How Do The New Music Gatekeepers Find Songs?

Sound Systems

Photos Courtesy of Ryan McGinley Studio and team (gallery, inc.), New York
Think for a moment about how you personally discover music. Maybe you went searching for the song you heard in a Volkswagen commercial, or Shazam-ed the hype song on a Monday Night Football broadcast or heard that one track that should have been a hit in 1969 but never actually was in the “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” trailer. We talked to a few of the fine folks who find those songs and make the decisions on what music to include in so many of the things that provide the soundtracks for our daily lives.


FILM MUSIC SUPERVISOR (including for all nine Quentin Tarantino movies)

Do you ever think about how many people will hear some piece of music you’ve introduced them to?

MARY: Not until now! But truthfully, that is one of the joys of working in this job. I’ve always loved turning my friends and family on to new (and old) music—I was a mixtape maker, for sure. And still am. I definitely know the slightly impatient feeling of wanting someone to just not talk for a minute while I play the song I teed up for them. And the joy of watching someone experience a cool song you introduced them to is pretty unparalleled fun.

I was a mixtape maker, for sure. And still am.

When is the last time somebody gave you an old-fashioned mixtape cassette?

MARY: Two weeks ago! I work with Quentin who is an analog guy, cassettes are a regular thing around here.

Where do you usually find new music?

MARY: I am a crate digger, so record stores are my favorite. Now I guess I’m an Internet digger, too. I scour blogs, Spotify, YouTube, Sirius XM channels and local bands when I’m traveling.

Most unusual way you’ve ever discovered a new song or band? Or found the right song (if an old one) for the situation?

MARY: One of the craziest was a Thai cover of “Heart of Glass” when I was in Toronto at a Thai restaurant. And I use Shazam often when I’m out and hear something in a store or on the street.

A song you wish you could have used but weren’t able to?

MARY: Fortunately, I don’t have many of these. The only one I can think of is “Der Rosenkavalier” Suite for Inglourious Basterds. Strauss’s heirs denied the approval to use it, wanting to distance him from WWII and Nazis, but since “Putting Out Fire With Gasoline” was so much better for the scene, that one doesn’t sting at all.

Most usual arrangement you’ve ever had to make to get rights to a song?

MARY: Almost everything we use in Quentin’s films takes an unusual route to get it. In order to use music in a film sometimes you have to have approvals from the songwriters and performers—which means if it’s an older song, you have to track them down. For “Jackie Brown,” we wanted to use a piece of score from the film “Coffy” but one of the writers had fallen off the map—the music publisher said they didn’t have contact with him so they couldn’t let us use it. This was 1997, pre-Wikipedia, so I had to do some old-school detective work—I looked up his last known address with the Copyright office (it was from the ’70s in Manhattan). Lots of strikeouts with the phone directory. I knew “Coffy” was a jazz score, so I started calling all the jazz clubs in NYC to inquire if they knew him and found him at one of the last ones I called. I begged them to leave my number for him. He called me the next day.

What’s your preferred way to listen to music for enjoyment?

MARY: For enjoyment? Vinyl LPs, sitting in a beanbag chair with Bose headphones on.




How many people would you say the music you pick reaches on a regular basis?

DOUG: I help to select and program music that goes across the NFL Network and NFL Digital Properties. On average, during the regular season, the NFLN alone reaches 27M–34M people per week.

Do you ever think about how those people will react?

DOUG: Absolutely. Part of why I wanted to work in music supervision, and arguably the most enjoyable part, is the ability to put forward music that I believe in or personally like. Of course, you have to use music that works creatively for the content, but if I can help bring a new audience to an artist I think is talented, that’s a huge deal and very rewarding.

A song you wish you could have used but weren’t able to?

DOUG: I really wanted to use GASHI ft. G-Eazy, “My Year” last year during Super Bowl Week, but we couldn’t get it cleared in time. I think it’s an amazing hype song for football and GASHI has a ton of energy. (I’m getting it in this season though!)

Most unusual way you’ve ever discovered a new song or band? Or found the song that would make the perfect hype music?

