We did things a little differently for this interview with music supervisor Jen Malone. Jen's resume is nothing short of impressive and her work ethic is absolutely something worth studying. She's worked on hit TV shows like Euphoria, Atlanta, The Umbrella Academy, and has many more in the pipeline.
With so much ground to cover we jumped on a call with Jen and tried to get through as much as we could! The resulting hour-long conversation covered a wide variety of topics from how she started out, to managing the fast pace of placing songs in shows, and more.
Jen: Where exactly are you guys again?
One of us is in Long Island, maybe 40 minutes outside of New York, the other in the UK.
Jen: Oh nice, are you guys on lockdown and everything?
Yeah we’re both more in the suburbs so we don’t really feel it the way people in Manhattan and Brooklyn do. What about you, are you out of the LA area?
Jen: Yeah, we’re on lockdown and homebound and all my shows are on my hiatus basically because you obviously can’t be shooting right now. So it’s weird, it’s really really weird.
Did you have any shows that were in post-production?
Jen: I have two in post but you know there’s not a ton to do because the way I chose to work is to try and get music that’s going to stick in the show as early as possible. I try not to use too much temp because going back and replacing stuff that's in a cut is sometimes a fool’s error when showrunners and editors get attached to it, so I try to stay away from doing that as much as possible. So for the most part I’m working on Umbrella Academy and everything is locked and we’re still mixing episodes but the music is basically sat so there’s really not a ton of stuff on my end to do except listening to a lot of new music and staying organizing and catching up on admin stuff that I need to get done. So that’s kind of where we’re at.
This just came to mind but have you ever worked with an animated show before?
Jen: I actually just got my first animated show a couple weeks ago. It’s basically about kids growing up in a part of Los Angeles where all of the culture kind of lives as far as Supreme brands, you know hip-hop pop up shops, etc. I mean you walk down and that’s all you hear is hip-hop music coming through all of the stores so it’s kind of super up my alley music-wise and I like I said I’ve never done an animated one before so I’m excited, if anything animated might be the way to go in these next couple months.
Congrats, yeah that’s why it came to mind. Have you felt that they are able to do their work in the meantime or they need to be in the same office working together?
Jen: I have another music supervisor that’s on my team and she’s done animated before basically we’re gonna get to the point where the actors have to go and record the voices and I guess that has to be done in a studio with a mixer and engineer so I don’t know how far we’re going to get with that but you know I’m just trying to do a lot of prep work, like you know Euphoria always has a lot of work to do before we start shooting so we’re kind of working on that but it’s not nearly as busy as I normally am. It’s weird.
Is this the first chance you’ve had to breathe in a while?
Jen: Yeah I mean that’s the one thing is that I’m trying to embrace this because when are we ever going to get a moment where there’s no work. Even after Euphoria last year I had my post-vacation to Mexico City but I still was answering calls and stuff because I had my next project so it was a vacation for sure but it’s not like I can totally ever completely check out. Except for now, so maybe I can just find a way to enjoy it. But there’s always nervousness around it as well. It’s weird man, it’s weird.
Pretty much every conversation we’ve had over the past two weeks now - everyone’s trying to enjoy it for what it is and look for the silver lining but overall there is that level of anxiety and nervousness.
Jen: I mean it’s not only for me and my future income and work and all that but it’s just like the whole world. It gets kind of daunting when you think about the impact of this and the economy and stuff I have to catch myself so I don’t go too far down the spiral of stuff that I have less that zero control over.
Having a background in yoga, do you find yourself relying on the practice now and revisiting techniques you learned in the past?
Jen: I mean we broke up. Which is fine, because it’ll always be there when I need it. But I think that now, it is a matter of coming down a little bit. And I guess in a way, almost subconsciously, yes, that all those tools do help. But sometimes you know, as far as reflecting on that question, trying to disconnect on weekends, because I know so many people work so hard on the weekends it’s like when do you have time to turn down and give yourself a break and a minute to stop thinking about your work. So with my team and everything I have a pretty strict policy of not working on the weekends because there’s no break, there’s no time to decompress and so you know with showrunners and if an email comes in, it can wait until Monday. It’s for the health and wellbeing and sanity of taking a break. With that being said, I do work on the weekends in the capacity of listening to music and getting organized for the week. Otherwise like I said I’d just be so burnt out and that means I’m gonna do a crappy job and leave room for mistakes but Monday I come in refreshed and I’m ready and I have a clear head and I’m not stressed out, even though in one way or another you’re always stressed out with this job. But just trying to manage it that way, with Nicole and Satya who are on my team it’s nice to have them and my community of what I call “my girls” to be able to bounce stuff off them, sometimes vent and just kind of have that support. I have a very strong support system.
