There are certain moments in film and television when emotions run high, the tension has been built up to its very peak, and in your bones, you can feel the onslaught of a devastating event. Perhaps a beloved character is about to be killed off, or maybe it’s the final ten minutes of a series before the show is taken off the air forever. Regardless, we as an audience have been trained to mentally prepare for these events when we hear the first melancholic piano keys or trumpeting blast of a snare drum signaling an important moment. In these times, the music that’s been paired with that specific scene in a television show or film has the power to transcend the actual content being displayed, and years after that scene has passed, hearing just a couple of notes from that song can trigger an intense flashback.
David Hayman is a music supervisor. His entire career revolves around burying himself in the wide array of music blogs available online to find promising emerging artists and license their music to pair with aforementioned dramatic scenes. He’s used thousands of previously unknown Canadian and international artists while working on shows like Rookie Blue, Less Than Kind, Saving Hope, and Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, as well as feature films like The Dirties, The Bang Bang Club, and Repeaters.
One of his favourite facets of the job is finding Canadian talent, the more local the better, and introducing them to an audience that wouldn’t have discovered them otherwise. Noisey caught up with David at his studio one day to learn more about the world of music supervision.
Noisey: What exactly is music supervision and why did you decide to get involved with it?
David Hayman: Music supervision is the process of attaching the perfect song to a scene for a variety of media. Whether it be television, film, or commercials, it’s my job to find a song that perfectly encompasses what the filmmaker or showrunner is trying to portray on screen. I decided to get into it during film school when I realized that music in film was reaching me far more than anything else. Whether it be music in The Sopranos or the use of Sia’s "Breathe Me" in the Six Feet Under finale, it was those moments that hit me in the gut the hardest. There’s so much baggage that a song brings and so much pop cultural beauty that it can bring to a scene and I just wanted to be a part of that.
Sia’s “Breathe Me” seems to be in everything these days.
[laughs] That’s true, I’ve even used that song myself a couple of times. It’s just such a gut wrenching song. But I prefer to stay away from the songs that are used again and again if I can.
How important is it to you to find and use music from artists and bands that are just emerging?
It’s incredibly important. I’ll admit there are times that I search by year and if it’s not 2014 then I’m not going to present it. Keeping it fresh on my shows is so important. We want to make television kind of the new radio. We want people to know what’s new and what’s hot and support those bands that are active. Of course there are times when you’re going to use a song that’s been used time and time again, but how amazing is it when you can ride the wave of a band on an upward ride?
How do you find them? Do you wake up and spend a couple of hours reading the blogs?
If I find a new song there’s a good chance they’ve performed it on Daytrotter sessions, on KTXP, on KCRW, or maybe they have a really cool music video out that’s getting some buzz. The best part is learning about a really interesting band and learning they’re coming to your hometown. Seeing a band live just gives me a completely different view on their music and helps me visualize it on a show.
Kind of like a chicken or egg scenario. What comes first, the need for a song or a song that fills an empty spot you didn’t even know you had?
I’ve always seen music and film as the same thing. I see music. I visualize everything I hear. I always have. Even when I was a kid, my friends used to make fun of me when I used to close my eyes at concerts. The audience just isn’t as interesting to me as being in my own head, so as much as I think it’s the need to fill a spot on film, it’s more that I just see music. I see it as the soundtrack to my own life. I’ll look at someone on the street and find his or her song. I love sound tracking moments for other people.
You’re John Cusack in High Fidelity.
Oh man, I was not nearly as good looking and my jacket wasn’t anywhere as cool, but that guy, man. I literally was always connected to my stereo and made a mixtape for a girl I liked. My life in many ways was choreographed like a music video, whether it be romantic thing, interaction, or just driving and I’m in a scene from Mad Max or playing hockey and I’ve got Tragically Hip in my head, it’s all very visual to me. It’s part of what made me realize that music supervision was a role that I could do extremely well.
