Interview with Amanda Krieg

Scenes & Songs is a feature focused on the intersection of music and film, or in this case, TV. Each installment intends to examine movies and shows that involve significant musical subject content, distinct soundtracks, or maybe even just an excellent song used for a specific scene. View all

I am very interested in the intersection of music and film. As such, I was incredibly excited to talk with Amanda Krieg of Tadpole Audio about her job as a music supervisor, her background, her favorite uses of songs in film, tv, and commercials, and much more. She graciously answered all my questions (and patiently has waited for this interview to make it online) and I think you will all enjoy it immensely, especially if you have wondered about how songs make it into visual works, or like listening to someone share their knowledge intelligently and passionately.

Los Angeles-based Tadpole Audio is a great blog if you aren't familiar with it. It has one of the best taglines – "Where music and story meet. And hang out for a while" – and features including playlists/mixtapes, songs in commercials, music in trailers, good new tracks, and much more that you would expect from someone so immersed in the place where music and visual storytelling come together. Here's a piece I like about Young Adult that really nails what makes Jason Reitman's films so great musically in a general sense as well as how perfect "The Concept" was in particular.

I was inspired to reach out to Amanda after reading this great post on her evolution as a music lover. It's an incredible piece, honest and personal and funny, and it clearly shows how music shaped her and led her to where she is today. Ever since I discovered a person could actually get paid to pick out music for use in movies, tv shows, or even commercials, I've wanted to learn more. Amanda gave me that chance, and what I found out was very fascinating. I also like hearing about people's favorite scenes & songs, and Amanda had plenty of good picks to share.

Thanks again to Amanda for answering my questions and for waiting so long for me to get this online. Go check out her blog, like it on Facebook, and follow her on twitter. Here's the interview.

TWD: Could you share your background on how you got interested in being a music supervisor and ended up where you are now?

Amanda: Honestly, I never expected to be doing what I do now. As I wrote in that article [linked above], I always had a love of music, but was never particularly savvy about artists – past, present, or especially future, predicting which bands were going to break (still not very good at this part). I was a Broadway showtunes and Top 40 kind of girl. Even if I became obsessed with a particular song, I would rarely explore any deeper.

I studied theatre in college and was fortunate enough to get into a certificate program for writing for the media (playwriting, screenwriting, etc.), which is why I decided to try out Los Angeles. I interned here before my senior year and liked it enough to pack up my little car and move here after graduation. Coming from a stage management background, I liked the idea of producing as well as writing, so I went after jobs assisting film producers, television executives, writer's rooms, anything. I ended up with what was basically an in-house temp gig at Lionsgate. After four months I was desperate to settle in on a desk somewhere, and a job opened up assisting the EVP of Business and Legal Affairs in Music. It seemed better than nothing, so I went for it, thinking I would learn this particular area of filmmaking and eventually transfer into another department closer to what I wanted to do. After a year I was offered a position on the creative side assisting the Head of Film Music, and the rest is history.

TWD: What are some examples of your "gateway" music, films, and TV shows? Also plays, since I know you were very into those too.

A: I can't remember any movies or television shows that – as a whole, musical experience – led me to where I am today. This might sound weird, but I would actually credit musical theatre. I've loved musicals ever since I can remember and performed in them from pre-school up until college, when I realize I was actually a pretty lousy singer. It never seemed cheesy to me that I was asked to believe people would just break out into song at any given moment (not that musicals aren't cheesy, of course). "Where words fail, music speaks," said Hans Christian Anderson. Sometimes music is necessary to convey emotion where words or visuals alone don't do the trick. In musicals, characters sing their feelings. In film and television, song choice adds layers of meaning to a simple exchange.

If I had to choose one "gateway" film though, I might actually have to go with the soundtrack to Disney's Tarzan. Weird, I know. I grew up with (and adored) the Disney animated classics, and Tarzan was the first time none of the characters sang. Instead, Phil Collins wrote a handful of soaring pop hits to accompany key montages in the film. On my own mix CDs, I would listen to favorite tracks (as well as other pop songs I was into at the time) and envision how each might fit into the story I myself was writing at the moment. I didn't think about it at the time, but I was kind of backward (as in starting with the songs) music supervising in my head!

TWD: What are some of your current favorites?

A: In general, I always appreciate when a film or television show has a cohesive sound. True Blood is a great example. I love that show. Not only does it have Alexander Skarsgard and vampires, but also really goes to show that when producers care about music it can yield exciting results. That show could so easily not be a music show – often the only music outside of the end credit song is a fuzzy background at Merlotte's – but because Alan Ball values good (and interesting) music choices and clearly trusts Gary Calamar, it not only has a distinct voice, but several Grammy-nominated soundtracks.

