Music and ambient noise often sets the tone for a television show. Many shows have distinctive sounds like the guitar strumming associated with Breaking Bad or the often moody and dark tones of Mr. Robot. On every TV show, each song choice or theme is carefully crafted by a team of music supervisors. But how exactly do they do their jobs?To understand this process further, we spoke with two music supervisors from SuperMusicVision, Yvette Metoyer and Thomas Golubić.
Metoyer and Golubić have worked on high profile shows like Ray Donovan, Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and the current season of Halt and Catch Fire (AMC). During our chat we gained some insight on how they got in the business and what goes into putting together the sound for a show.
Tell us a bit about yourselves.
I’m actually from LA and spent a lot of time growing up listening to my older brother DJ. Between him playing endless hip hop and my parents listening to their soul music, I always had a love for music growing up. Used to make mix tapes for all my friends , even through college. But when I graduated from Cal State Long Beach, I ended up interning at NBC studios. I was working as a production coordinator for several shows until the writer’s strike happened in 2007. Unfortunately everyone who was in the television industry was out of work for a time. I used that opportunity to take a class on music supervision because that time working around sets, I learned what a music supervisor was and had a couple of friends who were doing it for entertainment news channels. It was something I wanted to get into but couldn’t find the right avenue to do so. Google wasn’t as big then, I think Myspace was just getting off the ground. It was a real challenge to get in touch with music supervisors who were established. When the writer’s strike happened, I took an extension course at UCLA where coincidentally Thomas was teaching the course. It was so informative and towards the end of the session, Thomas mentioned he was looking for a new assistant and I quickly volunteered. And that was going on nine years ago. So that’s kind of how I get started in the industry as a music supervisor.
I grew up in Boston, both of my parents are from Europe and I grew up in and academic family. I went to film school and I ended up working as a journalist for a long time. Long story short, I ended up in several different cities. Eventually ended up in LA where I started and internet magazine that went belly up and lost a good amount of money. Then I volunteered at a radio station called KCRW which is a station out here in LA. Basically was working there as a volunteer to help with their website and they gave me access to their music library which was very fun. And I had great joy in exploring their large collection of music. A lot of the DJs there heard the music I was finding and they didn’t know a lot of it so they were intrigued. Someone suggested that I put together a demo for a radio show. I started doing a radio show there in 1997 and that lasted until 2007. And somewhere in the middle of that around 99 or so I realized that I wasn’t making a living doing journalism anymore. The internet magazine had died a terrible death so I decided to look into music supervision. I worked for a guy need Kemar Broswell who was a music supervisor. I was his intern for a year and a half. I finally broke free and started working on a documentary and a feature film, which was very long and not very lucrative. One of the films ended up making it to Sundance so I partnered up with one of my old friends from KCRW. Because of the work on the previous project I was approached to do an HBO series. I read the pilot of it, which I loved. Through a lot of begging, I was able to meet with the show runners. That show ended up being Six Feet Under. I brought Gary on board to supervise with me. We supervised that series from like 99 or 2005 or something like that. And that led to other work including Breaking Bad. Right around the time I had Breaking Bad I was beginning to expand something I was doing. At the time I was looking for a new person I was also teaching a UCLA extension, were I met Yvette. Who was an excellent stand out student and one of the sharpest people I’ve met. I was very excited to expand my company and we’ve worked together for nine years now.
Speaking of working together, most people in the business are typically solo acts. So how do you two work with each other?
There’s 4 of us in our company; Yvette, Michelle Johnson, Garret McElver, and myself. And as far as Halt and Catch Fire, Yvette and I co-supervised that. We essentially became a two brained animal, we each bring different ideas to the table, and we both bring different skill sets to the table. We also tackle different parts of the job, and it’s a very fun collaboration. I think a lot of it is just mind melding, we discuss a lot of things together, we review things together, we listen to each other’s feedback on things, and discuss story and character a lot. So pretty much everything we do is include each of our sensibilities and those of our colleagues in the company. It’s very much a collective exercise. I think the job is really that Yvette and I filter through the many ideas and find what we think are the strongest ones. Then we’ll hire the composer, bring the main title artist together, we build some of the promos. You basically do everything for music involving that series. From there, we knock out each piece individually.
I notice that each character for different projects has their own sound. How does that come together
What we try to do at the start of each project is create mix tapes which is obviously fun for me. But everyone here enjoys that process. When we’re starting the mix tape process; we talk about each character, their background, we talk about where they’re from, and all of that is important to the story. So as we’re coming up with those ideas, we’ll send different songs over with each character’s background. For example with Halt and Catch Fire, one of the characters Joe MacMillan who is originally from New York but he made his way down to Dallas in 1983. He has certain motivations in mind, he wanted to start a business there, he wanted to develop a successful company in computer technology. He’s kind of a slick sales person at the time, very driven, very creative, very big picture. So we would start playing with different ideas and genres of music. We do this for each character and compile those ideas for mix tapes which would then make their way to production. Throughout production, those mixes would be shared with the producers, writers, and editorial staff. And throughout the process of writing and editing scenes, they would reference those mixes and specific songs to the story.
One thing that a lot of people don’t pick up on show is what’s going on in the background. Do you have a say in the ambient music?
We’re responsible for that as well. We’re responsible for specific locations or anything that’s playing on the radio. And that kind of ties into the time period and that can also effect our budget. We have to stay true to the time period, so we’re looking for songs that were released in the year that we’re in. But some times the more popular songs can be very expensive. So we have to be creative and find other options that either fit the time period or were released around that time period.
What was the big difference between doing research for the period piece TURN vs Halt and Catch Fire?
It was a radical difference. In the case of Halt and Catch Fire, we’re dealing with something that we have some personal connection to. I’m at an age where the time of Halt and Catch Fire would be when I was in high school and Yvette is a little bit younger at the time. So maybe her connection is through her brother’s music collection or even her parent’s music. In the case of TURN, none of us have any idea about the music of that time period. And again in the case of Halt, we can just dig through Spotify, iTunes, and other resources out there. So we’re able to build a tapestry of sound based upon existing material. With TURN, since there were no recordings in the 1770s. So we were stuck with books that kept track of music that was performed live. A lot of it was also sheet music from that time period, we also had to extrapolate which composers would have been known in the colonies at the time period. For example Mozart would have had music at that the time but he wasn’t famous enough to have had his music make it over the colonies. And most of that music wouldn’t be the kind of music that many people in the colonies would have known. So weren’t really able to use much of that unless the character was coming from a wealthy background like an officer. So in the case of officers we could potentially use some early Mozart because they would have probably heard it. We do this for individual characters and groups. When we look at Scottish militias, had to think what music Scottish militias would have known, sung to, and marched to. Which would be very different from the German militias and English militias. In many ways, while we’re learning each area, we had to research a lot of books. Michelle Johnson who is one of our team members, was very key to this research effort. She really uncovered any imaginable piece of information. Both very exciting and labor intensive. But for many of us, we learned more about music that was available in the 18th century than we ever would have imagined. We also commissioned music and performances with our producer Tony Burg.
Halt and Catch Fire is currently on it’s final season. You can watch previous season on Netflix.