Joel C. High
Joel C. High is a man of many talents. Music supervisor for all of Tyler Perry's films, music executive behind Saw and Girl with a Pearl Earring, the catalyst behind boutique soundtrack label, Lions Gate Records, treasurer and co-founder of the Guild of Music Supervisors, and last but not least, taco making family man. As if that wasn't enough, he is the principal executive of his own company, Creative Control Entertainment, a multi-faceted music supervision, consultation, live event and production company. I was lucky enough to sit down with him to discuss his latest projects, Grow House and the G Funk documentary.
So Joel, you’ve handled the music supervision for all of Tyler Perry’s films, how did you first meet him, and what has sustained your working relationship all these years?
That’s a good question! I first met Tyler when I was the Head of Music at Lionsgate. When I did his first film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, I only knew about him cursorily. We were introduced to each other, and I instantly had ideas about how I’d like to the film’s music. He was saying “No, I want to do it this way” and I said “Ok, you’re the director, lets see what happens and we’ll do it your way”. He was 100% correct, and he has been that way ever since. He is the single most decisive person I’ve ever worked with. He hires people who understand his vision. He is really an auteur in that way. I try and anticipate what I think he might need because he is so incredibly busy. He doesn’t go back, he doesn’t equivocate, he doesn’t worry about it too much. The decisiveness makes him as productive as he is.
What events lead your collaboration with Rob Zombie on The Devil’s Reject?
I was the Head of Music at Lionsgate at the time, and I had come off of House of 1000 Corpses, that Rob did and we had released. I worked with him on putting it together and doing the album, and he had a vision for all the music and was incredibly creative. The first time I met him was over the speaker phone because we were on this big post-production call with all the executives, and somebody was talking about post-production, saying, “This is what we need for the schedule, here’s what I want to do for color timing”, and I thought, ‘Who is that”? It was Rob! He knows what he is doing!
Given that you’re the Chief Executive of your company, Executive of Creative Control Entertainment, what qualities do you value in team members?
I have two real rules, one is always wear ear-plugs because these are our instruments, and the other one is always show up. I really value someone who says exactly what they are going to do and they deliver in surprising ways. I look for people who are smarter than me, who are more talented than me in a lot of ways, because as a music supervisor I don’t make music, I’m just really good at hiring great musicians. When I work with a composer, I look for somebody who is going to stun the director. A composer who can take raw emotion and can turn it into musical notes and vice versa is like magic.
Can you tell us about some of the projects you're currently working on?
I have a few things in the works with Mr. Perry that he’s got brewing. He’s got three television series, and he’s got a few movie projects he’s working on. I have a movie that we just finished called Grow House. It is written and directed by DJ Pooh along with Snoop Dogg and Lil Duval. It’s really funny… as you can imagine. Pooh’s last movie was The Wash with Dr. Dre and Snoop that I also music supervised, and it won the ‘Stoniest Soundtrack of the Year’ award from High Times Magazine. I have the trophy in my office, it’s a hand-blown blue glass bong and so I’ve got high hopes for this one too. My parents will be so proud!
Didn't you do the music supervision for the G-Funk documentary?
Yes! That one premiered at South by Southwest and we actually had Warren G come out and do a bunch of concerts. It is a great movie, and it shows the true story about West Coast hip-hop and the development of that kind of G-Funk sound. It shows that Russell Simmons got him because Suge Knight signed everybody except Warren G and Warren was like, “Oh man! These are like my best friends and my brother and everybody’s getting signed and I’m having to sit there”. He got a tape out to Russell Simmons and he said, “That guy is amazing”, and signed him and that record basically saved Def Jam.
You have an impressive body of work that showcases a lot of range, how do you cultivate and maintain such an expansive knowledge of music?
That’s easy, I just listen to everything, I love meeting with musicians. You know I grew up around musicians, I knew I was never going to be one because I was always in awe of how talented they were and I was like, I could never do that. I cultivate relationships with my directors and I respect what they’re doing as their vision and that I’m just there to help with the storytelling and that’s what feels good to me.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
A Tribe Called Red is absolutely one of my favorite bands right now, and they keep just making groundbreaking stuff. I also like Valerie June, I saw her out at SXSW and she’s amazing. The band called, The Skins, from Brooklyn are fantastic and they’re getting a lot of action. You know, I love up and coming bands, I’m one of those old punk rock kids who loved them when they were cool before everybody else liked them. I love working with bands who are just figuring out who they are and who are really making music for themselves.
What about a band like Jane’s Addiction?
Yeah! I saw every show they did. They did this one week stand at the Anson Ford Theatre way back in the day, I went to four of those nights. I’m from Los Angeles so I went to see every show like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, Doggystyle, and Fishbone, Mary’s Danish, Thelonious Monster - all these local LA bands when I was growing up.
How did you get started in music supervision?
I wanted to get into film initially, so I studied film theory. When I was in high school, I started an internship at Atlantic Records in their music video department. When I was in college, I would come up from San Diego on the weekends and shoot music videos doing every kind of crew position because I was learning about filmmaking, and I kept getting steered over to music because that was my passion. I never thought of it as a way to make a living, but when I was at Trimark Pictures working for the head of production, she said, “I don’t know if there is enough room to grow in productions, everyone wants to get in there - but we do have a music department”. I insisted, “But I want to get into filmmaking!”. She responded, “Trust me, there’s music”. So, I started working in the music department and within a year I was the head of the department at 28. At that time, not a lot of people were really in music supervision. I didn’t know what a music supervisor was either, but I was working at every department to learn how they all interacted at a company, so I learned by doing that. Again, it’s about showing up. I was there working until 10:00pm because I wanted to really understand the business.
What is the most challenging project you’ve worked on to-date and what did you learn from that experience?
I have a movie that I did called Heartbeats with a director named Duane Adler. He wrote Step Up and Save The Last Dance so he’s the go-to guy for dance. Heartbeats had a very small budget and they shot it in India. It’s about a hip-hop dancer who goes out to India for a wedding and gets into this underground kind of Indian dance scene, and so it had so many dance numbers in it. Almost every song in that is a brand new song that we’ve produced, so it was definitely a labor of love. It was an intense, experience but it’s amazing with Indian hip-hop hybrid and fantastic dancers. Gingger Shankar is our composer on it and she wrote seven songs for it as well. Gingger is a fantastic musician, she plays a double-neck violin, that is her main instrument.
What are your duties as Treasurer and Co-Founder of the Guild of Music Supervisors?
On the board, we’re promoting awareness of what we do as a craft to make sure that people know that when they hire a music supervisor who is a GMS member, that they reach a certain criteria of aptitude for all the things music supervision. For instance, they’re the head of the departments, they have to know how to budget, book studios, hire a composer, work creatively with them, not just pick out songs and licensing. Our members have to be able to do that level of work. We just got our first membership to the Television Academy and we are eligible for our own EMMY award now as a music supervisor. As treasurer, I just keep the wheels on the track you know, and I also produce the awards event every year for the guild.
How do you spend your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
Ha ha no! My job is my hobby. I feel super lucky to have a job that is creatively fun and interesting. Well, Cooking? I love cooking and gardening.
What’s your signature dish?
It’s hard to say because I cook for my kids and they don’t like my creative stuff… so, tacos!
Interviewer | Paul Goldowitz
Research, Editing, Copy | Paul Goldowitz
Extending gratitude to Joel C. High.