Dave is an executive music producer, music supervisor, published author, artist manager, producer, voice-over artist, on-air talent, and writer for TV, Film, Advertising, New Media, and Live Events.
Dave was awarded for his contributions to a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition for a Drama Series, “All My Children” (ABC / Disney). During his tenure at ABC, Dave made on-camera appearances on shows like Live Regis and Kathi Lee as well as NBC’s Maury Povich Show…
In 1998 David built the first music department of the #1 rated Fox News Channel. It was here that he chose music & produced theme songs and sound design (like for shows like The O’Reilly Factor, The Fox Report, and all the rest…literally. Dave also took the next big step in his on-camera career by reporting on several music and entertainment stories including interviews with Moby, Anthony Kiedis of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens, and Maynard James Keenan of the bands Tool and A Perfect Circle. Now as a Senior Sound Designer / Music Supervisor at MTV On-Air Promotions in NYC, Dave has lent his musical talents to all the major networks (ABC, Fox, NBC, and Viacom). During his tenure at MTV, he’s won a Promax Award, 2 Beacon Awards, 2 Mark Awards and a Pop Award for his work. On the voiceover side of the biz, Dave can be commonly heard on network and cable tv advertising campaigns including Verizon Wireless, Doritos, FXDD, MTV’s Realworld, P-Diddy’s Making His Band and many more….
On the film side this year, Dave wrapped up music supervision on the feature concert film “Cheech & Chong: Hey Watch This” for director Christian Charles and The Weinstein Company, Release date 04/20/10. Also this millennium, Dave music supervised the 2005 Merchant Ivory / Sony Pictures Feature Film “Heights” directed by Chris Terrio, and he music sup’d the New Line Cinema comedy “Full of It” by director Christian Charles in 2007. Also, Dave music-sup’d Evan Oppenheimer’s feature “Justice” which competed in the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival and won at the 2003 Marco Island Film Festival. Mr. Hnatiuk also music sup’d Vincent Rubino’s comedy feature “The Break-Up Artist” which won Best Feature at the IFC Hampton’s Film Fest and more.
In early 2002, David developed and established the first ever curriculum for Music Supervision in the country at NYU, and the course is still active today at NYU’s CADA program. David also delivers regular seminars and panels on Music Supervision for ASCAP, BMI, CMJ, Music Supervision Central and more.
In 2003, David was awarded a publishing deal with Schirmer Trade Books / Music Sales Corp. to write the first definitive textbook on the field music supervision with his partners Dave Weiss & Ramsay Adams. The book “Music Supervision” hit the shelves nationwide in Fall 2005. The companion website is http://www.musicsupervisioncentral.com. Northeastern University made the book mandatory text for their newly established music supervision curriculum in 2009. In 2010, Dave co-launched “The Song Hunters” with partner David Weiss (www.thesonghunters.com). SonicScoop.com hosts a weekly blog written by Dave called “Music Seen.”
Some of Dave’s other clients include NBC Sports, ABC Sports, Stars, Zink Magazine, American Star Academy, FXDD, The American Heart Association, Guitar World & Guitar One Magazines, MoveOn.org, Breast Cancer Awareness, Harley Davidson, Bethel Center for the Arts, Radical Media, Artstart, Camp Interactive, Temple of Soul, The Kin, The NASA Space Program, The Ad Council, Hollywood Tans, Tribeca Films, The Director’s Guild, The International Academy of Television, Arts and Sciences, Nickelodeon, Employ.com, CHAMPCAR Racing, Who did That Music?, 5 Alarm Music and more.
Dave’s Motto: “Find what you love, and make it who you are.”
Dave shares insight on being a music supervisor and his angle on the music business in this interview with PlayItLoudMusic.
Thanks again Dave for taking some of your day off to do this!
Interview with Dave Hnatiuk
How did you get started in the entertainment industry?
Well, I am the son of two special musicians… My mother Mary Ellen, a classically trained piano player, and my father Greg, a jazz improvisational pianist. So I was birthed into the music business but definitely not at the scale that I’m at now myself. My parents opened a boutique music shop/music school about 35-40 years ago called Scotch Plains Music Center in Scotch Plains, New Jersey and in the back piano room of that store was my crib. That began a lifelong love-affair and passion for music and the music business. It’s pretty cool, because I really look back at those roots as a start from the most independent local scale possible, literally a Mom and Pop music shop. It’s funny, when you’re a kid, you’re so close to the forest, to the fire, of course you never think you’re actually going to be in that business. But it ended up laying the groundwork for a lot of what drives me today. A lot of the natural osmosis, if you will, in my music education is from being in that environment my whole life.
