We chat to music supervisor Lindsay Wolfington about her work on shows like The Royals, One Tree Hill, and ShadowHunters.
Hi Lindsay, thanks for speaking with us today! How did you first get into the music industry?
I’ve always been interested in music and soundtracks. I used to buy soundtracks for the score, or because I liked the songs used in a film. Then when I got to college I was a DJ for a modern rock radio station which was fun but not the be-all and end-all for me. It was the late 90s, so Napster had just arrived and the internet was kind of freaking everybody out – no one was sure about the future of radio. At that time I was also a big fan of the TV show Felicity, and they used so much music that I had never heard of before. It dawned on me as I was graduating college that it was someone’s job just to find that music. So after graduating I moved to LA, and I started looking at the end credits of movies and noticed the title ‘music supervisor’, which is what I figured the job must be called.
I ended up meeting with an alumnus from school who worked at Disney and I said, “What do you do?”, and he said, “I oversee the shows Alias and Felicity.” I was like, “Felicity is my dream show to work on!”, and he said, “I know the girls who do it, your best bet is to start as an intern.” So I connected with the music supervisors Madonna Wade-Reed and Jennifer Pyken, who owned a company together at that time called Daisy Music. It was the right time, right place – they had four TV shows on their plate and were backed up with paperwork, so I just started working with them every day.
I worked with them for four years and I actually started One Tree Hill with them. Then when they decided to part ways during the second season, the producers decided to keep me on. The show went on for seven more years, which was amazing, and Mark Schwahn who did One Tree Hill also created The Royals, so that’s how I got that project as well.
According to IMDb you’ve worked on 143 episodes of One Tree Hill which is pretty amazing. Was it a huge learning curve working on a show for so long?
Well the total was 187 episodes – I just didn’t get credits on a bunch of them! By the time I came to work on the show I knew what I was doing, but it was definitely a learning curve. When it first got picked up it wasn’t supposed to air until January, so we were working on it in August and nothing was a rush. But then a show got cancelled so OTH got moved up to a September premiere, so the first eight episodes were a race to the finish line. I was coming in during Mark’s lunch break to play him music and pick songs.
The first season had a really small budget, so they’d temp it with big artists and I’d come in and find something similar from indie artists. We’d keep like two or three big songs and everything else was indie music. So yeah, the first eight episodes alone were a learning curve! But definitely when you work on a show for nine years you see and learn so much. Even 15 years into this career, with the rise of new media and such, I feel like I’m constantly learning something new.
So you’re now working with Mark again on The Royals. How would you describe the music vibe of the show?
I’d generally describe the tone as dark and moody and British sounding. It doesn’t have to be a UK artist, but there’s definitely a UK sound to the music we use. Whether that means it’s dark and dramatic like Florence and the Machine, or punky like the Sex Pistols and The Clash and The Rolling Stones, we love those iconic British sounds. It’s interesting, we actually have used artists who sound totally Americana, but if you look at English bands like Mumford and Sons they have that sound too.
In general, someone’s always up to something, so I usually use a lot of playful or sneaky music, and there is always a big dramatic montage at the end of the episode. I definitely feel like the show has a distinct sound, although I will say that our sound gets a little bit broader in Season 3. If you’re curious, we have a Spotify playlist for all the songs that we’ve used on the show.
Is the show’s music budget a challenge for you?
Yes. If I told you what my music budget was you’d think that it’s sounds great, but we use an average of 10 songs in an episode so the money gets spread really thin. We do like to use a lot of up and coming major label artists that can be more flexible with fees, and we fill up the rest of the episode with indie artists. Mark Schwahn and I have always been fans of finding great indie music – we don’t care if it’s signed or not, we just care if it’s a good song and works for the scene. But yes, budget is always a factor at the end of the day as well.
What are some of your favourite music moments from the last two seasons?
Sometimes your favourite moments are the ones that were the hardest to pull off. I don’t know if I love the use because I put so much work into it or just because, but the finale song of season 2 was called ‘Half Light’ by Banners, and it was written by two people, one being Dan from Bastille. The song was sent to me as an unreleased demo from Bastille, and it was awesome, mostly just his voice and piano.
It turned out that the songs was not intended for Bastille, but as a song for someone else to cover, so we found the artist Banners to record it. We loved his music and he had the right sound for the song. He was available and willing to do the cover, and I feel like we wouldn’t have been able to use the song if he hadn’t been so awesome and fast to work with. Then the song played a great moment at the end of the season. It was a really simple song but it pulled off everything we needed for our end montage, and it was unique to our show; it was something that had never been used or heard before. So that was fun and exciting.
We also used a Charlotte OC song last year called ‘Symphony’, and again that was an example of when we were looking for an unreleased track. I heard that song and thought it was amazing, and came back to my office and watched a scene where the audience knew that the Princess was going to be manipulated and stolen from. I knew the song would be perfect for it – it was sexy and mysterious, and I just think Charlotte OC’s voice and song writing is amazing! And it fit perfectly!
