Euphoria’s Music Supervisor Has The Coolest Job In The World – Here’s How She Got It

If you felt goosebumps at the heart-racing twangs of Orville Peck’s "Dead of Night" over Nate and Cassie speeding in the car in Euphoria, the hopeful nostalgia of The Cranberries’ "Dreams" over the teen survivors diving into a lake in Yellowjackets or Mykki Blanco’s "My Nene" exploding over a pole dance scene in Zola, you’ll have heard the work of Emmy-nominated music supervisor Jen Malone
It’s impossible to talk about these projects without acknowledging their addictive and genre-blurring soundtracks; their music identity is very much tied up with their acclaim. A soundtrack can do the heavy lifting when it comes to building atmosphere, foreshadowing something to come or even defining two separate timelines – as it does in the intertwining '90s and present-day scenes of Yellowjackets. Yes, Malone is responsible for masterminding the perfect song selections, but it’s much more than that.
Over the past decade music supervision has become more prevalent in the world of film and television, even establishing its own Emmy category in 2017. It’s a role that has become crucial to productions and often calls for more than just making great playlists and discovering new artists.
Malone started out as a publicist for legendary rock bands including Nine Inch Nails, Portishead and The Chemical Brothers, later moving on to supervising reality television. She got her big break with the first season of Atlanta and has gone on to work on standout titles such as Malcolm & Marie and Pieces of a Woman. This year is set to be even bigger, with the highly anticipated third season of Atlanta and WeCrashed scheduled for release.
Here, Malone tells Refinery29 how she made the jump from publicity, how challenging it can be to clear a song over a graphic scene, and the unlikely places she finds inspiration...
For people who think being a music supervisor involves just making playlists and listening to music all day, how different is the actual reality?
That is a very common misconception about what music supervisors do. We are the head of the music department – we oversee every aspect of music, outside of score. It encompasses creative and picking out songs that we then present to our director for them to choose which song works best because, at the end of the day, it's about serving the director's vision of the show. 
We also handle any pre-records, so for example [Euphoria composer Labrinth's] "All For Us" in season one was a huge production, from creating the marching band arrangement to actually hiring the band, getting the people into the recording studio to record, overseeing that process, working with choreographers, working with everybody on set to make sure they have all the assets so they're singing along to the right song. Clearing the music is probably one of the most important aspects of our job because you can have the most perfect song for the scene but if you can't clear it, you can't use it, and clearing it can take hours of research just to find out if it's in the public domain or not.
You are working on insane deadlines for television and that can be a lot of pressure. It's very intense. When you have a show like Euphoria with the amount of music that we have, it is a giant, sometimes overwhelming task to fulfil Sam's [Levinson] vision. So it's not just making cool playlists.
Would you say that's one of the most challenging things about being a music supervisor?
It's a very intense position because cuts change so much. We'll see an episode of the show and then we'll have to make sure the scene descriptions are correct and the timings are correct. But cuts are changing and evolving constantly. So I might see an episode like 10 times, and it could be different songs, different timings. Then we have to go back and get the clearances, manage the budget. So I end up watching the show when it airs like an audience member because when I'm watching the cuts, it's just a completely different experience. It's like, 'Okay, wait, this song that we cleared for 30 seconds is now two minutes and it's over the top of some pretty graphic content.'
You started out as a publicist for rock bands – what made you want to change careers and what was the catalyst for you becoming a music supervisor? 
So the job was my first gig in the music industry with Formula PR with Nine Inch Nails and Portishead and The Chemical Brothers. After doing it for a really long time, I just got burnt out. Doing PR, it's a grind. I just felt that I achieved everything I needed to achieve in that field and I was ready to learn a new aspect of the music and entertainment industry.
What led you to create Black & White PR, the all-female independent music supervision company?
It was just after I was finished with my internship with Formula, and I was back in Boston. I knew I was good at PR and I liked it a lot, and I wanted to continue working with bands. So it just made sense to create my own company. I got the name from the saying: 'It's all there in black and white.' So that's what led to me creating Black & White PR, which I run with Nicole Weisberg, Whitney A. Pilzer, Sarah Chapeck and Haley Hanna, who are my team – they are absolutely phenomenal.
When you first started as a music supervisor, how long did it take for you to start gaining real recognition for your talents?
I started at the bottom – that's just how it works. I know some people who want to get into the music industry might not like that answer but that's just how it happens. I interned first and then just kind of moved up. I worked in reality television for about five years and then I got into scripted around the first season of Atlanta, which blew up. I think that's when I hit a groove where my phone started ringing.
You've mentioned a starting point with Euphoria was a huge Spotify playlist with every song that could work and studios adding material from artists they represent. So what happens from that process onwards?
The playlist is more of a general vibe and tone, we never really know what the season is going to sound like until we start seeing the cuts and we see what the show looks like. We take in the performances and how it's shot. Sam was really interested in developing how music tells the story in season two.
What do you do if you're struggling for inspiration or you’re stuck on a scene? Are there any weird or unlikely places you go to get inspiration?
I just go on deep-dive rabbit holes. And Camino gummies. It's like a nighttime thing after emails and the chaos of the day slows down. I can really just get deep into watching the scene and then that leads me down these deep dives. Really though, anywhere. Whether it's Spotify, SoundCloud, Instagram, other managers, sometimes even Reddit. There's nowhere off-limits to me.