You mentioned the Tragically Hip, one of the more famous Canadian bands. How important to you is it that you use Canadian music?
Oh man, it’s so important. I love Canada and I love Canadian music. I think we have such a diverse group of talented musicians, from singer songwriters to EDM killers. From Arcade Fire to Japandroids, we have every genre of music covered and covered extremely well. In October we have an episode of Saving Hope where we’re really promoting Hayden. The more Canadian talent I can use, the better.
Who are some of the Canadian artists and bands you’ve used in recent years?
I wish I could show you the playlist we just created for the Pan-Am games, because that’s like a love letter to Canadian music, but it’s top secret for now. Recently, we’ve licensed quite a few Canadian artists for Rookie Blue, which is always a fun experience. Canadian artists don’t often get the coverage they deserve, and because so much of what they put out is cinematic, it’s a high to be able to promote their music through international prime time television shows. Bands like Twist, The Darcys, We Are Wolves, Zeus, Gloryhound, Western Terrestrial, The Beaches, Scientists of Sound, and artists like Hannah Georgas, Thugli, Matt Mays, Gavin Slate, and K-Os are just the tip of the iceberg.
You have all these artists and bands at your fingertips, how do you go from hearing a song to actually attaching it to a scene?
I think the best word in any business is undeniable and arresting. If it’s undeniable and arresting, you know it. It’s got to have a real point of difference. Whether it be a vocal presentation like a Lexi Murdoch, Burt Daniels or even an odd and refreshing tone like Alt J, it has to make you stop. Sometimes it’s just the power of a song, like a band like Fucked Up. It’s beautiful punk music. It leaves you thinking, “What the fuck just happened?” For television, space is the most arresting quality to a song, so I’ll look for a track that has quite a bit of space in it. Last night I found a solution for a scene in a band called The Careful Ones. It’s JMR’s band and he’s blowing up as a single artist. The Careful Ones have these beautiful songs and the best way to describe them is really just less is more. It’s a lot of emptiness and a lot of nothing and I think that’s what works really well in film.
You’ve mentioned quite a bit during this interview that you prefer to use emerging artists? Why wouldn’t you be drawn to a Kanye or Beyonce track that’s already garnered so much response from fans?
There are mainstream songs that I fall in love with to the point when they’re on repeat like 90 times. I’ll admit I listened to Lorde’s "Royals" so many times. It’s a revolutionary song when you think of space and the composition that comes from such a young artist and it’s just gorgeous, but as soon as it got into the popular realm, it got hijacked and it got overplayed and the audience suddenly turns from a smart older crowd into a crowd of really young girls. It doesn’t become appropriate for the brands I’m working on anymore. Kanye West’s shows are flooded with teenage girls now. He’s not who he was when he was a college dropout, he’s just not. When people watch television, they don’t want to be distracted by the song. They want the song to perfectly compliment the scene. Massive chart toppers are distracting for audiences.
You want to create a Twin Peaks “dream sequence” vibe, is what you’re saying?
Exactly. People remember that music years after Twin Peaks ended, but it didn’t overpower the scene. They worked together in harmony.
As someone who listens to a large amount of under the radar musicians, who are you listening to right now that you recommend?
That’s a tough question, just because I have so many artists flooding through my mind. I am loving Operators, the Dan Boeckner from Wolf Parade’s new project. Blowing my mind. Definitely JMR. He’s just killing it right now. Everything he’s putting up is sending shivers up my spine, which is what I look for when I’m collecting tracks to pitch for shows. I also really love Swedish stuff in general right now. Swedish or Scandinavian female stuff . You can see that style is definitely starting to flow into North American style now, too. You’re seeing it with Banks and Madi Diaz. Although, one of my favourite albums right now is the new Death From Above 1979. Those guys have been away for six years and now they’re back with the same kind of vibe that I really dig. The list goes on though.
Julia Alexander only watches TV for the music - @loudmouthjulia