I went to school for broadcast and film production. The lifelong music background perfectly complimented broadcast and film production. At the time, I didn’t know it but I was actually moulding myself into a music supervisor… without even knowing what a music supervisor did. I went to Monmouth University in New Jersey. It was there that I ended up swinging an internship, through my mentor Rhett Rich, with ABC / Disney’s music department. I was based at 66th St and Columbus, New York City. Once I got there, I was exposed to so much stuff while I was a photography assistant. One day I was flipping through the job listings that were made available to interns/employees of ABC, and I came across a position title called Music Coordinator, which is a low-level music supervisor, or music supervisor’s assistant. I read the job description and I’ll tell you, that was a key moment that changed my life right there. That was the moment that I knew I was going to be a music supervisor, because I read the job description, and it was like reading a description of my personality and exactly who I already was. You know how you read a job description and sometimes you’re like, “Oh, I can do that,” or, “I can learn that.” This was like, “Oh wait a minute. I am this guy.” So I went to the music department of ABC and interviewed for the music co-ordinator position at ABC music. There was no question. I met with the Senior VP of ABC music and, I mean, just literally knocked the ball out of the park. There was no question about it, because I was just the perfect guy.
From there, at ABC, I music-supervised their news division, sports division and their daytime division. It was a great stepping stone for the rest of my career. Eventually from being a music coordinator there, I was promoted to music supervisor. Then from there, I went on and music-supervised for several networks and a lot of films and advertising and so on and so forth.
Has music supervision changed the way you listen to music?
Absolutely. I can’t ever listen to a piece of music without a visual popping into my head instantaneously. That’s why I catalogue music. I catalogue anything I listen to, unless of course I know it. I feel like I know most music, just from trying to constantly having my finger on the pulse of all genres, just to keep myself in the game, if you will. Being a natural music supervisor – I say natural, because, the function of matching human emotion or time period or storylines or geographical location to music is not something that is always conscious for me. Most times it’s unconscious. A lot of times I do what’s called reverse music supervision, where I hear the song first, and I know what type of placement would be good for it and I log that in my head. Then it’s just the matter of when that placement opportunity comes up. So I’m constantly armed with an arsenal of music.
So if you ask how it has changed how I listen to music, I’m not sure it ever really changed much. In the sense that, even as a kid I can remember having a visual tie-in to everything I hear. As soon as I hear a note, a drum-beat or a vocal, it’s almost like a movie starts to play in my head. I can think back to when I was a kid and that was happening but I didn’t know what I was experiencing. I thought I was creative or whatever, but in essence it was this natural mechanism that was just kind of a reaction.
When you are a music professional, and you hear so much music all the time, it’s a little bit of a challenge not to be jaded. I think, if anything, the hardest thing being a music supervisor is keeping my opinions objective; giving everything a fair shot no matter how tired or burnt out my ears and brain are.
What qualities make for a good music supervisor?
Well, the list is long. In my opinion, you have to have an insatiable hunger for that which is good, musically, on all levels, and all genres. I think what makes a really good music supervisor is having the discipline to put your own personal opinions aside, because it’s very easy to get into an egotistical situation where you have your favourite bands, and your dream…
I remember when I was a kid, I desperately wanted to work with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. That was my dream – work with RHCP. If I let that change the way I music supervised a project, that wouldn’t be an honest-to-god, truthful representation, necessarily, of the scene that I’m music supervising, because I’m already predisposed to using RHCP. The reason I say that is, what a good music supervisor does is wipes his or her personal preferences clean and reacts completely objectively to the scene that is in front of them. It starts there. It’s that ability to be able to separate your own tastes, likes and dislikes, and treat every scene like it’s a first time viewing, and like you have absolutely no musical preference or creative disposition leading you in any direction whatsoever before viewing the scene.
