Lindsay Wolfington, music supervisor for The Royals, was looking for the perfect track for the closing scenes of the season. She wanted something exclusive, and it had to follow the right narrative arc. Then she heard an unreleased song co-written by Bastille’s Dan Smith.
“We temped it into the final montage of our finale. The montage and the song both built from this quieter emotional place–and the footage was slo-mo, so this worked great–into an intense and powerful ending,” Wolfington recalls. “We knew the song worked and just needed to find the right artist to record it. Mike Nelson, who performs under the name Banners (pictured above), was an artist we loved. He had the right vocal quality to deliver the tender and impassioned vocal track, and he was available to do it in the short time we had to record the track.”
The song, “Half Light,” captured the imagination of viewers, who scrambled to find it. The track soon shot onto the trending charts at TV music discovery hub Tunefind, earning a spot as one of the top TV songs of 2016. It also garnered Wolfington and Banners a Guild of Music Supervisors Award nomination.
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Wolfington, whose credits include One Tree Hill and Shadowhunters, is part of a new generation of music supervisors playing distinctly different roles in both TV and music. Supervisors do more than dig through catalogs and review pitches to find the right music. They collaborate with artists, be they emerging newcomers or more established songwriters and performers, to create the right song for that important scene.
“We’ve had a front row seat to witness the shift,” explains Amanda Byers of Tunefind, the web’s go-to site for television and film music discovery. “Music supervisors’ roles have become much more important, as TV storytelling has become more complex, nuanced, and creative. They’ve been supporting the narratives by helping create the music they need to tell the story. The music that’s coming out of these efforts is hooking viewers.”
Wolfington and other supervisors increasingly work in close collaboration with artists to craft songs specific to scenes. Wolfington points to her work with up-and-coming Nashville songwriter Ruelle (pictured right), whom she tapped to write a love song for a pivotal kiss in Shadowhunters. “Supervisors are hearing artists they love and finding new ways to work together,” Byers notes. “They are partnering with artists to create interesting new covers, or compose original songs for specific moments.”
This is Us music supervisor Jen Pyken worked with composer Sidd Khosla and his band Goldspot to license their cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Come Talk to Me” for a recent episode. “I love working with Sidd. He’s so passionate about music and the creative process,” Pyken says. The This Is Us music team also recently brought us all to tears (yet again) with “We Can Always Come Back To This”, an original song Khosla and Chris Pierce wrote for the show. Performed in two separate renditions by Nashville-based Hannah Miller and actor Brian Tyree Henry, the song immediately shot to the top of TuneFind’s Trending Music chart, as fans wiped their eyes and had to track down that epic song.
Another example: Chris Douridas and Chris Muckley, the music supervision team for Will Arnett’s cult hit show Flaked on Netflix, worked with Stephen Malkmus of Pavement, whose music had inspired some of the show’s emotional tone. Malkmus serves as the show’s composer, also writing an original theme and recording a wild cover of “Margaritaville” for the show.
“The decision to have an original track created can stem from many reasons, but often it’s because the producer has a particular vision in mind and it makes more sense to have a song created than to try and find something so specific,” explains Nora Felder, the supervisor behind the unique sonic worlds of Stranger Things, The OA, Californication and many more. “An original track also makes it more precious to the project. We go for what’s right for the story.”
When the music connects to the story, the scene can become riveting and can send viewers searching for the music they hear. “We know exactly when these songs strike a chord with viewers, since they’re hitting our site literally as the scene airs to find the song,” shares Byers. “It’s exciting to see new music inspiring such a powerful response.”