Lynn Fainchtein is the courageous and influential co-founder of Casete Agricultura Digital and music supervisor behind enthralling films and television shows including Roma, The Revenant, Birdman, Miss Bala, The Protector, Dark, Babel, 21 Grams, The Butler, Precious, On The Road, Amores Perros, The House of Flowers, Maria Full of Grace, Tidelands, Elite, and The Rain. A veteran of Mexican radio, an experienced film producer, an accomplished music producer, and a successful entrepreneur in the digital distribution sphere, Lynn’s prolific history in the entertainment industry prepared her to become an elite force in the field of music supervision. With a reputation for impeccable taste and relentless attention to detail, Lynn has enjoyed collaborations with prestigious directors including Alejandro González Iñárritu, Alfonso Cuáron, and Lee Daniels and fulfilled the musical needs for eleven international Netflix series in the last year alone. In our compelling discussion, Lynn speaks on her three-year journey to perfect the exquisite musical identity of Roma and the powerful feminist message at the core of Miss Bala.
During your formative years, what experiences led you to fall in love with music?
It was Mexican music, and Jewish music. When I was a kid, the first memory I have of music was of attending the synagogue with my father. As you know, in the synagogues — the religious ones and traditional ones — the women have to go to the other side of the synagogue, to the top of the synagogue, to the bottom of the synagogue, outside of the men.
Up until I was 13 years old, I was able to be on the men's side. That allowed me to have the cantor in front of me. I always remember when the guy sang the prayers — it was a very deep, low voice. I remember feeling something unique in the thorax. I got that same sensation when I was older — around ten years old, I believe. My parents owned a hotel in Puerto Vallarta, so we went there very often. My grandmother, who was very dear to me, used to love Mexican music. In the hotel, there was always a trio of Mexican music playing during dinner, breakfast, and lunch.
So, I grew up with all the boleros, from Mexico or from anywhere in Latin America, that were popular in the ‘70s, but they were created the '40s, '50s, and ‘60s. Those types of music were mainly successful in the '40s and '50s, and today, they are still very popular in Mexico. Trio Los Panchos and Trio Los Tres Ases are trios of guitarists and singers that used to and still play in restaurants, cantinas, and bars.
Can you elaborate on how you got your start in the business of radio in Mexico? What events led to your relocation to Miami to work for MTV?
I came back to live in Mexico, and I became an orphan, so I immediately had to find my way to make a living. I started to work in a bakery called Hadasa. That bakery allowed me to listen to the radio because, on Sundays, nobody was there, just the people who came to buy.
Starting back at the end of 1984, I listened to a radio station that was called Rock 101. It was the only radio station that played Elton John, Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin back to back. In Mexico, that was not a common thing, so I decided it was the place for me. The following Monday, I appeared at the radio station, and I asked for a job. I stayed there for nine years. The music was more alternative — a lot of brand new things that were coming out. We played The Cure and The Clash. Back then, we were promoters, so we brought artists to Mexico — Jethro Tull, Lou Reed. We did a lot of Latin American concerts. From there, I was hired to direct program for MTV Latin America.
In the middle of 1994, MTV was opening offices for Latin America, and the offices were in Miami. They were looking for somebody that knew how to schedule with the software called Selector. That software was used in radio stations, and MTV also used it for scheduling the videos. At the time, you didn’t schedule with computers. You scheduled with cards. In order to create the program of a radio station, each show was a paper card, and you just put it in. When you saw it, you put it behind, and that's how you created a plug of music. With Selector, there was a computer doing it for you. I was the only one in Latin America back then that knew Selector when they opened, so I was an easy target to move to Miami.
So, I did that, and I stayed at MTV for six years, and then a friend of mine was opening a film studio in Mexico with a big project to create content. They didn't do that in the end, but they invested three years. That is the guy that does promotion here for most of the concerts in the country called OCESA — the owner is Alejandro Soberón. He is the one that invited me to come back to Mexico in 1999/2000. He did seven films in those three years, but he didn’t see as much income as he saw from promoting shows with Ticketmaster, so he decided to close the studio. After that, I left and started my own business. Since 2002/2003, I’ve been doing music supervision.
