Handpicked: Lindsay Wolfington

Shaping the sound of a television series and getting to help undiscovered artists gain valuable airtime are why Lindsay Wolfington loves her job. Acting as a liaison between artists, labels, and TV producers, Wolfington handpicks music clips that enhance turning-point scenes in television series ranging from Smallville to The Sing-Off.

Moving into the profession of music supervision through an unpaid internship she landed thanks to networking connections from a fellow college alum, Wolfington was hired into a full-time position one week after working with supervisors Madonna Wade-Reed and Jennifer Pyken. Under the duo, Wolfington worked on Felicity, Alias, Boston Public, and the first season of One Tree Hill, but when Wade-Reed and Pyken parted ways, Lindsay was asked by One Tree Hill creator Mark Schwahn to remain on the show. Since establishing her own company, Lone Wolf Music Supervision, Wolfington did eight more seasons with One Tree Hill and completed four seasons on Ghost Whisperer, one on the Jennifer Love Hewitt show, The Client List, and is currently finishing her second full season on The Sing-Off.

Get In Media: You mentioned at the ATX Television Festival that sometimes artists don’t want to be associated with a scene where something negative is happening. You said that a couple of artists didn’t want to be a part of a show like The Client List [which is about a down-and-out mother who becomes a prostitute]. How often does that come up and do you have an obligation to tell an artist exactly how their music is going to be used?

Lindsay Wolfington: Every time you send out a license request, you have to give them a scene description. Sometimes the song is going over four scenes so you’re like, “They don’t care about all of the details of the scene,” but if some of the details might be controversial, you should disclose it because then if they approve it, you know that you’re good. You’re covered. The biggest concern is a derogatory use. Artists don’t want to be made fun of unless they know about it because they may or may not have a sense of humor about making fun of themselves. Some artists are Christian artists and they have certain things they believe in and that may not match what’s going on in your show.

Generally, I feel like if a song is going to get denied, it’s not necessarily because of the content of the scene, but that does happen. Obviously, rape scenes are controversial. Murder scenes, they’re less controversial because that happens on like every TV show, but you need to be up front about where the song is because some artists view songs as their babies and they don’t want it to be put anywhere. Other artists don’t care. If you’re working on network television, there’s only so far you can go when it comes to something really controversial. HBO, Showtime, those networks that take risks in their content, you might come across it more often or you might not because they think that those shows have so much cache and are so cool that [artists] want to be part of it. You never know. It goes both ways.

LW: Fall Out Boy performing on-camera in an episode of One Tree Hill—one of first big on-camera bands—they were blowing up at the time.

GIM: What is the process for securing a license to run a song in a show?

LW: In general, we’ll work in finding music for a show for two to three weeks and then, when we have decided the songs that we like and everybody loves them, I go out and clear them. Generally, I have about a week to do that before the next episode. If you know there’s a big scene and you know they want a Fleetwood Mac song, well Fleetwood Mac doesn’t always approve. Let’s get started on that approval process early because when you have artists who sometimes don’t respond or take their time to respond, you want the most time possible.

If you’re dealing with someone high profile, the more time the better. But generally, I’m looking at a week in television. In film, you can be working on the project all year long. I don’t think there are as many clearance restraints unless it is, “Oh my god, this song got denied. We mix tomorrow.” Those situations always happen at some point no matter how well you prepare. Eventually, in the life of a music supervisor, you will be replacing a song at the last minute. Usually, it happens early on in your career, so you learn and don’t really do it again. We used to mix on Thursday and Friday, so I would tell myself to panic Wednesday so that I actually had two days if something wasn’t going right. I don’t want to be panicking at midnight on Thursday that my song is not going into mixing on Friday because it has not cleared.

LW: One of my favorite moments with one of my favorite songs on Ghost Whisperer. It’s the acoustic version of Augustana’s “Sweet and Low.” It was a beautiful and bittersweet moment for fans of Jim and Melinda’s relationship.

