Emily Rogers Swanson is a professional music editor for film, television, album release, choreography and events, based in Australia. Her credits include Paper Planes, The Dressmaker, Red Dog, and many more.

Why hire a music editor?

A lot of filmmakers think that a music editor is a luxury they can't afford. In fact, the opposite is true; if your budget is tight, then you can't afford not to have a music editor. Music editing happens in every production, whether there is a music editor on board or not. So if there is no music editor, then the music editing is being done by someone who does not have the appropriate tools or skills. Usually this job falls to the picture editor. A picture editor gets paid more than a music editor, and they do the music editing much more slowly and less effectively, even if they have music editing skills, because picture editing tools are extremely blunt instruments when it comes to editing music.

"Music editing, for both temp and final scores, is a crucial part of the creative process. We couldn't be more thrilled with the work that Emily did on both KILL ME THREE TIMES and A FEW LESS MEN. Her collaboration enabled everyone involved to reach the right result at each stage of the films' evolution."

Larry Malkin
Producer, Kill Me Three Times & A Few Less Men

How can a music editor save money for a production?

A music editor can present viable song options fitted to picture much more quickly and cheaply than a picture or sound editor can.

A music editor works closely with directors and editors to create unified temp scores, drawing on a huge library of film scores. A good temp score will save an enormous amount of time (and therefore money) and stress when the composer comes on board.

If a big orchestral score is desired but the budget won't cover enough sessions, a music editor can edit those cues you can afford to fit the remaining scenes.

What else does a music editor do?

If brought on board early enough, a music editor can flag potential music issues in the script that could become time consuming and expensive problems if left unresolved until post, especially when it comes to on-screen musical performances. I can also create custom rehearsal materials for actors and dancers, coach actors through ADR singing and French pronunciation, and fix lip sync and dance sync. I conform the score to any picture changes and edit songs to fit scenes. I facilitate communication with the composer. I assist composers by creating demos of their work to picture and programming clicks and streamers for orchestral recording sessions and concerts. I also provide spotting notes and cue sheets, and fill delivery requirements.

Directors and Editors

A music editor can suggest and demonstrate a variety of scoring approaches, and help the director to solidify their ideas through discussion. Spending some time with a music editor can really help a director to articulate what they want from the music.

"They say dying is easy, comedy is hard. But I would add that scoring for comedy is even harder. Emily is such a brilliant music editor that she was able to breathe life into our temp track and really make the music feel like it was created specifically for our movie. She made the funny bits funnier and the moving bits more moving. She helped unify the movie and provided a wonderful launch pad for our discussions with composer, David Hirschfelder, as we were able to be very specific about what we’d tried and rejected, and the final sound we were hoping for. It was as if Emily had provided a Rosetta Stone so we could all speak the same language, after which David really took flight with the score. Emily is also an extraordinary collaborator, working with the virtuoso talents of David and Andrew Kotatko to help us make the narrative move and the comedy sing. Her music editing is ingenious and creative but she is also hard-working and endlessly patient, ready to listen to dissenting voices and happy to revisit and revisit and revisit moments in the score to get it just right. An outstandingly gifted music editor, Emily was a cornerstone of our editing team. I could not recommend her more highly."

Mark Lamprell
Director, A Few Less Men

"I had an absolute ball working with Emily on Red Dog. Her meticulous work and choices continually delighted and excited me and added such a great dimension to the movie."

Kriv Stenders
Director, Red Dog

Conductor's Visual Sync Cues

Keeping an orchestra in sync with a movie the way the composer intended can be a big challenge for a conductor. I can provide click tracks as well as streamers, punches and bar counters superimposed on the conductor's video feed. These traditional tools work well for cues that have a steady tempo, but that's rarely the case in film. That's why I have invented what I am calling the “scrolling click track”. The click track, displayed as an audio waveform, scrolls across the screen, so you can see the next beat coming, and know exactly where it falls. The video below is one I prepared for Nigel Westlake when he conducted the score to the movie Babe in sync with the picture for a live audience.

What can a music editor do for a composer?

