Photo courtsey of Scott Vener
Like the song of a siren drenched in Axe Body Spray or the click…-shlug-shlug-shlug of a dozen beer cans being shotgunned in unison, the words of Jane's Addiction's "Superhero" are ubiquitous in the land of Bro, for they have introduced you to the multiverse of Entourage, week in, week out, for perpetuity. I say “words” like Perry Farrell’s wails are merely calls of affirmation. At this point in Entourage’s 11-year history, the show carries with it a host of associations: camaraderie, male friendship, put-downs about penis size, that time Drama and Turtle had a threesome at Sundance and crossed swords, Kanye showing up and flying the boys to Cannes on his private jet, Vince standing on the roof and learning Aquaman beat Spiderman, betting on soccer matches with Dennis Hopper, Vince wearing the fat suit during Medillin, and the boys having conversations about love and loss over a steamin’ hot cup of Joe at Urth Cafe. You know, the good shit that makes life worth living.
Say what you will about the actual quality of the show (for the record, I love it the way sharks love blood), but the music of Entourage was fucking unimpeachable. It mixed classic jukebox tunes, hip-hop, and bubbling indie music in a way that never felt forced or pandering. The artists featured on Entourage could be used as a veritable blueprint for assembling a definitive library of cool music: a little Phoenix here, a little Obie Trice there, topped off with a dose of Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin, whose “Going to California” capped the final scene of the entire series.
The show’s perspective on popular music is largely the work of one man: Scott Vener, a close friend of showrunner Doug Ellin’s who after suggesting Jay Z’s “Lucifer” as the end credits song for the series' pilot was eventually brought on to supervise the music. He also picked the music for the Entourage movie, and is fulfilling the same role on the HBO’s upcoming Ballers, a show centered around Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a former pro football player navigating the world of money management for professional athletes. Along with the now-canceled How to Make It in America (which Vener also picked the music for), Ballers could be considered something of a spiritual successor to Entourage. Vener also recently worked on the buzzed-about indie film DOPE, which features A$AP Rocky in a supporting role.
When Vener and I meet in West Hollywood, he’s trying to figure out who a mysterious extra writer on the song “Lifestyle” by Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan was. He needs them to sign off on the track so it can appear in a project he’s working on. The only problem is he has no idea who the other writer was, and nobody else seems to know either. In Vener’s early days he didn’t have to deal with this stuff, which can truly be a pain in the ass. However, those days are no more, and the onus of clearing “Lifestyle” has fallen upon him. (A few weeks later, he’ll tell me over email that the sample has been cleared.) Between his work on Ballers and his music discovery app Undertone, which aggregates tracks from every major music streaming service into a single social feed, he’s a busy guy.
Noisey: Tell me about the process of doing music supervision for a show like Entourage.
Scott Vener: The funniest part is my friend (Doug Ellin) created the show and before HBO picked it up he asked me to watch it at his house. When I watched it he was like, “Why aren’t you laughing?” And I was like, “The music is so bad I can’t pay attention to the jokes. This is supposed to be about cool kids from New York that come to LA and we’re listening to like corny pop music.” He was like, “Well if you can do better, do it. Just watch the show.”
What were you doing at the time?
At the time I was working at MTV in Talent Development in New York but I was visiting L.A. We went for a ride in his car and I was playing him a bunch of music and I played him Jay-Z’s “Lucifer” and he loved the song. So that became the first end credits song of Entourage, just because of us going for that ride in his car. So when the show got picked up he kept asking me, “Do you have any more songs for the show?” And I was like, “Well, why don’t you guys make me a music consultant? You don’t have to pay me. And I’ll send you all the music that I like and you guys figure it out.” So the first season was less me watching to picture and picking songs. It was more me just serving them up songs that I liked.
When the show came back the second year, I was living in L.A. at the time, no longer at MTV, and they invited me back and said “We’ll pay you, give you music consultant credit, and you can come to the meetings.” It was never a job because you could never make enough money for that to be a job. It was just fun. All I was doing was I knew my friends were watching the show and there were like ten friends who I wanted to impress. So all I was trying to do with each episode was hit them with a song we all loved or one they had never heard of. So that was the genesis of my rule of the show: I either wanted to be the first one to use it or reintroduce a song that could be a hit today.
Do you feel that there are any artists that you broke from supervising the show?
“Broke” is an interesting word to use, only because I don’t think any one thing “breaks” an artist. I think the skill set is recognizing that that song is about to leave the station, and being able to help boost it.
When The Weeknd’s songs started to come out on the internet, if you paid attention, you knew that it was going to be huge. But what was interesting for me was that I actually wanted him to be a part of Season 8, the final season, because of timing. It was all about Vince having the drug problem. So for our promo, I convinced HBO to let me use “High for This.” And he told me that after we licensed “High for This” and once radio stations in Canada saw that it was in the promo, they started playing that song on the radio. So that was a case where we influenced radio to start playing his music which could have led to him getting more fans that weren’t connected to the internet.
I have a theory that if a song is good and strong and appeals to a lot of people, it’s just a matter of the amplification of it getting passe around. Regardless that one to one connection is going to be made. It’s just the difference of a large or small scale.
