Colleen Fitzpatrick has a knack for knowing what you need to hear at any particular point in time, and she knows how to put it in front of you. As the Netflix executive responsible for music creative production, spectacle and events, much of the music on the streamer’s series passes through her hands — or ears.
In fact, in all likelihood, you’ve crossed paths with Fitzpatrick — under her stage name Vitamin C, who saw multiple hits in the 1990s, including end-of-high-school staple “Graduation (Friends Forever),” and her reggae-tinged Top 20 smash, “Smile.” She’s also a former actor, whose appearance as Amber von Tussle in John Waters’ “Hairspray” was an unforgettable one.
In 2006, Fitzpatrick launched her own production company, VCR, with a focus on music projects. That’s when she put her songwriting talents and music business savvy at work for a slew of Disney-generated pop stars, including Miley Cyrus (as Hannah Montana), Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. She also developed artists on her own, such as The Stunners, out of which Tinashe, Hayley Kiyoko, Allie Gonino emerged.
Fitzpatrick joined Nickelodeon as vice president of Music in 2012 and has been at Netflix since 2019, where her credits include shows heavy on original music, like “Julie and the Phantoms” (pictured). Recently, Fitzpatrick was featured on the streaming giant’s podcast series, We Are Netflix, which focuses on the company’s work culture and employees. Listen to the episode here, and read on for Fitzpatrick’s talk with Variety about her unique career trajectory from a pop icon — who, at one time had her own Mattel-made Vitamin C doll and a branded lipstick shade from Tommy Hilfiger — to an executive who elevates Netflix’s series with her shrewd understanding of music.
You went from teen actor to being in the band Eve’s Plum to Vitamin C. At what point did you start writing songs?
I had always been a songwriter. I started writing while I was in Eve’s Plum and I wrote a lot of Vitamin C stuff as well. It was a natural trajectory for me to step away from the camera as I got older. It was less age-related and more of a creative desire. I really enjoyed writing, and I enjoyed creating something out of nothing. Music was a great release for me emotionally and creatively. I found it more fulfilling than acting so I pursued that path.
How did that lead to you writing songs for pop stars?
Where my talent limitations could hold me back as an artist, they didn’t necessarily hold me back if I were writing for other people. I could imagine a world far greater than my own, far different from my own. That led me into artist development.
Was the pivot point for you into the business side of music when you set up VCR?
The actual pivot started with Vitamin C. When I was in Eve’s Plum, I didn’t know that much about the business. I was writing completely from the heart and just living my life as that songwriter, as that member of that band. When I went into Vitamin C, I had learned so much about what not to do and what to do, and I understood how the business worked at a much higher level. I could see where there was a vacuum and try and fill it. I could figure out where I needed to go. I was never a great singer, but I did have a very strong point of view. I discovered that a point of view, and an understanding of how to express that point of view, is essential to being an artist and that was the way in.
How did you translate this understanding to the artists you were developing?
Once I was no longer performing, it was not a stretch for me to look at a particular artist, understand what they were good at, and lean in on those attributes and help develop that. Through the relationships I had made, I was able to help artists understand more how their music was positioned and marketed and how to best work those ideas. When I first understood that it’s not simply about the song, that was the big turning point for me.
How did that lead to you becoming VP of music at Nickelodeon?
Because I was doing so much work in the kids and family and teens, female-facing Disney-style pop kind of things at the time, it made sense that I went in-house at Nickelodeon. That was amazing because I got to work with so many different kids’ projects and animation. It was also coinciding with when I was having a child, which made it even better, because I was immersed in that world.
What did your role at Nickelodeon involve?
Nickelodeon is an amazing brand. It was my job to execute on the creative, to work very collaboratively with the scriptwriters and executive producers, our head of preschool and our head of animation, and figure out if there are properties we can lean into on the music side. I did a lot of main titles, which are very important in the kids and family space.
How did your songwriting and music business background help with what you were doing at Nickelodeon?
As a writer, I had experience writing to brief. That was one of my favorite things to do because the parameters are spelled out for you and you can be creative, but not go into outer space. I very much enjoyed being able take the main titles to the next level by applying what I learned as a songwriter to a main title approach, or to an episodic song. I would work with the composers and with songwriters. I did a lot of original music creation. I also did some talent development. I worked very closely with JoJo Siwa, helping her put together her first EP, and, subsequently, working on the tour that followed.
What does your role at Netflix entail?
I came over to Netflix to work in kids and family, to support Sunny Park [director, music-Original Animation], and Amy Dunning [vice president, music creative/production], as Amy was building the music department at Netflix and it was relatively new. I started doing more series, but it’s essentially the same job. I help with anything that needs to be done on the series side as far as executing creative music needs. It’s all about serving the creative of the show, and partnering with our content execs to make sure that their vision is realized.
Can you elaborate?
If there’s a particular show, and it’s a musical, I work on casting the composer and the music supervisor and work with the internal creative teams and the external creative teams on original songs, and how the written word, if you will, ends up being executed on the music side. If it’s something that’s more score-facing, I work internally with people to get the right composer on board and work with the creative to set up the scores and songs. There are some people that have amazing creative direction and know exactly what they want and that’s that. There are other shows where it’s more about the process, about ideation, exploration, research and development. There are other shows that are very low touch, we hire a great composer, and there’s only a score. It really depends on what the creative needs.
You have to be a real musical chameleon in order to be able to do a job as multi-faceted as yours.
It’s about understanding the ultimate creative goal, and seeing how you can get to that final point. There are a lot of different ways to look at music. It’s not just as simple as, “Oh, there’s a song in the show.” What does that song do? What do we want that song to represent? And how do you get there?
How does your skillset align with the Netflix brand?
Netflix is exciting because we do so many different types of shows. There’s a type of programming for everyone, and that opens up the aperture to hiring more, and different, and larger groups of people. Since I’ve been here, I’ve worked on animated properties and musicals. I’ve done scores in different parts of the world. I’ve done needle drop-centric shows. I’ve done original programming with leveraging artists in the commercial music space. It’s been very varied. We work incredibly collaboratively. What it comes down to is hiring great music teams, and making sure that the content is what people want to watch, and ultimately, want to hear.