Music editors assist composers by creating demos of their work to picture, and programming clicks and streamers for orchestral recording sessions. This can be a satisfyingly collaborative process. A music editor can create new cues out of pre-existing ones when the budget doesn’t stretch to a full score or an extra scene is added after the score was recorded. I can also experiment with applying the themes in the composer’s demos to the other scenes in a film, working with the director, thus smoothing the way forward and saving the composer time and money. I also conform score cues to any picture changes so that they still fit the picture the way the composer intended. Plus spotting notes, cue sheets and deliveries.

Dance Routine Music

(also for figure skating, gymnastics, calisthenics, synchronised swimming, horse dancing and more!)

So you’ve chosen a piece of music that you want to use for your routine, but it’s the wrong length, or you want to skip or repeat some parts of it. Perhaps you or someone you know has tried to alter it for you, but you ended up with a big clunk in the middle or an awkward cutoff at the end. I can help you create a seamless version of your chosen piece, with a proper beginning and ending, that is exactly the right length. I can also give you alternate edits to rehearse with so you can rehearse sections of your routine without having to go back to the start of the music every time. And I will boost the soft bits so that the whole piece plays at an appropriate level for the venue where you will be performing.

How does it work?

Send me an email to get the ball rolling. I’ll need to know which piece of music you have chosen and how long you need it to be. If you know which parts of the piece of music you want to use (for example, the first verse and chorus but not the second one) let me know. If you have a more general idea (for example, you want to start slow and build to a big finish) that's helpful too. But if you’re not sure, that’s okay, I can create a version for you. I'll deliver your edited song by email as an mp3 unless you request some other format. When you receive it you can tell me if it’s what you had in mind or if it requires further tweaking. I won’t charge you until you are satisfied with the result. Once you are satisfied with the edit you can let me know if you'd like to have it broken down into sections for rehearsal purposes.

How long will it take?

I will normally be able to deliver your edited music within a few days, if not sooner. I will let you know when you first contact me how quickly I can deliver it.

How much will it cost?

I charge $65 per song, including extra rehearsal edits. If you choose to receive your music on CD, I will charge an extra $25 for materials, extra time involved and postage.

Further Services

  • Music Consultation
  • Temp Scores
  • Score Conforms
  • New Cues
  • Song and source music editing
  • Lip Sync
  • Dance Sync
  • ADR Singing Coaching
  • Custom Rehearsal Materials
  • Composer Assistance
  • Spotting Notes
  • Cue Sheets
Want to know more?

About Me

I’ve been a music editor for 18 years, with credits on major films such as The Dressmaker, Paper Planes and Mao’s Last Dancer. I work closely with artists, composers, directors, producers and choreographers to create seamless music edits for film, television, CD release, and live events. I hold a bachelor’s degree in opera singing and a master’s degree in recording engineering.

Get in touch!

The whole story: What a music editor actually does

Music Consultation

If brought on board early enough, a music editor can flag potential music issues in the script that could become time consuming and expensive problems if left unresolved until post, especially when it comes to on-screen musical performances. Spending some time with a music editor can really help a director to articulate what they want from the music (something a lot of directors struggle with.)

Temp Scores

A music editor works closely with directors and editors to create unified temp scores, drawing on a huge library of film scores.

Once I’ve been through a spotting session, I usually have some idea of which film scores in my collection might work for the temp. I also pull out scores in my collection that are from the same genre of film, and any that the director has suggested. I listen through them and make notes about which pieces might work for which scenes. I make a CD of these and send it to the cutting room so they can tell me if I’m on the right track, and also because they might have some ideas about specific pieces for specific scenes that were different from my ideas.

Then I usually prepare at least three different pieces per scene to present to the director and editor (fitted to picture). If none are found to be suitable, then at least they have a sense of liking one of them more than the others! It’s a useful starting point for discussion, at the very least. But usually at least one of my selections fits the bill. If not, I’ll keep looking.

