'Girls' Music Supervisor Manish Raval Talks About Finding 'Cool Music'
The song selection process also involves input from Lena Dunham and exec producer Judd Apatow.
The tracks that constitute the first soundtrack for HBO's Girls, out now on Fueled by Ramen/Atlantic, reflect the modern bohemian environs that surround the show's quartet of young New Yorkers. Songs are culled from the first season and the second, which begins Jan. 13, and as expected, the second season starts with plenty of indie rock, hip-hop, club music and Michael Penn's gentle acoustic score. More mainstream music, though, is on the way.
"Sometimes I struggle with what fans want to hear," says Aperture Music's Manish Raval, who supervises the show's music with his partner Tom Wolfe. "In season two you'll find we use a lot of very mainstream music in very big spots, the antithesis of the indie-rock placements. I felt a responsibility to find cool music. That's a reason people reacted to the show, but what's right for the show is what's right for the moment, and you'll see a lot of different stylistic choices."
The selection process, Raval says, is unlike other shows he works on, such as NBC's Community and Fox's New Girl. Three-quarters of the selections come from mixtapes, YouTube clips and MP3s circulated among the team making the music decisions: Raval, Wolfe, Aperture music library chief Jonathan Leahy, executive producers Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner, and star/creator Lena Dunham.
Among prominent placements early in season two are Grouplove's song recorded for the show, "Everyone's Gonna Get High"; Icona Pop's dance track "I Love It"; the Count Five's 1965 nugget "Psychotic Reaction"; and Duncan Sheik's 1996 single "Barely Breathing."
"We're into finding crazy things, stuff that's really out there," Raval says. "You can't slack off and you can't just listen to what's pitched to us. We have to find great stuff [Dunham] hasn't heard -- I feel like there's a responsibility there -- and if at the end of the process we need a song, we do it the traditional way."
Raval sometimes licenses a dozen tracks per episode -- the show has never used any production library tracks -- made possible by a budget three times larger than any of Raval's network programs.
"I don't think [HBO] anticipated there would be such a reaction to the music," he says. "If we post a link to a song on YouTube, I would see 15 pages of comments related to the song's use on Girls. It has captivated [an audience] in a completely different way [than other shows]."
A revelation about Girls occurred for Raval while working on the first season's third episode, specifically a loft party scene initially filled with "wall-to-wall art party music, very down and very indie and probably very realistic to the situation." That's when a music supervisor has to work some magic, massaging the reality of an onscreen situation to enhance the storytelling. "We did a 180 with the music -- brought in Pitbull, Ghostface Killah and Black Lips."
When it came time to assemble an album, Raval, Wolfe and soundtrack producer Kevin Weaver focused on end-credits songs and the tracks specially recorded for the show, most of them from the upcoming season. Of the 14 tracks on the standard edition of Girls-Volume 1: Music From the HBO Original Series, four were recorded specifically for the show. A digital-only deluxe edition has five exclusives, among them Tegan & Sara's cover of the Rolling Stones' "Fool to Cry" and fun.'s "Sight of the Sun."
Santigold's "Girls" is the first single, promoted at alternative rock radio and used in HBO's online and on-air promotional spots. HBO has cut a montage of show footage featuring the track for use as a viral marketing tool, and Atlantic shot a music video for release around the album's street date.
Atlantic's Weaver, who has a history with HBO (he won a best compilation soundtrack for visual media Grammy for Boardwalk Empire), says the cable network "understands how to utilize co-op marketing opportunities to help connect the audience to the soundtrack release." The soundtracks, he wrote in an email, involve "minimal cost and zero risk." [Industry sources suggest the album might sell between 6,000 to 10,000 in its first week.]
"We saw [this] as being a great fit for the Fueled by Ramen brand, which, as a label, has always prided itself on being culturally impactful and forward-thinking," Weaver wrote. "And with the inclusion of a new track from fun., it made perfect sense to have this album become an FBR release."