There’s a less visible, more practical side of music supervision that TV fans may not spend enough time appreciating: securing rights. “No matter what project I am working on, it’s always that delicate balance of trying to stay within a budgetary financial box while trying to think out of the box to find great songs,” Felder says. Consider her nominated episode: “With so many iconic copyrights by artists such as Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, Ray Parker Jr., Duran Duran, and Motley Crue, the practical negotiation process had to be handled in a delicate and respectful manner. Though some negotiations took longer than others, I do think everything worked out well for all involved.”
The clearance process involves all sorts of hurdles. For Malone and Udeorji, the collaborative spirit of hip-hop means a track can sometimes have half a dozen to a dozen credited writers, all of whom must be contacted. And sometimes it’s difficult to get ahold of the artist in consideration: Take Tay-K, whose track “The Race” is in “Alligator Man” as the pump-up song for the kids robbing a fast-food restaurant. “I just got a notification that he is in solitary confinement right now,” Malone says. “He actually has management and a label taking care of his affairs, so even though he's in jail, it was actually an easier clearance than most. But it was still like, ‘Okay, so we're going to the jail tomorrow, and we'll get the sign off.’”
Music supervisors are often under the gun to meet deadlines, but sometimes they need to work far ahead -- as was the case with Westworld’s “Akane No Mai,” as songs were built into the story and tied to dances that needed to be choreographed and taught to the actors.
“For Akane’s dance, the music is such an integral and emotional part of that sequence,” O’Meara explains. “We chose ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ far in advance so that we could ensure that every element of the scene — the music, the dance, the costumes, the set design — all came together to perfectly and wordlessly express the unfathomable grief, anger and pain Akane has to be feeling in order to do what she does in that moment.”
Supervisors can also get a heads-up when the show’s writers know a song will be a big ask that requires much back-and-forth, like when This Is Us wanted Jack to play Kate a Bruce Springsteen song, “My Beautiful Reward,” in the episode “The Car.” “We worked with his lawyer and his publisher and his label to get him the information to proceed to get the clearance,” Pyken recalls.
Artists understandably require a description of the scene in which their music will be used. That can be tricky when, say, you’re approaching Stevie Wonder for two songs (“Sweet Little Girl” and “Evil”) to bookend the Atlanta season two episode “Teddy Perkins,” which begins with Darius driving to the home of a Michael Jackson-esque figure to pick up a piano and ends with a murder-suicide. There was hesitation from Wonder’s camp, Malone recalls.
“It’s the only time in the two seasons that we've had to enlist Donald to help push it through, because it’s his episode, his vision and such a pivotal moment,” she says. “We did send [his team] the episode to watch, and then Donald and him got on a phone call. Donald was telling us that it was an amazing phone call, even for him to be talking to one of his icons. We're all like, ‘Could you tape it? Could you do it again, and we’ll be on the call?’”
Malone never wants to be the one to tell Glover that her team couldn’t clear a song. “I learned how to dig very, very, very deep to find people,” she says. “I mean, obituaries are always helpful when you're trying to find estates. So that's kind of a trade secret that I just realized after working on this show.”