That leads right into another good point. It’s important to remember, music supervisors are very passionate people; artists in general have to be passionate in order for their work to be of the highest quality. If you don’t have passion, what is the inspiration? That passion can be dangerous sometimes, because the passion can overtake the honesty of the project, and steer your direction by your personal ego. I think another important aspect of a good music supervisor is keeping in perspective the reality that it is not your feature film you’re working on. Are you the executive producer? No you’ve been hired to music supervise the film. Someone else has written it, funded it, and shot it. It’s not your Colgate commercial that you’re producing. You’ve been hired to work on someone else’s production, and it’s your goal to satisfy that client 100%. If you keep that in perspective, then you have a really good chance of success.
What are some of the best ways to get connected with people in this industry, from the perspective of wanting to become a Music Supervisor?
For me, it really came down to taking some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten in my life and my career, from my father, Greg. Well, Greg told me, being a career jazz pianist, “Figure out what you want to be, who you want to be, and find out how to actually hang around, physically, where those people already are.”
For me, that was the internship at the ABC broadcast network. I hung around directors, producers, editors, writers and what have you. What ends up happening is that, if you already know you have some kind of gift for music, you have something to offer a director, a writer, a producer, musically speaking. Then really all it takes is getting in front of them, physically, where you can share some of your perspectives. Eventually, one of these people may ask you for some advice. That doesn’t mean you’re going to get paid, but if you give good advice at the right time to someone who is in serious need, it could be the first opportunity that you ever have as a future music supervisor to gain this trust.
I still believe in that advice – what or who you want to be, go where those people hang out. It’s very simple, yes, but a lot of genius is. Another way to do that is student film colleges, film and broadcast schools. Get yourself into a situation where you can volunteer to work on independent projects, and the easiest way to do that is school. The first place to start is finding a way to get around with people in the business, finding a way to network with these people. Maybe that can happen in a school cafeteria, or a bulletin board, or some kind of social area of a film school. Or maybe you find out there’s a coffee shop or bar around the corner that writers and directors are known to hang out at. You gotta’ figure out a way to hang around the people that are already doing what you want to do. And that’s how you get started.
Should a music supervisor build a music licensing catalogue?
You could do that, and you can actually end up building a catalogue of music that you don’t represent necessarily, but you’re familiar with. As I was saying earlier, every time I listen to a song, it automatically inspires a visual representation, and I file it away. So in that sense, I’m constantly cataloguing music that I hear.
The flip-side is, there is a business opportunity in the representation of music for placement and licensing in media, whether it is film or television. There is a business in that. As a music supervisor, being exposed to so much music, both independent and major, you definitely could position yourself in a way that would allow you to represent an artist or publisher or a songwriter, and represent their music specifically in some sort of media situation. That’s a whole business in itself. Would I recommend getting into that business? That’s something you’d have to be cut out for. Not everyone has an agent or a manager or an entrepreneurial spirit like that. You really have to have a natural gift of gab, a sales-pitchy personality.
But in general, if you’re a music supervisor and you’re not naturally building a personal catalogue for your own use, then you’re not really a music supervisor…….in my opinion.
With this in mind, do you find you prefer working with libraries, or directly with artists?
I have great relationships at major record labels, independent record labels, major publishers, independent publishers, production music libraries, as well as independent artists, independent producers, and independent songwriters. They all have their ups and downs, positives and negatives that can be listed. But I will continue to do business with all of those types of entities, because limiting my potential to place a song, or fulfil the needs of my clients, is the last thing I want to do.
It’s easier to go to an independent single person because, frankly, you’re dealing with less people. The more people you take out of the mix, the easier the situation is to deal with. Time is money, and the less time you spend on the phone, email, text, or fax, the better…..as long as you get the deal done!!! But generally the smaller the entity, the more specialized they become. I accept that as a reality of what I do, and I embrace it.
Whatever the placement opportunity is, whether it’s a commercial or a scene in a film, ultimately, it’s never going to be just one song or two songs that I’m trying to put in the scene. So often, I’ll have a song from a major label, a song from an independent producer, a song from a guy in my apartment building or a song from a major music publisher. So everyone in every level of success will often get a shot at the same scene because ultimately, it expands the possibilities, and basically narrows down the chances of failure. My ultimate goal is success for every scene that I music supervise. Failure is never an option.
So generally, I try to spread myself out in every possible relevant creative direction and to every possible musical provider who’s relevant to whatever I’m working on. If that ends up being a library or an individual person, then so be it. I don’t car as long as it’s good. If I have a low budget, I’m not going to deal with a very large publisher or record label necessarily, because the chances are I’m not going to get something for really cheap. Maybe then, if I knew I only have a few hundred dollars to deal with, that would influence me to deal with an individual over a big company. I will say that given the suffering state of our general economy, major publishers and record labels have become more willing to lower their prices to accommodate the growingly more common modest production budgets of TV an film.
