August 30, 2010

The musical brilliance of Friday Night Lights

Liza Richardson photo by Salvador Farfan

Back in the freshness of springtime, I came clean before you all with my newfound affection for the TV show Friday Night Lights. Shy as I was about falling for any sort of TV drama, I was converted (to the cult of Tim Riggins, thank you) over Thanksgiving last year, when a friend loaned me all the seasons I’d missed and I gorged myself not only on the solid plotlines and character acting, but also/mainly the absolutely impeccable music.

Within the first few episodes I heard not only the arcane opening track from my favorite Ryan Adams album, but a Daniel Johnston cover, the Avett Brothers, a rare acoustic mix of a great Killers song, and plenty of new artists who sent me googling lyrical snippets. Oh, and don’t forget, the show is liberally laced with music from the terrific Explosions In The Sky. Just get right out of town – this was fantastic [listen].

I decided then and there that I completely loved whoever this kindred spirit was out there, picking all the music as if they had crawled inside my own head, my own record collection. When I found out it was a kickass female doing this music supervisor’s job (in a mostly male-dominated industry), I loved it even more.

Said kickass female music supervisor for the Friday Night Lights series is one Liza Richardson, longtime DJ at the inimitable KCRW radio station in Southern California. She also works on music in films (The Kids Are All Right and Eat, Pray, Love are two recent projects she was involved in), was invited to be the first DJ at the Academy Awards, and even got to do one of those cool Apple commercials. Her musical tastes run in all the same veins mine do, and I was excited to talk with her about her job, how she stumbled into it, and what she loves about soundtracking all those wrenching small-town Texas moments.

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INTERVIEW: LIZA RICHARDSON, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

Fuel/Friends: Do you specifically emphasize regional or local music in setting the West Texas feel? (the Gourds, Explosions in the Sky) or are you going for an overall atmosphere of folks (American Catapult, AA Bondy, or Ryan Adams) who aren’t from Texas, but feel like they could be?

Liza Richardson: I do try to focus on Texas music, I mean I went to college at SMU in Dallas and I was in radio for four years after college in Dallas – that’s where I learned to DJ, that’s where I started really learning about music and I’ve brought that to my work with Friday Night Lights, happily. But there’s so much music like Townes Van Zandt and Roky Erickson, two examples of musicians that I’m fanatical about but have never been able to convince everyone about. Song selection is a process, and I’m not the boss — I present ideas and they get chosen by editors and directors. So I really do try, but ultimately it’s up to them and they’re gonna pick what feels good and what feels right for the show. There’s a wider audience than Texas.

But I was successful at getting artists like Butch Hancock, Uncle Walt’s Band, and Jimmy Dale Gilmore who are great Texas artists, who aren’t widely known outside of Texas but are great Texas unsung heroes. I think Texans appreciate when I am able to get all these cool Texas artists in, and and it’s a good feeling. For example, we used the Cashmere Stage Band, which is this cool recent reissue from the Seventies. We used that at a pep rally where you heard like an exciting big band thing, and it was actually this high school band from the 1970s from Houston. Stuff like that is so cool for me.



F/F: Have you ever seen any negative effects from a song or artist you’ve highlighted –like a “flash in the pan” phenomenon– or is any exposure usually good exposure?

LR: Do you mean where I had a regret for putting it in? The only regrets I have are songs I don’t put in (laughs). Sometimes songs get on the show that have been used a million times before on other shows. But that’s the music supervisor’s curse, I guess. I mean it’s not so bad, sometimes I need to get over that. But all music supervisors want to be distinctive and creative, but you have to always remember what’s best for the show. I mean, for example, using “Political Scientist” by Ryan Adams was my idea, and fit perfectly. You recognize that song but not many would.

F/F: Is it kind of like every show using Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah,” perhaps? There seems to sometimes be a challenge to find something that resonates emotionally but feels fresh.

LR: Thank you! Yes! Exactly, like that. Or Gary Jules’ version of “Mad World.”



F/F: What do you perceive to be the differences between DJing and music supervising?

