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INSECURE’S SURE MUSICAL HAND

Interview by Michelle Santosuosso

As music supervisor of the hit HBO series Insecure, Kier Lehman has not only helped make song choices to highlight the show’s emotional dynamics but has emerged (along with the show’s creators) as a tastemaker—the weekly ST of Issa Rae’s semi-autobiographical world invariably gets phones Shazaming like few things on the tube nowadays. Season one’s soundtrack came out via RCA last year, and the season 2 set (featuring such buzzing acts as SZA, LION BABE, Leikeli47, Rico Nasty and Jorja Smith, not to mention Rae herself) hit this week.

"Kier is simply one of the best music supervisors in the business," notes RCA SVP Film & TV Music and Strategic Marketing Karen Lamberton. She adds that "From a purely creative perspective, the show helped inspire a number of artists to write specifically about the characters and unfolding storylines. This whole project has been a win."

Our own Michelle Santosuosso cornered Lehman with a playlist full of questions.

What are the unique challenges of your job in this day and age?
With this show, we focus on new music and we want to be super-fresh and cutting-edge. We’re highlighting a lot of unreleased and brand-new music, debuting songs. That brings its own set of issues, because a lot of time agreements haven’t been done yet. The publishers and labels may not even know they exist. They have to be ingested into their systems and negotiated between all the writers; we often need to help push things through or get approval based on the splits being determined after they’re negotiated. That sort of hurdle is specific to this show, since we feature so much new stuff that’s not ready for release yet.

With that level of exposure, you’re potentially moving the needle on careers. What is the best example, your proudest “discovery zone” moment so far?
I think one of my favorites is Jorja Smith. We had a song in the first episode of season one that got a big response and was—and still is—unreleased. That one is going to be on her upcoming album. We have another song from her in the finale [of season two] that will be on our soundtrack, which is really exciting.


"With this show, we focus on new music and we want to be super-fresh and cutting-edge. We’re highlighting a lot of unreleased and brand-new music, debuting songs. That brings its own set of issues."

You’ve featured RCA artists like Jasmine Sullivan and Bryson Tiller and the season one soundtrack came out on RCA. Are you collaborating with A&R? How does that come about?
For season one, we had finished the show and were looking for a soundtrack partner. We didn’t know what we had when we started, but once we got into a few episodes, we realized that obviously music is a huge part of the show and it would make sense to have a soundtrack.

We kind of had to rush at that point, to get something out in time for it to be relevant when the show was airing. Karen Lamberton from RCA had actually watched the first episode, which was put up on HBO GO in advance of the debut, and immediately called me and said that they needed to do the soundtrack.  We had been talking to one or two other labels, but RCA just jumped in and agreed to all the terms that HBO requested—plus they were really gung-ho and supportive and saw the potential of the project. Part of that deal was locking in our season two soundtrack, which is out now on RCA .

Music discovery in some ways is easier than ever because we have so many outlets. But on the other hand, there’s so much that you could get lost in the sauce. Is it important for you to have music discovery be a big part of Insecure?
Yeah it is, it’s definitely important for us to be a destination and we’re really proud of that. To be a place for people to come and discover new music and to be able to feature artists and give them exposure to new audiences and new fans is really exciting and probably the best part of this job for me. Getting to support artists and independent artists, these kinds of placements can mean a lot for them, and can help validate their careers or help them make their next record, so I love that part of this job.  It is definitely important but also rewarding.

As creator and star, is Issa Rae herself coming to the table with specific records? Is there a particular West Coast feel that she’s going for?
She is definitely coming with specific records a lot—stuff that she finds on her own. I send the producers a batch of music every week, and they’ll pick through and pull out things that they love, and find spots that way sometimes. She’s definitely coming with a lot of stuff already in mind, and we both grew up in L.A., so she has a clear idea of the sound that she’s looking for. It’s definitely a West Coast sound, but modern. The direction from her has been from the beginning for it to sound fresh and new and modern.

What are the most valuable skills a supervisor needs in order to be effective and successful in this role?
Three things come to mind: Multitasking, attention to detail, and being able to work well with other people. It’s collaborative, you’re working closely together, you’re spending time in meetings, you're having discussions about music or the project with lots of other people—they are going to hire you not just because you can do all the things the job requires, but also because they want to be around you and enjoy having those kind of conversations with you. There’s a little bit of politics in how you explain things, how you resolve issues that come up in conflicts. In a very collaborative job, this is really important. When I’m looking to hire people to work with me, those three things count the most.

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