Going through the temp process can really help the director to articulate what he wants. Directors are very visual people and often they are not very good at talking about music. I once asked a director what she thought of using a particular song in a particular scene, and her response was “I have no idea. I’d have to see it.” She couldn’t imagine it in the abstract.

Directors are often better at articulating what they don’t want than what they do. Their for rejecting the pieces that don’t get chosen can give the composer some useful insights, sometimes even more than their reasons for choosing the piece they eventually choose. For this reason it’s good if the composer can be present at the presentation of the temp, although in reality this meeting often happens before a composer has been hired, in which case I try to keep notes from that meeting for the eventual composer. Often a director hates a particular instrument; they can’t stand flute or they have it in for acoustic guitars, for example. If this comes to light during the temp process it will save the composer a great deal of grief.

I’ve heard a lot of different perspectives on temps from composers. I know a few composers who have it written into their contract that there will be no temp score. Others find it a useful tool for understanding what the director wants when time is short, as it nearly always is. Others say that they don’t mind listening to the temp as long as they get to see the film without any music first, because you only get one chance to spark that germ of an original idea. The most common complaint about the temp is that the director falls in love it with it and nothing else pleases him after that; this is human nature unfortunately and directors must exercise discipline when it comes to this.

Score Conforms

If the picture changes after the score has been recorded, a music editor edits the recording so that it still fits the picture the way the composer intended it to, without any unmusical lurches.

New Cues

A music editor can create new cues out of pre-existing ones when the budget doesn’t stretch to a full score or an extra scene is added after the score was recorded.

Editing existing cues to fit other scenes is a great way to stretch a music budget, especially if the filmmakers want a big orchestral score but don’t have the budget for the required number of recording sessions.

For example, supposing you need 55 minutes of orchestral music for a film; you might be able to record 40 minutes in two sessions. For the remaining 15 minutes of music, you could have either another session, or you could hire a music editor, and it would be a lot cheaper to hire a music editor. This saves not only the session fees, but the orchestration and copying fees and the composer’s precious time. The composer also gains extra time to work on the set of cues that they choose.

Some composers actually prefer to work this way even if there is a full budget. One composer I’ve worked with says it gives him the freedom to really go to town on the set of cues that he chooses, knowing the music editor will come up with the remaining cues.

If the music editor is on board early enough, they can use the composers demos to demonstrate how they will create the extra cues before the recording sessions, so the composer can feel assured that the extra cues are covered to his satisfaction.

And the music editor is then able to make suggestions such as “we can re-use this cue if we just record a two bar ending for it to be edited onto bar 53.” If we mix using stems, then the cues the music editor creates need not be repetitions of previous music; for example, they can be string only versions of material that used a full band in it’s previous usage.

It’s much the same process as creating a temp score, only you are using original material that is written specifically for this film and fits perfectly, thematically, with the rest of the material. The composer would have reused thematic material anyway. It’s still the composer’s music; you just didn’t have to spend the money on it.

Knowing in advance that you are going to work that way can alter the way a composer works. On one film I worked on, the composer scored about 30 minutes of music and then wrote a 5 minute piece made up of 10-bar chunks appropriate sounds and atmospheres for the music editor to use as needed over the rest.

Song and Source music editing

A music editor will edit songs to fit scenes and montages such that they start and end properly in the right place (without any daggy fades), with lyrics that fall in appropriate places and don't interfere with dialog.

Often a cutting room receives more song suggestions than they have time to trawl through. They need a music editor to weed out the duds and present ones that could work, fitted to picture. The cutting room is a very expensive place to do this; it has much higher overhead than a music editor, and picture editing tools are usually pretty clunky when it comes to music editing, regardless of whether or not the picture editor has music editing skills. It’s much better value to have a music editor on board for this than to waste the cutting room’s time.

It’s not usually the role of the music editor to choose songs to use, although I’m happy to contribute ideas if asked. Intimate familiarity with several decades of pop music is a bit of a specialty in itself, though, and is usually the domain of the music supervisor. It’s also up to them to and have their ear to the ground regarding the next big thing. At the point in the process where you are choosing songs for the film, the film’s release date is usually many months off, and if you use something that is popular now, it will be old news by the time the film comes out, or worse, it will have been played to death. Knowing what will be new and popular in six months time involves having a relationship with the music labels, which is also the domain of the music supervisor.

