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‘This Is Us’ Music Supervisor Talks Finding ‘Out of the Box’ Songs

A veteran music supervisor for television and movies, Jennifer Pyken landed her first Emmy nomination for her work on NBC’s “This Is Us.” This native New Yorker-turned-Valley Girl started out as an Island Records intern and continues to showcase her diverse musical range with the Netflix teen comedy, “The Package,” which bowed Aug. 10.

This is only the second year that music supervisors have even been eligible for Emmys. Why do you think it took so long to receive recognition?

People sometimes think of music as an afterthought — but it’s so important. Our guild is fairly new: It’s six years old. So we had to go and explain to them what we do and how much we put into the show and what the process is. And by doing that, they were able to get that as a new category. It took a little bit of work.

What do you consider to be your big break in television?

One of my very first jobs was an MTV show called “Undressed.” That was their first scripted TV show. And it was a five-day-a-week episodic show, which was so much work. … It was kind of boot camp for me. But it was fun because it was so young and hip and MTV was kind of happening at the time.

What are the challenges of finding music for “This Is Us,” a show that plays with time and spans different decades?

We try to be authentic and intimate and organic, and we don’t use overly produced songs on the show. I typically find songs that aren’t necessarily acoustic, but have an acoustic vibe to them. What I’ve noticed is that when you play a super-slick, overly produced song under the show, it doesn’t work because our show is so raw.

What do you consider some of your biggest gets?

There was a George Harrison song — a demo original version of “All Things Must Pass.” I try to find songs that aren’t necessarily the original version, something that’s a little bit out of the box. We’re able to license some of the bigger artists because they love the show and that makes it a lot easier. So the challenges have gotten, over the second season, a lot easier. Bruce Springsteen [was the toughest]. They wanted to know a lot of information about how the music was going to be used. He’s a mega-artist and … it took a lot longer.

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