Netflix Music Supervisors Talk Finding "Perfect" Songs for Martin Scorsese, Noah Baumbach Films at Soundcheck Panel

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From left: Nora Felder, Trygge Toven and Randall Poster speak onstage during Soundcheck: A Netflix Film and Series Music Showcase.

In a discussion at the inaugural event, music supervisors Trygge Toven ('Dolemite Is My Name'), George Drakoulias ('Marriage Story'), Nora Felder ('Stranger Things'), Randall Poster ('The Irishman') and Aaron Byrd ('When They See Us') discussed finding both "anachronistic" and "quintessential" songs of their films' eras.

To the list of Snoop Dogg’s many accomplishments — rapper, actor, cultural icon — you can now add accidental music supervisor.

Indeed, if it wasn't for the hip-hop star — who plays the role of DJ Roj in this year’s Netflix original movie Dolemite Is My Name, directed by Craig Brewer — the acclaimed 1970s-set film centering on blaxploitation icon Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) wouldn't have opened with Marvin Gayes “Let’s Get It On,” but instead a completely different track from the soul legend.

“Marvin Gaye was actually in the script, they had already planned on that, but it was ‘What's Going On,’ not ‘Let's Get It On,’” Dolemite music supervisor Trygge Toven explained Monday during a music supervisors panel at Soundcheck: A Netflix Film & Series Music Showcase, presented by Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter. But during shooting, Snoop made a mistake when he introduced the song as "Let's Get It On" — something the filmmakers didn't realize until they'd already finished shooting. Luckily, it was something of a happy accident. “In post later on, it just felt better with 'Let's Get It On,'" Toven admitted.

Toven wasn’t alone among the panelists in having to find songs from a specific period. Also on hand for the panel — moderated by Melinda Newman, Billboard executive editor, west coast and Nashville, and held at the Avalon Hollywood — were music supervisors George Drakoulias (Marriage Story), Nora Felder (Stranger Things), Randall Poster (The Irishman) and Aaron Byrd (When They See Us). All but Drakoulias were tasked with finding music from a distinct era, often with a specific year in mind.

“For Stranger Things, for the first episode, it was really important right away that we establish that it was 1985,” said Felder, who secured Corey Hart’s “Never Surrender” for an opening make-out session between Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and Mike (Finn Wolfhard) on the Netflix series. “Not only did the song serve to establish that this was 1985, and Corey was king in 1985 — he could wear those sunglasses at night and he was the coolest ever — but also to show our characters were growing up, [and] they were in another place [in their lives].”

Byrd was similarly tasked with capturing a specific moment in time for the opening sequence of Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, in which the wrongfully imprisoned young characters who eventually became known as the Central Park Five go about their ordinary lives. Ultimately, the 1989 track “I Got It Made” by Brooklyn rapper Special Ed won out, adding another layer of authenticity to the Netflix miniseries.

“With Ava, she wanted something that was quintessential New York,” said Byrd. “It would be something that maybe wasn't the most popular of tracks but everyone in the city was certainly listening to … [and] Special Ed was perfect.”

For the music used in the three-and-a-half-hour crime epic The Irishman, director Martin Scorsese wasn’t only focused on evoking each of the eras in which the film takes place but also in echoing the psychology of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). To do that, Poster (who dubbed the director "a very reliable jukebox") and Scorsese ultimately settled on the Five Satins’ 1956 single “In the Still of the Night” to open the film and also, in some ways, function as the character’s theme song.

“’In the Still of the Night’ actually is a bit anachronistic because we're starting the story out, and we meet the De Niro character in the late stages of his life,” says Poster of the film's opening. “‘In the Still of the Night’ harkens back to an earlier period when he's just starting out, and it also then is a song that we revisit at the end of the movie. So it's anachronistic in terms of where it plays, and I think it also is speaking to reminiscence, but also speaks to the eternal, internal voice that this character has in his mind.”

There's a similar psychological underpinning to Marriage Story’s use of two songs from the Stephen Sondheim musical Company — one sung by Scarlett Johansson’s character, Nicole, along with her mother and sister (“You Could Drive a Person Crazy”), the other by Adam Driver’s Charlie (“Being Alive”). Though writer-director Noah Baumbach only wrote “Being Alive” into the script, thereby leaving Nicole’s song up in the air, Drakoulias and Baumbach ultimately decided that the film — centered on a young couple going through a brutal divorce — would best be served thematically by having both songs derive from the same musical.

“The one that the three girls sang, it went back and forth between Company or [a song from] some other musical,” said Drakoulias. “[Ultimately] I was, like, 'Let's just bookend it.’ … It's great that [they’re] both from the same musical but [from] completely different points of view.”

Notably, in the course of his work on the project, Drakoulias also had the rare opportunity to work with the legendary Randy Newman, who composed Marriage Story’s orchestral score — including for a much-discussed opening montage that portrays the love affair between the central couple. “Randy's great; you just have to make sure you feed him,” said Drakoulias when asked what it was like to work with the icon. As it turns out, the multiple Grammy, Oscar and Emmy winner is just like the rest of us. “He loves turkey sandwiches, [and] he loves Zankou Chicken," Drakoulias continued. "He loves the garlic sauce.”

This story was first published on Billboard.com.