The music supervisor on "Breaking Bad" -- who had previously worked with Gary Calamar on "Six Feet Under" - talks about how music placements evolve along with a show's plot and characters, and how licensing music for television has changed over the past decade.
Billboard.biz You spoke of a series like "Breaking Bad" as being like a novel, where the characters develop over time. Does the music develop as well?
Thomas Golubic: Absolutely. It really helps to be part of a pilot. They can be disappointing because either they don't get picked up, or you do the work and someone comes in when it goes to series. But they're the perfect rough draft. It's a chance to explore the possibilities when you have some time and ideas aren't formed. I would never have guessed from the pilot of "Breaking Bad" that we'd be using electronic music for it. But somehow, it just kept on feeling right. And I never would have expected we'd be using obscure, minimal German electronic dance music for a huge score moment. But we did. It kind of evolved with time.
I think when you're pursuing character, it leads everything. Character and story, when you're faithful to those two, lead everywhere. As characters evolve over time, so does the music. And so does the music that tries to tell the story. If what they're listening to takes over their environment, a new truth is applicable to them as they evolve.
This is the second series you've been involved with that lasted multiple seasons. Did "Six Feet Under" prepare you for this?
"Six Feet Under" really allowed me to think very hard about what music could do and how it could grow with a series. Story is very vital to me. Think about what happened to Claire. I tried very hard to evolve her sense of music and changing taste in music and personality. We started with very aggressive, almost electronic rock stuff-a teenager telling to world to fuck off. The story evolved where she grew up to start dating a conservative milquetoast-type person and not being bothered about that. It was an interesting transformation.
As you're working on a show, do you look for certain themes for characters, much in the same way as a composer would?
Yes, very much. Music is a little bit like paint. The show is the canvas, and when I get it, it's outlines, but it doesn't have full imagery inside. My job is to wonder what paint I can use, and each choice is a different paint or approach. Sometimes you start with primary colors and a very specific sensibility, and pretty soon, they become muted and half-tones.
I make a lot of mixtapes at the start of every season. I start out and brainstorm, and think "that might be interesting…we might be moving in that direction; that might come in handy." Sometimes I break them down by character. For instance, I put a whole list of music I thought that Hank (from "Breaking Bad") might listen to. I never used any of it. But it helped me know who he was, sketch the character out. But if there a scene between, say, Walt and Hank at a bar, I could find a way to lean on Hank. It might just be a song in the background. I wouldn't want to be in either world, but I could connect them in a way so you think, 'they're bonding at that moment.' If they're moving in the opposite direction, I could find music that's divisive.
Do you play these for the showrunner, or just keep them for your own reference?
I usually just use them for brainstorming; they're something for me to go back to. I do put together five or so tapes and, depending how open they are, might give them to the showrunner, so the ideas might get developed. Hopefully he'll fall in love with them, or the editors will fall in love with them.
You've been doing this for a decade. How have things changed?
Access to music is much easier. The fact that the internet allows blogs to put up music -- I can discover stuff I never would have imagined otherwise. You're less dependent on licensing partners as creative and collaborators. And the labels are whittled down now. They've lost a lot of good people, and we find them less and less constructive in our process. The libraries have really stepped up on that account. But still, most of what I find I discover through blogs and research.
If it's easier to find, is it easier to license?
Not necessarily. The industry has become very Byzantine, and we've come up with unnecessary complexities. At times it feels like harassment. On the flip side of it, companies and bands are becoming more open to licensing.