Lip Sync

Making lip sync convincing is part of the music editor’s job. We have a few tricks up our sleeves. The easiest way is to compare the waveforms of the sync sound and the re-recorded sound. Making sure the sync sound gets recorded is really important; sometimes they don’t bother if they know it’s going to be replaced.

Dance Sync

Music editors edit music to fit dance shots so that the dancers are dancing right on the beat. Sometimes this involves some collaboration with the picture editor; under some circumstances, adding or removing a few frames of picture is a more satisfactory solution than scrunching or stretching the music. A music editor can advise when, where and how much.

ADR Singing Coaching

A lot of actors are uncomfortable with this process and need someone to help them through it. A music editor will keep an eye on lipsync during the recording, as it’s much easier to get it right the first time than fix it after the fact, and also help to bring out their best musical performance.

Custom Rehearsal Materials

Rehearsal materials are required for a variety of circumstances, such as dance scenes, musical miming and re-recording situations.

In the case of dance sequences, the dancers will need mp3 files (or a CD) of the music they are going to dance to so they can rehearse to it, and this will usually need to have a count in of some sort, to give them warning of when the start comes, which I would do with click. I’ll make a file of the music with clicks in or clicks throughout if it’s requested, to emphasize the beat. I’d put clicks on right and music on the left so that they can adjust the balance to their own comfort level. The files would include shorter sections of the music as well as the whole track, so that they can rehearse in sections without having to scroll through the whole track. I would normally coordinate with the choreographer, who can tell me what the separate sections are that they’ll want to rehearse.

Composer Assistance

Music editors assist composers by creating demos of their work to picture, and programming clicks and streamers for orchestral recording sessions. This can be a satisfyingly collaborative process.

Part of the music editor’s role is to help composers who aren’t so technical. I’ve worked with a few who composed at the piano with a pencil and manuscript paper. They need help syncing their music to the picture, and demonstrating their cues to the directorial team.

Others are still using the gear they started out with in the 70s, which works for them but doesn’t do things like click tracks, so they’d send me an audio file to click out.

Others are very competent with modern composition software but don’t use protools, so I would take my rig over to their studio and help them transfer their synth tracks into protools for the music mix session.

Others don’t have a way of demonstrating their music to picture unless you went to their studio, so I help them make quicktimes or dvds or whatever is required.

Others are totally competent doing all of this but prefer to have someone else take care of it for them so that they are free to focus on the music.

It used to fall to the music editor to digitise picture for the composer if required, but usually cutting rooms can produce quicktimes these days.

Spotting Notes

This is the document that keeps track of where the music should go and what the director wants.

A music editor’s involvement in post production usually starts with a spotting session, where the director and the editor would take them (and the composer, it they are on board at that stage) through the film and explain where they want the music and what it should express, and any particular moments they want emphasized. I take notes at the spotting session and create a document that keeps track of the music for the rest of the process, so that everyone is on the same page. Writing spotting notes is desperately boring, frankly, but they are important; spotting sessions can go on for hours and it’s important to have a record of what was said. If the composer is present they’ll take their own notes, of course, but the composer is usually thinking about themes and feel and it’s good to have someone there to pin down the nuts and bolts, such as start and end timecodes, any important hit points, the directors notes about the feel of the music, if there was a temp, what the temp was, what he liked or didn’t like about it.

Timecodes will change as the cut progresses, and it’s the music editor’s job to keep the notes up to date. This used to be done with some sort of spreadsheet, but the problem with that was that they were out of date the minute they were distributed and you got people working from different versions etc. There’s an excellent online tool for getting around this now: It really facilitates international communication. It’s the brainchild of brilliant music editor and web developer James Bellamy… but I helped!

Cue Sheets

The legal document required at the delivery stage, documenting what music was used with publishing info etc. The music editor is usually the only one on the team who knows exactly what was used at the final mix, which is the essential info.