Most music supervisors pay their dues working for record labels or publishing companies, or interning for established supervisors. It also doesn’t hurt to work for KCRW. Although he did work previously as an exec at MTV in New York, Scott Vener skipped most of the conventional rungs of the ladder and landed a job without any previous experience as a supervisor on Entourage, one of coolest shows on television. Scott’s music selections play a major role in the success of the program, especially his unique skill for finding the perfect song for the end credits of each episode.
One of the most exciting things about the music that airs on Entourage is that Scott consistently breaks tracks before they’re released anywhere else. That’s included Tame Impala’s “Half Full Glass Of Wine”, Jamie T’s “Salvador”, Gnarls Barkley’s “Gone Daddy Gone” and many other mainstream songs that have gone on to become very big. An LA native, Scott Vener (aka Broke Mogul) is now the music supervisor on How to Make it in America and on Beverly Hills 90210. He’s the first to admit that he’s got a great job and a great life.
R&G: How did you get your start in the music supervision business?
Scott: I had no idea what music supervision was. My friend [Doug Ellin] who created Entourage invited me over to his house to watch the pilot before it was actually picked up by HBO. We sat on his couch and he said, “Why aren’t you laughing?” I was like, “The music’s so bad, I can’t even pay attention to the jokes.” He was like, “Well, if you can do better, do it. Just watch the show.” He gave me the show. I ripped out all the songs and I put it in iMovie and I started fucking around with music, like, “What if I put this song here and this song here?” I remember playing the Jay-Z song, “Lucifer”, for Doug, and he was like, “I love this. We have to use that.” We used it and HBO loved it.
R&G: After HBO picked up Entourage, what were your responsibilities?
Scott: The first season I started off consulting. Doug sent all the music that the current music supervisor was doing. We’d sit down and I’d say, “I like this song. I like this song. Try this song, etc.” I wasn’t getting paid or anything, but it started becoming work. I said, “If you’re not going to pay me, at least give me a credit.” I think by episode 4 I started getting a music consultant credit. When season 2 came back, we started doing it more formally, and I went to the meetings. I think it was season 4 when I said, “I just want to do this by myself. Right now I feel like I’m doing it all and other people are getting credit for it.”
R&G: Did you learn the licensing part during that time?
Scott: At that time, I had no interest in doing any other shows so I never paid attention to that part. I was like a music caddy. Basically, when they had a scene they were just asking me, “What club should we use from here?” It’s pretty insane that I got to learn on one of the coolest shows – a show that my friends actually watch. That’s the coolest part for me: my friends actually watch it every week, so when I’m making that choice musically about what to put in the show, I’m thinking about my ten close friends. Are they going to make fun of me for this song? Are they gonna call me up like, “Damn, I remember that shit!” That’s sort of what keeps it competitive in my mind. I’m not trying to impress the two million people that watch the show; I’m trying to impress my ten friends that I know are watching.
R&G: [Laughs] When you started out, you were placing a ton of great hip-hop songs on the show, which are tough to license with all of the sampling used on the tracks. Tell me a little bit about that?
Scott: You really learn why hip-hop doesn’t appear on television as much as other kinds of music. At the end of the day there ends up being too many writers on a hip-hop copyright. A lot of the good hip-hop, like the ‘90s hip-hop stuff that we all love, never cleared its samples. More samples, more writers, more problems… Personally, though, I just pick the songs that I want to be on the show; luckily on my HBO shows I don’t have to do the “paperwork”; I just pick the songs and there are other people who do the licensing. Creatively, it ends up being better for the show because I don’t have to license them myself. As a tastemaker, I pick the stuff that I want, but not the road that’s the easiest to get down; if I had to license them myself, I probably wouldn’t pick a song that’s too difficult to clear. This whole arrangement actually turned out to be great for the show because I’m picking quality over the road of least resistance.
R&G: Your clearance person must go nuts when you select hip-hop artists. There could be seriously eight publishing requests.
Scott: I remember when we did Tupac’s “All Eyez on Me”, there was somebody that Tupac gave 2% of the publishing to that was his homie. We had the whole entire song cleared except this 2%. First of all, we couldn’t find him, and we had to track him down. I actually had to call one of my friends who I know – we’ll call him a hood ambassador – to track this guy down. We finally found him. When the guy got on the phone, he was like, “I want $15,000.” We were like, “What do you mean? If you get $15,000, then your 2% would make the cost of the song around $500,000.” We had to explain to him how it worked and that he didn’t just win the lotto… Finally I had somebody talk to him so we could get him to sign off.
