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Music supervisor Matt FX on the joys and challenges of picking tunes for Broad City

Melody Lau

Behind every successful TV soundtrack is a skilled music supervisor; a person who not only has a keen ear for great songs, but also the proficiency to fit it into the perfect scene. Comedy Central’s hit comedy Broad City has built up a big following for their refreshingly brash sense of humour, but one of their strongest assets is their music supervisor, Matt FX Feldman.

Feldman, who got his start picking music for the U.S. version of the teen series Skins, brings his eclectic musical taste to the technicolour world of Broad City. Instead of relying on what’s topping the charts or striving to break the next big indie act (à la Death Cab For Cutie on The O.C.), Feldman has consistently dug up some of the most bright and exciting tunes to soundtrack Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s uproarious adventures. CBC Music spoke to Feldman recently about the ins and outs of his job, where he goes to find new music and which Canadian acts he’s currently listening to.

How did you get into the world of music supervising?

Rewinding back a few years to when I was a fresh college dropout, I sort of fell-in through a series of events to the writers’ room of the U.S. adaptation of Skins. The creator of the show asked me to make him a mix and the rest is history.

Was this a job you ever envisioned doing growing up?

Never! I didn't even realize it was a job, I think, for quite some time. I will say though that I've always been able to visualize scenes to music, even from a young age. It didn't surprise me once I had the opportunity that I was able to do it!

At what point in your life did you realize you had a knack for picking or curating music?

I've definitely always loved learning as much as I could about music, but I think it might not have been till high school, whilst attending the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, that I realized that I was one of the better "iPod-duty" house party DJs around.

So what does your job as music supervisor entail? Can you break down the process of what you do for shows like Broad City, Difficult People and Man Seeking Woman?

Each project is different, but they all involve me working closely with the editor, showrunner, and directors involved. Generally speaking, I see the scenes as they're being constructed. This is usually where I'll either find something specific or refer the editor to a library of music I add to all-season long. Beyond that, it's all about conversations with the showrunners and directors in regards to whether the initial pick works, whether we try a replacement, or even get it composed to custom!

Do you get a lot of freedom when it comes to choosing songs?

I'm eternally grateful to be working on a show like Broad City where I do get an almost surreal amount of freedom in my choices. I've often said that Abbi and Ilana's tastes and my taste are like a big venn diagram and that the middle circle just happens to be the largest one!

There's a lot of attention paid to things like transitions too on Broad City. Does the process of putting together an entire episode feel like curating a good mixtape that flows well?

Definitely. I've done a lot of mix-making in my teenage years and started DJ-ing quite a bit as well, probably playing over 50 gigs a year for the past four years or so now and the process of curation is definitely similar across the board — with nuances, of course!

I find that music for shows can act as either a great backdrop to a scene or the centrepiece of a scene, the latter being something like that "Started From the Bottom" scene in season two of Broad City. Is that an aspect you ever think of when choosing music for scenes?

Yes. Honestly, the biggest priority in supervision is looking at what the scene itself needs before anything else. The emotionality, the context, the size of the "sync." Generally, it's not too hard to figure out whether we need a big tune or a little one, though you'd be surprised how many future hits I've had playing quietly in the background in the various interior locations in the episodes!

You've mentioned New York City as its own character in Broad City - how does that reflect in your musical choices?

There is a vibe in New York, beyond classic genres, of music that sort of falls in between the cracks of classification. Stuff that feels as urban as it does electronic, or even as poppy as it is underground. That's the Broad City sound!

Where do you go to discover new music?

Probably where everyone else does — blogs, SoundCloud — though I am fortunate enough now to get a majority through my email and my social media. I suppose I'm lucky in that a lot of good stuff comes to me now!

Broad City has featured a few big pop songs ("Started from the Bottom," "Edge of Glory") — is it difficult to secure bigger songs like that? Do budgets ever affect your job?