LR: Ooh, totally different. Not much in common with each other at all. When I am DJing, I’m not thinking about the big picture, I am thinking about how much this song rocks on the radio. But with music supervision, there might be songs I don’t personally like so much, that I would never play on my show, but they work great as part of this show. It’s two totally different ways of thinking. DJing is the most ephemeral, but then I also always say TV is ephemeral compared to film, because television moves quickly and you have a new episode each week. There’s a different level of creative commitment.



F/F: Do the characters ever suggest music? Have the show’s writers ever worked around a specific song you found and wanted to use?

One time for Landry’s band, Crucifictorius, when Devin was auditioning and Landry was down and out about Tyra, she suggested they needed some Flaming Lips, “She Don’t Use Jelly.” Well, that was written into the script and it was a really good idea and it stuck. A lot of songs that are written into the script might not make it – things change, budgets change, so I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to afford that Flaming Lips song. But happily, it all worked out. I had lined up other songs as alternatives, like I had something worked out with The Pixies, which doesn’t seem like it would be less money but it was. I had the challenge of finding other bands with that anthemic indie feel, where I could work with publishers and get a deal that we could agree to.

That’s an example of what I do all the time. I mean, there might be a karaoke scene where they want to sing “American Girl” by Tom Petty , but there’s no point in spending all that money for that one song. My job is to find something cheaper for karaoke that’s still funny or sweet or still fits. There’s tons of that.

F/F: It sounds like a treasure hunt but with a lot of negotiating.

LR: Yeah, on something like that it can be difficult to start creatively with trying to find the right song to fit the scene. I will often start by calling the publishers that I have relationships with and asking them to look at their catalog, telling them, “okay here is my budget,” and then having them come up with their ideas. That way, if I only have one day to do this I don’t get screwed. I take what they give me and then go with those ten ideas and go with whatever ideas I think are the best. It’s one way to do it. It’s called pre-clearing the songs. I know that every song I get from this publisher will be clearable, they already know that they don’t need artist approval, it will fit in my budget, there’s no negotiation. We have to consider all those things before we even get to licensing.

F/F: Has licensing gotten successively easier as the show has gone through four seasons and gathered more fans and a reputation for good music?

LR: Oh yes, definitely. People love the show, they’re convinced of the show’s quality. But it’s not a money show, songs get replaced when they make it to DVD. NBC can clear for different musical options per song – a two year term, a five year term, an all-media term, and then at some point they’ll figure out their licensing strategy, and which term they’re going to pick up. Friday Night Lights is a two-year term. So let’s say for a Bob Dylan song, perhaps for all-media it would cost $40,000, a two-year term on that is more like $4,000-$6,000. There are some artists like the Velvet Underground and they weren’t interested in the two year term. They were only interested in the full term, so they passed.

In the beginning when we first announced our two-year term, a lot of bands were all worried about where licensing was heading and how we were all doomed, but as we went along we realized that a lot of bands were fine with the two-year term because it wasn’t exploitative, we weren’t going to use their song forever. In a way it’s not a bad deal – they get great exposure. More and more young bands don’t mind that it’s a two-year term.

F/F: So the songs on the DVDs aren’t always the same ones in the first run of the show?

LR: Not always, no, unfortunately. In fact, I’m glad you saw the Ryan Adams clip – unfortunately they can’t afford to buy all of the music we put in the initial series, there’s no way. It would cost millions of dollars. In the actual show there’s a ton more music, but they replace it – there’s a company we use called Five Alarm Music, a production library music house, and they’re in charge of finding things that we like that will be okay, that will fit in as well as they can. In one season, we did really well at getting a lot of songs through to DVD, I can’t remember if it was season one or season two, where they kept a lot, but other seasons we’ve had to rip a lot out.

F/F: Is that hard for you? Is it like making a mix tape for someone and then finding out later that six songs were cut and replaced?

LR: Oh, it’s so heartbreaking. I mean, I don’t have to do the re-musicing, so I just try to forget about it. I get my final air copy of the season, and that’s what I have to keep! I find that the music still works, and honestly it’s just a great show so that comes through, always.



F/F: What music are you excited about these days? Are there artists that you’d love to use on the show?

