Emmys: 8 Music Supervisors Share Their Biggest Challenge This Season

This year, Outstanding Music Supervision makes its long-awaited debut as an Emmy category. In honor of the milestone, Yahoo TV asked music supervisors for some of our favorite series to answer the same set of questions about their work this season — and to name a past show they believe would have been recognized had this category existed sooner.

Here are best-of excerpts from their responses. Click on the links to read their full questionnaires.


Manish Raval, ‘Girls’

“It was in the finale, episode 610, and it also answers the question about something we thought we’d never get the rights to. It was the use of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car.’ It came down to the fact that Tracy Chapman does not license her music — it is a blanket no. I have gone to her many times over the last many years for many different projects to try to license ‘Fast Car’ and ‘Talkin’ Bout A Revolution.’ It is always a no. Don’t ask. Doesn’t matter what it is. I respect the decision, but directors never stop asking about her songs. And we always say, “We will ask, but just be prepared to move on and find something else because it is always a no.” It happened to us in the first season very early on when we were just starting out. Lena [Dunham, the show’s creator and star] told us she loved Tracy and wanted us to get one of her songs. We had to tell her, ‘Just so you know, she will never give us a song. Ever.’

Cut to six years later, when Girls has become a cultural phenomenon and we were tasked with what to do for the music for the very final episode of the show. Lena brought up Tracy again. I had a feeling this might be the one time she would give a song. I just knew that if we could get to her directly and make our case, [prove] that the request was coming from a good place. We could only imagine that she was a fan of the show and of Lena. So we went to her and explained that we wanted her song to be the series finale song. We weren’t going to get an artist to write a new song to play us out. We wanted ‘Fast Car’ to be the song that ends our series. And I said, ‘Before you guys say no for Tracy, can we get [Lena and Tracy] on the phone and let them talk about it?’ I got them set up on a conference call, they spoke, and 10 minutes later, Lena emailed to say, ‘Tracy’s on board. We can have the song.’ It was just magical. It was something I never thought I’d be able to get ever. But something inside just told me to pursue it this time. I just knew if there was ever going to be a time where she made an exception, it would be this. We are so grateful she gave us the privilege of having this song that has never been used in anything. That is a tremendous honor.”
Read the full questionnaire.

(Credit: HBO)

Nora Felder, ‘Stranger Things’

“For a time period we weren’t sure if Peter Gabriel’s cover of David Bowie’s iconic song ‘Heroes’ was going to be approved for use. This version ever so uniquely expressed what was necessary for this delicate scene. We tried many, many songs and although quite a few worked well, none of them seemed to accent the emotion behind this key plot point in that same precious sense. Definitely because of the wonderful combination of Mr. Gabriel’s touching and quite unique rendition of this song. When Bowie’s camp approved the use, we were honored and frankly touched due to the circumstances. Also, Mr. Gabriel was quite pleased with the use, which makes this extra special for us!”
Read the full questionnaire.

(Credit: Netflix)

DJ Zach Cowie, ‘Master of None’

“By far ‘Amarsi un po” by Lucio Battisti, which is the namesake and closing tune to our hour-long 9th episode in Season 2. I love this song, and it’s one of the first things I sent Aziz [Ansari, the show’s co-creator and star] when he told me he was thinking of shooting the new season in Italy. By pure coincidence its title, which translates loosely to ‘to love a bit,’ was the perfect encapsulation of the romantic struggles between Dev and Francesca which run through the entire season. My heart burst when I was passed a new revision of the script in which it was re-titled ‘Amarsi un po” and Aziz had written in the song to close the episode. … Clearing ‘Amarsi un po” was INTENSE, and it’s why Kerri [Drootin, my co-supervisor] is THE secret weapon on the show. Battisti was a MASSIVE star in Italy, but his music has never been granted license outside of his home country. We were hitting walls and it was down to the wire. We had an alternate lined up which we LIKED but didn’t LOVE (as goes the story with all alternates!), but through Kerri’s skillful navigation and tireless persistence, we got a green light just DAYS before we had to mix. The result is the first-ever license of Lucio’s music outside of Italy, and it’s by far my proudest moment on this show.”
Read the full questionnaire.

