The job of music supervisor is having a bit of a moment right now. The Emmys created a new category this year specifically to honor music supervisors, something that the Oscars and Golden Globes have yet to do. And, back in June, The Wall Street Journal called the job “Peak TV’s New Hot Profession.”
For those unfamiliar with what the job entails, music supervisors oversee all the music aspects of a show or film, even the original score a composer makes for a series. So, if say a Beatles or Beyoncé song appears on a show, it was more than likely picked by the music supervisor, who is also in charge of making sure they clear the rights to use that music.
Kier Lehman is the music supervisor for shows like “The Night Of,” “Last Man on Earth,” and “Insecure,” which is currently in its second season. Co-created by and starring Issa Rae, it follows the lives of two black women who are best friends as they (sometimes awkwardly) navigate their professional and love lives. The show often weaves in songs from women and Los Angeles-based artists to help drive its storytelling.
In fact, the series is actually debuting new music from artists like Miguel and Jazmine Sullivan as part of the soundtrack for its second season. Kier talked with Associate Digital Producer Kristina Lopez about how he works with the “Insecure” team (Issa, Executive Prentice Penny, Director and Executive Producer Melina Matsoukas, and Composer Raphael Saadiq) to help shape the overall sound of the show, what it’s like to see social media feedback about his song selections, and more.
On how he works with the “Insecure” team to find the right music
Kier Lehman: I work in different situations were sometimes directors and producers have less of a specific vision for how music will be used or what kind of music will be used. And the great thing about working with [the “Insecure” staff] is they all have a very clear vision and great taste. So that leads to a great outcome because we all kind of understand each other’s taste.
And, after working with them for a little while, you kind of hone in on what they like, what they want for the scene, what they personally listen to. So it’s a very collaborative process, but it’s very much led by Issa and Melina, too.
I send them music, Issa or Melina will send me something and be like, “Hey, I really like this song. Can you make sure we can use it?” Or “Will you see if we can clear it?” And then I’ll send them new things that I get. “Hey, you know this is a new album from a new artist.” Or “Kelela has an album coming out. I got it early. Here’s the tracks I think would be great for the show.”
And then, we get together in a room and watch the show together and discuss specifically what songs they like, what they want to replace, what score cues they like, what the tone of the score cues should be that Raphael is going to write for the episode.
And then, I’ll come back if there are spots that need a different song, I’ll come back to them with so few options and present them. “Here’s three or four options for the scenes.” And then, we kind of review together and they pick.
On seeing the social media response (good and bad) to music on the show
I love getting to see the response online from music that’s on the show. Of course, that’s great when it’s all positive, but I also appreciate the constructive criticism sometimes.
But for me, one of the most fun parts about it is getting to expose new artists to audiences and getting to see what songs people respond to. And it’s interesting, to me, sometimes what people respond to more than others. So, it’s also kind of also a way of research, for me, to kind of see what connects with the audience. You know, how people perceive it.
On a song that didn’t connect with the audience in the way he hoped it would
I think there’s been a couple [of songs] that I’ve been surprised that didn’t get a reaction as much. There was a song in the first episode when Issa’s in the mirror trying on outfits because she’s expecting to meet Lawrence (her ex-boyfriend). And this song is called “Attitude” by Leikeli47.
When I first heard that song, I just knew that it was so great for the show. And it’s used so well in this montage, it’s such a great moment. But the response online wasn’t as… that wasn’t the song that came up as much and people’s responses.
And thinking about why, I think it was: when play a song behind Issa’s rap in the mirror, like Issa’s character and her rap is just so engaging that you really aren’t paying attention to the song behind it. The song did its job in that scene and it worked great. But I don’t think people heard it as clearly as other songs where you would hear just the song.
You know even though you’re not really hearing the lyrics of the song because it’s underneath Issa’s rap, you’re kind of getting the feeling of what the intent is. It really helps kind of support Issa’s confidence in trying to build herself up in that moment.
On the show prominently featuring women and Los Angeles-based artists
I think we definitely try to feature a lot of L.A. artists. We want to you know connect the sound of the show with the locations, and the city plays a big part in that, of course. But, at the same time, we just want good music. So, if a song works really well for this scene in the artist is from Chicago or something we’re not gonna replace it.
But we definitely seek out L.A. artists and make an effort to feature them where we can. And I make sure that I’m pitching them, and researching L.A. artists, and trying to find the best ones that kind of connect with the show, and make sure to feature women because, obviously, the show is from of strong female perspective.
Even though I’m a guy, I still feel like the show is often made for me… But I love it when I watch it. You know, I just enjoy it so much. But I think it’s important to us that to have those female voices because it speaks to the characters so strongly and can also connect with the female audience in a deeper way. But we’re definitely not like, staying away from men or anything like that [laughs].
We feature a lot of male artists and sometimes male artists over female driven scenes. If the song is speaking, if the lyrics are speaking, if the tone of the music is speaking to the scene, that’s really what the goal is.