In Screen Sounds, we pick the brains of the people who select the soundtracks for some of our favorite shows. For our first instalment, we chatted with Chris Muckley, radio host at Los Angeles’s legendary KCRW as well as SiriusXMU, about working on the music supervision of the Will Arnett Netflix series Flaked with his creative partner and fellow KCRW host Chris Douridas.
Hey Chris! Thanks so much for chatting with us at WeArePressPlay. Congrats on the success of Flaked – how was it having Will Arnett host with you on SiriusXMU?
Thank you for having me. The Will Arnett “Complete Control” on SiriusXMU was a blast. In fact, technically it was HIS show and I was his guest, which is backwards from how it usually works, being that I’m a DJ/host on that channel. He is so fun, funny, and as it turns out, quite a natural on the radio. The fact that we had previously worked together for several months on the post production for Flaked made the environment for the radio show really relaxed and familiar. It’s always more fun to be on the air with someone when there already exists a rapport. We had some good laughs while remembering and telling some of the behind-the-scenes happenings involving the music in Flaked.
You and fellow KCRW host Chris Douridas have worked together on a number of music supervision projects, including Flaked. How did you guys initially team up? Is it easier having a partner to work with on supervision?
Chris Douridas has been music supervising for film since the 1990s, whereas it’s a newer adventure for me. We both have long histories in Southern California radio, both on air and as music directors. But, somehow, we never actually met until I was hired at KCRW in 2012. That was also around the time when I started working on music supervision projects with Karen Glauber and then Aminé Ramer.
There came a period when I wasn’t very busy, and Chris happened to need help on season 3 of Showtime’s House of Lies. He brought me in to work with him on the creative (music selection), and we’ve worked together on most projects since, though both in ever-expanding roles.
Regarding working with a partner, I think it’s great. Chris and I have found that, while we do have a set of shared skills and interests, we also have others that are vastly different from each other, yet very complimentary. We’re a well-oiled machine at this point. When something comes up, we usually know whose job it is to take care of it, without even the need for discussion.
I love to watch Chris work. He comes at everything from such an artistic point of view. While I bring my own brand of creativity, I also enjoy the project-management side of the job.
What’s your go-to method for finding new music? Do you find that you listen to music differently when trying to craft a soundtrack for a production versus finding material to play on KCRW and Sirius XMU?
It really comes from all angles. Record labels, publishers, artist managers, publicists, agents, and artists themselves all submit music to radio programmers and music supervisors. But I think most of us take time to go searching for music on our own. I dig around on music blogs and other websites, such as Bandcamp and Soundcloud. In fact, I often discover music by accident on Soundcloud because of their algorithm. If the song you went there to hear ends, it will then play another song that it thinks you might like. I can’t tell you how often I’ve ended up being more interested in that selection than the song I actually came there to hear.
I also try to see a lot of live music, and listen to other free-form radio DJs. All the DJs at KCRW bring such interesting choices to the airwaves, and I feel the same about the Blog Radio hosts on SiriusXMU.
To say that I listen to music differently for supervision projects than for radio would not be quite accurate. I’m always listening to everything with both opportunities in mind. What I’m interested in for the radio is music that I personally love, and which will be appealing to the audience. Before I was involved in music supervision, there were whole genres of music that I didn’t have much use for. But for film, TV and ads, you could end up needing any kind of music at any time. So, something I wouldn’t care to play on the radio, I might end up setting aside because I think it would work well in a specific type of scene.
The soundtrack for Flaked has been getting rave reviews, and rightfully so. The music flows so naturally with the pacing and structure of the dialogue, never overpowering a scene but instead embracing and emphasizing the mood of the show. As a supervisor, how did you develop the musical tone of Flaked? What was that process like?
With this show it was pretty easy. Will Arnett has great taste, and it’s very specific. We found out in our first meeting that he is a massive fan of indie rock (and SiriusXMU, hence the subsequent radio show). Some of the artists we discussed in that first meeting, like Kurt Vile and Foxygen, ended up in the show. From what Chris and I learned about Will’s tastes, we were able to introduce him to other new bands that we felt would fit into the Flaked world. Chris Douridas also reached out to a handful of musicians to offer them opportunities to write songs inspired by the show. The S. Carey song “Rose Petals” is one of the ones that landed.
When it came to original score, right from the beginning Will expressed how much he’d love to get Stephen Malkmus on board as the composer. That dream became a reality, and the results are pretty incredible. Besides his score pieces, Stephen also wrote the show’s theme song, and created a cover of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” for the end of one episode. His signature sound brings so much to the show.
The post-production schedule for Flaked was very tight. We did the sound mixes for the last four episodes four days in a row. This meant literally making final decisions and clearing songs while on the mix stage. It was fun, but a bit stressful!
Have there been any unexpected challenges you’ve come across when working as a music supervisor?
Most of the unexpected challenges have had to do with the boring side of the business. Recently on a project, a publisher had issued clearance for 100% of a song, and it ended up that they only controlled 90% of the rights. Cleaning up those kinds of messes is never fun, but it’s part of the job. Also, it can be very difficult to determine who owns the copyrights on certain obscure songs. I have a handful of great South African songs from the 1960s that I would love to pitch on projects, but that I don’t think would be possible to clear.
If you had to pick five songs to score your own life, what would they be, and why are they important to you?
I’m sure my answer to this would be different if you asked me next week, but here goes:
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills & Nash. One afternoon I was sharing drinks with friends when one of the group asked us all to name one song as our personal “rhythm.” She basically wanted to know which song sonically embodies the essence of who we are as a person. After about a half hour of thinking on it, I decided on this song because of the final section (the “doo doo doo da doo…” part). Let’s call it my character’s theme.
“Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone. I’m very driven by nostalgia, and this song is one of the most nostalgic for me. But I think that even if I hadn’t known it from early in my life, the way it is written could make a person feel nostalgic. Having grown up in sunny Southern California, I could hear this as the background music to a beach scene.
“La Prima Estate” by Erlend Oye. This one’s fairly recent, but it has been one of my favorites for the past few years. He wrote it after moving to Italy, and it was inspired by the friends he made and the Italian music of the 1960s and ‘70s which he discovered. I would like this to play during a celebratory montage that takes place during travel.
“Nite Klub” by The Specials. Self explanatory for anyone who has spent a lot of time in clubs to watch bands, dance, and feel alive!
“Could It Happen To Me?” by Roxy Music. For the romance, tortured as it may occasionally be.
Follow Chris Muckley on Twitter for more of his great musical selections.