LR: Hmm, okay, well here’s a couple – Band of Horses, New Pornographers, maybe The National, I think we should be using these artists. I think we should be using this artist named Jonathan Tyler, even though he may not be hip and cool, but maybe for the football stuff and the strip club – just straight up rock and roll. I’d like to use the Dead Weather, and there’s these guys called Kings Go Forth, they’re new but they sound very vintage R&B, party kind of vibe. I’d love to get that sort of music onto FNL.



F/F: I’ve talked to students when I’ve spoken at colleges who are interested in getting into music supervising. If this were Career Day, what would you say? Is there a recommended tactic, or is it true that everyone just seems to get into this in a different way?

LR: Yes, everybody has their own story for sure. If you’re in college, well – if someone is making a film, be the music supervisor on a friend’s film. I would also suggest trying to get an internship in radio or something in music – sometimes letters or resumes sent to me from strangers will impress me. It’s tricky, there are so many ways in. It’s not a high-paying job, so there’s turnover.

When I first started in music supervision, I was shocked at how my KCRW radio experience had nothing to do with anything in this world. I couldn’t get a job, even though I was pretty happy with what I’d accomplished in radio and KCRW is a fairly well-respected tastemaking station. I had to develop this as a whole new career, and just work my way up. I’ve been doing radio for over twenty years, and music supervision for only ten. For me at this point, radio is the greatest hobby in the world.



[top photo credit Salvador Farfan, Texas photo credit David Kozlowski]

24 Comments »

  • Great interview! And it’s so interesting to see that she also works as a music supervisor for the show Parenthood, which makes total sense. That was the show that featured a Josh Ritter song (Change of Time) at a climactic moment once, and typically had great music, in general, every episode.

    chad — August 30, 2010 @ 11:46 pm

  • Well done! I have been hoping for an interview like this for years!! I have been a fan of FNL and its music since I first watched the Season 1 DVD’s. I didn’t realize that I was missing out on Liza’s music due to music being replaced for the DVD’s. I think the Season 2 DVD’s had a lot of the original songs. I was able to watch the original Season 3 airings. My favourite musical selection was when Tyra read her college application letter. It was Adem’s Something’s Going to Come. The music and images together were astounding. When I got the Season 3 DVD’s, that was the first episode that I watched. I was crushed to discover that that music had been replaced. I don’t know which would be worse: never experiencing the original sequence or having experienced the original sequence but being unable to experience it again. I realize that this is a budgeting issue and I am fine with it. Business and Art do not always mix well. However, I think FNL will be something that is watched and treasured for years to come through DVD’s and repeats and it is unfortunate that the people watching it through those media will be missing out on the full FNL experience.

    old salty — August 31, 2010 @ 9:04 am

  • Great questions make for a great interview, as is proven once again. I’m thoroughly torn about the issue of using indie music in tv-shows. First of all, I’ve discovered tons of bands this way so I’m grateful for the work the Liza Richardsons of this world are doing. On the other hand, many small bands are doomed to be shoved unjustly in the one-hit wonder torture, just check the most played songs on a last.fm page, it’s often traceable to a Dawson’s Creek, the O.C., or another equally fake drama episode. I admit I imdb searched her name before naming names. Other disadvantages of bands flying too high too fast (before finding a voice) are the often highly flammable discussion subjects of “selling out” or at least compromising style without necessarily doing coke ads. Kings of Leon for instance have grown more from beautiful, unique southern rock towards stadium rock, finally arriving there completely with their last men-birth. Exceptional stadium-rock, mind you, but music of a lesser value none the less.

    The music snob in me (which is a fairly big part some days) hates the presence of mainstream people in my fan group through exposure on cringe-worthy shows. But that’s my issue however I am sure it’s not mine alone :-).

    I know exactly what you’re getting at “old salty”. I’ve had the displeasure of seeing numerous songs tosses to the curb for a dvd-release. One of my favorite shows, How I Met Your Mother, had several poignant scenes lifted to new highs due to appropriate use of “This Modern Love”, “Inside of Love”, “Spit On A Stranger”, “Passenger Side” (you know the bands Heather) or the magistral “Quiet” (by Rachael Yamagata). The last one I’m especially fond of since I now associate the song forever with lonely nighths after a long day’s work. Now, once you’ve tied the music in with your memory of a poignant scene, it can’t be untied and it really decreases the rewatchability (if that’s a word) of a show for me. I’m not sure if the producers of a show are enough aware of this, yet of course it’s logical they cater to the larger audience instead of certain fanatics.

