Liza Richardson is an award winning music supervisor and long time KCRW (89.9 FM) Radio DJ. She's worked on numerous TV shows, movies and ad campaigns including Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, Narcos, Hawaii Five-O, and The Leftovers. She's a passionate music lover and friend to animals, big and small. If music supervisors are the new rockstars, then Liza and her team, Mad Doll Music is Led Zeppelin at the height of their glory. I had the pleasure to ask her some questions about music and life...
Your career path has been quite extraordinary. How did you get into music supervision?
A lot of people along my journey gave me big breaks. Mark Pellington, for whom I provided instrumentals for the poetry in his documentary United States of Poetry in 1994, was the first to suggest this might be a path I should follow. Y Tu Mama Tambien changed things a lot. Working with Eric Grunbaum and the Apple advertising team in 2001 on the campaign to launch the iPod opened doors. Lia Vollack at Sony Pictures was the first to give me a studio film to supervise, Lords of Dogtown. And Pete Berg championed me to work on my first TV series, Friday Night Lights. I’m indebted to these guys and gals!
You've been a DJ on KCRW in Los Angeles for many years and continue to do a weekly show, right?
Yes, I do a weekly radio show on Saturday nights, 25 years and counting. KCRW is my home base. The DJs are my family.
Can you tell us about some of your favorite syncs that you’ve done in the past year?
Narcos season two, which I co-supervise with Marc Mondello, has many. Serenata De Amor by Jaime R. Echavarria, when Pablo is killed, is splendid, as is Cuando Voy Por La Calle by Trio America at the end of episode 208. Cali Pachanguero by Grupo Niche is an absolute dance classic and just thrilling in the Cali wedding scene. Latin music is a passion of mine and I love all the music in Narcos. I feel so lucky to be a part of it. Coming soon and not aired yet, the opening of Leftovers S3 is pretty interesting (HBO in 2017). Falling Leaves by Clare Maguire in the next season of Hand of God (Amazon soon) is so beautiful. Andrew Bird performing live in The Path (coming soon too, Hulu). Tons of faves!
Can you pin point a few of your favorite syncs on Hawaii Five-O?
In season five, we used Heart of A Drum by Beck and Smooth Sailing by Leon Bridges before it was released. Both were good placements and well timed. We also did an all Jimi Hendrix episode in Season 3 and when their last album came out, an all Coldplay episode. I love all the Hawaiian artists we are able to use, ie. Kepa Kruse, Makua Rothman and The Green!
How is it working with different composers? For example, Blake Neely on Blindspot and Brian Tyler and Keith Power on Hawaii Five-O?
I never see Blake because we do remote spotting sessions for Blindspot, but he’s amazing. I see Keith Power all the time, about twice a week for Hawaii Five-O and Macgyver. He’s the chillest dude, so talented and low key, love that guy. Brian is amazing. Watching him conduct the Hawaii Five-O theme song recording session was a career highlight for me, had to catch my breath. I’m surrounded by phenomenal composers. Working with them? I just observe and try to understand how they do what they do. I may chime in with a yay or a nay but I don’t give notes unless I’m asked to.
The New Macgyver show (Ep. 1) featured a different version of Taking Care of Business with Korean lyrics? How did you come up with that song?
We were looking for a song with Korean vocals that we could clear quickly and painlessly to be covered by CBS custom music producer Tom Polce. Sort of a K-Pop classic rock song. We tried to find something existing and licensable and in Korean but failed to, so I spoke with some of my favorite publishers and gathered a handful of cover ideas and my showrunner Peter Lenkov dug this one. Tom Polce found a legit K-Pop star to sing and she rocked it!
You're working on so many TV shows and projects all the time! How do you get it all done? Do you have a secret clone? :)
We have a great team! With film and TV music supervision, I have SO much support. Frank Palazzolo and Marc Mondello are my music supervisors and Joey Singer is our clearance person. I love our team. We operate as a unit. So yes, we are all kind of clones of each other, in a way.
How many emails/submissions do you get a day/week? What kind of system do you use to organize all your music you might use for different shows?
We get too many emails and pitches to keep up with so sometimes, we just give up. But Marc really enjoys collecting everything and he labels all our pitches with sender info and makes sure the files are labeled correctly and such. He takes the time to parse through the different delivery systems, passwords, rules, software, I don’t know how he has the patience. I get so frustrated with everyone’s proprietary system, why can’t it all be standard? For file sharing, I like Box best. Qwire is an amazing program that integrates the clearance process with editors and music editors.
What is a band that you haven’t synced that you really would like to?
Some of these we’ve pitched like crazy but haven't landed anything yet. But we hope to! Plague Vendor, Fairport Convention, Dude York, Cuesta Loeb, Cherry Glazerr, Jacuzzi Boys, Lumineers 2016 album, Smog, George Benson, Chico Hamilton, War, King Tutt Band, Linda Perhacs, The Bots, Wolf Alice. OMG SO many more, these are just a few.
If you could work with any composer, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Henry Mancini, such a mood man, melody, humor, lush, gorgeous. I thought the Ex Machina score (Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury) was different, very special. I love all the composers I work with now!
Do you have a philosophy with work and life that helps you to keep smiling?
I try to choose jobs based on good people and good relationships. It doesn't always work out, but I try to choose things where it's a positive environment and everybody respects each other and gives each other space to do their job. I try to stay positive. I know I don't all the time. I get really frustrated sometimes.
What is the difference between working in film and TV? Do you have a preference?
I love both mediums. I like the pace of network TV because you finish something, and it airs - boom. Mid-season and cable shows are like doing a ten hour movie, for better or for worse. Films are less ephemeral than TV. We like art, we like mainstream but most of all, we like working with smart, cool people so it doesn’t really matter if it’s film or TV.
Workplace harmony is so important - as is eating good food! What's your favorite cuisine?
I'd say farm to table. Healthy, organic. I try to lean toward plants. I'm not a vegetarian, but I lean as close to that as possible. I love Italian food! My boyfriend worships burritos, but they're really not my thing. I like an occasional burrito...
Oh wow! One of my nicknames was "Burrito Man", but that's another story...I heard that you were very fond of animals, is that true?
I love, love, love animals. Right now I have the most beautiful three-legged kitty cat. I’ve always been a dog person but I travel to Idaho a lot so it would be complicated to have a dog with all the back and forth. But, I might get a little dog, though I prefer big dogs. My parents have a great horse that we are taking care of now. I’d love to add goats, a pony, more dogs and cats, ducks, a real farm, ha! Working on it. I’m going through a super hard time right now wanting a dog. I almost can’t quite handle it.
Interviewer | Paul Goldowitz
Research, Editing, Copy | Paul Goldowitz
Extending gratitude to Liza Richardson.