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Job Title: Music Editor

Job Overview

Music editors coordinate the technical aspects of film scoring between the production company and the composer; they create the temporary score and assist in syncing the final score to film.

Special Skills and Education

First, music editors must have musicality and skill using music editing equipment. Second, they must be self-motivated and able to work on a very tight schedule. “Being diplomatic; able to listen carefully to what people are trying to communicate, and then fulfilling their desire without a lot of problems, guess work, or questions back and forth,” says music editor Jeff Chabonneau. “It is very important to shut off your mind and listen carefully to what the director is trying to say to you.”

A Typical Workday

Chabonneau's schedule is dictated by where he is in the process of adding music to picture for the project he is working on. On a film spotting day, he meets in the studio with the film producers, director, film editor, and composer. Together they review scenes to determine where the music should start and end, discuss any stylistic concerns, and address any other issues. If there is a temporary score already in place, they might discuss whether it works in various scenes. They will talk about specific songs they want to use and address any synchronization problems if there is a live performance. The director may discuss a statement he wants to emphasize with music in a particular scene. “Involvement in the spotting session varies from film to film and project to project. Sometimes the composer and the music editor will spot the film on their own and give their notes or ideas to the producer or the director, although that is very rare. On the series I work on, which is The X-Files, I do all the music spotting on my own. I give my notes to the composer and the producers and they give me feedback. The reason we've done it this way is to streamline the process, because we don't have an enormous amount of time to do the score and there is a lot of music in the show. They trust me with knowing, or figuring out, where to put the music in and where to take it out.”

After the spotting is complete, Chabonneau will go through the film to time the sequences and create timing notes: a breakdown of the action taking place within in each scene. This is typed out for the composer to see. Within a couple of days, the composer returns with the recorded score, and the music editor and an engineer mix the score. Then, the music editor goes to the rerecording stage and guides the music mixer on how the music should fit into the scene, such as where the music is too loud or too soft, where it should build and fade, and any background source issues. Depending on the project, the rerecording process can take one to three days, or three to four weeks. “On a television show, we're usually on the stage for about two days.” Next, the producers and director may suggest changes, such as adding a sound to a scene or switching out a particular piece of music. Those changes are made immediately. The next phase is to document the music. The music editor writes down the timing and order of each piece of music used in the film, adds the author's and publisher's names, and turns it over to the studio legal department to issue contracts and licenses. The last task is to create a backup of all of the materials so they can be placed in the studio vault and a copy of the score sent to the Library of Congress for copyright purposes.

Advice for Someone Seeking This Job

“The way I got established was to work on low budget and no budget films to gain some skills and meet people. When those people ended up working on bigger projects, they took me along with them in a lot of cases,” says Chabonneau. “This job takes an investment in material costs, too. You have to essentially own a mini recording studio in order to be viable in the present film economy. No one wants to rent equipment for you, they want you to come fully equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and know how to operate it effectively. When they consider hiring you to do a project, the first questions asked are, ‘Do you have a ProTools system? Is it transportable? Can you bring it to a stage? How much are you going to charge us to rent it?’”

What do you like least about your job?

“The element I like the least is the egos and personalities involved in the business.”—Jim Chabonneau

What do you love most about your job?

“The work itself. I've got the type of brain where I like doing something very creative. I think I have a real aptitude for combining sound and image together in a way that works. I enjoy that aspect. I like the challenge. I view it as a puzzle that I can solve. I like being able to go through and measure music against a picture and make it work.”Jim Chabonneau

Professional Profile: Jeff Chabonneau, Music Editor

Music was Jeff Chabonneau's vehicle into the film and television business. Throughout his teenage years, he played in rock and roll bands and went on to study classical guitar at the University of Wisconsin, but changed his major to biology in his junior year. He enrolled in an anthropology graduate program at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). In the fourth year of graduate school, he says, “I ran out of scholarship and grant money and decided I really needed a job.”

Through a friend, he was introduced to another academic who had returned to music as a composer for New York-based Score Productions, writing music for television soap operas, game shows, and sporting events. Impressed with Chabonneau's musical talent, the composer helped him land a job as music supervisor of the soap opera Capitol, filmed in Los Angeles. A year later, he was ready for a bigger challenge.


* “In this business there is always a deadline. A person has to be able to deal with that pressure and accept that responsibility. Know that you're going to have to set aside your own personal life at times in order to fulfill the job. That can be stressful when you've planned a weekend and that gets dumped because the schedule has changed and you have to get things done by Monday, as opposed to Tuesday or Wednesday. Deadlines are very important. Being punctual is extremely important. These are skills that are necessary. “—Jim Chabonneau

Hearing that the major film studios had jobs for music editors, but not knowing exactly what that entailed, Chabonneau boldly called 20th Century Fox to apply. He was told that he needed both experience and union membership to qualify, but he left his phone number anyway. Two days later he got a call asking if he was interested in interviewing for an apprentice music editor position. Hired for his ability to both play and read music, he worked there for two years before the studio closed down the department. The next three years were spent working in television at a small firm in Burbank, frequently with well-known composer Mike Post.

When Post opened Interlock, his own music editing company, Chabonneau was one of four editors hired. Two years later he returned to film work at MGM, then went out on his own as a freelancer, specializing in temporary music scores for film previews.

For several seasons he served as a staff music editor for The X-Files, and he has worked on several features, including Bull, Crazy in Alabama, Disturbing Behavior, It Had to Be You, and The X-Files motion picture.

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