Music supervisors keep soundtracks on track

Artists, manager relationships important to finding the right songs

Music supervisors who work on indies are paid for more than their taste.

Along with chasing down tunes, those in the soundtrack trenches are expected to come through on tight budgets and deadlines, often using their relationships to bring down song prices, all the while capturing the creative vision of a director.

The challenge for Matt Diehl and Todd Roberts, music supervisors on “On-Line,” a film set in New York’s Internet sex industry, included getting the tone of cyber-hipster subculture right on a microbudget.

But Diehl, a rock journalist, and Roberts, an A&R exec for Virgin and electronica label Astralwerks, were well suited to the challenge of creating a soundtrack of electronic and indie rock.

“It was definitely an underground film about the kind of people you’d meet on the Lower East Side of New York and the music had to reflect that,” says Diehl.

Roberts and Diehl relied on relationships with artists and managers, and at times fought for tunes that resulted in a soundtrack which includes artists like Clem Snide, Pink Martini, Peaches and the Afghan Wigs.

In some instances, Diehl and Roberts found that film’s tone and budget were better served by taking out a music cue or using the film’s score than clearing a costly song track.

In one of the film’s pivotal scenes, where two of the main characters “have their erotic experience (on the Internet), we had a source (music) cue there and we realized it would be a lot more expensive than putting in score,” says Roberts.

Continues Diehl, “That’s what one has to learn: when to step back and use score or silence.”

With an indie soundtrack, often supervisors must compromise, but for a film like Michael Winterbottom’s “24 Hour Party People,” which chronicles the rise and fall of Factory Records, and the Manchester music scene of the ’80s and ’90s, history dictated the tracks.

“There are many times you can’t afford (a song) you move on. We were documenting a specific period and we had to be faithful to the time and the whole Manchester scene. Music was fundamental, it was the most important part of the film and we couldn’t compromise that much,” says London-based music supervisor Liz Gallacher, whose recent films include “Resident Evil” and “Bend it Like Beckham.”

While producers supplied a bigger budget for the film than most U.K. indies, says Gallacher, finding the right music for the film was quite an undertaking. It took 18 months from start to finish for the film’s 49 tracks.

Some more-obscure tracks that were essential to the film proved challenging for Gallagher to clear as well, including one scene where pre-Happy Mondays Shaun and Paul Ryder watch Karl Denver sing “Wimoweh” on television.”We didn’t cut any corners,” says Gallacher. “A couple of the things we couldn’t get, but we got everything we needed to have — we had support from publishers and labels and everyone was really interested in it.”

Like Gallacher, Dondi Bastone, who worked on Robert Benton’s “The Human Stain,” was brought aboard before post-production for certain scenes during principal photography.

Bastone, a jazz aficionado, helped Benton, also a jazz lover, find songs for playback, including one difficult to source scene where Nicole Kidman does a striptease for Anthony Hopkins.

“It needed something sexy but the director didn’t want to use trumpet or tenor sax,” says Bastone. “He wanted a piece of music that would contrast, that didn’t have to be period and initially suggested soprano sax a la John Coltrane.”

Bastone wound up submitting 66 songs, ultimately choosing a rendition of “Cry Me a River.” “As you go along you get a better sense of what the director will connect with,” says. “But that’s a record. I didn’t have a picture to work with just the director’s head.”