How do you find out about new music?
At this point, being a music supervisor for well over a decade, I’m on most of all the major and independent mailing lists, so I’m constantly getting CDs and MP3s, web links, sound files, from music production entities, libraries, record labels, publishers, and individuals on a daily basis. I’m always being invited to shows in the greater metro area, the New York, New Jersey area. Being in the New York City area, you couldn’t ask for a better place to be exposed to every genre of music and arguably the highest level of quality in the world at any given time.
So the live music scene is constantly happening. And I love the Internet. I really do. Even MySpace, to this day, as antiquated as some people might think it is when comparing it to Twitter and FaceBook. MySpace is still a useful platform for exposing new music and being exposed to new music. I alos love Broadjam. It is an amazing tool for music supervisors to link up with artists, bands, and composers who are eager to place their music in media. Believe it or not, iTunes is also a great tool for experiencing new music too.
How do you find out about new projects?
I’ve expanded my client base by giving that first client the highest level of service, and showing the people involved in that production the level of service and quality that I am able to provide. So everyone around me has the confidence that I am the guy to get the job done. So it is humbly, respectfully working for your client, the same way every time, no matter what their level of importance or authority in the business may be. For me, that has been a great avenue for exposing myself to more people who could potentially hire me for jobs. It’s a matter of investing in the right people, the right projects, and again, humbly and respectfully treating all your clients. Keep in mind that everyone’s watching, at all times. You want to make a great impression on anyone you come in contact with in this business, because you never know, they could end up being your next client. That also really goes back to that original piece of advice – What or who do you want to be? Find out where the people are that are already doing what you wanna’ do, and go there. I know it sounds very simple, but it’s really tried and true.
Are there any differences that stand out for supervising for film, TV, advertising and new media?
Yes and no. Let’s compare breaking news and scripted content. Breaking news is reality. Scripted TV is make-believe even though it’s sometimes based on true events. What’s the difference music supervising a natural disaster in reality, such as an earthquake in Indonesia, for instance, versus music-supervising the same type of tragedy, but in scripted format? What’s the difference? Well, in the scripted format, you’re driving a storyline, that is guided by a director and a team of writers & producers. But if you’re dealing with a tragedy like an earthquake, even in a scripted format, I would say most times, it’s going to be considered very serious. You’re going to have to music supervise the reality of the situation even in the scripted way. You’re most likely going to have original score pieces to fill in gaps where commercial music isn’t appropriate. The score pieces are often going to be representative of the tone of the moment, and the moments leading up to the natural disaster. The human drama of the event, the tension, the hysteria…..
But then you’re also going to have source music, which will most likely be commercially released music. For instance, you’ve got the family driving down the street in their station wagon unaware of any danger. What are they listening to on the radio before the earthquake starts? And then you’ve got the crew of locals hanging at the local corner sports bar, they’re all watching the game and there’s music on the TV they’re watching, and there’s music in the background from the jukebox. Then you cut out of the bar scene, and you’d do an aerial wide shot of a fault line beginning to flex, then your score comes back in to re-establish dramatic tension. So you’ve got a bunch of different pieces of music and musical inspiration to tell the story of this earthquake, a natural disaster.
Now in a breaking news environment, the difference is that you’re actually documenting something that’s happening in real time. There’s no need for any commercial music anywhere. You’re not going to licence “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen for a real earthquake in California or anywhere for that matter. You’d be fired instantly, and probably have death threats from the general public. So you’re going to go more along the lines of score – possibly pounding authoritative drums with a sense of urgency/emergency, some strings to build a feeling of importance, and even some tension if you will, but nothing insulting or disrespectful to those suffering from the tragedy. There’s a fine line to ride there.
When you’re dealing with reality, you’re dealing with human lives and the politics of whoever it is you are working for. Whereas in scripted content, you have a little bit more freedom because people know it’s not reality.
I’m headed into NYC today, on my day off, to do some music supervision and sound design for NBC Football Night in America. I’m a huge fan of football, a big time New York Giants fan, so working on prime-time, high-profile football is a kid dream come true.
How do you value music?
