Meet The Man Behind 'Entourage's' Music: Scott Vener (Q&A)
HBO's Entourage has offered fans half-hour chunks of stylized escapism during its eight-season run, and no one is more responsible for setting that ultra-cool tone than Scott Vener (@brokemogul), who started as a music consultant and took the reins as the show's music supervisor in 2007. Formerly at MTV, Vener has been responsible for breaking acts like the Weeknd and Kreayshawn to wider audiences through prime song placements, while mixing in forgotten hits by Talking Heads and Muddy Waters.
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As he expands his supervisory talents to HBO's How to Make It in America, which is in production for its second season, and teen drama 90210, which returns to the CW for its fourth season this fall, Vener is also making his voice heard away from the TV screen. His Twitter (14,000 followers and counting) offers links to free weekly mixtapes that include the songs used in corresponding episodes of Entourage. And his Tumblr account gives an inside look at his process, often featuring song placements that didn't make the show's final cut. Before Entourage wraps its final season on Sept. 11, Vener talked about his adversity to pitches, HBO vs. network TV and the likelihood of a much-talked-about Entourage movie.
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How did you move from MTV to soundtracking Entourage?
[Show creator] Doug Ellin has been a close friend of mine forever, and he was showing me the pilot before it was picked up. They had temp music in there, and he was like, "Why aren't you laughing?" I was like, "The music's so bad that I can't really pay attention to the jokes." After we watched it, he gave me a copy of it and I pitched a few ideas, and he used them. And the next couple episodes, when it became them asking me as a job instead of just my opinion, I said, "Why don't you guys make me a music consultant on the show and I'll help out?" I was a music consultant, and then by the third season I started to take it more seriously, and do it myself.
Where do you find the songs you use on the show?
I pretty much eliminate any songs that are being pitched to me, because that just means there are 20 other music supervisors in town that are probably playing with those same songs. Specifically on How to Make It in America and Entourage, there's a different tone than on other shows . . . because we're trying to set the bar for what we think is cool. Anything that is currently charting, if it's been in our show, it's because I had it first, and it wasn't charting when I locked the music in.
Back up a second -- you never take pitches?
It's rare. There are companies that'll say, "You'll be the first person to have this," and I will. And it's not like I don't like the particular songs -- I just don't like being in the position where it's on my show this week and then a CW show that we're working on simultaneously . . . Like the Weeknd, for instance -- I don't think most music supervisors were on that, and that was something I discovered from watching people talk about it on Twitter and music blogs. The people who have the best taste in music are the 30 music blogs that I go to on a daily basis -- and they don't even know they work for me.
In episode three of this season's Entourage, James Blake's "The Wilhelm Scream," a pretty downbeat song, played during the final scene and end credits. But on your Tumblr, you said that you almost used Beanie Sigel's amped-up rap "One Shot Deal" instead. How often does a shift like that happen?
Frequently. When you're not exactly sure what way you want to take a scene. That's where the showrunner plays an important role. I'll send three different tones for the scene, like, "What exactly is it you're trying to convey?" I'll pick one, and maybe that's not the right song, and they'll say, "I need it more like this particular song you did." And if we all don't agree that that's the home run, we go back to the drawing board and pick maybe three more.
How often do you face licensing problems?
We have licensing problems every week. And as far as a lot of the early-'90s hip-hop stuff, where nobody ever cleared samples, getting those songs is tough because there's no agreements on the music. I've wanted to use De La Soul stuff that I've never been able to, because there's so many different samples in the song. We've only been turned down once: the Beatles.
Has it been an odd process shifting gears to "How to Make It in America," and to a network show like "90210"?
Entourage and America are similar in taste musically. 90210 is skewed to a different audience -- maybe more female -- and has more singer/songwriter stuff, which I never get to use on Entourage but is cool for me because I really do like that stuff. On 90210, the [song] uses are longer, because it's a one-hour show. They let the music play under dialogue, which doesn't really happen on half-hour shows.
I'm sure HBO offers you more freedom in song selection.
It's unique for two reasons: You can use profanity, and HBO spends money on the music. They're one of the few networks that will pony up and spend, and they stay out of your way and let you do what you want to do -- as long as the showrunner is cool with it. I got put in a unique spot where they trust me to do whatever I want in the show, within reason. If one thing over time has made the music cool, it's probably because there's a singular voice being represented . . . I work on a network show, and [the music] has to go through so many different filters . . . it's too hard to make everybody happy. And to find music that makes everyone happy, may not always be the most unique music.
The Twitter updates and "show mixtapes" posted on your Tumblr have really set you apart as a music supervisor.
I signed up for Twitter because my mother told me about it. She was using it to get information and feedback on some TV show. And being as vain as possible, I was like, "I wonder what people think about the music on Entourage," and searched "Entourage music." And I saw that people were commenting more than I ever thought they would, and I was fascinated by what stuff they liked and what they didn't like.
The reason I started my blog was similar: People kept asking me to make them mixes of songs on the show. I was getting tired of burning CDs for people, so I was like, "I'll make a music blog, I'll post songs pretty frequently, and when my friends ask me to make them a music mix, I'll send them to this site and they can get whatever songs they want off of there." The next thing you know, I was getting like 2,000 hits a day on my blog. It all happened organically, and it's pretty awesome.
Is the Entourage movie definitely happening?
Yeah. There's definitely going to be a movie. All that has to happen is for Doug to write the script. I don't think anything will stop the story from being made, especially if Mark Wahlberg has anything to say about it, because he wants that movie to happen more than anyone. I'm actually going to do Doug's next show, 40, which is going to be on HBO with Michael Rapaport and Ed Burns. And I do a lot of commercials and promo spots for trailer companies.
Do you have a personal favorite musical moment on Entourage?
"In My Lifetime Remix" by Jay-Z [in season six] has to be one of my favorites. The second one would be my brother Josh, who made a track called "Phone Bill Money" because he wanted to pay his phone bill. He literally made it on Garage Band on a keyboard, and he probably got paid about $250 for it. That might have been in season two.
How did you get away with that?
It was good. It worked perfectly for the scene, and instead of paying someone thousands of dollars, he made like 250 bucks and was happy.