- Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017
Among the eight Emmy nominations earned this year by Master of None (Netflix) are Outstanding Comedy Series, Lead Comedy Actor (Aziz Ansari), Writing (Ansari, Lena Waithe), Editing (Jennifer Lily) and Music Supervision. The latter is groundbreaking, marking the first time that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has recognized music supervision with its own tailor-made category. Music supervisors Zach Cowie and Kerri Drootin are thus first-time Emmy nominees for the “Amarsi Un Po” episode of Master of None.
Cowie and Drootin’s fellow nominees in the Music Supervision category are: Thomas Golubic for the “Sunk Costs” episode of Better Call Saul (AMC); Susan Jacobs for the “You Get What You Need” installment of Big Little Lies (HBO); Jonathan Leahy and Tom Wolfe for the “Goodbye Tour” episode of Girls (HBO); and Nora Felder for the “Chapter Two: The Weirdo On Maple Street” episode of Stranger Things (Netflix).
Music supervisors Cowie and Drootin are gratified by their nominations on Master of None--not just for themselves but in the big picture for all music supervisors.
“Getting a category for Outstanding Music Supervision is huge for our community,” affirmed Drootin. “I’m still just so pleasantly surprised by it all and just so thankful to the Music Supervisors Guild and all of the others who have worked so hard to make this a reality. I’m super stoked to be part of the freshman class for this one. I think a lot of really exciting things are happening in the world of music supervision right now and the timing for this all just really makes sense. With so many more shows getting produced and so many new platforms offering content, I find that the quality of TV shows is quickly elevating and thank goodness that the music included seems to be following that course as well. Music supervisors are getting the opportunity to take more risks because producers are taking more risks with their work. I’ve music supervised many network shows for a major studio for years and at the end of the day, you have to help create a show that could appeal to an incredibly wide audience, so the music has to follow along those lines. It’s exciting to be able to help push the boundaries and experiment more with different eras and genres of music.”
Cowie shared, “Personally all I can think of is people to thank. One of the biggest ‘thank you’s’ goes to my fellow supervisors (nominated or not!) who’ve done so much to establish this as an artform. It’s their years of exceptional work which has brought us to this place, where a show’s music is as much of a talking point as any of the other creative arts that have their own categories.”
Cowie added that he owes a debt of gratitude to “all the people who’ve taught me so much about music. I’m relatively new to supervision, coming from about 15 years of working at record stores and record labels as well as DJ’ing and record collecting. In supervision, you’re only as useful as the music knowledge that’s available to you and I feel so lucky to have been brought up in a musical community which has spent so much time and effort in teaching me about all of these things which I can now share with all of our viewers.”
SHOOT asked both Cowie and Drootin to define the role of a music supervisor. Cowie explained, “You’re essentially overseeing, and often involved with the selection and sometimes production, of any music which hits the screen both pre-existing (source), and things specifically created for the show/film (score). The level of involvement on both of those things varies drastically from project-to-project. For selection of source material, the real goal is to musically support and propel the story you’re telling. Ideas to do this are exchanged with producers, directors, showrunners, editors, etc and once songs are locked you enter the lesser discussed aspect of negotiation and clearance of the selected music with its master owners and publishers, all the while monitoring and staying within the licensing budgets that have been dictated by the studios. For score, you may be involved in the decision-making process of who to hire as a composer as well as act as a middle-person between the production side and the composer in terms of translating direction, expectations, and general feedback between the two parties until the created pieces of music have reached a point of approval. Like I said, this is a big question and the real answer is many, many pages long, but I hope this generalization gets the gist across.”
Drootin observed, “Music supervision entails figuring out the musical tone of a show, early on in production, with the producers of the show. We usually start by pulling a bunch of music for them to listen to, get inspired by and possibly use in the show. As cuts come together we fine tune everything. Oftentimes, you can’t really put music to a scene until the scene is cut and you can see how it looks, get a read on the pacing, and as Zach likes to say, even see the colors. But other times, it helps the editors to have a song in mind that they can cut the scene too. And there are a lot of times when producers or writers of the episode have a song in mind that they want to go with and sometimes the songs are already written into the script, It all depends.
“If I need to pitch songs for a particular scene I usually send five to 15 options and once a song is picked we start the clearance process,” continued Drootin. “A lot of people can put great songs to scenes, or make a great mix tape, but you have to know how to license music to get the job done. You have to know how to research the labels and writers and publishers of each song and know who to contact at each of these companies to license it from and know how much you should be paying for each song. Being a music supervisor isn’t as sexy as people think. It’s super fun and there’s nothing else I would rather be doing but a good 60 to 70 percent of my day is researching, typing letters, negotiating and budgeting songs on a spreadsheet.”
As for the biggest creative challenges that Master of None posed to them, Cowie cited “the general pressure we all put on ourselves” for season two “to ‘go bigger’ and out-do anything we’d established in season one. This goes for every department on the show— whenever there was a scary, less-safe path available, that’s where we headed! And I’ll tell ya now that we’re on the air and the reviews are in— NOTHING feels better than taking chances, doing something kinda risky and having it be well received. For Kerri and I to accomplish these goals in a way that best suited season two, we needed a lot of Italian music. Finding the right stuff wasn’t nearly as challenging as clearing it was and that’s why Kerri is our secret weapon.”
