How do songs get chosen for TV shows? Music supervision, explained.

When Susan Jacobs took home the first-ever Outstanding Music Supervision Emmy Award at the Creative Arts Emmys on September 10 for her work on the HBO miniseries Big Little Lies, her win represented not only a triumph for the veteran TV music supervisor but a major milestone for an industry that has been instrumental in shaping some of television’s most memorable scenes.

Whether it was Sia’s “Breathe Me” on Six Feet Under, or “Zou Bisou Bisou” on Mad Men, or that infamous OC scene with Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek,” a well-placed song can amplify the emotional intensity and resonance of a moment, elevating it to fame. And while a flawless pairing of scene and soundtrack can feel perfectly serendipitous, these moments are almost always the result of someone poring through thousands of tracks and spending hours working with the show’s creative team to find exactly the right tune, to say nothing of securing permission to use it. That’s the job of the music supervisor, in a nutshell.

But while other aspects of TV production that are just as important to storytelling — including costume design, makeup, and music composition — have been recognized by the Emmys and other awards bodies for years, this essential component of television is only now starting to receive accolades on the same level.

This year marks the first time the Emmys have had an Outstanding Music Supervision category, and while there could only be one victor (in addition to Jacobs, the inaugural Emmy class for Outstanding Music Supervision included Kerri Drootin and Zach Cowie for Master of None; Thomas Golubić for Better Call Saul; Manish Raval, Jonathan Leahy, and Tom Wolfe for Girls; and Nora Felder for Stranger Things), the moment is being celebrated all across the tight-knit music supervision industry as a major step in finally receiving attention for the crucial role music supervisors play in crafting the mood of a TV show’s most pivotal moments. (Also notable:…

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