As far as films, most recently Drive comes to mind. I could go on and on as to why the music just really works, but to my point, I especially admired the way the score and source music (licensed songs) complemented each other so seamlessly that despite there being only a small handful of songs used, the music as a whole was a tangible character in the story. And sold a lot of soundtracks.

TWD: Do you remember the first particular moment when a song was used in either a film or TV show that struck you in a meaningful way?

A: One song that always seemed incredibly cinematic to me was "Romeo and Juliet" by Dire Straits. It was used in one of my favorite movies of all time, Empire Records. That final scene is amazing, with Renee Zellweger singing "Sugar High" on the roof…I still can't believe they didn't put her version in the soundtrack. And if I didn't already prove myself a giant nerd, I was hugely obsessed with the show Roswell in high school (music supervised by Alexandra Patsavas, though I had no idea at the time) and have a very clear memory of Sheryl Crow's "I Shall Believe" being used during an emotional moment in the series. There were tears, and the song was on every mix CD I made for at least a year.

TWD: What is your current job and title?

A: I am currently a Music Coordinator at Format Entertainment, working specifically under Julia Michels, who music supervised films like The Blind Side, A Single Man, The Devil Wears Prada, both Sex and the City movies, and most recently the a cappella comedy Pitch Perfect.

TWD: What is the day-to-day of your work like?

A: It always changes! I answer office phones and handle all of Julia's scheduling, plus at least a few times a day people will reach out sending new music or asking what we're working on – so there is always a constant stream of emails to address. I also try and listen through at least a couple album a day, whether in my car or in the office. We have an iTunes library of over 100,000 songs, all organized into project folders, genres, moods, themes…you name it (credit goes to my predecessor for that). And it's my responsibility to keep it up to date so that if a specific search comes along for one of our projects I'm ready. The rest all depends on the day. Often there will be music searches to work on, keeping track of song clearances and important notes for each project, reading scripts, updating post production calendars…you name it.

TWD: How do you actually make matches? How do you decide what part of a song to use if you don't use all of it?

A: First of all, I am definitely not a decision maker. Often times, my boss isn't even the decision maker. It's always a very collaborative process, between the music supervisor, studio executives, producers, music editors and director. If it's a small film I'm working on outside of my day job, I will generally send three to five options to the director (or producer) with notes detailing where I think the song should start in the scene. In larger films, it's working closely with a great music editor. I've interviewed music supervisors who without hesitation say that the music editor is their closest ally on a film, and I believe it. Sometimes we'll specify "song kicks in here," or "use the chorus," but often we leave it to the music editor's discretion. And how to decide which part of the song really all depends on the scene and where the song needs to fit. Does there need to be a big change to go along with a transition into a new scene or multiple mood changes within the same scene? Are certain lyrics more fitting with the picture than others? Is it an extremely short scene, so all that's needed is a punchy chorus? A lot of the time it comes down to what just feels right.

TWD: What do you think makes a good match? Do you emphasize words or tone, or does it just depend?

A: As I said, it really depends on the scene. Probably the best match is when all of the above align with each other, the picture, and the director's vision.

TWD: Do you find music, or is it sent to you?

A: Most of it is sent to me. There are probably around ten to fifteen links and five to ten CDs sent to our office every day. Sometimes those are samplers of twenty tracks, or a few full albums, or five singles…it varies. Basically there is a constant and overwhelming influx of new music to listen to and organize. It's impossible to keep up. That's where I find Twitter and music bloggers very helpful. I may not click on every link, but if I see a band mentioned by a blog I like, or many blogs I like, and their album ends up in my inbox, I'm much more likely to check that one out before an artist I've never heard of.

TWD: How easy is it to get the rights? How collaborative is this process?

A: Well that all depends on the song. Music licensing is a very complicated puzzle, which is one of the best/worst things about the process. One song could have two owners, or it could have twenty, each with their own little pieces of the pie. Sometimes these owners are major labels, and sometimes it's someone living in the country without any idea they own a percentage of a copyright. In order to move forward with the use, you have to not only track all these parties down, but get them to say yes. Like every other aspect of supervision, it's extremely collaborative and very dependent on relationships. On smaller films the music supervisor will be doing the all the research and clearing (getting the rights) all the songs. If you're working with a major studio, often times a supervisor will do all the initial research and have preliminary conversations with the licensors (song owners) with regards to budget and other important details, then pass all of the key information over to the studio clearance department to actually get the official paperwork done. Sometimes a production company will hire a third party company who only clears music to work with the supervisor if they don't have a clearance department. I've experienced all of these processes.