GIM: You’ve worked on such a wide variety of shows. How do you figure out the individual feel of the show and what music is going to work?

LW: When you start a show, you have a conversation with the producers about their vision for the show, because at the end of the day, it’s their names [on] the first card at the end of the show. So first and foremost, it’s their vision and I’m there to help them create and bring their vision to life. Usually, when you read a script, there’s a conversation like, “Oh, I thought we could go kind of pop country, not full-on country, but maybe pop country. Maybe something like Mumford and Sons or Grace Potter.” It kind of starts with a conversation like that and then I’ll come back to my computer and my iTunes and make a mix for the producers. I’ll kind of be like, “Ok, well given what you’ve told me, this is the kind of music that I think would be good for the show. Please give me feedback. Tell me what you love. Tell me what you don’t love.” We jump off from there.

A lot of it is trial and error. For a score, pull some soundtracks and see which have the right vibe for the show and start temping in songs. Really, you’re trying to enhance what the characters are going through so, I don’t know, there’s a feeling that comes when you’re listening to songs and it either fits or it doesn’t. On The Client List, Jennifer Love Hewitt is the main character and the focus of the show, so we tended to use more female artists. With One Tree Hill, it was an ensemble cast so we didn’t really have boundaries like that. It was more just saying, “Ok, they’re playing basketball. Well what do we hear at basketball games? We need action. We need energy in the music.” So we use rock or hip-hop, stuff with drive. 

GIM: [Ad cards played a significant role in helping One Tree Hill attract so many musical artists while staying on budget]. Would you mind explaining how the ad card system works?

LW: It’s something that is very specific to the network the show is on and this was very specific to the WB and then the CW. They built in an opportunity for bands to get a shout-out at the end of the show and they took the time for this shout-out out of the time of the show. If you were giving it to one band, it was like 10 seconds on the show. If you were giving three bands the ad card, then it was 21 seconds, so there was a limit to the number of ad cards you could give per episode. We would get a discount from the label on our master fees in exchange for the ad card. It was essentially buying an advertisement for your album, but you can only buy an advertisement in 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute increments. Here was one that you could have for five seconds and it was tied in with a show where your song was used, so the discount should be equivalent to what you might pay for a five-second commercial, which isn’t millions of dollars, but it was significant enough that it was basically how we got through many seasons of One Tree Hill budget-wise.

LW: A character’s mom died of cancer on the show, and this was the montage that took place moments after she found her body. There was a different song temped in that was good, but didn’t make me cry, and I really wanted us to make this moment an emotional one. I listened to a few songs by The Weepies when I found “The World Spins Madly On.” It fit perfectly in there—not a single edit start to finish, and it was lyrically perfect. We ended up putting it on the show’s third soundtrack, as our second soundtrack was released within a week of this episode.

GIM: What advice do you have for someone who wants to move into your career footsteps?

LW: First off, show that you’re interested in music to begin with. It’s a very popular job. When opportunities come up, it might be with an independent supervisor, they might be in-house at a studio, they might be in the film or TV department of a label or a publisher or a third-party pitcher, someone who just pitches the artists. Music supervision is very specifically the people who work with producers to put the songs in TV shows, but those jobs are rare. If you can get your foot in the door, work really hard and make yourself so valuable that no one wants to let you go. Getting your foot in the door is the harder part right now because when I got into it, people didn’t really know what a music supervisor was. Now it’s very well known.

Just do something that shows that you’re interested in music, because it’ll just give you a leg up over all the people who don’t. Try not to get discouraged, hard work definitely pays off. Remember that at the end of the day, the job is not just listening to music all day and putting your favorite songs in TV shows. The reason a show has a music supervisor is to work with a producer to find songs that fit the show in the budget. You’re most valuable if you also know how to clear the music, if you have the relationships with labels and publishers and can make it happen at the fees you need or know when to not even pitch a big artist.

Head over to our interview with One Tree Hill creator Mark Schwahn for the insider’s scoop on how that show came to air.

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