Jen Malone is a public relations dynamo turned ace music supervisor. Starting off as a junior publicist at Formula PR, Jen earned her stripes and eventually opened her own shop, Black and White PR, which managed communications for an impressive roster of indie labels and rock bands. Making the leap to move from Boston to Los Angeles, Jen pivoted to the role of music supervisor and has been setting the mood for MTV's zaniest reality shows ever since. Fresh off her rap curation success for the first season of FX's Atlanta, Jen opened up about her collaboration with Donald Glover and how yoga has been her saving grace since the start.
How did you break into the music industry?
My first gig in the music industry was with a small boutique firm called Formula PR. I started as a junior publicist, working for Nine Inch Nails, Portishead, Crystal Method, Marilyn Manson and Prodigy. I moved back to Boston for school and after having worked on all of those projects, classes were really boring.
So, I just started doing PR for local bands and I just created my company, Black & White. I represented The Hives, The Hellacopters, The Wildhearts, Hydra Head Records, and so many others. After 10 years, I ended up getting pretty burnt, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Then I saw Iron Man, and the music supervisor credit rolled by, and I was like, "Music supervisor. Okay, that's what I want to do." I moved out to Los Angeles, and I ended up meeting Dave Jordan, who is a music supervisor for all the Marvel films, and we just hit it off, and I told him I wanted to intern for him because I knew nothing about this end of the business. He believed in me and he gave me a chance, and so I interned with him two days a week and then he set me up with an internship with Julia Michels as well.
I was doing an internship three days a week, and then the other days were just researching and learning who everyone was, reading anything I could and meeting with a lot of supervisors that are now my colleagues. They were so kind and took meetings with me and explained their story. I applied to a posting for a music supervisor intern position at MTV. As you know, for Viacom and big companies, you have to get school credit, so I just went to LA Community College, filled out an ad slip. I never paid for the class or attended, but I had that piece of paper that said that I was enrolled. I interned for three days, and then I got a job as a coordinator on VH1 shows, and I have been so lucky to be working ever since.
Sounds like a whirlwind. No place for a lazy person!
Absolutely not. You have to want it, and you have to be willing to intern and hustle. I mean, it's my second career and people saw that I understood that this was a business, and I knew that the work had to be put in.
What is the biggest difference between working in reality TV versus scripted TV?
Well, for one thing, with reality TV, you don't have a script. You never know whether the story editors are going with one direction, focusing on one couple, or one cast member or the other, so that can always be tricky. It moves so fast, whereas in scripted, you can have maybe two editors, like on Atlanta. On Are You The One? for MTV, I have 12 editors at any given point. Additionally, with reality TV, I've never had a composer, and a lot of it is wall to wall music. In an hour show, you can have 110 music cues.
When you were serving an intern, you also had to make a living. Was that a challenge?
No. I was a yoga teacher for a very long time in Boston and ended up teaching out here as well. Plus I became a paid music coordinator about 4 months after I moved here, so I was lucky I didn’t have to struggle for too long.
Can you share a memorable story from your early days working at Formula PR?
At Formula, it was a very small office so it's not like my boss, Sioux Z, was in some corner office down the hall. She was right there, and so I learned everything about how to run a small, boutique PR company for huge, high profile, international artists.
Has your background in public relations helped with your music supervision work?
I learned managing a business and managing expectations. It all culminated on how to work in the music industry as a whole.
You are currently working as a music supervisor for FX's Atlanta. Have you always been a hip hop fan?
No. I knew nothing about the scene. I didn't know really any of the artists, but when I got the gig, I just ended up going down the rabbit hole. I just dove right in, and now, I know so much about the scene; I'm a fan, and I am up to date on everything. I'm in contact with a lot of people that are prominent in the scene, and am just in it.
What are the greatest lengths you've gone to in order to clear a song for use in a film or television show?
For Atlanta, we had a song by an artist named Doe B, and he was murdered two years ago, and so I had to deal with his estate, which was very difficult. I don't think that they had a ton of experience with licensing for film and television. So, we were really getting down to the wire, and I always try to do everything I can to clear a song. It just became personal to me because the family was involved in this, and we got it so I'm very proud of that one.
That's an incredibly cool legacy for the family too.