What initiated your pursuit of film producing and music supervision?
It was two different things. Music supervision came with the offer of Alejandro inviting me to read scripts and become a part of the decision-making in terms of which scripts he was going to develop into films. My other job was to do the music supervision for all the movies that Alta Vista was going to produce, which was about ten films.
Once I did that, I started producing films — five or six films. The first one was a documentary about the current Mexican president called Andrés Manuel. I followed him for three years, from 2003 to 2006. Back then, he lost the election, so it was called 0.56%.
Then I also produced an animation film called El Santos vs. la Tetona Mendoza. It’s a cartoon for adults created by two very famous cartoonists called Fernando de Fuentes and Jose C. Garcia de Letona. And then, I produced another documentary for Mexico called Hecho en México, which is a musical and philosophical journey, on top of songs made with more than 150 musicians. We had talking heads chatting about essential things for humanity like religion, sacrifice, and pain.
In collaboration with Camilo Lara and Paco Arriagada, you launched Casete Agricultura Digital, a multi-faceted creative agency and record label with specialization in digital distribution, curation, and marketing. What have been your highlights since the launch of this enterprise?
In seven years, we have become the biggest independent digital distributor for music and film in Mexico. On the side of music supervision, we also distribute film and music digitally to all the platforms. We are an aggregator. So, I have a very nice company of twenty people who do that. We also release the albums of bands like Arctic Monkeys and Nick Cave. We distribute a lot of UK and U.S. bands. We do business with Cooking Vinyl, Mute, !K7, so we're a pretty active company.
I devote myself to music supervision, Paco oversees digital, and we have a label that releases albums physically. We have very good partners who help us.
Congratulations on the stellar success of Roma. This intimate, semi-autobiographical film follows the relationship dynamic between a housemaid and the matriarch of a middle-class family. It explores themes of social hierarchy, domestic friction, and political unrest. What intrigued you the most about this narrative?
We got ten [Oscar] nominations! We are really happy. This film is very similar to my personal story, to my family stories. I’m five or six years younger than Alfonso [Cuarón, director of Roma], so we share the same Mexico, the same TV, the same songs, the same story of the radio. We share the same memories of the streets, of the smells, of the stores, of announcements, of advertising, everything. Everything was familiar to me, and I worked without a script.
Can you tell us about your early conversations with the director, Alfonso Cuáron to determine such a potent and nostalgic musical identity for the film?
The way we choose the songs was for three sets — one was for the living room of the parents, one was for the room of the kids, and one was for the kitchen. There was no composer, so when he needed music for the kitchen, I provided that. We even produced a couple of songs for the New Year’s party in the hacienda where you see the trio down with servants, and when Yalitza [Aparicio, actress portraying Cleo in Roma] is singing in the beginning, I acted as a composer. We chose songs together, and Alfonso and myself would be exchanging songs back and forth all the time.
I really did a lot of research. I went to a lot of houses, institutions, and foundations that had recordings of songs, and recordings of advertising, and recordings of footage. The advertising you see and the films you see playing, all of that is archival footage that I found. I chose from a lot of TV shows, many films, lots of advertising on the radio and TV. I immersed myself in Roma for over three years.
I think back to the scenes where the marching band is playing down the street. Is that a real marching band performing?
Yes, these are real marching bands playing. They are kids that play in military ceremonies. It is something very common in the streets and the schools of Mexico. On Mondays, at the beginning of school at 8 am, you salute the flag, and then you sing the national anthem, and do all these military performances on the patio of the school.
Each song you selected for Roma feels like a natural extension of its environment, capturing the essence of Mexico City in the '70s. Which scenes in the film required the most thought and delicate treatment and which are your personal favorites?
All of them! Each song was not placed by accident. Everything is really crafted and carefully chosen by Alfonso. There's nothing in the film that was not selected by Alfonso. Some of the songs were easy for him to decide. Some took longer because it took longer on the editing. In the end, we had to choose between songs because some labels and some publishers were more helpful than others. Of course, at this point in life, you go with the people that are more friendly with you, but each song is a story, and by the end, everything came out really nice.
How many options did you provide for Alfonso for any given spot? Ten songs, maybe more?