That’s amazing and surely appreciated now more than ever, especially in terms of mental wellbeing. Have you always had that hard cut on the weekends or is that something that you gradually realised was needed?
Jen: Yeah, the latter. I think after Euphoria which was such an all consuming project I just really realized that it’s inefficient to be working on weekends in a way. I don’t have kids but it’s still the time to spend with my husband and we both work our asses off. So after Euphoria I realized you know what, no, this is how I want to run my business and make sure my girls have a work life balance as well.
Right. Is that the first time that you were handling around 26 songs per episode?
Jen: Each episode varied but Atlanta is a half hour comedy which is very different. With Atlanta we didn’t have a composer so everything was needle drops that I had to manage and look after and take care of so it was just different. Euphoria was definitely a lot more work than Atlanta for many different reasons, but both are intense shows.
As folks who don’t watch much TV, Atlanta easily has one of the most unique soundtracks across the board. You covered 90s hip hop, soul music, The Delfonics, Kamasi Washington, and Death Grips. How did you go about approaching such a giant range? Is it just putting it all in a playlist, hitting shuffle and figuring out the moment or a song just came to mind with the scene?
Jen: I mean a little bit of both. It’s just like how can I enhance or support this moment with music? That’s kind of the question and how I would approach all placements. Because Euphoria as well was kind of all over the map, so it’s just like how is this going to enhance this and make that connection that we hope that music does for the scene and the audience to make it work? At the end of the day it all comes down to the song and I’m very lucky that on all my shows I have showrunners and editors that are very good with music, that love music, and that have very good taste. It’s a fun collaboration by far, so a lot of times it’s not necessarily the most deliberate thing. There’s been times where I submit options to my editor to put it in and I’m like okay, one pitch might contain something like Run The Jewels to MC5 to Curtis Mayfield or something crazy like that. The pitches can be all over the place of course depending on the budget and stuff but a lot of times I talk to my editor like okay so here are the songs this is my favorite, this is the wildcard it could work blah blah and we just pick the right one that’s best for the scene and at the end of the day it’s all about Sam and Donald’s vision so we do what we can on that level.
Absolutely. Have you worked a show (like Grey's Anatomy) that has a pretty identifiable or core sound? Is it easier to have that one style to stick to or is it easier for you to work with a broader scope?
Jen: Well both, I’ve experienced both. Like for Dispatches From Elsewhere which is the Jason Siegel show that’s on ABC starring Jason Siegel, Andre 3000, Sally Field. That show had a very specific sound, like you knew it takes place during present day, but on a musical level we kind of kept to very old vintage, soul or country or pop. That was deliberate, there’s no modern contemporary music in the show at all and that was kind of fun to pick out that sound. Otherwise, I find both to be fun and exciting and inspiring.
Have you always been a fan of the soul sound or is that something that came about the more you worked with it?
Jen: I’ve always been into old school soul stuff. When I lived in Boston, it was a place called ZuZu, and they had a night called Soulelujah. And it was every week on like a Saturday night and you just go and you dance. And it was just so much fun. So now, as a music supervisor, being able to work with the music and licensing companies that bought up or represent all of these old forgotten gems and old obscure soul labels and stuff. There’s a company called the Numero Group, you can find their playlist on Spotify but they do a weekly sync mailing and it’s the one I download immediately and I listen to that for pure enjoyment. Diana, the woman who takes care of their licensing there is great. Like last night, making dinner and cleaning up sometimes straight up it’s like I don’t know what I want to listen to right now cause it’s not for a search right now so it’s like I don’t really know. So I put that on and it was just exactly the type of music and the vibe I want right now so I texted her like OMG this is amazing!
Similarly the folks over at Reservoir have the Philly Groove’s catalog and they have The Delfonics, which we’ve recently gotten much more into. But they just sent us access to their whole catalog and we’ve been listening through it and it’s amazing. There’s definitely nothing else like it right now, or ever will be.
Jen: That music, that genre is just so special and it’s so fun and so different. Straight up you can get burnt out on hip hop 24/7 or you know indie pop sometimes, like I said I’m going through different playlists more for enjoyment when I get to the point where I actually want to listen to music.
Gotcha. There’s a little band from Seattle called The Dip, getting some traction. Highly recommend them, they are really pushing that sound in a modern way. Their trumpet player is also part of ODESZA’s live show. They maybe got some notoriety from that but other than that highly recommend it whenever you get the chance. Have there been any pivotal moments in your career where you were either second guessing yourself or reassured that you made the right choice following this career path since watching Iron Man up until now?
