Nora Felder is a reigning goddess in the field of music supervision with sharp instincts and impeccable taste. Owner and president of Picture Music Company. Former VP of production for famed music producer, Phil Ramone. Recipient of multiple Hollywood Music in Media Awards and a Guild of Music Supervisor award. Trusted with the musical curation of a remarkable range of insanely popular and culturally influential projects, such as Californication, Ray Donovan, Roadies, and of course, Stranger Things, Nora is a force to be reckoned with. In our focused interview, Nora shares the significance of her Emmy nomination in the newly minted "Outstanding Music Supervision" category.
First of all, congratulations on your Emmy nomination for Stranger Things! How does it feel to be recognized?
Frankly, I’m overwhelmed with emotion and I feel like I just entered a parallel world, which is absolutely accentuated by the fact that this is a brand new category for our field. I’m sincerely honored and excited to be included in this historical Emmy first that acknowledges music supervisors as the true warriors that they are.
Stranger Things is a huge phenomenon and music is, no doubt, a main character. I’m ecstatic that the Academy has acknowledged the important part our process plays in the telling of the story.
"The Weirdo on Maple Street" episode is so thoughtfully executed. When you came into the fold, what were the initial concepts for the music and how did that evolve into what we hear today?
I think the main thing the Duffers wanted to accomplish was to stay true to the story by maintaining a heightened level of attention to every possible detail. Discussions with me, regarding what kind of emotional tone might be needed in finding songs for any given scene or chapter, were steeped in the creative moment-to-moment process.
Songs from “The Weirdo On Maple Street” set up many of our show’s younger characters whose audiences around the world have come to know and adore.
The fun indie pop song, “Video Generation”, helped introduce us to our sweet and seemingly innocent Nancy in a typical teenager’s domain: her bedroom.
The quirky cover of Tony Orlando’s iconic “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” established our awkward and wonderfully nerdy and kind-hearted Barb (#RIPBarb).
Hard Rock band, Trooper’s “Raise A Little Hell” teases us, along with Nancy and Barb, when they enter the dangerous yet tempting world of our somewhat cocky bad boy, Steve.
For the James Dean type loner, Jonathan, Reagan Youth’s “Go Nowhere” is used to contrast his feelings of angst and isolation from the rest of his peers and the town.
The Clash’s infectious “Should I Stay or Should I Go” not only effectively portrayed the brothers’ special bond, but also planted a seed for future episodes to allow the song to take on new meaning. The various uses of the song throughout the season conveyed simultaneous emotions of both solace and hope intertwined with pure terror.
Lastly, The Bangles ominous cover of the classic “Hazy Shade of Winter” added to this chapter’s ambiguous cliffhanger ending. Hearing the song croon over the swimming pool’s vapors ever deeply into the silent night, where terror was lurking was as a silent character, whispering gently into the viewer’s ear that perhaps things in this small Indiana town were hazier and stranger than anyone could even imagine.
From the time that you first began working as a music supervisor until now, how has the climate changed? What conditions have improved?
For as long as I can remember, music and songs have always been a vital part of storytelling. For this reason, there’s always been a need for a ‘music wrangler’, like me, to make sure everything comes together on any given production.
From my perspective, the recognition of this new Emmy category had a lot to do with a decade’s worth of efforts by the Guild of Music Supervisors. Before the Guild, we really never had a unified voice to speak out on our behalf. Due to the tireless efforts of a handful of music supervisors calling for change, the Guild was formed and became our voice. Thankfully, the Television Academy, with the help of their Music Peer Group, welcomed the Guild with open arms and were strong supporters of their efforts.
Back when you lived in New York, how did you first begin working for Phil Ramone and what life lessons did you take away from the experience?
I used to book bands and events at a Lower East Side club, not making very much money, but having a great time meeting a lot of folks in the music biz. Someone introduced me to Phil and we clicked immediately. It wasn’t long before he asked me to come work with him. I started out as his assistant, and through his invaluable mentoring, worked my way up to Vice President of his production company. Those past work experiences, which included coordinating events and shows, working with both new and established artists, interfacing with various music executives, as well as the endless hours spent in the recording studio, provided a great foundation for transitioning into music supervision.
You are a self-proclaimed "music wrangler". What drives your ambition? What inspires your level of enthusiasm for what you do?
Music is a passion that drives me. The business side of music also intrigues me. Music moves me so much that I want to know everything about it including the artists, the songwriters, as well as the entities that represent them.
What is the most difficult part of dropping into a new project? What are some of your strategies to bring someone else's vision to life while staying true to yourself and within the confines of the budget?
As is the case with Stranger Things, working within the confines of both a limited budget and a certain time period like the early 1980’s— on one hand, limits the music well one must draw from in selecting song choices. On the other hand, it offers an exciting opportunity to dig deeper into the often lost, forgotten, or dusty pockets of music history, get resourceful, and uncover gems. Sometimes, it feels a bit like retroactive A&R!
Showtime's Ray Donovan is an emotional roller coaster of moral dilemmas and in some ways, a taboo breaking exercise. In your opinion, what is it about the show that lends to such an eclectic range of music?
Ray Donovan has such an eclectic mix of characters with such varied age ranges so it, therefore, makes perfect sense that the music also reflects that eclecticism. Many of the songs used for bigger moments have a sense of timelessness to them. For example, this occurs in the montage scenes that glide through the different situations each character might be dealing with.
In your line of work, it is crucial to have an encyclopedic, kaleidoscopic knowledge of music to reference. What genres of music do you know like the back of your hand? Are there any styles of music that you have recently learned more about on the job?
I’m a strong believer that life is not about what you know, it’s about what you find out. As modern music evolves, music from past eras continues to surface from sources around the world. It allows for the constant discovery of the new and the old. I always assume I never know enough, and there’s more music out there to be found. I think that’s what keeps me growing from a creative standpoint.
Can you describe a typical day in the life of Nora Felder?
It’s very rock ‘n’ roll as a typical day is never typical at all. Day to day music decisions on what needs to be accomplished can change as fast as the story unfolds, whether it’s in the pre-production stage, with script changes (including character, location, or story changes), or post-production, with picture edits, studio notes, etc.
In terms of regular work hours, or in my case, irregular working hours, some days are nothing but fast and furious, and others start out one way but can drastically switch into another gear at any given moment.
You are the president of your own enterprise, Picture Music Company. What will you be working on next and what can we expect from you in the future?
I've keeping myself pretty busy, but a couple specific upcoming projects that I’m particularly excited about are the Louis CK produced project, FX' Better Things season 2, starring Pamela Adlon, and another Tom Kapinos project, White Famous season 1 to air on Showtime.
Interviewer | Ruby Gartenberg
Research, Editing, Copy, Layout | Ruby Gartenberg
Extending gratitude to Nora Felder and Picture Music Company.