What Does a Music Editor do?

what is a music editor

“The music works fine, but in this scene, maybe you could do something like this instead?”  Film scoring is a team sport. And for the film composer, one of the closest sources of inspiration comes from the music editor.  

So what does a music editor do? A music editor selects and edits the music in a film, prepares DAWs, creates temp tracks and works closely with the film composer, picture editor, and director. To become a music editor you need a solid technical and theoretical understanding of music and in-depth knowledge of using DAWs and other mixing interfaces.

It is really important that the composer and music editor has a solid relationship with a mutual level of trust. After all, the music editor is often the very first person in a film project to listen to the music made by the film composer. This post will hopefully help you to decide if this is something you want to pursue. 

What is a Music Editor?

As a music editor, you will be responsible for all the music and the soundtrack of a film. 

But what does that mean, exactly? 

It means you will select and edit the music which is being used so it fits the picture perfectly. Your job as a music editor is, such as the composer, to underline and build emotions and dynamics of the audiovisual aspects of a film.

It is most common that the music editor works closely with the director and the composer, but on musical films, a music editor will probably work more closely with the picture editor to make sure the music and image are working perfectly together.   

Typical Tasks a Music Editor Does

  • Attends the Spotting Session
    The music editor attends what we call a spotting session with the director, producer, picture editor, music supervisor, and composer. A spotting session is where they all watch the film together, discussing what could be done with the music. 

One of the potential outcomes here is that the music editor and the film composer has agreed on the tempo and meter of the overall soundtrack.

  • Creating Temp Tracks
    This is often music from other films used as a reference for what kind of music, emotions, and tempo the music editor is recommending for the film. Sometimes, the music editor is involved later in the film. Then, his or her very first task is to familiarize themselves with the material the composer has written for the film.
  • Monitors the process
    Let’s say the picture edit has changed since last time. Has the picture changed so much that the composer would need to recompose the music to this scene? Or maybe just edit it a little bit? This is a scenario a music editor often must pay attention to.
  • Selects and Edits the Music
    As a music editor, you will select and edit the songs that are featured in the whole soundtrack of the film. Before a composer is involved, you find temp music to help the picture editor with the tempo and the overall feel. When the composer is involved, it is all about taking his or her score, implementing and fine-tune so it goes seamlessly into the picture.  
  • Building the ProTools session
    Before the orchestra is ready to record the material of the composer, someone needs to prepare the click, the meter and BPM in ProTools. This is to make sure that everything already recorded is played back correctly and that everything matches the printed musical sheets for every single instrumentalist in the orchestra. 

Depending on the project, I know this is something the music editor does from time to time. 

  • Assembles a cue Sheet
    Towards the end of the project, the music editor sends a cue sheet with information to a performing rights society, such as ASCAP in America. The cue sheet contains a comprehensive breakdown of all the music being used in the film, making sure royalties are paid every time the film is screened. 

And in addition to all the tasks listed above, a music editor sometimes creates new example cues by rearranging music stems they receive, to inspire the composer. 

A music editor will most often work closely with the picture editor as well. This is so their communication could lead the music and picture to harmonize the best way possible. The synergy between image and sound is critical, so if you want to become a music editor, you must either have – or develop a worldclass understanding of how music is composed, recorded and put together.

The Skills of a Great Music Editor

It is – like Liam Neeson says in Taken, important that you have a very particular set of skills. 

Skills that will make you do a great job as a music editor. 

Skills that will make you a dream to work with, for people like me. 

Skills like:

  • Knowing music theory and how music is constructed.
  • Having a great technical knowledge of various music equipment, like mixers, DAWs, instruments, etc.
  • Having a keen sense of timing.
  • Having solid knowledge about film and storytelling as well. Because a director speaks with emotions and drama – not A minor or Lydian Scale.

In addition, you should also have a pretty solid knowledge or at least interest in many different music genres, from pop to classical music. 

Every single genre out there creates emotions of some sort. Since a music editor is not only responsible for putting together or creating temp tracks but also helping the composer by motivating, inspire (or even create a music cue proposal), the greater the knowledge of music, the better. So, that is why having knowledge of how music affects the picture is so critical.

As a music editor you might have a positive influence on the composer.

The Personality of a Great Music Editor

In case you have just visited this website for the very first time and know nothing about me: I have been working as a composer for over 10 years and I have experienced what it’s like to not have a music editor in the team.

Back in the days of my very first low-budget film scoring job, I certainly wish I could have the luxury of working with a music editor. I was all by myself, but It wasn’t only just a lonely existence. 

With no one to discuss the music with when I needed it, it was hugely demotivating and led to a lot of confused and frustrating moments.

And because I had to do everything myself (and by that I mean, everything) the final music I delivered to this film was not great either. I wished I had someone to motivate me, to discuss the music with and to help me out when I needed help.

So, if you want to be a music editor you should be:

  • Quite artistic, so you can discuss music with composers. 
  • Intuitive in the sense that you might take a drum stem that the composer has made and combine it with another piano stem, creating something totally new. Maybe that will work and maaaybe spark the imagination of the composer?
  • In addition, being a good team player is key. You must really want to help both the film and the composer to achieve the best result possible.
  • And having a service-minded approach as well will benefit both you and the composer immensely. 
  • And you should be easy to be around, goodhumored, structured and all that other stuff that’s just common sense.

How Much Does a Music Editor Make?

According to the experienced salary information company Payscale, a musical editor makes about $41,233 on average.

That being said, if you could make more or less than the average obviously depends on the size of the film. 

How to Become a Music Editor

If you are interested in becoming a music editor, you should know that this is one of the most competitive sides of the film industry. In addition to studies, expect to work a lot of years in lower-level positions before getting bigger jobs.

My tip: Try to get a job as an assistant editor or intern during a post-production phase of a film. 

But despite the fact that it might take some time to get the best jobs, every single music editor I know seem very happy they made the decision to pursue this career. 

Educational programs you might consider:

  • Composition
  • Music Production
  • Film Scoring
  • Music Engineering
  • Mixing, Sound Mastering
  • Orchestration
  • Music History
  • ProTools
You should learn all music software, such as Cubase, Logic, VST Plugins etc. A good place to start is this helpful post about VSTs.

Equipment to get Started as a Music Editor

If you are brand new to music editing, I think the tools listed below should be enough to get you started. It is not cheap getting started with this, but the sooner you invest in ProTools, the better.

Yes, to begin with, ProTools could, in fact, be the most pricey investment you make. It may even cost you more than your computer! Don´t believe me? Then you should read this post where I reveal how you can save a lot of money on a powerful PC by doing these simple steps.

ProTools is the go-to DAW in the film industry, and having the knowledge of how to use it will definitely give you an advantage over other music editors who don’t have the experience of using it.

You need:

Just having the right technical and musical knowledge can be a huge benefit when trying to make it as a music editor. In 2005, right after finishing school, Jonathon Stevens got his first job as a music editor on King Kong. And partly because he had knowledge of Pyramix, the editing workstation they were using.

Now you know what a music editor does, how much you can expect to earn and how to get started with this exciting career path. 

If you enjoyed this post and are looking to read more on the topic of music production, be sure to read my other posts about:

Thomas Leypoldt

Hey there! My name is Thomas and I have been a film composer for over 10 years, delivering music to feature films, documentaries, video games, and commercials. I share everything I have learned on this website, to hopefully be of help to your own development as a musician.

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