Drootin noted, “Zach does a bulk of the creative on this show, he really does, and his vision, along with Aziz, always blows me away. I’m a big fan of the music on this show. So, on this particular production, I fill in on the creative when we need a targeted pitch and I handle all of the licensing. I have been doing licensing for 17 years and have been a music supervisor for 15 and this show is definitely the gnarliest licensing wise, but absolutely the most rewarding. This season we have an Italian theme running throughout and it turns out that Italian music is really challenging. Luckily, Zach and Aziz and Alan [EP Yang who teamed with Ansari to create Master of None] started throwing around Italian music ideas way early on in production--I think even before scripts were written. I thought that six months was more than enough time to clear some of these tracks but it turns out it was barely enough! ‘Amarsi Un Po’ by Lucio Battisti was the biggest beast. The song was written by Battisti and his writing partner, Mogol. While most of their works go through one of the major music publishers, this particular song just so happened to be with Lucio’s widow directly, Grazia Letizia Veronese and her company Aqua Azzurra Music. That’s when the Internet digging really got going. What I learned from Google (by translating a bunch of Italian articles) is that Grazia had not allowed Lucio’s music to be licensed before. I did everything I could to try to find a contact for her or their son but came up totally dry. That’s when I got desperate and started asking almost everybody in the licensing community if they know how to get a hold of this woman. I hounded everybody that published any Italian music. I felt like I was driving everybody nuts. I noticed that Universal Publishing has most of Lucio’s work in their repertoire and my friend in the L.A. office was kind enough to put me in touch with a man named Giancarlo out of their Italian office, thinking that he could possibly help and he did! He was kind enough to find a way to get the request to her directly and he acted as an agent on my behalf even though his company had no stake in this song. She ultimately had approval on the master recording side of this deal as well. After weeks of waiting and following up (on the heels of researching for months just to get to this point), I awoke to an email one day from Grazia Letizia Veronese! She gave her approval and said that if I should have just come to her directly, this all could have been sorted out much quicker. I was so thrilled! My jaw hit the ground and I laughed and then I wrote her back and told her that she really wasn’t so easy to track down! This all came down two or three days before we mixed this episode! She then also gave her approval for us to use this song title as our episode title. We were so humbled that she gave her blessing for this use. We couldn’t believe it. She was so cool about it. It felt like winning the lottery.”
Getting the gig
Also fortuitous for Drootin and Cowie was getting the opportunity to work on Master of None. Drootin related, “I am an in-house music supervisor for NBCUniversal TV and I was lucky enough to be the music supervisor on The Office and then [writer/producer] Mike Schur brought me on to music supervise Parks and Recreation--and from there I went on to work on Brooklyn Nine-Nine that he does with [writer/producer] Dan Goor (and now I also music supervise his show, The Good Place). I saw Master of None pop up on our internal upcoming show list and I knew that this could potentially be a really cool project. I’ve always thought Aziz was hilarious and I knew that a lot of the fun hip hop that we used on Parks and Rec was because of him so I knew I wanted to be a part of this one. I reached out to Mike Schur and also to Michael Swanson who is our network production executive on this show (as well as Parks and Brooklyn) and told them to keep me in mind for this one.”
Meanwhile Cowie recalled, “Like all of the best things that have ever happened to me, I just fell into it. I started to get to know Alan and Aziz through some mutual DJ friends like Chris Holmes and we’d talk a bit about music at different parties I was spinning records at. Once they sold the show, Alan texted asking if I’d be interested in doing their music and I responded immediately with a big YES without reading anything. That said, my initial attraction to the project was just how much I liked and trusted Alan and Aziz. After signing on, they hit me with a few scripts and I was floored. The process of reading scripts is an interesting one--the good stuff just glows compared to the bad. And the things I was reading in season one (and even more so in season two!) were just ELECTRIC. I instantly knew it was special and i was lucky to be a part of it. A ‘sound’ for the show formed in my head rather quickly as I was reading and it was shocking how quickly the three of us got on the same page in terms of further defining that sound. I can’t state enough how much of a collaboration the music selection process for both seasons was— Alan and Aziz should have their names on this nomination as well! I’ve never been a part of something so devoid of ego, We really did just smash our brains together and it truly didn’t matter who thought of what...we all just wanted THE BEST MUSIC to move these stories along.”
Cowie’s good fortune extended to his being paired for the first time with Drootin. Seasons one and two of Master of None “are the only things Kerri and I have worked together on,” noted Cowie, adding, “Oftentimes an outside/independent supervisor like myself is teamed up with someone in-house to assist with the supervision process, most notably the negotiation and clearance side. That’s how Kerrie and I ended up together and I feel so lucky for it...So much of this music truly wouldn’t have made it to the screen without someone with her skill and patience in handling the clearances.”
Drootin had never even met Cowie prior to their coming together on Master of None. “I came from the studio side and Zach is friends with Aziz,” said Drootin. “Aziz knew that Zach has a crazy deep musical knowledge via his DJ gigs and the albums that he produces for record label Light In The Attic, and we kind of just got teamed up. It worked out so well! He’s super easy going and pleasant and we work together so smoothly. It’s as easy as it could possibly be considering the amount of music that we are using and the rarity of it all. It also turns out we have a lot in common. We both have a love of ethnomusicology. Zach is an intense record collector and my husband and I are as well. My husband actually has a company called LP Guru and is a high-end audiophile record dealer. So, whenever we all hang out the guys have a lot to talk about--record stores, gear, avant garde jazz. We also grew up as huge Grateful Dead fans. Kismet!”