Whether a song becomes an iconic TV theme (“Friends,” “Dawson’s Creek”), sets the stage for an unforgettable scene (“Titanic,” “Romeo + Juliet”) or weaves seamlessly throughout to enhance the story (“American Graffiti,” “Insecure”), music plays a vital part in the making of great film and television. Music in a visual medium can shape emotional responses, create a rhythm to scenes or even comment on the action. It can also launch a new artist or give them a much needed boost (Gavin DeGraw for “One Tree Hill”).
Music supervisors are the brains behind making this happen. Their ear for music, feel for emotions and subtexts and their eye for new talent make them the unsung superstars behind the scenes. Just imagine what the most recent binge-worthy show would be like without the music. The music supervisors behind the “To All the Boys” trilogy, Laura Webb (“Teen Wolf,” “Siren,” “Resident Alien”) and Lindsay Wolfington (“One Tree Hill,” “Fuller House,” “Virgin River,” “Into the Dark”), are two rockstars in the music supervision game. Both having almost two decades of experience starting as music coordinators on pop culture mainstays like “The Hills,” “Felicity,” “Alias” and “Smallville,” Lindsay and Laura have made a name for themselves working on youth-oriented projects.
Laura and Lindsay are currently collaborating on the “To All the Boys” trilogy and I had the chance to sit down and chat with them about the role of a music supervisor, the importance of music in a project and where the industry is going.
LV Taylor/Awards Circuit: Both of you ladies have about two decades worth of experience in music supervision and you have some pretty significant pop cultural icons like “One Tree Hill” and “To All The Boys” under your belt. But a lot of times the behind the scenes music supervision, set production, costume design roles kind of fly under the radar and most people don’t really understand and fully appreciate their contribution to the overall film or project.
Laura: Umm hmmm.
LV: What is something you feel viewers should understand about what it is that you do?
Lindsay: I think first off, most people think the job is making playlists of really cool music off of Spotify or wherever, but there is so much more thought that goes into it. We need to worry about whether the lyrics make sense for the character, what is the mood in the song and are there changes in a song that hit specific moments in a scene. Like one moment you needed a huge swell in [“To All The Boys 2”] was when Laura Jean (Lana Condor) came down the staircase for the Star Ball and we knew that was where she was revealed in her beautiful makeup and dress and you just wanted the music to take over and soar in that moment. So we had to find songs that very specifically weren’t too distracting for the minute in the scene before and then kicked in with something that kinda gave you chills and felt magical. We used a song called “Crashing” in that scene by a group called ILLENIUM. But those changes in a song are sometimes the reason you pick it. So we’re listening for details in songs and not necessarily whether it’s a good song or not.
Laura: And really collaborating with our editors and our whole team about finessing that to meet the needs within the picture; because you can hear a great song but once you put it up against the picture, its very apparent but it can fall flat so finessing that and getting that is such a strong point. But also the less sexier side, but its still a business. We have to worry about things that will clear and things that are in our budget. Those are really big guiding factors. So when producers want like a Frank Ocean—people who don’t typically clear—we’re like, “so let me find things that sound like that.” Everyone always has champagne taste but the budget might not be that inline. And that’s a really big part. It’s not as glamorous but the paperwork side is really important and you have to have a really strong head and strong organizational side. And the knowledge. It’s really hard to just walk in and do this job if you don’t want to get your production sued. And that’s where experience is really key.
Lindsay: Every song requires both the songwriter and the label or recording artist to approve. So being able to quickly get those approvals is something that a seasoned music supervisor can do because they have the relationships in place with the labels and publishers. We had a song that we put in like two or three days before the final mix, so we had to clear that within 24 hours. And we were able to pull that off because we knew the people who represented the artist, they were excited to be in the film and we got it done.
I would say that one more thing, there are a lot of opinions, so its not just what you think is cool, its what everybody else likes and what really—”TATB2 in particular—the director Michael [Fimognari] was always keeping a very close eye on doing what’s right for the story and right for the character. So that is the vision that is leading all the decisions.
