On Monday evening I headed to Proud Camden for AIM’s sync music conference. In addition to the obvious attraction, there were two words that led me to this event: Breaking. Bad. Yes, Thomas Golubić, music supervisor of this monumental show (and Six Feet Under, The Walking Dead, The Killing) was going to be interviewed. A mere blogger, I felt both excitement and trepidation for this night amongst music supervisor superstars.
The event kicked off with a welcome address from Steve Lewis of Synchtank, a man with quite the CV (ex Virgin Music & Chrysalis executive and founder of Stage Three). Next up was the star of the show being interviewed by Music Week’s editor Tim Ingham.
After a show of hands of Breaking Bad fans (98% of the room), Tim began by addressing the fact that music supervision isn’t exactly a career you’re told about at school. First a journalist and then a radio DJ for 10 years, Thomas explained that he only discovered the vocation about a week before he started. A champion of interesting new music, he was advised to look into A&R but knew he would “fail miserably because ultimately cool interesting bands don’t make any money.” He then stumbled upon music supervision and realized that he really liked the idea of “storytelling through music.”
Eloquent and modest (the guy’s been nominated for a Grammy twice), Thomas described Breaking Bad as the most difficult project he’d ever worked on. He was shown the pilot and found it “the most exciting hour of TV he’d ever seen”, but felt that the music was “trying too hard”. His own spin on the music is both subtle and outlandish, helping to emphasize those jaw-on-the-floor moments the show is known for. For example, the upbeat “Catch Yer Own Train” by Silver Seas is juxtaposed with a scene showing Walt sinking further into his life of crime and deceit. Thomas is getting into the character’s head – it may look bad to us but Walt is “having the best time of his life in a horrible way.”
As with any project of its kind, the budget and rights clearance were factors that proved a “constant challenge.” With only $20,000 allocated per Breaking Bad episode for music (compared to $200,000 on Six Feet Under), he had his work cut out. He attributes this to the show being on AMC, a smaller network than giants like HBO, also suggesting that music was “perhaps overvalued in the past”, making his job all the more difficult. On the upside, I’d argue that these financial constraints must be partly responsible for Thomas’ wide and innovative choice of music.
A huge music geek at heart, he’s obviously passionate about what he does. Whilst he recognizes that sync licensing has the potential to break an artist, he says that his job isn’t to sell records. “Most sync licensing happens out of serendipity”, he explains, and the main purpose is to “tell a story”. If it helps an artist to succeed then great, but he advises bands not to put all their energy into getting a sync deal. For a man who fell into his profession and had to “wing it”, he’s done a pretty good job. He is either the jammiest or most talented music supervisor in the business, and after the last (incredibly insightful) 45 minutes I’m definitely leaning towards the latter….
Expect part 2, a summary of the sync licensing panel discussion, very soon….