What song in which moment has been your biggest moment of pride in this season of Euphoria?
There's been quite a few. Getting through all of episode one's music was exhausting. Getting the Elvis Presley estate on board for the opening scene with Fez's grandma, which is pretty intense, some very graphic stuff. That was really great to achieve. Getting Laura Les' song in episode two as well, because she ended up absolutely exploding on Twitter. I also loved doing all of episode three with Cal's backstory since that's my favourite music overall. I'm really proud of the show overall and really being able to execute Sam's vision of what he wanted because he's very specific and has such a clear, beautiful, brilliant vision.
How difficult is it to get clearance for songs when the scene is particularly triggering or graphic (especially in the case of Euphoria or Yellowjackets)? 
You never know what the response is going to be from the copyright holders. You just have to handle it with care and work with the labels and the publishers on the other side, who are great. They work just as hard as I do to get the songs cleared so that we can use them in the show. It's just a very nuanced approach of how we're presenting the scene, how we're presenting the story, how we're presenting the show. It's very real, it's very raw – we're not glorifying drugs and drug use, it's about those heartbreaking performances. It's about explaining that to the copyright holders, and that we want to use the songs because we love them and they help to tell the story. It's very tricky and nuanced, and you win some, you lose some when it comes to these kinds of scenes.
You've spoken about how you can musically develop characters. You've used Lexi listening to that Laura Les song as an example of her evolution as a character this season. So have you ever made character-specific playlists for the cast to listen to? Or when you think of a character like Rue or Fez or Maddie, is there a specific song that you think of?
I think it's important to not box ourselves into specific character playlists. For example, in season one Rue was listening to Rosalía's "Malamente" but then we have the Bobby Darin track ["Call Me Irresponsible"] that she sings along to in episode three of season two.
It depends so much on the performances, where these characters are at, who's with them. We try and keep that a little bit open. I mean with Lexi, in that scene, that might not have been part of the Lexi playlist but it was just such a perfect song that sets up the evolution of Lexi's character which will be revealed in episode seven and eight. It's all about using tracks that will make sense with the journeys these characters are taking.
Yellowjackets was a little bit different in that regard. Natalie had a very specific music taste that you can see from her super punk rock look as young Natalie, and we continue that with Juliette's [Lewis] adult version having the Pixies T-shirt. There are so many other factors that go into it – is the song playing diegetically? Sometimes we get to leave that up for interpretation. It's like when Nate's in the car and the Orville Peck track comes on. Rather than using Labrinth, or a Nate-type song, we use Orville Peck, which came from Sam. It's about making you wonder: 'Is he really listening to that song?' It makes you question more about him.
In season one, episode six of Euphoria, "The Next Episode", you had almost entirely female artists. Is championing female artists something you strive to achieve in your work?
I do like elevating female artists but at the same time it just comes down to the scene and how music is functioning in that scene. It depends on so much. But in general I love elevating female artists because placements in shows clearly have a measurable impact when you look at the metrics before and after. We especially saw that with some songs on Yellowjackets. Sometimes it's a band that I just love and artists that I adore, and I'm just so happy to find a home for them.
The soundtrack to Yellowjackets is incredible – were there any songs that mirrored your own '90s New Jersey high school experience?
Quite a lot of them. It was really fun to do a period piece like Yellowjackets because it was just music that was so close to me and that affected me and helped shape my musical journey. There are a lot of songs in there that were very important to me growing up: Portishead, PJ Harvey, Tracy Bonham. A lot of the songs were from my youth – I still remember the first time I heard so many of these songs because they were so influential. But you know, we haven't even scratched the surface, we only got a taste of my Jersey '90s playlist. There's a lot of artists that I'm very excited to start digging into for season two of Yellowjackets.
Have you seen many changes in the world of music supervision since you've been working in it? Is it generally a male-dominated area? 
I think there are more female music supervisors that have risen through the ranks. I think the biggest change is just the overall acknowledgement of music supervision and music supervisors. And the fact that we have an Emmy category, we're going on 11 or 12 years of the Guild of Music Supervisors. So I think the job has just come more into the forefront of making television and film.
What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
The first piece of advice I ever got was from Dave Jordan [Marvel Studios music supervisor] on the first day of my internship and it was: learn how to do your own clearance. That was the best advice I ever got. Because again, this is a business. People need to understand that you're in charge of a budget – the buck stops with you for anything and everything regarding music. You can have the most perfect song in the world but if you can't clear it, you can't use it. So when you have that knowledge, it makes you a much stronger music supervisor.
It's also about accepting that you have to start from the bottom, you have to intern, and nobody's going to pay you to do something you don't know how to do. There are classes all over and I would strongly encourage people to research if they're serious about it because a lot of people are like, 'I want to be a music supervisor!' and I say all these things and it's not what they want to hear. They want to hear, 'Just keep making cool playlists!' That just isn't the job.
When you’re working on something like The Offer – which is a retelling of the making of The Godfather that takes place between ‘67 and '72 – I have to immerse myself in that specific period of Italian music, which has nothing to do with the coolest, newest artists. You might be working on a show where a whole episode is just country music. So I think that understanding that this is a business and it's not about you – it's about serving your director’s musical vision – is very important for people to understand.

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