2018 Emmy Nominees for Outstanding Music Supervision
The 70th Annual Emmy Awards are just around the corner, honoring premier caliber talent and creative mastery in television. Last year, The Emmys unveiled the prestigious and long-awaited Outstanding Music Supervision category. A dedicated acknowledgment for the hardworking creatives who curate striking musical atmospheres and magnify storytelling for the small-screen. In celebration of the category's second year, we connected with a number of 2018 nominees, Nora Felder (Netflix's Stranger Things), Robin Urdang (Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Jen Malone (FX's Atlanta), and Jennifer Pyken (NBC's This is Us). In this special feature, we discover nuances of the art and practice of music supervision from true experts in the field, vying for the prize.
Tune in to the Creative Arts Emmy Awards, September 15th on FX 8 ET/5 PT and the Emmys Live on September 17th on NBC 8 ET/5 PT.
Stranger Things | "Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak" | Netflix
The episode, “Trick or Treat, Freak” was central to setting up plot points and storylines, as well as introducing key new characters and establishing their identities in the second season of Stranger Things.
Wango Tango by Ted Nugent and Shout At The Devil by Motley Crue
Both of these rock songs were instrumental in introducing our new favorite bad boy, Billy. These hard-edged high throttle driven songs effectively highlighted Billy’s dangerously aggressive personality, which viewers would soon come to know as a persistent trait of this recurring new character.
Islands in the Stream by Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton helps the viewer get to know Joyce’s new corny and sweet boyfriend, Bob. When Bob puts this idealistically hopeful song about romantic love on the turntable, he succeeds in getting our anxiety-ridden super mom, Joyce to actually loosen up and dance. The song helps to reflect his core being as someone who only has the best of intentions.
Monster Mash by Bobby "Boris” Pickett
This ever-classic Halloween treasure points to the underbelly of Will’s tormented secret, as he is torn from the present moment among pretend monsters on Halloween, and thrust into an alternate reality with a terrifying monster lying in wait. Meanwhile, the song echoes “I beheld an eerie sight”.
Girls On Film by Duran Duran is a deceptively sensitive synth-pop hit about a pretty woman being photographed, and harboring private regrets beneath the surface. Nancy’s difficult experience of being in the spotlight at a high school party, having to play the pretty and perfect girl while at the same time trying to conceal her dark truth and guilt-ridden feelings about the death of Barb lurking beneath the surface.
Ghostbusters by Ray Parker, Jr.
As this iconic supernatural anthem plays during the happy respite of Halloween, it subtly foreshadows that these close-knit friends’ identities will be crystallizing as hero’s fighting dangerous beings from another realm, not unlike their counterparts from the original movie, Ghostbusters.
With respect to the storyline of "Trick or Treat, Freak", these songs reflect the entwined interplay between the unspoken underside of our characters and the secret reality that lies beneath the town of Hawkins.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel | "Pilot" | Amazon
A Wonderful Day Like Today from The Roar of the Greasepaint
Pass Me By by Peggy Lee
L'Etang by Blossom Dearie
Simple Symphony: Playful Pizzicato by Benjamin Britten
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a huge, fun, challenging, and stunning show that I’m so lucky to be music supervisor on, but it’s also like doing a movie a week. When Amy and Dan [Sherman-Palladino and Palladino, creators and co-music supervisors of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel] asked me to work with them, of course, I was absolutely thrilled. I’ve worked with them on other shows and I think they are two of the most passionate, artistic, and detailed directors/creators/producers out there. What we see on the screen speaks for itself. Nothing goes unnoticed, all of the music is chosen with reason and it won’t stay in unless it’s perfect. They know what they want.
I read the script for the pilot and absolutely loved it. I laughed, I cried, I heard the music playing in my head. I was just so excited to be in the world of the 1950’s, with the music and costumes and it is set in New York, where I grew up. When I started listening for songs for the show, it brought back to memories of summer camp musicals we performed, and my parents dancing, and, still, I can’t help but sing the music aloud while searching for songs. It’s a good thing my coordinator has her own office because I do sing off key quite often.
