Catch a Fire: Label Tweaks Formula for 'Hunger Games: Catching Fire' Soundtrack

Courtesy of Lions Gate
The Hunger Games

In early October, executives from Republic Records were attending a film premiere and discussing the promotion of a soundtrack. As much as they were proud of the film receiving its Los Angeles debut that night-Greg Camalier's documentary "Muscle Shoals"-and its Republic-released soundtrack (and its one new track: Alicia Keys' cover of Bob Dylan's "Pressing On"), the next film project promised to be much larger in scope, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."

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Nineteen months ago, "The Hunger Games" became the first film franchise to launch in March, and the first for its distributor Lionsgate. The movie topped the box office for four straight weeks, grossing $408 million in the United States and another $283.2 million in the rest of the world, according to figures compiled by Box Office Mojo. The soundtrack-The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 and Beyond, overseen by T Bone Burnett and led by a Taylor Swift single featuring the Civil Wars, "Safe & Sound"-was a No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200, and has sold 480,000 copies, according to Nielson SoundScan. "Safe & Sound" won a Grammy Award for best song written for visual media in February.

Needless to say, the musical possibilities for all things "Hunger Games" have increased in the time since. The conversation in Los Angeles that early October evening was about the soundtrack's first three singles being released simultaneously on iTunes and promoted at radio more than six weeks ahead of the film. There was also the possibility of soundtrack artists making the rounds on TV talk shows. And last, but by no means least, were the opportunities for Republic's own roster-with recent successes Lorde and the Weeknd both appearing on "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," and a track from recent signing Phantogram, "Lights," already being used in connection with presales at the Fandango website.

"The first soundtrack came out in March of 2012. This will come out November of '13," Republic executive VP Tom Mackay says. "Within that space of time our company has really grown. And it's picked up bands like Of Monsters and Men, the Weeknd, Lorde, Phantogram. It's exciting to have those kinds of bands associated with the soundtrack, but it's also a testament to the development of the label. I also think these artists were naturally passionate about participating."

Only a handful of items in the "Hunger Games" sequel soundtrack resemble the approach to the first film. Mackay and Lionsgate head of film music Tracy Mc­Knight again placed a single individual in charge of the music. But instead of Burnett-who also handled production duties on Songs From District 12 and Beyond-they turned to music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, who had overseen the "Twilight" series for Summit, the film company that merged with Lionsgate in 2012. As with Songs From District 12 and Beyond, artists who were fans of Suzanne Collins' trilogy of books were asked to write songs based on events in "Catching Fire" for an album of music very literally inspired by the series' second book. The songs don't appear in the body of the film, but fans will recognize the narrative just the same.

"Honestly, the goal was to tell the stories through the music," Patsavas says, "and make a soundtrack that is reflective of the stories in the film and the books."

A list of 20-25 artists was created and outreach began. They were asked to submit demos that the music teams tweaked to ensure the lyrics stuck to the action of the "Catching Fire" book. Once director Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend," "Like Water for Elephants") felt the film was far enough along, Christina Aguilera, Coldplay and Sia were shown the work in progress. The other dozen artists wrote songs based purely on the book.

"Everything was carefully considered and every artist selected is meaningful to the fans of the books," Patsavas says.

Unlike the first soundtrack, where Burnett was the lone producer, artists were allowed to do the recordings on their own. "On this one we wanted to get away from the concept of one producer producing everything," Mackay says. "Without T Bone on the first one we would not have gotten those bands [Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, Arcade Fire]. Now it's a franchise.

"We basically said, 'Here are the rules: You're going to send in a demo and we may ping-pong it with you to craft it, but once that demo is approved you are free to use whoever you want and do whatever you want. Send it back to us and we'll work with you on the mix.' I think a lot of the bands were excited about the autonomy we gave them on the production side."

Of Monsters and Men's "Silhouettes" was recorded in a single 22-hour session at Blackbird Studio in Nashville during the Icelandic band's spring and summer U.S. tour. The group left the studio where Jacquire King produced the track at 9 a.m. and took a three-hour bus ride to a festival where it performed an acoustic set at noon. Ragnar Porhallsson came up with the initial idea for the song; Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir co-wrote the lyrics.

"The concept works for us," Porhallsson says. "We get some of the same vibe from our album and the first movie. It's weird to read a book and write a song-we've never done anything like this."

The Lumineers' Wesley Schultz had his curiosity piqued when he saw a Mockingjay pin that Patti Smith was wearing at Clive Davis' pre-Grammys party. (Smith also turns up on Catching Fire.) He started reading the books, and chose to focus on the character Gale Hawthorne, the childhood friend of protagonist Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) and a romantic rival to Peeta Mellark.

"I was interested in his perspective, " Schultz says of the Lumineers' contribution, "Gale Song." "He is a man in the shadows, left waiting in the wings as Katniss takes the stage with Peeta."

