Music Dealers Interviews Gary Calamar, The Music Supervisor Behind True Blood
By Sean Sirkin | Music Dealers
While you’re in the midst of voraciously consuming your favorite TV show or film, whether that be Here Comes Honey Boo Boo or Breaking Bad, there are two very important senses engaged in the consumption of that media: your eyes and your ears. Among the sounds captured by your ears are dialogue, sound effects, and of course, music, which falls under the responsibility of a music supervisor.
Today’s music supervisors are mythical beings, sitting cross-legged like monks upon mountains made of music and film. They are the new A&R’s, discoverers, career-makers, shot-callers; the very beings that wide-eyed college students enrolled in expensive institutions one day dream of becoming.
To share insight from some of the individuals we’ve worked with who specialize in utilizing music to produce stellar media projects, we’re introducing a new series on the Music Dealers Blog consisting of interviews designed to open a sunroof into the minds of these industry aficionados and learn how and why they do what they so skillfully do.
First up, music supervisor extraordinaire, Gary Calamar. Gary is an author, serious record store enthusiast, and the wizard behind the music of such fantastic shows as True Blood and Six Feet Under.
Music Dealers: You co-authored a book called “Record Store Days” with Phil Gallo. What was your inspiration for writing the book?
Gary: I have always loved going to record stores. I can’t pass a record store without going into it. When I visit a new city, I always first stop at the hip record store to get my bearings on a new city. I’ve had some great times working in record stores in Los Angeles (Licorice Pizza, Rhino, Moby Disc). As record stores have been drifting away, I thought it was a good time to document the history and heyday of this great social center.
Music Dealers: Could you tell us a bit about your process; how much time goes into choosing the right song for the right scene?
Gary: It depends, sometimes I can get some initial ideas immediately, or sometimes it’s more of a process of just trying things against picture.
It’s always a little daunting at first, but once I get started, I start to get inspiration for what is working for me and hopefully my producers will agree.
Music Dealers: I’ve sat in your office before, in the digital age you still have cd’s that go wall-to-wall (and floor to ceiling). How do you stay organized and find your music?
Gary: Basically, I use my record store experience. I separate the music by genre: Rock, Urban, Electronic, Country, etc…and go with the age-old alphabetical system to file away by artist name. It’s not a perfect system, but it works pretty well. I also use iTunes to file and categorize the music. Since you were here last, we have definitely been paring down the physical cd and vinyl collection and going more digital. But sometimes it’s nice to have something you can hold in your hand.
Music Dealers: Many times your supervision work is instrumental in an artist’s career; what meaning does this give to your work?
Gary: That is very rewarding to me. Sometimes it’s pretty dramatic, as with Sia’s “Breathe Me” in Six Feet Under, or [it] could be a minor promotional bump as with the band Paper Pilots who appeared on the 6th season finale of True Blood.
Music Dealers: Do you track which songs resonate with the audience?
Gary: Not in any formal way. It’s nice when I get email or Facebook messages about a particular use, but I don’t dig too deeply into it.
Music Dealers: Sometimes there’s discord between the person who specializes in the music (you) and the person who specializes in the entire product (producer). Do you ever have disagreements with that person regarding the creative supervision process and if so, what aspects do you tend to disagree about?
Gary: Well everybody has an opinion, and everybody is a music expert in their own way. My job is to serve the producers and the production. I often have choices that I think work perfectly but sadly, the rest of the team don’t always agree. It can be heartbreaking when that happens, but I try not to get too hung up on it. I have learned that there is not just one song that will work in a scene. I hope to do some producing some day and at that point, I will always get my way : ).
Music Dealers: What are some of your most memorable placements? One of my personal favorites was the last song used n the series finale of Six Feet Under, “Breath Me” by Sia.
Gary: Yes, the stars were aligned for that one. A beautiful song and a spectacular final scene in an amazing series. Thomas Golubic was the co-music supervisor with me on Six Feet Under.
I loved the Watson Twins covering The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” as Sookie Stackhouse and Vampire Bill get cozy in the bathtub for the first time in True Blood. I liked that it seemed to bridge their two worlds. The folky sound of The Watson Twins for Sookie and the Cure’s goth song for Bill.
There was also a great scene in House with Peter Gabriel covering Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is A Cage” as Dr. House was contemplating jumping off a terrace.
Music Dealers: Everyone thinks music supervision is simply selecting the best song for a scene, but it is much more than that. For everyone who believes that’s what supervision is, can you briefly describe what it is actually like?
Gary: That’s the fun part. But there is also the licensing and negotiations which is an art in itself. Plus just making sure that we are staying within budget, that we are not overpaying for a major label song when a “library” song can work, being aware of public domain songs when applicable, telling them not to fall in love with a led zeppelin song and things like that.
Music Dealers: LOL at the Led Zeppelin song! Great thanks and appreciation to Gary Calamar, supervisor extraordinaire, for taking a moment to share some insight with Music Dealers. We look forward to more of your amazing work in the future, Gary!
Christopher Rucks, Music Dealers