On the strategic uses of iconic Barbra Streisand material
There were three songs scripted in the pilot, “Come to The Supermarket (in Old Peking)”, a Cole Porter song, performed by Barbra Streisand, was one of them. As a music supervisor, I would not pitch a Barbra song because she rarely, if ever, approves. When I saw this, I gulped, and thought, "Gosh, fingers crossed. Let’s get this done." I worked with Pace over at Sony Music for over a month trying to get Barbra’s approval and after weeks of hounding him, I said to him, "We cannot give up. What do we need to do to get Barbra’s approval? I cannot say “no” to Amy and Dan. This is too important. Can Amy write a letter for you to send to her?" He said, "Yes. Let's do that." So, Amy wrote a long letter about why this song was so important to her and Pace had it sent along to Barbra. Then we got the "Okay. Can we send the scene to her to approve?”, which we did as soon as we had it cut in.
A few weeks after we sent the link, our co-producer, Matt called me and said, “Someone opened the link in Malibu. Do you think it’s Barbra?" My reply was, "Yep, that would be Barbra." Sure enough, we got the approval within an hour. I mean, we were so close to mixing and had no replacement if she denied. I was stressing daily. Later on, there was an article written on why Barbra Streisand allowed The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to use her songs, both of her songs, “Come To The Supermarket” and “Happy Days Are Here Again”. It’s a pretty cool article. If you haven’t seen episode 104, which features Happy Days, you need to watch it. The scene is just brilliant and so emotional.
On the logistics behind the live musical performances on the show
This was actually my first casting job! We often have musicians playing downtown at The Gaslight, where Midge gets her start. It began with the pilot and because Amy and Dan record music live on set, I had to find musicians who were comfortable with each other and felt like they were a band, and would also agree to shave their facial hair and cut their hair to pass for the 50’s. Most of the musicians I hired were from the “Broadway” scene in NY. They would create a few demo versions of the songs we wanted to use with different arrangements. Dan and Amy would approve an arrangement prior to shooting on set. Brian Usifer, a pianist I know from a previous project, plays the classical music that Abe plays on his piano. As the season went on, we continued having different musicians perform at The Gaslight. We had a Latin band perform at the Copa Cabana, and we also recorded big band and orchestral versions of songs, due to wanting tempo changes or a fuller sound than the original. Season one's music is awesome, but wait until season two, the music is insane!
On the choice of 'Girls Talk' by Dave Edmunds for the end credits
That was Amy and Dan! Throughout the show, you may notice that there is a differentiation between the music we hear uptown NY and the music we hear downtown NY. It’s mostly from Midge’s point of view. The end credit song is most often more contemporary. Not too current though. Between Dan and Amy’s iPods, they come up with obscure songs by well-known artists and it’s always a nice surprise for the audience.
On the moment she received news of her Emmy nomination
I was in New York on set that day because we had a ton of music to record and shoot. So, when the Emmy’s were announced, I was sitting off set with Matt Shapiro. We were watching the nominations on our computers as they were being announced. They were announcing Best Comedy and I didn't realize they were going in alphabetical order. We were waiting and waiting, which seemed like an eternity before we heard them say, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. I got teary-eyed and Matt, unbeknownst to me, was looking on his computer for the rest of the awards. He said, "Robin, we're nominated for 14 Emmys.", but we didn’t see music on the page. I said, "Oh well. No music." First he said, "nope", then he then scrolled up to the next page and said, "You're nominated". I truly didn't believe it. We ran on to set and they announced to the cast and crew. What a great day to have been there. AN EMMY NOMINATION...Just wow.
Atlanta | "Alligator Man" | FX Networks
The best part about music supervising Atlanta is that there are no rules. Even though it is a show about a rapper, it is not wall to wall hip hop. So much is about atmosphere, vibe, tone and using what feels right as opposed to having to stay in a specific time period or place. We maintain authenticity for songs that our characters listen to or what is playing in the club or on the radio, but then we are able to score scenes with more unexpected choices. Musically, it’s all over the place. We have everything from Harry Belafonte to Alice Coltrane and Ahmad Jamal to Nas and Lauryn Hill. Thundercat and Flying Lotus scored an episode [Episode 205, Barbershop] but otherwise, we do not have a composer or a music editor, so every piece of music you hear is licensed.