Jen: That’s a good question you have and I’ve been thinking about it. You know coming into this business when I started, and I started at the bottom as an intern for Dave Jordan, it was a whole new language almost. There were definitely flash cards at certain points. I really don’t regret any decisions or projects I’ve done. I feel like every project has set me up for my next project. For example prior to Euphoria I had never done an on camera or pre-record for the end musical number at the scale. So learning that and how to do that was amazing because it was so ironic that in Dispatches from Elsewhere in the finale there’s a huge musical number as well. So when I got the script, I thought “I got this.” It’s very nerve wracking when you see something like that and you don’t know what to do. I’m proud of the fact that I paid my dues as an intern, I’m proud of coming from that to where I am now. I’m proud and thankful of being able to work in reality TV where I paid my dues there as well and really learned about music supervision and putting music to picture and working with very small budgets and stuff. I’ve just been very grateful for the people that have supported me and helped me and hired me and taught me and the supervisors that I have worked for and I’m proud of the fact that I decided to do this and that I did it and that I’m doing it! I’m making sure that the people that I have now, I’m making sure that my girls are set up to win and feel supported and valued and making sure my coordinator is learning constantly and just treating them as well as I possibly could because first of all they work their asses of and they are great at what they do and I just never want to take that for granted.
Right. That’s a great mindset to have and I’m sure they appreciate it as well.
Jen: Yeah! Just making sure they know how much I need them and I value them and that they are great at what they do!
When you first went independent and started your own company, did you feel confident going into it or did it feel like a leap of faith at that point?
Jen: Well so, even when I was a publicist, I ran my own company so I’ve always been independent. The only time I’ve ever been “in-house” somewhere is when I went and did three months at Discovery, I was covering for someone on maternity leave. It was interesting working at a network. I'm grateful for my time there. I learned so much from my boss Pat, she’s one of my favorite bosses I’ve ever had, but being independent and figuring it out as you go and taking that leap of faith is just something that I’ve always done. Going in-house is just not for me. The same way people who’ve been in the system for a while, it’s not comfortable for them to have that thought of I don’t know where my next gig is coming from. It’s nerve wracking but I hustle and I don’t sit back and I work with my agent to still take meetings and meet with producers and I believe in the hustle and things have worked out that somebody that I meet now, sometimes nothing comes from it but then 6 months later it’s like “oh hi I have this opportunity for you.” So yeah it is a leap of faith, but I kind of trust the universe as cheesy as that may sound. I got this and I know that my hard work is paying off.
It definitely shows, by all means congrats on that.
Jen: Thank you. It’s not easy, I mean yeah it is a leap of faith but I mean I hustle and I know that’s what it takes and I don’t sit back and assume that things are going to come to me and I don’t expect it. I work hard and I try to set myself up for future opportunities and do what I have to do to find opportunities when there aren’t any.
That’s a great mindset! Similarly one of us was in accounting and around a year ago left that to go to artist management full time, so you do have to trust the universe. One firm lesson learned was to keep at it, keep up the hard work and see where it takes you regardless of how difficult it can get at times.
Jen: Yeah! The other thing too is that before I moved out here and decided that this is what I wanted to do I was kind of going through a little mid career crisis I guess, I was in Boston in a very bad place. Long story short I was washing dishes at a cafe in Boston and decided that this is what I wanted to do and moved out here. There’s nothing beneath me so if I need to go to Trader Joe’s and work there, I have no problem doing that. I’m not above it at all.
Totally. You have to set the ego aside so that’s the most important part - be willing to do whatever it takes to be where you want to be.
Jen: Being an intern and going into MTV, the first day when I had to sit around the table and say what our major was, well this is my second career, so I’m not in school, I already graduated college and they were kind of like next. That’s not easy to do.
Would you say that your days as a publicist helped you transition or was it almost a complete night and day difference?
Jen: The work is night and day. As a publicist you are a seller, and now I’m on the other side, I’m a buyer. But otherwise, being a publicist and being in the music industry in general I think that having that background and knowing certain people at labels helped me more. But there’s really no crossover in the work aside from being independent and running my own show, that’s the similarity.
One question that just came to mind. Do you see yourself becoming an executive producer at some point, is that something you’re aiming for?
Jen: No, you know I think I always think about what’s next but I’m good with where I’m at now and I just want to stay present and continue to do good work and good shows that have an impact like Euphoria and Atlanta and work with good people and learn and grow my business. Right now, I’m burnt out on clearing hip hop, but I’m not burnt out on the work, I still feel like I have a lot to do yet in this business if that makes sense.
Yeah of course. Having to clear hip hop nonstop sounds like a logistical nightmare. Even just clearing a sample is a pain.
Jen: Ugh! Oh yes!
You mentioned it a little, but with Euphoria and the impact it’s having especially with the upcoming generation, in the same way articles are quoting it as the Skins of this generation and so on. Do you keep that in mind when you’re selecting the music? In the sense of curation and scenes are tied to it with the younger audience?