When there’s music that I think is about to blow up, I obviously gravitate towards that because I can take responsibility for it because I’m giving it a platform. The cool part about Entourage at the time was there weren’t very many shows that would even play hip-hop. It’s a nightmare to clear because there’s so many writers on it and most people want to take the easiest road and just clear whatever. For me, one of the best things that happened was I didn’t even have to clear the music and so I was actually picking it from a fan perspective. And I didn’t have to think about how many different writers it took to do that. So I think that’s why we got a great stuff that we had never heard on TV before, like old-school stuff at that time. It was fun. What I took a lot of pride in about Entourage is the range of music we could use on the show without it ever feeling out of place. We could play a Janis Joplin song or we could play Yeasayer or we could play Eric B and Rakim and it all felt like it was supposed to be there.
I wanted to ask specifically about the placement of the final, final song of the show: the Led Zeppelin song “Going back to California.” What was the process of picking that song specifically?
I knew I wanted to use it in Season 5. That I wanted that to be my final song ever. I just thought that that was one of the most epic songs and how this series was known for its end credits and how could I top all of the end credits. We didn’t even know if they were gonna say yes because at that time Led Zeppelin was very precious about who they would let use their music and you had to have a lot of money to do it.
I heard that Jack Black had to write a letter to Jimmy Page to let Zeppelin use “Immigrant Song” in School of Rock.
We actually had to do something for HBO which was allow them to see the ending and just trusting them that anybody in the process of getting it to them wasn’t going to reveal what the ending was. I don’t know that the Sopranos even let Steve Perry see from what I’ve read. I think he just had to trust David Chase.
What role do you feel like music played on Entourage?
Well if you ask me it played the biggest role [laughs]. I used to joke with Doug Ellin all the time that music was the sixth cast member. But I think it kept it culturally relevant. The show was strong enough for people to want to watch it. If the show isn’t strong enough for people to want to watch it, I have no audience. I’d always tell people that I had to make the end credits song good enough to keep people long enough to see my credit at the end. If I could pick a song that was good enough, you could see my credit.
So what was the process like for picking music for the film?
I found it to be harder because I felt like in a season, the way I pick my music is I listen to a bunch of stuff, I throw it into a folder and then as I’m doing my work, I find places for it. With the movie, I only have one shot and I wanted it to be better than the show. I felt like there was a lot of pressure to make every single moment just be epic. And I think I did a really good job of putting it in there but it definitely took more time than I thought it would. Whereas when I’m doing episodes, it just felt easy. I’d be watching and think “Oh of course I’ll put this here,” or “I can make that work.” But with the movie it felt more closed in and trying to make all the pieces of the puzzle fit better.
Tell me about Ballers. I saw a trailer for it the other night and I was like extremely excited because I love The Rock.
He’s such a star. It’s great. The show is great. It’s kind of about the relationships that football players have in real life and with their teammates and it’s kind of about being able to balance your personal life with playing professional football. The Rock works as a retired football player who didn’t take care of his finances the way he should have and he’s gonna try and pass on those lessons to the newer guys. He’s working for a money management company to help straighten those things out and keep everybody in check.
Well I guess what mood were you going for with Ballers?
I’m using probably more old school soul and funk music but still a lot of hip-hop and current music. I’m having a lot of trouble using the new hip-hop that I like because a lot of people sample so much and nobody sells music anymore so they don't even bother to clear what they’re putting out. They’re just putting out music so they can tour and music that they think sounds cool.
Tell me about your app.
It’s called Undertone. It’s essentially Instagram for music. You post songs. You follow your friends and when you want to share the music that you see you can post it to any social media.
It brings the conversation back to the music because right here you can have a conversation about it and discuss the music. I think that’s one of the things that’s missing form music right now. When I got to hear Kendrick Lamar’s music before it came out and I was given an opportunity to talk about what I heard, I had only heard the song one time and when I heard it the first time I didn’t know that I was going to talk about what I heard, so I wasn’t prepared for it. And I loved the music so much afterwards that when I was in the parking lot I joked, “Hey can I tweet about this?” And they said, “You can talk about that one song if you want to.” When I started thinking about all the things I loved about the song, I’m so used to having on-demand material that it made me realize that I had to remember everything that I loved about it and what it made me do was call all the other people that were in the room at the time. It was in a Pharrell session with Kendrick and I called Pharrell’s engineer and his bass player and I was talking to them, saying, “What did you love about it?” And we had a three-way conversation about what we all thought. And it created this sort of mythology around the song that we couldn’t really get otherwise. That’s what I think music is missing today because a song comes out and you can just hit play so many times and you’re just on to the next one. Back in the day, a song would come on the radio and you had to wait for the DJ to shout out what it was or you had to call your friends. There was no Shazam. Or you had to wait until it came on again in order for you to hear it. So it made you love it that much more that you had to cherish it. Today there is so much content that it’s killing fan loyalty in my opinion and it’s only because of how much consumption we’re used to having and demand for it.
Drew Millard is definitely a Drama. He's an associate editor at VICE and you can follow him on Twitter.