Published in The Music (QLD) on theMusic.com.au, Sep 2017
How To Get Your Music On ‘Better Call Saul’
The unsung heroes behind Breaking Bad, Weeds and more, music supervisors and consultants Michelle Johnson and Amine Ramer tell Daniel Cribb why we might be hearing more Aussie acts on screen after BIGSOUND.
Listening to music and watching TV all day might sound like a dream job, and on the surface, that’s what the role of a music supervisor and consultant appears to be, but as New Zealand-based BIGSOUND speaker Amine Ramer (Faking It, Weeds) is quick to point out, it goes far deeper. “I don’t want to be Debbie Downer and tell people how much paperwork is involved, but I probably will a little bit,” she laughs.
Likewise, US talent Michelle Johnson – who is also heading to Australia for the first time for BIGSOUND – says it’s “a lot of work”. “But I really do love it and it’s really fun to do the various creative work and I honestly have fun nerding out on budget stuff too,” she’s quick to add.
As Ramer explains, it’s important to understand and have a passion for film, TV and music and how they relate to each other as well as studying up on the music industry. “With more people entering the industry, a lot of things can go wrong,” she says. “I’ve heard so many stories where people will fight to get a song then they’ll be told after the song is in the film that the band said it was their song, but it turns out it’s a cover song.”
Which bounces off Johnson’s comments in regards to diving headfirst into Spotify binge sessions. “It’s always good to know as much about music as you can, not just the current music but old music – even if you don’t like it,” she explains; no doubt advice she utilised while working on Breaking Bad and is continuing to hone while working on prequel Better Call Saul. “If there’s a genre you don’t like, learn about it because you will be tasked to find music in that genre one day.”
It can be a hard balancing act in terms of choosing a song that won’t bore but also won’t take away from the story unfolding. “As a viewer, if I don’t notice the music in a film, that usually means it was so perfect that it just moved the scene through or it was so perfect for the scene that you may respond but you’re still fully involved in the visuals,” Ramer explains.
In all of the aforementioned shows, both Johnson and Ramer played a key role in moving the story forward. “It’s impossible for me, working as a music supervisor, to not think of music in terms of what show it would work on,” laughs Johnson. “Besides the fact of, ‘I dig that song’, I’m always thinking, ‘That song would be great on Love or that song would be cool on Grace & Frankie or that would be cool for Better Call Saul.’ Each show has a different need and so you’re always compartmentalising your taste for that show.”
“I’ve been ruined,” Ramer laughs. “Even the radio, my brain is set on hardwired to think, ‘That songs worked there, or it didn’t, that would be great for a montage scene.’ It’s on automatic now when I listen to music. I have to go to live performances to just hear the music sometimes.”
Which is where conferences like BIGSOUND come in handy. “I love listening to independent, new and emerging artists because you find some of the best music,” Johnson says. “[Independent bands] are always a great well that we visit because a lot of times we are looking for more affordable music to licence and that comes from newer, independent artists. We’re always willing to look at that.”
With so many acts on this year’s BIGSOUND bill, there’s every chance Ramer and Johnson will be making notes for potential placement down the track. “Going to something like [BIGSOUND], you are going to hear things that haven’t been sent to you, or seeing how the audience responds to a song might change your mind about how you initially heard it,” Ramer adds.
So, what can the BIGSOUND buzz bands do to ensure they maximise their chance of scoring a place on a show like Better Call Saul? “The best way is to get in through independent companies that know how to service to music supervisors, just because we’re such a fast moving industry,” Johnson explains.
“It’s not only just hearing something and going, ‘I love it, I want to use it,’ and then hitting them up about it – you have to then make sure that they have their shit together, too,” Ramer adds. “It’s an investment in a sense of wanting it bad enough that you want to use it and have the band get out there that way, but also being careful that you’re not going to get yourself in a situation.”