For Kier Lehman, being the musical mediator between SZA and Issa Rae is all in a day's work.
Lehman is the man behind the music for HBO's breakout series Insecure, created by and starring Issa Rae. Before researching, compiling, and clearing music to be played on the successful dramedy, Lehman often consults with Rae and director Melina Matsoukas (who's helmed iconic videos for artists like Beyoncé and Rihanna) on their creative vision for each scene and each episode, and exercises the creative control they grant him to craft a musical experience unlike any other show on TV right now. The soundtrack for Insecure's second season, which finished airing two weeks ago, has been widely lauded for its array of R&B, hip-hop, and rap that highlights both familiar and undiscovered talent.
Lehman got his start in music supervision by interning at Hit the Ground Running, Inc., and eventually worked up the ranks to eventually being in charge of handling shows like the CSI franchise and Entourage. He then spent a few years as an in-house music executive and music supervisor for Sony Pictures before returning to independent supervising, this time at his own company, Bad Sneakers, Inc.
Having worked on HBO shows before, Lehman maintained a relationship with one of the producers with whom he'd worked on a previous pilot for the channel. "That show didn’t end up going [to air], but [HBO] mentioned that they had this show Insecure that was coming up," he explains. "And they thought I’d be a good fit for it."
Matsoukas and the Insecure team hired Lehman after showing him the pilot, which acted as his "guide for as far as the sound of the show they were looking for." He met with both Issa and Melina, trying to understand their creative visions. "We talked about things that they liked, things that they didn’t like, and things that they wanted to feature -- like Los Angeles artists, and [forward-thinking] R&B, soul music," the music supervisor recalls.
Lehman began sending music to the editors and producers to "see how they were using it when they were cutting it to picture, and the things they were more drawn to." He then refined his search based on what he saw, and began reaching out to people he knows at labels, as well as publishers and managers and artists, quipping, "Relationships are important and you never know where they'll lead." Lehman also researches artists on his own, scouring different resources and websites -- as well as his own personal music library -- and gathers music that he thinks would fit and submits it to the show to see what their response is.
Insecure's second season soundtrack was released a few months after progressive R&B singer-songwriter SZA's debut album Ctrl. This fortuitous timing proved beneficial for both the show and SZA herself: given that Rae is a big fan of hers, it was only natural that the show creator would wanted to feature two songs from Ctrl—"Supermodel" and the Travis Scott-assisted "Love Galore"—during key moments in the first few episodes of the season. As the finale approached, Lehman asked Rae if there were any artists that she'd be interested in having write an original song for the soundtrack to debut on the finale; SZA was at the top of her list.
Lehman contacted RCA (with whom SZA had recently signed) about the prospect, and she was incredibly excited about the idea of writing music for one of her favorite shows. "We had a call; we set up a conversation between Issa, Melina, and SZA so that we could kind of explain to her what we were looking for and what was going on in the episode, so she could get some story ideas and let her know the kind of tone we're looking for in the scenes that still needed songs," he explains.
It didn't take SZA too long. "She amazingly crafted that song really quickly and delivered it to us, and we were blown away and just so excited by how great that song is," Lehman raves. "And [since] we got it on a Saturday, we spent that weekend trying to figure out what the right spot in the show was, and then fortunately we were able to make the deal happen on the licensing side to be able to include it in the show and on the soundtrack." "Quicksand" has received nearly as much love as Ctrl has, including from Lehman himself: "I can’t tell if it’s just because of the project, that I’m involved in it, that I love it so much, or it’s just that great of a song and I would love it as much either way."
One of the up-and-coming artists he was excited to have on the soundtrack was British singer Jorja Smith, of recent Drake fame following her appearance on More Life cut "Get It Together." "We had an unreleased song from her in the first episode which got a lot of people’s attention," Lehman acknowledges. "People were kinda frustrated because it wasn’t released, and that song ['February 3rd'] is still not released [to the general public]." Lehman asked her manager for more music so fans could have more access to her, which led to groovy slow jam "Fine Line" debuting on the finale as well.
Though the show's second season just finished airing, Lehman is excited about working and crafting an even greater soundtrack next time around.
"I definitely want to keep featuring new artists, up-and-coming undiscovered artists throughout the show and the soundtrack," Lehman offers. "This second season we worked hard to have original music and to be able to feature unreleased songs... so that the soundtrack was more exciting because it has music that you couldn't get anywhere else. And so I'd just like to build on that for this third season."
In addition to spotlighting lesser-known or undiscovered talent on the upcoming third season's soundtrack, Lehman also hopes that a breakout crossover hit is also in Insecure's future. "It would be fun to try to have a song that connects with an even bigger audience, and kind of grows and lives out on its own outside of the show," he explains. "To still have these new artists that we can kinda give a platform to, but then maybe bring in something bigger than can help it reach an even bigger audience than ever before."
Stream the Insecure season 2 soundtrack below.
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