You can have the most perfect song to fit the scene, but if you can’t clear it, you can’t use it. Our job, as music supervisors, is not only to fulfill the creative musical vision of the show but to handle all clearance and licensing, so we can actually feature the song in the episode. Hip-hop is notorious for difficult clearances. We have been through it all, whether it is an artist that has been murdered, or a rapper who is currently in jail, or an obscure sample that wasn’t cleared properly in the first place. You need to get the rights or you cannot have it in the show. We become detectives and dig and dig until we find that person who can clear their 1.5% portion of the song. Social media can be helpful, but sometimes, you have look at pages 4, 5 or 6 of Google Search. Obituaries have actually proven to be helpful when looking for heirs and estates.
Right Through You by Yung Bans
We were very excited to get Yung Bans in the episode because he is a young and upcoming rapper from Atlanta. We always love to feature the younger artists that are working, touring, putting out mixtapes, and hustling.
The Race by Tay-K
We all really liked Tay-K’s The Race. You see the kids in that scene and you have to go through the process of, "What you think they would be listening to at that moment? What’s the energy? What do you want to hear right before you go and rob somebody, before you essentially put your life on the line? There are people that play basketball and they have their hype music before a game. It’s the same thing. I think Tay-K just has that energy.
Ironically, besides having that song in Billboard’s Top 50, Tay-K is in jail for murder and probably never getting out. Thankfully, his managers were very helpful and went to the prison to have him sign off on the paperwork, so it ended up being one of the easier clearances given the situation.
Did It Again by Jay Critch & Rich The Kid was a great record to have over the drone shots of Atlanta. It's a nod back to the first season’s song over the title card.
The Game Belongs To Me by UGK
We have a running playlist of records and artists Alfred would be listening to and The Game Belongs To Me is an old school record from 2007, playing at his house. Al doesn’t necessarily listen to the newest, hottest records that are playing on mainstream radio. He knows his shit and has good taste.
Hot Head by Death Grips
Darius’ taste is all over the place and this is just a frenetic, chaotic, electro punk song that's played LOUD. The song comes in just before Darius explains “Florida Man” to Earn and sets it up perfectly.
I'll Be Good by René & Angela
No Limit by Breakwater
Burning Up by Donnell Pitman
Love Ballad by L.T.D.
They were all songs playing as source in Willy’s house, who is known as the Alligator Man. He's played by Katt Williams. One of our favorite searches for sure. Late 70’s, very early 80’s R&B, disco, funk, soul – perfect “Willy” music. Deep cut gems rarely in TV shows. We were lucky to have room for 4 of them.
Hey! Love by The Delfonics
The scene at Willy’s house culminates with his full-grown alligator, named Coach, walking out of the house in slow-mo while Delfonic’s iconic song, 'Hey Love' plays. Donald wrote the episode and scripted in this song, so it was the perfect, unexpected choice to score this surreal punchline of the episode.
When Seasons Change by Curtis Mayfield
The final song of the episode is always a tricky one to find. It’s usually a toss-up, tonally, in terms of what direction the writers, director, and editors want to go with the music. This song felt a bit on the nose, but in the right way. Sonically, we liked the landscape regardless of the lyrics being so tied into the narrative of the season. The album cover is also one of Fam’s all-time favorites.
This is Us | "That'll Be The Day" | NBC
I chose this episode which is known as the “Crockpot” episode. This episode showcased several aspects of my work on This Is Us.
First off, I had “Where I Belong” written for the episode and I turned it around over a weekend. It was for a Visual Vocal by our actress, Hannah Zeile who plays teen Kate. The song is integral in the story as teen Kate’s character writes and sings on camera an original song for her college application. The song was penned by Nashville based songwriter Elise Davis and our very own composer Sid Khosla. The fuller produced version appears on our Season 2 Soundtrack.
Also, in this episode I was able to showcase indie singer songwriter Langhorne Slim’s “The Way We Move”. It’s in a fun bro montage of Kevin and Randall. I had recently been to a showcase where Sean (Langhorne) reminisced about his life. What a great story teller...His music and style is a perfect fit to the verité of This Is Us.
Also, I cleared the the opening visual vocal of “That’ll Be The Day”.
Lastly, we had an over 4 minute usage of “To Build A Home” by Cinematic Orchestra which set the tone and mood for our pivotal ending.