One of the first singles from Catching Fire, "Elastic Heart," had a different beginning outside of the "Hunger Games" world. It started as a track Diplo sent to two people, Sia and Dr. Luke. Sia's reaction was instantaneous: "For the first time ever, I called someone and said, 'Do not send that track to anyone else-I'll pay for the track tomorrow,'" she recalls. "And he said, 'You don't have to pay for the track, you dingaling, it's yours.'"

Sia wrote lyrics for the song in the hopes that Katy Perry would record it, perhaps for Catching Fire. Once Perry passed, Sia did her own vocal and, in the hopes of getting Republic's attention, her manager called the Weeknd to contribute a verse. She had to rewrite the lyrics to make the song fit the movie, but Republic got a track from a songwriter whose work has sold more than 12 million units in the last two years, and Sia got a teaser for her first album in four years, which RCA will release early next year. "It's fantastic to attach to a franchise such as this," she says, "because it really does take a lot of the load off [of promotion]."

"Elastic Heart," one of three singles from the soundtrack offered as instant downloads for iTunes preorders, has reached No. 29 on Billboard's Pop Digital Songs chart and sold 29,000 copies. (Technological limitations at iTunes prevented more than one prerelease track at the time of the first movie.) The songs were also shipped to radio months ahead of the film's Nov. 22 opening. Coldplay's "Atlas" was sent to triple A radio on Sept. 9, Aguilera's "We Remain" went for adds on Oct. 14, and "Elastic Heart" went out Oct. 21.

"We always had the concept of putting out multiple singles by different artists in different genres that would not necessarily step on one another at radio," Mackay says. "Coldplay is at alternative, Christina Aguilera has a beautiful [adult top 40] record, and Sia is a rhythmic record for top 40. It worked out nicely." "Atlas" is No. 6 on Rock Digital Songs, and "We Remain" is No. 22 on Pop Digital Songs. They've sold 120,000 and 30,000 copies, respectively.

The soundtrack album-12 tracks for the standard, 15 in the deluxe package-offers considerable variety. Smith, the National and the Lumineers contribute acoustic-guitar-driven, folk-based tracks. Santigold mixes electronics and rock on "Shooting Arrows at the Sky." "Atlas," which plays over the end credits (and has its melody adapted in part to the James Newton Howard-penned score), has the calming steadiness for which the band is known. Fire and water imagery is rampant in the songs, as are themes of resiliency.

"Having a different musical experience [from the first film] gives it a nice combination of different flavors," Lionsgate's McKnight says. "This time out there are different sensibilities from each artist and it's a nice reflection of what this story is about."

Lorde, who was wrapping her album at the time tracks were being solicited for the soundtrack, reworked Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" into a haunting dirge. It's the only cover to appear on either "Hunger Games" soundtrack, but Mackay and the team felt it fit in with the film's story.

"There was not time for her to write a demo, submit it and come back after changes [are requested]," Mackay says, crediting Lava president Jason Flom and Lorde's manager Scott Maclachlan with the idea and the execution. "Like a lot of songs on this album, it's an artistic leap. When we heard it, we were amazed how she reshaped it-it's hard not to think about President Snow and the Capitol in the film and in the book."

Mackay, McKnight and Patsavas credit the variety of artists on the soundtrack to the concerted effort by the team to utilize each other's strengths and connections. For example, Cynthia Sexton, executive VP of branding and licensing for Republic and Island Def Jam Music Group, brought in Coldplay, and Mackay connected with Aguilera through Irving Azoff for her to sing the Ryan Tedder composition "We Remain."

"It was a united vision," McKnight says. "When we were reaching out to artists, we were all on the same page before they were approached. It's wonderful when you have a book that has reached people of all ages worldwide, and we feel like we've created an album where there's something for everyone."

In the hopes of broadening the film's international appeal, tracks by local artists are being appended to the soundtrack and end credits in European and South American territories. "Hombre a Tierra," from Spanish alternative band Lori Meyers, will be added in Spain, Central America and South America; "Again," by Berlin-based electronic dance act ABBY, will play in Germany and Austria; and "13" by Sao Paulo rock group CPM22, will be heard in Brazil.

"It's something we didn't do on the first one," Mc­Knight says. "We did a lot of brainstorming with Republic and they reached out to those artists to facilitate that."

The hope is that those acts-in addition to some of those on the U.S. soundtrack-will be able to promote the album in local territories on TV and radio, as well as perform at various worldwide premieres. It's a unique global strategy that is still being worked out.

"This is a project that's a little odd in terms of getting the music," Mackay says. "[Artists] have to know the story, they have to read the book, so it brings people to the table who are invested in the story and invested in the franchise. A byproduct of that is they want to be active when things start to kick off around the premiere."