Last night, I got to go to the Music in Horror Film panel at Soho House, to hear speakers including Lexi Alexander, Howard Paar, Thomas Golubic, and Ann Kline. The event focused on how music can heighten a scene or take away from it, and included references to classics including PSYCHO, JAWS, and THE SHINING, as well as contemporary television shows like BREAKING BAD and THE L WORD.

Lexi Alexander and Howard Paar talk Music in Horror Films
Music in Horror Panel at Soho House (apologies for the mediocre phone camera snapshot!)

The music supervisors were fascinating, as they gave us insight into the difficulties behind budgeting for music licensing. Lexi Alexander asked an astute question of Golubic – “after season one, [who] charged money to get their [song] on Breaking Bad?” Apparently: a lot of people. But she also later made a good point that “music is in such danger…and those who are supposed to support musicians are killing them,” whether through limiting exposure or finances. From an audience member’s standpoint, Alexander also reminded us astutely that “it’s annoying when you notice the score… seeing [a film] the first time… you shouldn’t notice it in the moment,” pointing out how some intrusive musical elements that can take away from a viewer’s experience.

As writers in the industry, music licensing is definitely something that comes up a lot more than many might think. We’re writing out a scene and think to ourselves “this scene would be perfect with this song!” without often realizing how costly that might be to the production. The music supervisor’s job is often to help facilitate finding a song at budget range that allows the director to move forward with her full vision. As a professional reader, it’s often my job to point out those places where a writer might have referenced a Rolling Stones or Taylor Swift song, with the knowledge that the budget might go through the roof to incorporate that specific song into that scene. They even pointed out that it was sometimes hard for people at Tarantino’s level to get the songs they’re looking for, whether because the artist may have some moral questions about the scene, or for budgetary reasons.

Alexander made a great point in that regard – that she wouldn’t be afraid to cut a few things if it would make the musician more comfortable. That’s the kind of quick-thinking, malleable style the industry needs to make these kinds of compromises when you’re fighting for a particular song – or any element of your film. Although some projects without music supervisors were mentioned, it was also clear that the music supervisor is an integral part of the film/TV team; beyond just picking songs, they have to negotiate budgets and make sure the licenses are cleared. The night wrapped up with a Q&A (in a large part focused on Breaking Bad’s musical choices), but Alexander also reminded us all of iconic music/film match-ups by stating “sometimes on the page it can read [offensively], but the musician won’t understand how iconic [the scene] will become.” All in all, a good reminder for all of us in the collaborative industry of film and television media.

Music supervisor Howard Paar just held a book signing on November 8th at 4 PM at Book Soup in Los Angeles for his book ONCE UPON A TIME IN LA. Lexi Alexander just directed the 4th episode of ARROW this season, airing Wednesday, October 28th.