Emmys: ‘The Get Down’ Music Supervisor on Having Patience and Giving Chase

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
‘The Get Down’ (Photo: Netflix)

As we enter Emmy season — nomination voting runs June 12 to June 26 — Yahoo TV will be spotlighting performances and other contributions that we feel deserve recognition.

This year, Outstanding Music Supervision makes its long-awaited debut as an Emmy category. In honor of the milestone, Yahoo TV asked music supervisors for some of our favorite series to answer the same set of questions about their work this season — and to name a past show they believe would have been recognized had this category existed sooner.

We continue with Stephanie Diaz-Matos, music supervisor on Netflix’s The Get Down.

1. What song/placement are you proudest of this season?

The song I am most proud of this season is “The Other Side” written by Emily Warren & Scott Harris. This song was initially written as the song we internally called the “magic record,” which was an important story point that ultimately connects all of the main characters in the opening episodeAt the insistence of Maria Alonte, who is now at Republic Records, I met Emily in a coffee shop in NYC before production started. At the time she was a songwriter whose first hit had not made the radio yet. There was love for the song amongst the team and from Baz [Lurhmann, the show’s co-creator], who also knew looking forward it may fit even better as the closer for the show rather than the opener. We held on to the track throughout production, and in that time Emily had several successes at radio. With it always in our back pocket, we came back to it as we ended our long journey on the show and realized what Emily and Scott had delivered us is a timeless song, romantic and hopeful that captures the dream that is at the heart of the show. The song became part of the storyline of the second act. We knew we were building toward Mylene singing this song in a recording studio, and the line “See you on the other side” became a theme to Part 2 for all the characters in their own way, and because of that, [it] wrapped up the last episode beautifully.

2. What was the most challenging scene/moment for you this season creatively?

Finding the song for Mylene to sing at the Rubicon was the biggest challenge for me this season. We engaged a number of talented songwriters and experimented with a lot of sounds. The “Sexy Song” was a fun exploration process, but pinning down exactly how far we were going to ask Mylene to push the envelope, and finding the song that checked the box of inspiring a great visual and a big production number, was a challenge. “Toy Box” came in a last-minute pitch when I reached out to Patricia Joseph in Sia’s management office. It had just the right mix of drive, sex appeal, and religious reference with a visual construct we could build a production around.

3. Was there a song swap that worked out even better than your original idea?

Originally the song we used in Episode 2 where Shao is figuring out the secrets of beat matching was “It’s Just Begun” by Jimmy Castor Bunch. In this scene, young Flash warns the crew “Choose wisely or madness be thy name” when picking the record to teach themselves. We too had to learn this lesson in post as “It’s Just Begun” didn’t hold up in edit for a variety of reasons, amongst them repetitiveness which meant not enough distinctions in it for the viewer to really make clear the lesson at hand. So it was all hands on deck, and we really relied heavily on our historical research here and tried countless different breaks.

Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It)” was the winner for a number of reasons and really surpassed where we started, as it had the benefit of a lyric that spoke to the budding partnership of our two male leads, plus the bonus of shining a light on the original source material for a record heavily sampled in many records in early hip hop.

4. What’s the song that isn’t the theme song of the show that you think would make the perfect theme song for the show?

Our show doesn’t have a theme song. But I think a good thematic song for the show is “Ball of Confusion” originally by The Temptations, which we did a really lovely cover of with Leon Bridges. The song so accurately reflects some of the political chaos and turmoil that the people of the Bronx were surrounded by during that time and the spirit that helped create the movement that started hip hop.

5. Name a past show that you think would have been recognized for its music supervision had the Emmy category existed.

Mad Men.

6. If you haven’t already mentioned it above… What’s the song you never thought you’d get the rights to this season but you did (and how did you do it)?
As on overall philosophy we don’t take “No” for an answer. We tried to do everything we could to get the songs we were after. While there was a lot of work to do in the clearance department (200+ cues) — from tracking down obscure copyrights, and explaining the unorthodox ways that we were using the songs, i.e. layered with other songs, interpolated into new works etc. — overall there was a lot of good will towards the show, the story, and towards Baz. 

Can’s “Vitamin C” was definitely a lengthy, drawn-out clearance that really pushed us to the limits. It had been licensed before so I knew it was possible; but we were not getting any response for quite some time through the traditional channels. And, as we were working to clear the song, creatively it was taking on a larger and larger role in the show — becoming a score theme, a sample in a new work for the soundtrack, and then multiple drops over a few episodes. If it hadn’t come through, it would have become more problematic than when the initial inquiry was made.

When we got to the point in our schedule where I could not wait any longer, I had to get creative with our approach. With some dedicated research we were able to circumvent the usual channels and go directly to Sandra Podmore — whose father, Irmin Schmidt, is a founder of Can (and also a big Baz Luhrmann fan) — and everything went into motion. 

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