What Does a Music Editor Do?

Part sound editor, part project manager, and part musician, the music editor is an all-rounder who oversees the creative, technical, and logistical aspects of composing and implementing music in film and TV. With numerous duties including attending the initial spotting sessions, keeping the composer updated on picture edits, creating temporary soundtracks to assist in test screenings, and representing the interests of the composer in the final dubbing sessions, music editors guide the music from its conception to the final mix.

The scoring process begins with spotting sessions, initial meetings in which the composer and director discuss the number, placement, and content of musical pieces, or "cues," in the film or show. Music editors both participate in these discussions and take rigorous notes for the composer on the timecode, duration, and style of each cue. As the picture undergoes countless re-edits, the music editor coordinates with picture editors to keep the notes (and by extension, the composer) up to date.

Useful traits for a music editor include fastidious attention to detail, the ability to work with many different kinds of people, and a passion for storytelling through music.

 

The music editor also may be asked to build a temporary score (called temp music) from prerecorded tracks; this helps test audiences and studio executives preview the film even as the score is still in development. As the composer completes MIDI mockups of the actual cues the music editor switches them into the temp score, getting ever closer to the final film product.

When it's finally time to record the score, music editors prepare the composer’s Pro Tools sessions and oversee the recording process. After recording is completed, and the music has been edited to match the final picture edits, the music editor works with a re-recording mixer in the final dubbing, when music is mixed with dialogue and effects to create the picture's soundtrack. Since the composer does not typically attend the dub, the music editor is the de facto advocate for the score during this process.

Just before the film is released, spotting notes come in handy once again when the music editor creates a "cue sheet," a log of all the music used in a production that determines how royalties are paid. Music editors also sometimes work with music supervisors to place original or pre-existing songs—for which the composer is not responsible—into the show or film.

People in the Field

Tanya Hill

Name:

Tanya
Hill
Class of 
1995
Position: 
Music Editor

Music Editor at a Glance

Career Path

As a film and TV sound editor, music editors share a similar career trajectory with effects editors and dialogue editors. Unlike the other two varieties of film sound editor, however, music editors tend to be a bit further along in their careers and must possess a certain degree of musical training in order to communicate with composers and choose temp music.

Many music editors start their careers as interns, apprentices, or assistants working in recording studios, mixing studios, sound-editing houses, or major film studios. With experience and connections, music editors can climb the ladder in their department. For most audio post-production engineers (a.k.a. sound editors) becoming a supervising sound editor is the ultimate goal, but as this involves working with all sound sources (not just music) it's not ideal for everyone. For a dedicated music editor, establishing a long-running relationship with a particular composer and working with them consistently could be every bit as rewarding.

Finding Work

Aspiring music editors should look for internships and apprenticeships with the post-production audio departments of major film studios, or with independent post-production studios that cater to the film and television industry. Additionally, both independent audio houses and film studios offer entry-level positions, although they're unlikely to be in music editing. Networking can be important for music editors, insofar as it helps them meet working film and TV composers and create a rapport.

Professional Skills
  • Music composition
  • Deep understanding of musical storytelling
  • Familiarity with film music and genre conventions
  • Audio editing
  • Audio mixing
  • DAWs
  • Pro Tools
  • Listening
  • Organization
  • Written and spoken communication
  • Good under pressure
Interpersonal Skills

Music editors must be technical, organized, and creative. Similar to a project manager, much of their job revolves around organizing and distributing information. However, they also have to make their fair share of tough creative decisions, whether it's choosing how to cut a cue in order to make it fit a scene or selecting the most effective temp music to underscore an emotional scene. Useful traits include fastidious attention to detail, the ability to work and communicate with many different kinds of people, and a passion for storytelling through music.  

Work Life

Some music editors keep standard business hours, while others put in 70- to 80-hour weeks, especially as deadlines loom during post-production on a major film. In-house editors usually work out of an office, while freelancers may work from home or—more likely—commute to a film studio's sound editing space. Most music editors can expect to work nights and weekends—this is Hollywood, after all—and some travel is possible.