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Jocelyn Brown on the Sweet Spot Between Knowledge and Intuition

May 26, 2023

Being a music supervisor requires a profound fluency in a huge array of sounds—but also an understanding of how people will respond to them.

Jocelyn Michelle Brown is a music supervisor who turned her nerd tendencies into a multifaceted career. In the time since her mother taught her how to make a mixtape with a dual-deck boombox more than 30 years ago, she’s worked as a music critic for a local Florida alt-weekly, a public relations coordinator for an indie label, a DJ, and now as a music supervisor. These days, she operates as the principal of Reality Club, a music consulting agency she founded three years ago. As a supervisor, she has advised on music for films like Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game (2022), Ferguson Rises (2021), and others, helping determine the proper synergy between music and tonality for the projects. Here, she chats about the not-so-obvious TV theme that helped inspire her career path, her music listening habits, and more. 

What things in your childhood led you to your career as a music supervisor?

The real origin starts with Jan Hammer’s Miami Vice theme. Miami Vice was a thing that my mom and I watched. No little kid should have been watching Miami Vice at this time, but it was the ’80s, and parents do what they want. Whenever I heard those initial notes, I'd come tearing outta wherever I was. 

There’s this game that is popular in preschools called Memory, and it revolves around flashcards and pairing up images relative to those flashcards. That’s kind of what was going on with me relative to hearing that theme song and knowing [what was on the screen when] the percussion came in, where you'd hear the guitar solo; parts where things would amp up, where things would ramp down. I was pairing all of those sounds to the images that were flashing. And my mom, God bless her, she'd be like, “Who's that?” And I'm like, “Lieutenant Castillo.” What's that? Speedboat. What is that? That's a flamingo. My life as a music supervisor is really funny, that fundamental pairing of sound and image is still very much a thing. I've just always thought musically in that way, even when there's no image in front of me that exists in my mind, I'm seeing something and creating an entire story there. 

Helping curate music for a show or movie is undeniably cool. What’s your favorite part about the job?

It's that Rubik's Cube element. It's solving a problem musically, right? For me, it's looking at what the director is aiming for or what the brand client is aiming for, and presenting them with options. There's always a moment where I can go with the expected thing that is being asked for, or I can introduce them to something that's a little outside the box that also meets their ask. And I get to be the person who walks them through that and explains, “I know you're attached to this Minnie Riperton song and it's wonderful, but it's also overused. Here's a new artist who's reminiscent vocally, but doing some different things that I think might be a little more relatable to your audience. And her new album comes out in two weeks, right around the time when your campaign is expected to drop.”

Before you worked as a music supervisor, you worked at a radio station and then as a DJ. How did those jobs prepare you for what you do now?

I would say the radio station figured in in terms of knowledge of catalog, learning about which record labels had which artists and specialized in which things, what [artist] backstories were, how they connected to other artists, other collaborators. 

DJing, however, was a little different in that you're there in a bar, you're observing social interactions, you're observing what people respond to and what they don't respond to, and really able to read emotion and feeling and tonality. If someone's talking to you or coming up to you or complimenting what you do or making a request or outright telling you they hate what you do—which did happen sometimes—you're able to really register all those ranges of emotion and response. And to me, I took that with me into my job to let that inform how I thought about [taste, as in] I know I like this, but is Debbie in Nebraska going to respond to this? When I put this song in a commercial for McDonald's, is the creative team gonna respond to it? It's rarely about me. It's more about, what are people gonna respond to? What do I know people have responded to? 

For your job, you have to provide and advise creative teams on the music to choose for films and TV series. Has having to listen to music so critically for a job changed how you listen to music for leisure? 

I can't not notice it [laughs]. Every time I go to the movies, I have to stick around for the end credits just to see who worked on what. But that's to satisfy my own personal curiosity and to write people and give kudos when they've done something really cool. There's no way for me to watch something now without observing what happens musically. In terms of my casual listening, yeah, it does change things a little bit. If I were to be completely honest about what I choose to listen to in my spare time, man, lately it's been a fair amount of ambient [laughs], a fair amount of instrumental music that is not jazz. Sometimes, [it’s] just straight-up proto punk, like the Stooges or Death. Stuff like that doesn't cross my desk so much relative to the publishing realm or music supervision realm. Because for me, that's a pocket of interest that I need to protect. I need to still be able to connect to music as a fan.

What’s something that you think needs to change in the world of music supervision?

There aren't a whole lot of music supervisors of color who are looked at for a lot of jobs. I hope that changes because we are here. We're not necessarily seen, we're not necessarily heard, but we are very much here. And that's literally across every ethnic group that you can see. There are Middle Eastern music supervisors, Latin music supervisors, African American music supervisors, AAPI music supervisors. We are here, we want that work. We're doing the work to get the work, but we're not necessarily the people who get called into the room. I want that noted because there's a perception that we're not there, and we are. We are.

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