DOUG: You can often find me Shazam-ing songs at restaurants or in random places. Found one of my favorite songs was while I was out to dinner with my girlfriend’s parents, and I was Shazam-ing in the middle of it. Found Sinkane, “How We Be” while eating a delicious steak. (Super dope artist, check him out.)

How do you know a song will make guys dressed in jerseys who painted their faces blue and have been drinking beer all day long, cry? (Maybe that’s not your goal.)

DOUG: I played football for about 12 years. The best songs that we listened to before games always made you feel emotional in some way—passionate…energized…excited…angry…whatever you needed to get into it. I think the best songs for sports, make me feel like that today, and throw me back into the locker room (not to be too cliché). That’s what I go off of. I can only hope that the songs we select make the viewers feel that way too.




Do you see more similarity to what you do to scoring a section in a surf film or picking hype music for an NFL broadcast?

ALLISON: I’ve never worked on a surf film but I hope to someday. Music is everywhere at the WSL. We feature music within the broadcast, on our socials, playing on-site at the beach, in the WSL Studio shows and present live performances like The Raconteurs at the WSL Surf Ranch.

Every song is surf music.

Where do you usually find new music?

ALLISON: All of my lovely friends that I’ve met over the years in the music world, triple j, rabbit-hole searches through articles, blogs and obviously the cool kids of Instagram.

Most unusual way you’ve ever discovered a new song or band? Or found the song that would make the perfect hype music?

ALLISON: After a 10-year hiatus from going to Vegas, I was in a taxi there and the driver played SG Lewis, “Aura” just when my girlfriends and I needed a taxi dance party. He nailed it and now I am an SG Lewis fan. I had to apologize to the State of Nevada for being negative about their city for so long.

What makes a song surf music?

ALLISON: Every song is surf music.



FOUNDER, C90 MUSIC SUPERVISION (specializing in music for film trailers and commercials)

How many people would you say the music you select reaches on a regular basis?

TODDRICK: The audience for a major tentpole campaign can reach millions, for instance the “Toy Story 3” trailer I worked on has 9.6 million views on YouTube right now, so you can make a pretty big splash with a good trailer use.

Do you ever think about what all those people will think?

TODDRICK: Not really—my biggest concern is delivering on the creative vision of the client or my producer or editor, and that’s a pretty intense process so usually once I’ve finished one project it’s on to the next and there’s usually not really time to dwell on it. I do love to read hater YouTube comments though.

I have no shame and will Shazam a song I hear during a DJ set at Zebulon if I think it’s a possible fit for a project.

Where do you usually find new music?

TODDRICK: For me it’s a combination of Mojo Magazine album reviews, Spotify, sites like Aquarium Drunkard, The Quietus, Pitchfork, and Bandcamp daily and then I get sent all the new releases from all the labels and publishers and third-party sync agents. I have no shame and will Shazam a song I hear during a DJ set at Zebulon if I think it’s a possible fit for a project.

Most unusual way you’ve ever found the right song for the situation?

TODDRICK: I don’t know if it’s unusual but on trailer 3 for “Cars 2,” my editor came to me and was like “I just need a song about these races being in different cities. I wish there was a song about going from city to city.” So I typed “City To City” in iTunes and this song by Newsboys called “City To City (Go Remix)” popped up and I bought it and pitched it and he was like “This is perfect!” After the trailer came out, their manager asked me how I found the song and I just started laughing. So I don’t know if that’s unusual but it’s definitely the laziest way I’ve ever found a cue.

How about least lazy?

TODDRICK: Once to clear a sample in a hip-hop song I had to get this college kid who was learning Italian get on a phone call with me at one in the morning to translate so I could negotiate fees and terms with the owners ’70s Italian crime flick soundtrack.

A song you wish you could have used but weren’t able to?

TODDRICK: I’ve a had a few back-pocket songs that I’ve always wanted to use but someone else beat me to it. I was so jealous of that Jane’s Addiction “Up The Beach” use in the “Flatliners” trailer. That one broke my heart.