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How To Place Music in TV with CBS Television’s Samuel Diaz

By Tess Taylor. Samuel Diaz, Associate Director Music Supervision for CBS Television Studios kicked off NARIP’s 6-part series with Film & TV Music Supervisors in Los Angeles, speaking to our group and giving feedback to music presented.

Photo: Samuel Diaz

Sam spoke about how he finds, licenses and places music in the many television shows for which he is responsible. These include The Good Wife, NYC 22, NCIS, Common Law, Blue Bloods and others. Attendees of this session received briefs before hand detailing his current music needs, enabling them to prepare targeted pitches.

How do music needs get generated for shows, where does it start?

“It starts in pilot season, which we are just entering now. We meet with the executive producer of each new show and talk about the stylistic direction they want for the show.”

“A good example is at the beginning of NCIS, which was a spin-off of JAG (a drama Sam worked on at Paramount for 10 years), there was a character named Abby written into the script. The only description of her was that she wore a chain necklace and a skull T-shirt. I said to the executive producer, ‘It sounds like she would be into music, do you want music playing in her lab?’ He said that was a great idea. I asked, ‘Do you want punk or goth?’ He asked, ‘What’s goth?’ So I took a post production supervisor and a producer from the show to a local goth club in Hollywood called Bar Sinister where we saw the crowd and heard the music.  They didn’t know what goth was, they were intimidated at first but they got into it.”

“On Monday morning, one of the producer’s people called and said, ‘We had a great time, we know now exactly what we’re going to do with our Abby character, we know how we’re going to dress her, we know what music she’ll listen to,’ and they went with goth. So for the first few seasons we were licensing industrial goth bands. Now we have streamlined and get those songs a from a few companies, and just finished our 200th episode. It was the #1 show last week! I think this is because it breaks a lot of demographics, Abby appeals to a lot of young people and older people, and I think everybody in family can relate to [the show].”

With each script there are different needs for each episode, some scenes take place at a bar, lounge night club, so I’ll talk with producers of show. ‘This is a rock club, what kind of music do you want? What does crowd look like in the bar, old or young?’ And then I start to streamline music based on those conversations and the script.”

Do you work with people who know exactly what they want and/or do you have to play detective?

A little bit of both. Sometimes [screen] writers will write songs into a script, sometime these songs clear and sometimes they don’t. Shows like NCIS, they [producers] know my ear, so I can pitch based on brief conversations. NCY 22 executive producers are Robert De Niro and Ken Sanzel. Sanzel and I worked on another project together, he just calls me up and says, ‘We have a street party here just give me some songs.’ He trusts my ears, and that makes it more creative and fun for me.”

Favorite Sources For Music

“It depends on the use. I’ll go through a script and determine if it’s an up-front use, or will the song be buried? Depends on how much the show wants to spend. A full montage of 1 to 2 minutes for example, that’s a big music use. If it’s an incidental or brief music use then we would go to a library or music production company. For industrial music we’ll go to indie labels like Projekt based in Brooklyn. There are probably 500 companies that specialize in placement in film & TV.”

His favorite search engines enable extremely detailed searches by era, emotion and lyrical content, underscoring once again the importance of meta-data and accurate descriptions of music to enable it to be found in enormous music libraries.

How much of your music use tends to be through those one-stops?

About 50% or maybe a little bit more. The reason is that TV is quite a different animal from film, it’s very fast-paced. With The Good Wife for example, they will call me at 10am and say, ‘We need music for three spots for the network cut,’ which we churn out at 3pm. So I’ll have just a couple of hours to find those three songs. Those songs have to clear. If they fall in love with a song and it can’t clear, then it’s on me. So it has to clear.


“In 1992 (when Sam began his career in music supervision) no one wanted to be a music supervisor back then and everything we requested from a major label would be denied. ‘We don’t want our bands to lose credibility or sell out,’ said the labels. Almost 20 years late the environment has changed completely, and now music supervisors today are almost like radio programmers, they can make or break a song.”

“Also, the influx of independent music is huge. Film & TV placement has changed immensely over last 15 years. Back then you either had major labels or massive libraries. Within the last 10 to 15 years you’ve seen an influx of indie music production companies, each of them have their own niche. “


Sam’s preferred music format is CDs, and his favorite online delivery methods are YouSentIt and He also prides himself on regional authenticity, making sure music he sources actually comes from the geographic regions depicted in his television shows (many supervisors are less meticulous in this regard, resulting in Colombian music supporting a scene in Chile, etc.).

Hiring Composers

“When I review composer reels I like a wide pallet, including horror, drama and suspense,” he said. For composers seeking a way in, he recommended getting experience first at cable or work on DVDs to get credit. About 50% of the time or more the executive producer of a show usually has a composer in mind. The rest of the time, Sam will have an opportunity to pitch, and will usually select 4 or 5 composers of the dozens and dozens he has on file to present.

What is common in film and television is that many composers may work under the main composer doing individual cues, and receive no card credit.

What can people do to improve marketability of music?

“I love one-stops. I can clear a song with one call and that helps a lot,” he said. “Also, make sure the lyrical content of songs is more universal (and not specific), that makes it MUCH more place-able.”

“I am constantly finding out what’s new, it’s always interesting and I always look forward to it!”

Here is Sam’s feedback to some of the music presented:

About Samuel Diaz

An industry professional for over 18 years, Samuel worked as in-house music supervisor for Frasier, JAG, the Star Trek TV franchise and many other productions while at Paramount Television. Now with CBS Television Studios, he is the in-house music supervisor for NCIS, The Good Wife, Blue Bloods, Common Law, NYC 22 and other productions. In the 2011-2012 television season, NCIS is the #1 scripted show in the US while in the 2010-2011 season The Good Wife received an Emmy nomination for Best TV Series-Drama and a Golden Globe nomination for Outstanding Drama Series. The shows he oversees have a total weekly viewership of over 50 million people in the US. He also handles production work for other CBS and CW shows, works on numerous Paramount Television and CBS DVD and streaming projects and takes part in the selection of composers for new shows.

Sources For More Info

NARIP Gallery – photos from Sam Diaz Session
APM Music
CBS Television
Extreme Music
Paramount Pictures
The Good Wife
NYC 22
Blue Bloods

Upcoming NARIP Music Supervisor Sessions (see sidebar on right)

Mar 21 Trailer MSS: BLT’s Serena Undercofler in LA
Mar 22 Film-TV MSS: Velvet Ears’ Liz Gallacher in LA
Mar 27 Film-TV MSS: Madonna Wade-Reed in LONDON
Apr 04 Film-TV MSS: Aperture’s Jonathan Leahy in LA
Apr 05 Film-TV MSS: Independent Music Supervisor Dan Wilcox in LA
Apr 11 Trailer MSS: Trailer Park’s Bobby Gumm in LA
Apr 18 Trailer MSS: Toy Box’s Maura Duval Griffin in LA
Apr 19 Trailer MSS: Create Advertising’s Heather Kreamer in LA
May 02 Trailer MSS: Ignition Creative’s Natalie Bartz in LA
May 03 Film-TV MSS: Fuel TV’s Scott McDaniel in LA
May 16 Trailer MSS: mOcean’s Danny Exum in LA
May 30 Trailer MSS: AV Squad’s Angel Mendoza in LA
Jun 06 Trailer MSS: Ant Farm’s Robyn Booker in LA