking about genre based films and we started working with horror directors. We worked with Wes Craven and John Carpenter. I worked closely with Wes and he became like a mentor to me. He was very up with the times and pop conscious. He taught me how to use music properly in films. Whether it was a song that came out of nowhere that told the audience something different than they were watching or even a piece of score at the right moment that would scare people out of their seats. He was a master at that and he was very generous. He allowed me to start to be creative as a music supervisor so I could actually bring in music choices. I worked with him on a number of films, like the Scream trilogy. So I was involved in the music in the film and I also got to put the soundtrack together.

There are two purposes to that. There is a financial benefit to this because film companies can make money from the rights to sell and put soundtracks out. It’s also a great marketing tool. The Scream soundtrack was one of the all-time greats in terms of how people really looked at the movie and it was so involved in the music. It was a little bit of a pop culture type thing. It helped make the movie really successful.

What about your work as a Manager?

When I started working with Shep I brought my younger brother, Peter Himberger in with me. We all started getting coffee and matzo ball soup for everyone and then we morph into responsible people with real jobs. And he did. He worked with Shep and myself and we just decided to start our own company. Our artist management company is called Impact Artist Management and we represent some great artists. We work with the Gipsy Kings, Dr. John, Amy Helm, Jon Cleary to name a few.

I still work on this but my brother does the day to day work here. Being a music supervisor and being involved in films allows us to put many of our clients in the films. If we can make the right placement in a film, not a song coming out of a radio in the background but a key spot, it can be very lucrative and a great marketing tool. The Gipsy Kings have this great spot in The Big Lebowski where they do a version of “The Hotel California” by the Eagles when the character Jesus Quintana bowls. It becomes part of the scene and changes how you are watching. Currently we are working with John Tuturro based on Jesus Quintana and they need the Gipsy Kings to make it work. It’s those types of moments, by working in film, that we are able to bring to our clients.

Do you have any formal education or training?

No. Absolutely no formal training. It’s all been through mentors. I’ve never played music but I’ve always been around musicians and always wanted to be part of it. When I graduated high school I wanted to be in the music business but I didn’t know how to get in. I took a job working for the phone company here and that taught me how to deal with people. In terms of getting into the business. I was in the right place at the right time and I was able to take advantage of the moment when it came. I didn’t know a lot but I was enthusiastic and I could deal with people in a businesslike manner. But it really has been about the mentors for me. Having Shep’s trust in me made me feel like I could do anything. I had access to anything because of him.

For your movies, how do you decide what music to use?

I like to get involved before anything is even shot. These days I can pick and choose so I look for something that I can bring my expertise to. If I can get in early and read a script, sometimes something pops right out. This film I just did, the Miles Davis film called Miles Ahead, it’s about the music so some of it is mapped out for us. There was another character in the film, Miles’ competition, that we had to create new music for and we worked with the composer to create that music. We had to talk about the scene, the environment, what is going on in the character’s head. I was able to get into the Sony vaults for this film and pick through hundreds of versions of Miles Davis music that maybe people hadn’t heard that specific versions of before. It was really exciting and interesting and I think that really helped the soundtrack, which won the Grammy.

Was this your first Grammy?

This was the first one under my name, yes. Over the years, clients that my brother and I represent have won some but they go to the artists. This was the first for me though.

What sort of person would make a good soundtrack producer/music supervisor?

You have to love music and be on top of music that is current even if it’s not your type. I have to be on top of all types because a director may want a certain type of music. It’s easier now because I used to have to wade through thousands of CDs. Now I can use Spotify and other things. You also have to have a sense of the type of music that would support a visual. Directors hate music where there are a lot of lyrics going on when dialogue is going on. Now you can record an instrumental version which most people do, so that helps. There are certain people who get their music licensed all of the time because it just works really well with film. You have to be able to find that music. It’s not just creative though. There is a lot paperwork, a lot of work going in to get it licensed. You learn how to be a lawyer. You have to have good relationships too.

What would you say to someone who is looking to get into this line of work?

The best way is to apprentice or intern with someone. My assistant started out as an intern and I taught her how to clear music and I put a lot of responsibility on her. She is an integral part of my operation. Many colleges have music programs now so there are probably some that teach the basics of music supervision. They also have film programs with lots of amateurs making film. Volunteer to help them do the music. You learn by doing it. If that film never sees the light of day, you can still use that reel to show people what you’ve done.

How are the hours? Does the job provide for a good work life balance?

Films can be intense when you have certain deadlines. Sometimes you have to have it all finished, lined up, prerecorded and wrapped up by that deadline. I work primarily in New York now but when I worked with Wes I would be in LA a lot. The facilities in New York are really growing so that makes it easier to be closer to home. There are also tax rebates here that make it more appealing to shoot film here.

What makes for a good day on the job?

When I find that piece of music that I cut in for the first time and I automatically know that it works. When I feel that and I see the editors and directors feel the same way, it’s a big sense of accomplishment. Music is so important to film. Studios tend to fluff it off. It is the last layer that you put on that completely changes the experience. When I can bring that to the table it’s great.

What makes for a bad day?

A bad day is when the director grew up listening to a certain artist and has to have that artist in the film and you can’t get that artist cleared for the film. When you can’t deliver what they want, it doesn’t feel too good.

Are you working on anything now?

I am currently working on a documentary on homegrown terrorism that is very in the now and very good. I’ve also been working with Lucinda Williams, working on some original pieces.

How’s the pay?

It’s been really good for me. I had some hits early on so it’s been fantastic. Wes Craven also did something for me that helped here too. He helped me get a single card credit on films. So you see my name on a single line in the credits. Once I got that credit, that changed my pay grade. I’ve been very blessed. l

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