Luckily, the big songs are normally carved out of a different budget than the rest of the music hence the reason why there's usually only one or two per season. Otherwise, it can definitely be a little hectic balancing out the budgets. There's a misconception that Cable TV has a lot of money to throw around on things like music when really it's traditionally one of the lowest budget avenues for music licensing. I'll say this: there is a lot more money in commercials, Netflix, and Hollywood!

What was your favourite Broad City scene to work on?

I think my favourite episode to work on this year was episode six. Stay tuned.

I've read that on a show like Orphan Black where Tatiana Maslany plays multiple characters, she comes up with specific playlists to get into the mindset of each character. Do you think Abbi and Ilana's characters have similar taste in music? What would be on their respective playlists?

Abbi and Ilana, and their respective characters, definitely have a similar taste in music, though if I had to guess I would say that Ilana leans even harder with hip-hop. Think, like, DMX. Abbi's playlists probably include a bit more guitar music, whether that be a band like Sleater-Kinney or a folkier act. Otherwise, some music I know they love and have sent my way for inclusion on this season includes THEESatisfaction, Lizzo, Lolawolf, Sleater Kinney and Peaches.

What other TV shows out there do you think have great music supervision?

I think Zach Cowie did a phenomenal job with Aziz Ansari on Masters of None. What they have accomplished is no small feat. Also shout-outs to the OG, the UK version of Skins, as well as Misfits — definitely one of my biggest inspirations as a supervisor! Also, funnily enough, there is a Canadian (and now U.S.) food documentary show called Food Factory that has some of the best electronic music playing in the background of any food show I've ever seen!

Are you working on any other exciting projects?
I am. Some are so exciting that I can't even talk about them! There are some obvious ones like season two of Difficult People as well as, hopefully, a great radio slot somewhere. People have been asking for a while for a scheduled show from me and I think with the right platform it could be time.

Beyond that, I am working with a few artists on their debut releases, the first of which is an absolutely incredible female vocalist named Synead whom I've worked with in the past on my project, Scooter Island. We just shot her debut video a couple of weeks ago down in Trinidad during Carnival and the footage is totally unreal. I can't wait to finish the release and help get it out there!

We also asked Feldman to share five Canadian artists he's in love with right now. Below are his picks.

Weaves, 'Tick'
"Love, love, love this band. Somewhere in-between golden age Weezer and Alabama Shakes, as well as some other brilliant influences, comes Toronto's Weaves with their incredible sound and live show. While their new single "Tick" is not featured in the upcoming season of Broad City, there are a couple of other tracks from their previous releases attached to some awesome scenes!"

Froyo Ma feat. Charlotte Day Wilson, 'Spent Missing'
"This is another tune featured on the upcoming season of the show. Froyo Ma is a brilliant young producer and Wilson is such a huge talent who recently signed to Arts & Crafts Records! I had the pleasure of meeting her last time I was up in Toronto and once I'd heard this tune I just had to find a place for it on the show."

Ryan Hemsworth, 'Afterglow'
"Ryan has actually been such a huge asset to me on the show, sending through some incredible work from artists off his label, Secret Songs. I was happy to not only feature tracks from his label but also his own music this season. While "Afterglow" itself did not make the cut, some forthcoming releases of his did!"

Aquarian, 'Fellow's Court'
"Aquarian is a dance producer originally from Toronto who now lives in Brooklyn. His newest track, "Fellow's Court" shows up on the very first compilation from The Umbrella, a label started by New York City warehouse party gods, RINSED.IT."

Hooded Fang, 'Tunnel Vision'
"A good friend of mine named Kate Killet is one of the most tuned-in, patriotic ears in all of Canada and I recently had the pleasure of being introduced to the music of Hooded Fang when she was visiting New York. That pleasure included a sneak-peak listen to their upcoming LP and my god — let me just state, on record, that I think that album might be some of the catchiest, aesthetically-pleasing "guitar music" I've heard in some time."