Basically, the easiest way to do that is the traditional way, which in my opinion, is based on exposure / outreach, and record sales. I put value in artists by how many friends they have on MySpace, how many views they have on You Tube, how many followers they have on Twitter, and how many downloads / song sales they had this past year. A great way to value music is on the success of the artist. If the artist has limited outreach, limited success, well, it’s very hard to pose an argument for the financial worth of that music. Sure, if you’re comparing Pearl Jam to Led Zeppelin, for instance. Well, they’re two very successful bands there. But if you look at their history, it could be argued that the value of Led Zeppelin is far greater because they have been around for longer and throughout the stance of their career, they sold more units. That makes Led Zeppelin more valuable. Now you throw in a recently successful major label rock band …let’s say, Kings of Leon, as well as they’ve done as of late, their catalogue is not yet as valuable as Pearl Jam’s is, and clearly not as valuable as Led Zeppelin therefore you price them accordingly when comparing them to those bands that have had more success over a longer period of time.
I look at it from the perspective of units sold and public outreach. Outreach is something we are able to measure more effectively than ever right now because of MySpace, You Tube, FaceBook, and Twitter. You can measure the marketing and promotional success of any band or artist through social networking sites. These things are right there for you to measure. Finding out how many song sales there are in that year, all that information is out there.
For me, that’s how I start, as far as valuing music, bands and writers – is their actual success, and of course, the obvious – is it good? Is it produced well? Is it written well? Is it a good arrangement? Is the singer in key? Are the musicians qualified, do they execute their performances well? Is it a good melody? Is it a catchy melody? All those basic measurements of quality of music add to the value as well.
How much gear and technical knowledge do you need to be a music supervisor?
You could know nothing about the technical side of music and you don’t really even have to be a musician. I’m an engineer. I’m a recording and mixing engineer and sound designer. What motivated me to be an engineer and sound designer was frankly just wanting, as a young music supervisor, the freedom to be able to throw songs up to moving picture.
So for me, it made sense to gain technical knowledge of recording, mixing and ProTools, so that I could try synching music to moving picture and dialogue. The simple motivation of wanting to lay music into a video cut turned me into a successful sound designer, recording and mixing engineer, which has added to my worth as a music supervisor. Sometimes I get hired as the music supervisor, and other times I get hired as a sound designer of a project. Sometimes both! So now I’m wearing two hats, and I like it because it keeps me employed most of the time.
Is it completely necessary to have technical skills or be a musician? I’m a musician as well – I play a little guitar, I play a little piano, play a little drums, percussion, I sing a little bit. Master of none, yet familiar with most. It works for me, and it comes from my family music background. These are all assets that have added to my personal success as a music supervisor. Is it necessary? Absolutely not. You just have to have a wealth of knowledge about music and be in touch with human emotion from a musicology standpoint.
What is the future of music supervision and what are some of the mediums you see being used?
Well, music supervision will continue to be as important as it ever has since the dawn of radio. The simplicity of music supervision is the strength of it. It really is all about having the abilities to match human emotion, geographical location, time periods and storylines, to the music. So that will never change.
But what will change is the distribution outlets of content. What I mean by that is no longer are we limited to TV, radio and theatrical performance. You’ve got to look at how all mediums are converging and multiplying. I just recently, this year, music supervised for the Weinstein Company, Cheech and Chong’s newest film, called “Cheech and Chong’s Hey Watch This”. It was the first time ever in the history of Hollywood that a film was simultaneously released in every single format on the same day: Theatrically, on-demand, PlayStation, Blu-Ray, DVD, iTunes, Netflix, hand-held devices… every single format on the same day. That’s where it is going. It’s not necessarily the art or the business of music supervising that will be changing. It’s the distribution channels broadening and multiplying, in the sense that you’re getting a wider outreach that’s just going to continue to expand and grow.
If you’re a music supervisor that handles negotiating rights as well the creative side, like I do, then it’s uber-important that you keep your finger on the pulse of technology, so you can keep that in mind when you’re clearing rights for “all media”. Because no longer is the term “all media” limited to TV, radio and film/theatrical performance. The list is long and it can probably take up an entire page of a contract. And it ain’t going to stop anytime soon.
I feel like spreading knowledge is more important than hiding. Education is of paramount importance. I think we are all going to be better if we can help each other. That’s what motivated me to start teaching back in the day at NYU and what motivated me to write the book. For the love of music and all that is artistic and good.
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