Laura: Yeah, so there’s a lot that weighs into it.
LV: With so many different genres of music and new artists coming out everyday, how do you stay in-the-know or up-to-date on who’s on the come-up or who’s hot?
Laura: We’re getting sent so much stuff right now during quarantine because people have so much time. It’s kind of like I don’t even know how to digest it all. But because we’ve been doing this so long we have a big network of people who send us stuff, so we’re fortunate in that regard. Record labels, publishers, managers—everybody wants their songs played. Especially now because it’s passive income. But it’s also like staying on top of what’s out there and just trying to know what’s happening and also push the needle forward. That’s what both Lindsay and I get excited about. We’re really trying to introduce viewers to stuff maybe you haven’t heard. So listening to what is out there and being like “what haven’t people heard?” We really try to dig deep to find those things.
Lindsay: Yeah, and while we’re getting all the current releases, if you’re really looking to find the next big thing, they probably aren’t signed yet, or maybe they just have a publishing deal ,so Laura and I love to listen to indie artists. Sometimes you’re listening to indie artists because your budget requires it, but in general we’re always trying to be on top of the next big thing. Keeping your ear to the ground when people are still indie is really important.
Laura: One of the reasons it’s really exciting is to bring viewers into a song that they don’t have attachment to and then to create that moment. Hopefully, they always identify it with the moment we’re showing. That’s kind of exciting to us.
Lindsay: And we should just point out that in the latest “TATB 2” there is an artist named Ashe who put out a song called “Moral of the Story” a year ago and we pitched it for this big moment when Laura Jean was going to lip-sync to it. The movie didn’t come out until this February so like a year later after we licensed it, it came out. Now it has over 100 million streams, mostly thanks to its exposure via the film. She’s on a small indie label but it helped get her added to Spotify playlists and radio stations and Sirius. It’s exciting for us because we feel like the songs that do the best are the songs that are in the scenes that are most important to the characters in the projects you are working on. If it’s the big first kiss moment of everybody’s favorite two characters it’s gonna be the song that people respond to. If it’s the song that plays in the breakup, which is where Ashe’s “Moral of the Story” plays, it resonates and you see that in sales and streams. We’re not making any money off of that but its exciting to be able to expose and support an artist in that way.
Laura: Yeah, just being part of the journey.
LV: That kind of answered my next question which was if there are any artists you guys feel like broke or were exposed to the world once they were in your project they just kind of took off after that. Obviously Ashe is one of those.
Laura: Yeah. I did “Teen Wolf” for a number of years and we were very pivotal in breaking quite a few. The one that’s pretty exciting is that I saw Hozier in a club in Ireland way before he ever broke stateside and we used a song in a big first kiss moment. It wasn’t “Take Me to Church” but “What Real People Do” and the discovery went up like 2500% because people hadn’t really heard the song. Not the mass audience at least. So that one was really exciting to be a part of. He’s really skyrocketed. And Anna of the North from the first “TATB” really took off. A lot of that music from the first one really did. Anna of the North was able to really start touring and getting these great big venues because all these new people had discovered her. That’s the fun part of the job.
Lindsay: And again that was in the big kiss moment.
These days people Shazam while they’re watching and you can see the data. The day “TATB” came out, Anna of the North saw spikes and Ashe saw spikes from the release date on. So you can see the impact is from the release of the movie. Shazam is really cool.
Laura: We had Marina write an original song for the end title of “TATB 2” and that one is also continuing to do really, really well and that’s exciting because we commissioned it for the film. That’s another fun part of the job. For the third film we’re working on now, we’re trying to do quite a bit of that. We don’t know when it’s coming out but we want to have a lot of fresh things that people haven’t heard yet.
