We all love the music on our favorite TV show, True Blood and it’s all because of the wonderful choices made by it’s Music Supervisor Gary Calamar. Below is part of an interview with Gary where he talks about his career and also what it’s like to pick music for TV shows like True Blood, Six Feet Under, etc.
Gary Calamar made his mark on television as music supervisor for Alan Ball’s True Blood, and Six Feet Under, being nominated for five Grammy awards along the way. A lifelong music fan, Calamar hosts a Sunday night radio show on Santa Monica station KCRW, has interviewed luminaries such as Brian Wilson, Wilco, Lucinda Williams and The Flaming Lips, and even received a Gold accreditation for the very-excellent Varsity Blues soundtrack. Calamar is heading out to Song Summit to talk about the process and challenges of writing music for film and television.
Your placement of Breathe Me by Sia in the finale of Six Feet Under was responsible for her breaking in America. Is that kind of career-making sync commonplace?
I would say it’s rare-especially on that level. Not that she’s selling out stadiums or anything, but the impact of that song was – I won’t say it’s unprecedented but people tell me that’s the best music scene they’ve ever seen. I think it’s a combination of the finale of a great show, and a fantastic episode in itself. That last scene was very moving. That is a special case, the stars aligning. Obviously it’s a very beautiful song, it was not even being released here in America. I’m sure there have been other instances, but in my experience, that has been a singular situation.
Is it important for you to select songs that aren’t already widely known in the pop culture pantheon? Is that a consideration at all?
I think it depends on the personality of the project. Sometimes we need a familiar song as a nice warm thing. Sometimes being exposed to a new song is fantastic. For me, it’s a nice challenge to discover something new and make it a recognisable song in the future. As always, it depends on the scene: if you want something playing from a jukebox or something to really help illustrate the mood, then maybe you want a Lou Reed song or something.
Do you approach television and film in the same way?
It’s kinda the same approach, even if it’s overall a different feeling. TV is very immediate, you’re on a schedule, you have to do twelve or more episodes, and you have to have each one done by the Friday of next week, then you move onto the next episode, so there’s not a ton of time to second guess and triple guess, you need to be decisive and then go with your decision. In film, they take so much time, and everyone allows time to second guess themselves and change their minds. – it seems like it’s a much slower process.
Which do you prefer?
I prefer working on great projects – these days there are so many great programs on television. I would much rather work on a great television show then a mediocre film.
With shows like True Blood or Six Feet Under where there is a very heavily stylised world, are you given heavy notes?
The show itself as it progress kinda gets to have its own little world, so we try to fit the music into the world as it is created. True Blood, which takes place in the South, in Louisiana, with vampires and shape-shifters running around, it does have a certain personality to it, which is different to the more serious vibe of Six Feet Under. It’s all a collaboration, we will look at a scene, myself and Alan Ball or one of the producers, we will discuss it then I will go away and come back with three or four ideas and we take it from there. So, there’s a certain amount of leeway, but the show kinda dictates what it needs.
Obviously as someone who started on radio, managed acts and has been in the industry you’re entire life, you’re a huge music fan. Did you plan to get into this line of work?
I definitely wanted to get into the music business. I wasn’t quite sure where I would end up. I was very happy to be working the door at a club, and I was very happy to be working in a record store, and I was very happy to be managing bands, so I love many aspects of the music industry. There’s quite a bit of competition between music supervisors- in this day and age everyone is a music supervisor. I’d always hoped to work in the business, so with a radio show and ongoing projects in television, I’m in a good spot.