Music supervisors: How they take our emotions on a rollercoaster ride

Music supervisors, like Thomas Golubic, are responsible for giving fans moments they’ll remember forever, by just placing the right song at the right time.

Music Supervisors :: Breaking Bad


One of the most appreciated shows on TV recently was “Breaking Bad.” As it ended its fifth and final season, the Internet exploded with eulogies and praise. On one hand, the fans of the show have ensured its immortality, while on the other hand award shows have ensured the same through the countless nominations and wins.

Vince Gilligan, the creator of “Breaking Bad,” deserves all the respect directed toward him and the cast deserves all the fame and love it’s getting right now. But one name that has not really been part of the headlines is that of Thomas Golubic.

Who’s he?

He’s the music supervisor for the show and he is responsible for giving fans moments from the show that they’ll remember forever, by just placing the right song at the right time.

In an AMA he hosted on Reddit in October last year, he revealed a lot about him and his work on the show. Using what was said there, we can delve deeper into the world of music supervisors, what it is all about, what it isn’t and how they make the shows, movies and videogames what they are and how this work transcends us to where all the action is.

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Breaking Bad Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First of all, not anyone with good taste in music can become a music supervisor – the job is more than how vast someone’s music collection is. He also needs to be, on some level, “at one with” the project.

“Breaking Bad,” as the name suggests, is a show about one man’s downward spiral. Golubic is no stranger to failure. He left his home in Boston for Los Angeles with the idea of writing a book about the rise and fall of the American Empire. But as we can see, that didn’t really work out as too many other people had written better stuff covering this topic.

“I’m a big fan of failure,” he says in an interview with PopMatters. “It helps prepare you and to give you stamina for things that will come later.” Long story short, Golubic subsequently started working with a radio company in LA which gave him access to tones of new music. (This was obviously the pre-iPod era)

That was then; this is now. Golubic is credited as the music supervisor not only for “Breaking Bad” but also for another hit drama, “The Walking Dead,” whose recent season finale had a viewership of more than 12.4 million. For any person wanting to know more about how to be a good music supervisor, he sums it up perfectly – “My job is to tell stories with music; to understand music, different songs, different composers, all forms of music, understand the power it has and recognize when that power is well-used in helping to tell a story in the context of a film or TV project.”

Music Supervisors - Thomas GolubicTo understand how the job of a music supervisor is not a set of rules one always has to stick to, the best example is how the song “Negro y Azul” was chosen for the 14th episode of “Breaking Bad.” It’s sung by a trio of narcocorrido musicians (local musicians in Mexico who sing ballads about the drug cartels).

The context is – the meth manufacturer named Heisenberg is now famous across the border and his product is selling like hotcakes, so it’s getting a lot of unwanted attention from the cartels.

To make it sound as authentic as possible, Golubic approached a lot of “narcocorrido” musicians, but most of them were in the US illegally or had outstanding warrants and/or wanted payment in cash, something the producers of the show would not allow. Finally, using his radio contacts, Golubic hooked up with Pepe Garza, a local radio station owner who played such music on his channel. Sony Music Latin did the rest and they flew in “Los Cuates De Sinaloa” who finally sang the song the writers of the show and Garza had composed. “It all came together in a low-key studio in Burbank and we shot the video on location in Albuquerque,” Golubic concludes.

Apart from pre-production skills, the job also requires a high amount of patience that someone like Golubic displayed at the editing room where he went through each scene over and over again until he got the sentiment behind each frame right. In a show such as “Breaking Bad,” where the story permeates from comedy to darkness, mood is everything.

In the 60th episode (“Ozymandias,” perhaps the best episode of the show), almost the entire episode is packed with action and violence, so much so that the viewers do not have a moment to blink, but then, nearing the end, even though the scene is a sad one with Walter White rolling down what’s left of his money in a barrel, Golubic places an upbeat love song titled “Take my true love by the hand,” and therein he manages to bring about a perfect synergy between the music and the images that very few of us can dream of.

2001: A Space Odyssey

In Golubic’s own words, this marriage of sound and film was inspired in him in 1978, when his father took him to watch Stanley Kubrick [Unlink]’s classic sci-fi “2001: A Space Odyssey.” “I feel like it’s the high point of using music and film to create a dream state that’s far beyond any literal interpretation.

And that’s what I love about it and why it connected to me, the way music and the images work together to put me in a transformative state that I wanted to be in forever. It’s a very powerful combination. That was an early point.”

The idea of music supervisors may not be one that is very old, at least on paper, but the job has its roots in early cinema, in silent films. As new shows and movies make their way to our screens, perhaps we can steal a moment to think about its evolution and not simply walk out while the credits are rolling.


Written by Preetam Kaushik | AllVoices