Lindsay: We could talk about this forever. I worked on “One Tree Hill” and in 2003 we made Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Wanna Be” our theme song. That album had been out for like a year and it was almost dead in the water and then we put it in as our theme and then boom, it’s like a radio hit. Sometimes you know, like with the Ashe placement, we thought this was going to be really exciting and we think the artist is going to see some reaction and you always hope for that. Sometimes you don’t know. But when it happens it’s really like lightning in a bottle. When it’s the right song and the right scene and the right project, it can do awesome things. I know for “The OC” and “Grey’s Anatomy”—all those shows—placement in the market is in the marketing plan for artists because they know its so narrow and they need more outlets to expose their music.
LV: I know you mentioned that both of your were working pretty independently prior to “TATB”, so what was it like collaborating on that trilogy?
Lindsay: It was fun—is fun, because we’re still in it. We had collaborated on two things previously. Projects that were super fast and we were like “lets put our heads together and get it done.” I actually didn’t have an office for a little bit so I ended up working out of Laura’s house. We’ve always been friends, but from that we realized we had similar styles and similar ways that we worked and we both love working on youth-oriented projects. The first “TATB” was another project that needed to be done really quickly, so we partnered up so it didn’t weigh either of us down too much. I have coordinators who work with me as well, one at a time, but I think the more music ideas, the better. It can be hard for one person to come up with all the ideas in the world, so it’s great to be like “I have a song in here and you have a song in there.” More brains listening to music is better for the project.
Laura: Yeah, and we both interpret scenes differently. So it’s kind of great to present more ideas with a whole range of ways to look at it. I think that only helps the project and that opens who gets in.
Lindsay: I feel like a lot of supervisors, when we do send music for a scene, we don’t just send one song, we send like three or four and we try and give “here’s a vanilla, here’s a chocolate chip and then here’s a hazelnut.” Something that’s a little weird or different because just like when actors go into a scene, they could play it real dramatically or they could play it subtly and they do various takes so we try and do the same thing with trying to provide different music options.
Laura: Sometimes your creative might have something in mind, but it’s cool to be like, “let me provide something that’s a little out of the norm to open up.” We don’t always have to sound the same, let’s change it up a little and push it forward.
LV: So this has been fun, but to kind of wrap up with one last question, with these uncertain times that we’re living in now and the industry changing and everyone talking about the “new normal,” how do you think your role or the industry in general will change or look different?
Lindsay: It’s interesting. Part of me thinks you’ll see more animated projects because you don’t need to film people, and I know video games are doing huge right now because people are home and they are gaming. And there are music supervisors that work in that field and they are very busy; and apparently trailer and ad people. But it could happen that we have to shoot with fewer people so there will be more montages and that will rely more heavily on music.
Or maybe someone performing in their living room is a scene. It’s really hard to tell. I’m on the board of the Guild of Music Supervisors and I know we’re taking this opportunity to continue educating people about the work we do because people do think it’s just making a cool playlist. So trying to take this time of Zoom performances and Zoom learning to get the message out that we’re here to help you tell your story, and there are a lot of skills that a music supervisor needs to bring to the table. One thing we didn’t get to and people probably don’t think of is being on set to be on camera. If you have someone dancing, a band on camera, or someone singing karaoke, there are so many ways to shoot that and a music supervisor who knows how to do it right can really help your production team get that all organized. So we’re using this time to educate.
Laura: Yeah, for one show I work on right now, we’re doing remote mixes. Usually we’re on a mixing stage together, so everyone is being innovative and coming up with ideas. Will it continue? I’m not sure. It’s so interesting, everyone has been really innovative and trying to rise to the challenge, which has been really cool to see. And I do think in some ways, some of these changes really will last. But it’s such a fluid time right now. Nobody knows. And that’s so hard for me because I like to know what’s happening at all times. But obviously I have to throw that out the window (laughing).
Lindsay: Yeah, very often music supervisors are in the role of problem solving. Hopefully whenever the problems come forth, we have the skills to solve them.