A fellow supervisor introduced me to SynchAudio and this song. When I heard it, I threw it into one of my playlists for The Royals – it has this groovy baseline, it gives you a feeling that something’s about to happen but also a little bit sexy. It’s a great song and it’s used in a fun sexy scene, which is very typical for The Royals – someone is always up to something and the Queen is up to something in this moment.
Question from SynchAudio: What you think of the Canadian music scene?
There have been years where I’m like oh my gosh, everything coming out of Canada is amazing. When I first heard City and Colour I felt that way. He actually co-wrote and co-recorded a song for a One Tree Hill season finale, and he also performed on camera on the show. I’ve always been a fan of the Arts and Crafts roster, where I first heard Feist and New Buffalo.
My head is definitely focused on British music when I’m working on The Royals, so I’m more focused on whether it sounds like that or not, and not so much on where it came from. But I was at the Canadian Music Café in Toronto recently and all the artists that played were amazing. Some standouts for me were Mise en Scene, Charlotte Cardin and the Velveteins. I’ve probably used a bunch of Canadian musicians and don’t even realize it!
You mentioned that the sound of the show is becoming a little broader. What else can we expect from the music in season 3?
I think the reason it’s expanding is because we’ve established our sound, so now can stretch out a bit. I feel like with season one of a show you want to establish your sound, and it took a minute to hone in on what ours was. Mark and I had worked on One Tree Hill, which had a wide array of characters with different interests, so we used many different styles. But for The Royals, we really wanted it to feel like London and the UK.
We kept that up in season two, but now that it’s season three and we’ve known these characters for a while, it becomes more about what is a good song and what works. It’s less about having it sound exactly like we’re in London, and more of just it works for the scene. We’re also seeing a lighter and warmer side of some of our characters, so that also lends itself to lighter/warmer music.
You’ve worked predominantly in TV, is that your preferred medium?
It feels like whatever media you work in is kind of where you continue to get work because people look at your résumé and say, “Hey, you’re in TV.” I do a lot of web series now as well, because two of the executive producers on One Tree Hill went and started AwesomenessTV which is a YouTube channel and production company.
I love television because I like making multiple episodes. I feel like you get to use more music because you have multiple episodes to live with these characters. I also like the pace of it – people have to make decisions and move on to the next thing, which I appreciate. On One Tree Hill, I would get a song one week and two weeks later I could have it in the show and on the air. I was able to be super current, whereas in film and actually even with the cable shows I work on now, I start so many months in advance that I’m calling labels and publishers saying, “What’s coming out five months from now?” With cable and movies you really have to be on your toes about what’s coming next.
Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects?
I also work on ShadowHunters, which is a sci-fi show on Freeform based on The Mortal Instruments book series. Season 1 we used fully produced mysterious, epic songs with female vocals. The idea was we were in a new world, so we didn’t want it to sound like the human world. Now in Season 2 we’re going to be in the human world a little bit more, so we’ve kind of gone the opposite direction and you’ll probably hear more real instruments in the more emotional scenes. We also have fight scenes – the Shadow Hunters have these awesome, powerful capabilities, so we’re using really cool electronica or what I’d refer to as glitch hop – really rhythmic tracks that score those fight scenes. That’s been fun and different.
On every show you work on you’ll need an emotional song at some point, and I feel like most of those transcend the genre of a show. A good emotional song on The Royals can also be a good emotional song on ShadowHunters or The Night Shift. Everybody needs a sad piano ballad at some point.
I’m also working on Season 2 of a web series called T@gged, which is about being stalked on social media. The creator of the show was really particular about the sound – she wanted really edgy weird sounding electronic music and hip hop. That show is a super low budget project, so I asked a couple of companies to pitch me songs in the price range that we could afford. It’s been amazing – the show has a real musical identity and the music’s all really cool, and we are showcasing indie artists. So that’s really fun for us. T@gged airs on go90, which is a Verizon app. But I think you can also see some episodes on AwesomenessTV’s YouTube channel. It’s scary, it’s a thriller.
It sounds like you’ve got a really interesting mix of shows on the go!
Yes, definitely. And when I work on The Night Shift with Nora Felder we’re back to acoustic guitars, singer-songwriter and gritty rock, because the show takes place in Texas.
So you mentioned that an emotional ballad is the one thing you need for everything. Is that what people should send you?
I just love a great emotional ballad myself, so anyone’s always welcome to send me one! And obviously certain ones are better than others. But keep in mind, every show has a musical identity, so the more people can watch before they send or check out our playlists on TuneFind or Spotify, the better they’re going to get a sense of what I need. So yeah, send me great music. I love songs with really great melodies – I would say melody is number one for me.
Okay, great! And when in doubt, send a really sad piano song.
Haha, sure. And a ballad with movement – one that builds or changes is always good too.
Okay perfect. Thanks so much for your time, Lindsay!