    To end on some positive notes, Californication is another one of those series that showcases some decent to excellent taste, my mind drifts to the use “3 Rounds and a Sound” (Blind Pilot),a Rocket Man cover (My Morning Jacket) and the original “If You See Her Say Hello”.

    KCRW has some of the best sessions these ears ever experienced and they’re always there at the cradle of soon-to-be huge rock and folk bands.

    Christof — August 31, 2010 @ 11:19 am

  • THIS MAKES ME SO HAPPY!!!

    katie clifford — August 31, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

  • thank you for the great article heather! i really appreciate it.

    wanted to let you know i wasn’t the music supervisor for eat pray love. i was a world music consultant early on but pj bloom was the supervisor, so credit goes to him not me. i did recently do lisa cholodenko’s the kids are all right!

    also, our score is composed by snuffy walden, not explosions in the sky. we license some music by them and they wrote the score for the film, but not the tv show.

    also, let me know if we can change the photo. that’s not a photo i have permission to use.

    thank you again heather! so nice of you! this is really great. my best, liza

    Liza Richardson — August 31, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

  • noted and fixed all around. thanks, liza.

    browneheather — August 31, 2010 @ 1:51 pm

  • thank you heather! awesome girl!

    Liza Richardson — August 31, 2010 @ 2:12 pm

  • photo credit is Salvador Farfan btw, thanks again, liza

    Liza Richardson — August 31, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

  • I was beginning to wonder if interviewees ever checked in, an preemptive thanks to liza and Heather for the name-dropping of artists soon to be loved and added to my collection, I’m sure.

    Christof — August 31, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  • yep, I credited him down at the very bottom of the post. thank you! it’s a luminous shot.

    browneheather — August 31, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

  • ::sigh::

    This warms my heart so! Heather – I must tell you, I recently stumbled upon your blog *because of Friday Night Lights. I’d just finished watching this season’s finale, and, in a moment of can’t-get-enough / bursting-with-love for the show (and curiosity), I Googled “Clear eyes, full hearts”… Discovering this blog has made my summer so much sweeter (and memorable). And it’s more than a shared taste in music. Your ruminations and unique ability to articulate and respond and share is truly a gift. Going through your posts and archives has been a just that.

    Thanks for this post on Liz in particular! Watching the show you, you can’t help but wonder what kind of person is so perfectly choosing its music. So many of us deeply appreciate Liz’s respect, expertise, and dedication to making the Friday Night Lights experience that much more profound.

    Cheers to you both
    &
    ((m e r c i))

    - Rachel

    Rachel — August 31, 2010 @ 6:57 pm

  • my roommate got me into the show. the only thing I love more than Tim Riggins is the music.

    freaking brilliant

    Hanan — August 31, 2010 @ 8:19 pm

  • Great interview! FNL has a special place in my heart for (a) getting The Gourds on prime time television and (b) filming scenes The Broken Spoke which is one of my favorite places in Austin to catch a show.

    MP — September 1, 2010 @ 6:59 am

  • this interview (& commentary) is so refreshing. thank you heather, thank you liza. keep it up.

    rick — September 1, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

  • This just made my day. Thank you so much. Ditto to EVERYone’s comments!!

    Erik — September 2, 2010 @ 10:46 pm

  • I’m one of those recent college grads who would love to get into music supervising, and nothing makes me happier than finding out more about the process behind it. FNL is one of the best examples out there (“Political Scientist,” “Devil Town,” “To Build a Home,” “Muzzle of Bees,” “Something’s Going to Come”….the list goes on).

    I feel like it’s becoming more common for supervisors to seek out and feature lesser-known artists, which not only works as a money-saving tactic but also helps develop a unique identity for the show. So I could probably turn on a reality show and hear a new band if that was all I wanted, but most gratifying are the moments when great songs make a carefully made story mean more. Thank you so much for featuring Liza. I wish this interview were 10 times longer!