Usually, yes. I started the film from day one, from the very beginning, so we built it together. We thought about those scenes together, so I cannot say that we left any songs out, or that I don’t like one of the songs. No…This grew in us, in Alfonso and myself, all this time. So, it’s really nice to see the support for the film — it’s great what Netflix is doing for it. It’s more than just a hit film; it’s a really good film.
Since 2000, you have engaged in a powerful creative partnership with Oscar-winning director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, sculpting the sonic moods of his gripping, emotionally impactful films including The Revenant, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 21 Grams, and Babel. How did you first meet Alejandro and come to work on Amores Perros?
As I mentioned before, Alejandro Soberón, the owner of Grupo CIE, invited me to work for Alta Vista Films. They were the first Mexican film studio, and one of the films they did in 2000 was Amores Perros, so I became a part of the team, and it was one of my first movies as a music supervisor.
What has been your most transformative collaborative experience to date?
Without a doubt, all the work done with Alejandro and Roma.
In the past year, you have supervised a plethora of vastly different scripted series for Netflix including The Protector, The House of Flowers, Tidelands, Elite, Dark, The Rain, and Luis Miguel: La Serie. As we’ve learned, most emerging shows cannot afford hit songs or recognizable copyrights for every spot. What are the most stimulating and demanding aspects of balancing the musical needs of many projects at once?
Besides Roma, I am so excited to be working with Netflix because they care about the music in their shows. It’s also given me the opportunity to work with all these countries. Right now, I am working with people in Jordan, people in Turkey, people in Columbia, people in Germany, people in Denmark, and people in Mexico. I enjoy meeting musicians from all over the world — it’s the best thing.
First, I have to have the right music. Once I have the music, the most challenging thing is to get it cleared quickly because there are so many parts to a song. Somebody can send you a song, but they don't control all the parts. Then suddenly, everybody is expecting more money, so the challenge of getting the song cleared and in time. In this case, I suggest the songs, they choose among the options that I send, and then I have to go back and clear them. My job is more on the creative side, in terms of choosing songs, but I also have to give notes quickly because you have to see each of the revisions and everything. That part can be time-consuming. For example, I’m working on a Danish production called The Rain, which is a very good show, by the way. We're doing the second season, besides suggesting songs and doing all the licensing, I give notes on the score. I’ve also started sending ideas for the second season of a German production called Dark because they need options for a couple of montages.
These are the times we are living in… Netflix is putting so many shows out, Amazon Studios is putting out so many shows, and everybody else is putting out more shows, so the deliveries are crazy. Just the other day, I was working on a Jordanian production with an incredible Lebanese musician called Etyen Samer. He was working overnight to deliver the score for an episode, and he asked me, "Does everybody work like this?" I said, "No, this is crazy! We should have at least two or three days to do an episode.” Deliveries are becoming incredibly fast. For me, it can be challenging, but I think it’s harder for composers to find their inspiration so quickly.
The American adaptation of the crime drama, Miss Bala just debuted this weekend. You also worked on the original film directed by Gerardo Naranjo in 2011. What can we expect from the musical landscape of this film and will it have an identifiable correlation to its predecessor?
Yes, it is based on a Mexican story. What I think is interesting is that we're starting to see women as superheroes. The sad story is that our superheroes are confronted, not with the end of the world, as in the Marvel movies like Black Panther, but with narcos. So, the story here is led by a very great artist called Gina Rodriguez and the anecdote is that it portrays women in a different way, where they can beat men, and they can go free without either being killed, raped, or cut in pieces, which is our reality on this side of the wall.
In light of the recent government shutdown over the Mexico border wall, America is in a very precarious state. If you could choose one song that could illustrate your feelings right now, what would it be and why?
What's unbelievable to me is that you haven't been able to take him down. The biggest, strongest country in the world can’t take that crazy guy out of that chair. I think “This is America” by Childish Gambino is the best song to describe what I think. That, to me, is a straight in-your-face answer.
Interviewer | Paul Goldowitz
Research, Editing, Copy, Layout | Ruby Gartenberg
Extending gratitude to Lynn Fainchtein, Thomas Golubić, and The Guild of Music Supervisors.