Yes, for sure. I know that more people know Doe B than before the show. I ended up telling Donald about the Doe B situation, he was said "Why didn't you just tell me? We could have replaced it." I told him I don’t want to be the person who can’t deliver, and he said, "Amazing, thank you."
That's awesome. You were talking a bit about Donald Glover. He's the creator and star of Atlanta as well as a successful musician under his name, Childish Gambino. To what degree are he and his team involved in the music selection process, and what's it like to collaborate with them?
It was really a team effort. Donald had a vision and the writers sometimes had specific songs in mind when they were writing the script. And we had two amazing editors, Isaac and Kyle, that have great taste and recommendations to suggest, and our music consultant, Fam would also be offering suggestions. It was a great collaboration and there was no ego. It was an amazing process to work that way, and I've never worked on any show, that was that music-intensive. We all just contributed, and at the end of the day, it was "What's best for the scene?", not "Whose idea was it?" We wanted it to be authentic and unexpected.
What is your experience like as the music supervisor on the FX show, Baskets? How does the work flow vary from Atlanta?
So fun! That's a very different show in that there aren't a lot of big songs featured in there and there's a dedicated composer. It is so much easier than Atlanta for sure.
In the entertainment industry relationships are the key to long term success, so over the course of your career, what have you learned about effective collaboration with many types of personalities?
Don't even think about having an ego. I think at the end of the day, with music supervision, it's not about our favorite bands, it's about our knowledge. We are servicing the show, and like you said, relationships are everything and it is important to treat people with respect, kindness and patience. I was lucky to also work for a TV season with Kevin Edelman and Andy Gowan from Metalman Media and in addition to the nuts and bolts of music supervision, their advice to me was to stay sane, stay grounded, and we'll figure it out.
How has your yoga teaching experience helped you navigate the entertainment industry?
Learning how to stay calm has been very helpful. And just breathe. I tell myself, "you're okay, you want this song that you're never gonna be able to afford? Okay, let's do what we can and figure out the best solutions." You have to stay grounded.
What are your primary methods for music discovery these days?
Reading a lot of blogs, Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, SoundCloud, friends, and then the licensing people that I rely so much on, who are always really great about helping me find artists I might not know about.
In a way, the job of a music supervisor is a never-ending detective case.
Yes. Detective work for sure. I think most music supervisors are either damage controllers, detectives, or problem solvers. The first thing that Dave Jordan often said, and it's the best piece of advice I ever got, was, "Learn how to do your own clearance," because whether you have a clearance person or not, you have to understand how it works. You can find the best song in the entire world, but if you can't afford it or if, for whatever reason, it doesn't clear, it doesn't matter that it's the best song. You can't use it.
What music would people be surprised to know that you listen to?
Well, I mean, hip hop. A month ago, people some friends were like, "You were at the Migos show? and you went to go see 21 Savage? What? Who are you?" But I'm a Jersey girl, so hair metal is in my blood.
Like Poison? Bon Jovi?
Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Def Leppard, the holy trinity of my youth. Also, goth/industrial. Anything from Wax Trax Records, KMFDM, My Life with Thrill Kill Kult, old Ministry, Sisters of Mercy, Peter Murphy, etc. From Migos to Ministry, haha.
While conducting pre-interview research, I learned that you speak Swedish. Is that correct?
I do. My husband is Swedish, and I lived there and took classes at the local university. My niece and nephew have not learned English just yet, so I get to practice a lot with them. My husband and I also speak Swedish when we are out, so no one knows what we are talking about.
Can you share a particular Swedish band that you enjoy listening to?
The Hellacopters are one of my favorite bands and always will be. Throughout my career, I was doing PR, I was lucky enough to work with some of my favorite bands, Nine Inch Nails, and the Hellacopters, and now I’m working on some shows that I absolutely love to watch too.
What is an important philosophy you live by?
Treat everyone with respect, be humble and hustle. I also try to pay it forward. Many of my colleagues were kind enough to meet with me when I first moved here, so I try to pay it forward. Lastly, I am always so grateful that I get to do exactly what I moved to LA to do.
Interviewer | Paul Goldowitz
Research | Paul Goldowitz, Ruby Gartenberg
Editing | Paul Goldowitz
Copy, Layout | Ruby Gartenberg
Extending gratitude to Jen Malone.