TWD: Has there ever been something you wanted to use but couldn't?

A: There have been times I've pitched songs that ultimately weren't chosen, or a song I thought fit really well didn't work out for legal reasons…but I'm still so early in my career that there hasn't been a song I was really passionate about and thought was perfect in a scene that ended up getting vetoed. I'm sure there will be many of those though!

TWD: Who is more likely to veto a deal, the company or the musicians?

A: All depends on the song…and the budget.

TWD: What are some of your favorite scenes with great songs and why do you like them so much?

A: I mentioned a few earlier, and really there are so many. On the sillier end of the spectrum, I love the "Lime in the Coconut" scene in Practical Magic and "Day-O" in Beetlejuice. Both of those songs have just the right amount of commercial appeal and weirdness to fit in each film (and in those particular sequences). Almost every scene in Empire Records; that soundtrack so perfectly captured the music of the era. Same with 10 Things I Hate About You. There are so many great songs on that soundtrack. I've very California ska punk pop. In particular, I always remember the scene where Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles are at the paintball park. Semisonic's "F.N.T." is the transition into the scene and plays throughout. It's driving and dynamic while still rockin' and a little quirky. Lastly, "Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve in the end scene of Cruel Intentions was just so spot on, I can still picture Sarah Michelle Gellar's face as she realizes she has been royally screwed. I've heard people hate on it, but I think it builds beautifully and perfectly fits the moment.

TWD: What is a great soundtrack that you love? What is one that you may not like much but still think works well?

A: I've been clear about my love of Empire Records and 10 Things I Hate About You. I think The Hunger Games really succeeded in a similar way to True Blood – the film really didn't call for a lot of "hip" licensed music, but the producers understood their audience and were able to identify an aesthetic and went with it. Of course having someone like T. Bone Burnett involved doesn't hurt. Speaking of, I adored the Crazy Heart soundtrack as well. Eat Pray Love was not my favorite movie or soundtrack of all time (though I loved the book), but I'm also not a forty-something woman. One of the challenges of music supervision is that you have to be conscious of inserting your taste where it doesn't belong. Again, keep your audience in mind. For example, I'm not generally a fan of Christian rock, but I acknowledge that it's going to fit way better in The Biggest Loser than something off the Reptar album (one of current favorite artists). I felt that the music in Eat Pray Love was perfectly suited for the audience. And the song Eddie Vedder wrote for the film is excellent.

TWD: What is a show that uses music well?

A: There are many shows that feature a ton of great music: The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, Revenge, Gossip Girl, Grey's Anatomy, Parenthood, Weeds…just to name a few. And I admire True Blood and actually Louie – both totally different shows – for having very specific musical templates.

TWD: I know this happens for me, where I have discovered new music from its use on film and TV. I assumed this has happened for you. What are some examples?

A: Pretty much every song I've mentioned thus far in this interview ("Romeo and Juliet," "I Shall Believe," "Sugar High," etc.), I discovered via film or television. Since I didn't grow up a music nerd, outside of Z100, that's how I first encountered many artists I fell in love with. More recently, I got really into Damien Rice because of hearing his song "9 Crimes" in True Blood. Season three, episode four for those who want to look it up. The sequence actually started with Massive Attack's "Paradise Circus" and went into "9 Crimes." Dark, sexy, and chilling. So perfectly True Blood. And I went hunting for that whole album after hearing it.

TWD: In closing, what do you think was one of the best uses of music in film/tv/commercials/etc in 2012?

A: When I think about music in media (film, television, commercials, trailers) in 2012 there are actually three that come to mind. The first is on the BBC show Sherlock. Overall, it's a fantastic show and worth tracking down on the Internet, which is how my boyfriend and I watch it. The second season aired this year, and the score is simply fantastic (it was in the first season as well). I don't think I've ever watched a show and been as struck by the score as I am with Sherlock. It is lush and whimsical and is practically a third main character in the series. I also loved the use of Pigeon John's "Set It Loose" in the Fun Size trailer and Willy Moon's "Yeah Yeah" in the most recent Apple iPod commercial. I became aware of "Yeah Yeah" a few months ago, and it is without a doubt my favorite song of the year. It's sung by a gangly retro-soul dude from New Zealand and features a Wu Tang Clan sample. What's not to love? I was so happy to see the track getting the attention it deserves, and the editing of the bouncing iPods to the track was great.