    Jennifer — September 3, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

  • [...] an in-depth interview with Liza Richardson, music supervisor of “Friday Night [...]

    Your Saturday Antivirals « Pop Culture Has AIDS — September 4, 2010 @ 9:46 am

  • I could not agree more. Time after time I find myself remembering songs I knew I loved and finding songs I know I will love, all through the dramatic story and plot of Friday Night Lights. I loved that interview and seeing behind the scenes of where the music is picked, the inspiration, the bands that could be featured and just the process of creating audible bliss!

    marisa — April 13, 2011 @ 7:52 am

  • I’m so bummed to hear that there seems like no chance some of the original music will come back when the show goes to blu-ray.

    Season 1 of Friday Night Lights is one of my favourite seasons of TV. I bought the DVDs the day they came out only to find out that many of my favourite moments of the show were severely diminished by the generic pseudo-Explosions in the Sky music they replaced the real thing with (with the exception of the pilot). And Explosions was used a LOT in the first season airing.

    For a long time, I felt like no one else was talking about it – probably cause a lot of people didn’t notice the difference. But to me, there is a huge gap between Explosions in the Sky which hit the right emotional notes and the generic stuff that replaced it, which doesn’t nail any emotional note particularly well but approximates the Explosions sound. I don’t even mind if they have to replace the other music in the season – but Explosions completed the show imo and to know that there is a much better version of that season out there somewhere is aggravating.

    I’ve gotten so frustrated that to be honest, I’ve never watched my DVD copies after that and ended up downloading and saving crappy quality rips of the broadcast online. To me, even though the sound quality and video quality sucks compared to the DVD, those are still far better than what we got on the DVDs. I just wish the first season of Friday Night Lights had come out in the era of HD quality rips so that someone out there would have saved a nice version of it with the right music. Unfortunately, it seems we’ll never get a chance to see and hear that season as it should have been in good quality ever again.

    JC — August 18, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

  • As sometime who started watching FNL on netflix, it’s kind of bittersweet to know that I’m not experiencing the show as it was created, but I do have to say the music, even altered, is one of my favorite parts of this awesome show. The one song that’s stuck in my craw is from the scene in season 3 where Tyra and Cash first kiss after she blows off Landry. Every internet search tells me the song is “Tell Her” by James Hunter but a lyrics search proves that it was replaced. My question is: With what song? It has an indie-Buffett feel to it and it’s driving me crazy not knowing what this song is that’s worked its way into my head. Thank you

    Graham — August 26, 2011 @ 5:58 am

  • Graham,
    did you ever figure out what the song was from Season 3 Episode 4 when Tyra blows off Landry for Cash? I know its not the James Hunter song, looking for the other one with lyrics something like “…your kisses are so sweet you make everyday so sunny…” If anyone else knows what the song is please let me know at littlesecrets32@yahoo.com
    thanks

    jp — August 15, 2013 @ 11:25 am

  • I enjoyed reading this interview and getting to “meet”
    creative brilliance that is the song selection for
    this masterpiece of a series. I apologize for
    this but I am in love with the song described below and can’t find it anywhere.
    Therefore, I have to ask.

    At the end of season 4, episode 2 (after the fall) on the Netflix version there is a dark and beautiful acoustic song played throughout the scene where Riggins goes to the home of Becky and then it cuts to Tami and Eric on the couch. I know the Netflix
    Song is different from the directTV version. The directTV version played AM’s “What you hide.” I have searched everywhere to try to find this acoustic song. I have used all the different song identification apps but no luck. I have even entered the lyrics into multiple search engines. The opening lyric: “Sitting in your hotel room, cops are gonna be here soon..” Another identifiable one: “You wrecked your car, took too much speed…”

    Clint — November 30, 2013 @ 8:55 am

  • I’ve been searching for the song at the end of season 4 episode 2 too!!! it seems to be nowhere to be found, and I’ve tried just about everything. please let me know if you find out what it is, it’s such a beautiful song

    Jessie — August 6, 2014 @ 11:00 pm

  • Has anyone figured out that accoustic song at the end of ‘after the fall’ yet?

    Mark — August 14, 2014 @ 2:48 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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