(Credit: Netflix)

Liza Richardson, ‘The Leftovers’

“‘Rocking’ by Australian Children’s Choir, which appears in ep 303, is a traditional carol originating out of the Czech Republic. It was released back in 1982, and the label unfortunately had no information on whether this version was Public Domain or a copyrighted arrangement. All points led to Public Domain. However, after many long distance calls and vault digging, the label was finally able to confirm who the choir director was at that time, Richard Gerner. Thankfully, the Australian Children’s Choir still exists, and we were able to get in touch with the current choir director. Luckily, they were able to provide us with the mobile number for Mr. Gerner, who has long since worked outside the choir business, but he advised that he did, in fact, re-arrange this piece of music and would be happy to license it for the show. When we say we go to the ends of the earth to clear a song, we mean it.”
Read the full questionnaire.

(Credit: HBO)

Amanda Krieg Thomas and PJ Bloom, ‘The Americans’

“Our Russian version of ‘America The Beautiful’ (Episode 1). [Showrunners] Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields really wanted a big orchestral version of this song sung in Russian by a large choir in order to play against the very American imagery in our Act 1 montage, and to foreshadow one of our major story points this season — the U.S. plot to damage Soviet wheat crops. The challenge was that ‘America The Beautiful’ is a uniquely American song, so there was no existing Russian version we could license. That meant we needed to record our own. Additionally, Joe & Joel are incredibly meticulous about maintaining an honest representation of the look, sound, and feel of the series at all times — so they wanted our Russian choir to be made up of actual Russians and recorded in Russia.

That alone was a tall order; not to mention we had about three days to make that happen before we mixed the episode. So, our composer, Nathan Barr, quickly created the music bed. Then, we worked with an amazing Russian music contractor who was able to quickly put together a 30-member male choir and book us a room at Moscow’s famed Mosfilm Studios (the oldest and largest facility in the Federation). We recorded our choir in Russia while connected to a studio here in Los Angeles using a Russian translator to help conduct. In the end, we produced an amazing transcontinental version of a classic song that is unique to The Americans. Check it out on Spotify!”
Read the full questionnaire.

(Credit: FX)

Stephanie Diaz-Matos, ‘The Get Down’

“As on overall philosophy we don’t take ‘No’ for an answer. We tried to do everything we could to get the songs we were after. While there was a lot of work to do in the clearance department (200+ cues) — from tracking down obscure copyrights, and explaining the unorthodox ways that we were using the songs, i.e. layered with other songs, interpolated into new works etc. — overall there was a lot of good will towards the show, the story, and towards Baz.

Can’s ‘Vitamin C’ was definitely a lengthy, drawn-out clearance that really pushed us to the limits. It had been licensed before so I knew it was possible; but we were not getting any response for quite some time through the traditional channels. And, as we were working to clear the song, creatively it was taking on a larger and larger role in the show — becoming a score theme, a sample in a new work for the soundtrack, and then multiple drops over a few episodes. If it hadn’t come through, it would have become more problematic than when the initial inquiry was made.

When we got to the point in our schedule where I could not wait any longer, I had to get creative with our approach. With some dedicated research we were able to circumvent the usual channels and go directly to Sandra Podmore — whose father, Irmin Schmidt, is a founder of Can (and also a big Baz Luhrmann fan) — and everything went into motion.”
Read the full questionnaire.

(Credit: Netflix)

Bruce Gilbert, ‘Transparent’

“I wasn’t sure Alanis Morissette was going to approve Shelly singing ‘Hand In My Pocket’ in the final scene of episode 10, but it turns out she’s a huge fan of the show. And Judith Light delivers.”
Read the full questionnaire.

(Credit: Amazon Studios)

Jen Ross, ‘Empire’

“The ‘Las Vegas’ storyline in the last two episodes of the season opened the door to some different creative demands. It was important to find a musical path that could embellish an Ocean’s Eleven-esque heist, all the while staying within the world of Empire. We were in a Laviticus Casino after all. Only on Empire could it feel completely organic to kick off an episode with Dean Martin’s ‘Ain’t That A Kick In The Head (RJD2 Remix)’ only to later play out the unfolding of Cookie and her crew’s master heist to the beat and swagger of Big Sean’s ‘Moves.'”
Read the full questionnaire.
(Credit: Fox)