Jen: My job first and foremost is to serve picture and to serve the director. Now if having a new and upcoming artist and kind of breaking the first in breaking a song, if that ends up playing into it or if you have something like Bronski Beat which is you know they’re kind of more obscure or new wave or something like the Donny Hathaway but then having Megan thee Stallion and having revisit those or “discover those”, that’s just a plus. Yes, we want to have cool music, but first and foremost we want to serve the scene and the director’s vision, that’s my job.
Gotcha. The last question we have, not just limited to hip hop, but are there any artists or groups that have you really excited and have given you a breath of fresh air?
Jen: I mean I’m always finding new songs and artists, oh! The new, it just came out, and I don’t know how to pronounce her name, but it’s Y-A-E-J-I. Her new record just came out and I totally fuck with it. It’s so so good, I just listened to that last night too and I just really fell in love with it. I can’t really think of anything else at the moment there is just sooo much music! There’s so many songs that I discover I’m like okay it would be so cool to have this in the show. Also, I guess revisiting a lot of 70s punk, not punk but like new wave post-punk, like Roky Erickson and Shocking Blue stuff like that, Numero Group has a lot of stuff like that, but that’s really the stuff I’ve been listening to recently.
Does it feel like a full circle moment when you place a song you grew up listening to?
Jen: Yeah! It’s really fun. I do have a list of songs that I’d like to get into shows at some point, so to be able to cross some of those off as we go along and the more shows I work is really cool. Genre wise like The Creation, I’ve really been into The Damned, just revisiting music from that era. That song “Song for Zula” that came out from Phosphorescent, that is the love them in Dispatches from Elsewhere and I have loved that song since the day it came out and to be able to have it featured in the show was great.
We’re excited to see that episode, is it out?
Jen: It’s airing now! I was able to put the band Leftfield, like the old, I guess 90s, this came out in 95 an album called Leftism, and it’s just so fucking good. I was able to put that in The Resident which was really fun. There’s definitely stuff I’ve been able to knock off my “someday sync” list.
Do you have a song that’s the one that got away? Do you have a song that you tried to sync and it still hasn’t worked out?
Jen: Well I don’t want to give away my secrets. But I mean there’s definitely songs. There’s a song by Gucci Mane called So Icy, and I don’t know if you know that song but that song is in-licensible, there are split disputes, and that sucks because that song is so dope. There’s been a couple of those where I’m like realllllly? You guys can’t get it together? That’s always a bummer. There’s a Spiritualized song that I was listening to, revisiting that, it has a Beatles sample throughout the whole thing. I love Spiritualized, and I was listening to it thinking I would love to sync it and it would be great for this scene or that scene, but it’s never going to clear!
Are the Beatles unsyncable right now, are they turning everything down?
Jen: No, they’re just very expensive. The Beatles are extremely, extremely expensive.
Not surprised there. Are there any types of TV shows or genres you wanted to work with, like maybe across the horror genre, maybe something more intense and action-y that you haven’t had the chance to do yet?
Jen: That’s a great question as well. Definitely I’d love to. There’s a show on Netflix called Dark, that’s definitely more time travel and kind of sci-fi and I would absolutely love to do something like that or something that would have a whole rock soundtrack like the 70s stuff. There’s this show called The Boy on Amazon, that one of my really good friends is the music supervisor on, and that’s a dream project of mine. They do such a great job with cultivating the sound and it’s just all rock. It’s so good and it’s so fun and the music is just, they do such a good job. I’m always like if you don’t want to do another season just let me know! I used to be a rock publicist, so that was my jam before I really got into hip hop and more of the old school soul stuff was just the new and old garage rock. It’s just so fun and just rock.
The raw energy those shows have is insane. We’ve gone to a lot of electronic shows as we started out primarily in that space and it just hails in comparison to a lot of rock shows.
Jen: Yeah, no. I agree. That’s what I came up with, or I’d love to work with a show that also has more of an industrial kind of goth vibe? Like I love old Wax Trax records, like that kind of ministry stuff. But I guess that could be lumped in with the more 70s kind of rock stuff, I can see that being lumped in an all encompassing vibe of a show. I would love to dig into that type of catalogue.
We would definitely watch a show that had that crossover happening. Feels like it’d be an edge of the seat ride, but a fun one nonetheless.
Jen: Right? It would, it would be really fun. But it’s the same thing, cause the stuff I would listen to, a lot of them have samples in them from movies or whatever so I think that licensing them would probably be a nightmare. Obviously I never tried but stuff like that would be really fun, to work on stuff I grew up on.
Fingers crossed, hopefully the more you put it into the universe it’ll happen.
Jen: But at the same time I’m very lucky with the shows I have. I work with great people and great shows, so just more of that!