R&G: How many songs are you budgeted for per episode? What’s the process?
Scott: It doesn’t really work like that. It all depends how they shoot the script. On Entourage, I’m lucky I earned Doug’s trust; he lets me do my thing. Very rarely, will he [Doug Ellin] come in and say, “I hate this.” I think I picked every end credit song this year except for maybe one: Marvin Gaye’s “Piece of Clay.” That was all Doug. I remember we had a music preview and showed him some ideas and he instantly said, “I got it: Marvin.” He was right. It was actually one of my favorite uses last season. We usually look at the script then pitch ideas for the editor to set placeholders. They’ll put in temp stuff. It’s really hard when you read the script to imagine how the scene is shot. It could be a long walking scene, but it’s not really described that way, and it needs montage-y type, the-guys-are-walking music. That’s why when I do pitch I try to give three or four varied tempos, each with the vibe that would be there. The dialogue always comes first, the music second, and you just never know how it’s going to be put together or how they actually visually shot it. That’s the reason we do it that way. I would say on average I put in three or four songs for every spot. Then, once we get a first cut and I can actually see it, I start putting in or editing… Almost never do the songs that I pitch from the script end up in the episode.
R&G: Television is becoming the new radio because nobody really listens to radio. Are the labels coming to you now trying to push music for launches to help their artists? Has it changed a lot from 2004 to 2010? Talk about the relationships between the labels and the TV shows or music supervisors.
Scott: I think they all think it’s really important. I have relationships with people at the labels, but since I came from MTV, I actually knew a lot of artists. I had also done management stuff prior to doing this, and I had a lot of direct relationships with the artists themselves. When I get stuff early, a lot of times I’m getting the songs before the artist turns it into their label or publisher. We send out requests more often than not for new stuff that’s not even in the system yet. It becomes a headache for everyone to try and clear, but we all end up figuring it out. Usually supervisors get new music from the labels or publishers in a mass email that goes out to every supervisor in town at the same time. When I get that email and see a song that I like, it unfortunately gets axed off my playlist of songs I can use. I know that sounds a bit hysterical, but if the label is pushing it, it means they’re sending it to me and every other music supervisor in town, and that makes me not wanna use it. I’ll never put anything on Entourage or How to Make it in America that’s currently charting or that I know everybody else is going to be using, unless I’m promised I’ll be the first one to use it.
R&G: Give me the lockdown process.
Scott: It takes almost three months from the time I put it in the show until it airs. A lot of times, I’ll listen to an album before they [the labels] have even chosen their single. I’ll just pick what I think would be the single or the one that I like and then by the time it airs I get lucky: the song happens to be their first single and it feels like the timing is perfect. However, there are times when I get too far ahead of their marketing and it ends up not helping the artist as much as it should or could.
R&G: Do you get exclusivity?
Scott: I’ve never really had to ask. Still, if I’m going to use more of a pop mainstream artist, I say to that band or label that I want this exclusive and no one else can use it before I do. They can do whatever they want after, but if we’re going to use it, I want it to be first. I’m probably a little more precious with the end credits than with the stuff that’s transitional.
R&G: Are there artists that have turned down your license request?
Scott: They’ve only turned down one: “Lady Madonna” by the Beatles. I wanted to use that and they did not let us.
R&G: How important are music blogs to you as a supervisor as a resource?
Scott: They are extremely important. Probably my most important resource when searching for new music.
R&G: What would you say to someone who wants to get into this business?
Scott: Don’t. [Laughs]
R&G: [Laughs] Yeah? Why’s that?
Scott: Music budgets are shrinking. It’s becoming less and less important.
R&G: Are you referring to the networks, television?
Scott: Yeah, television, and they’re not able to make as much as money as they used to. When they start thinking about where they are going to crunch budgets, music is one of the first things to go. I have to say, to HBO’s credit, never ever have they given me grief over the music. They give their creative people what they want, and it’s amazing. HBO gives me the leverage to do other projects and do them right.
Back to your question about getting into the business: I don’t know. I just got really really lucky. I’m spoiled now because my first job would probably be a young person’s favorite job to have. I can’t think of any other show that anyone would want to do.