"My role is to do what's artistically and financially right for my shows. If that coincides with breaking a new artist, it's just gravy."


An exclusive HITS Dialogue with Neophonic's PJ Bloom

During his decade-plus career as a Music Supervisor, PJ Bloom has worked with the likes of Michael Mann, John Frankenheimer, Steven Bochco, Mike Nichols and Ridley Scott, among many others.  His recent projects include the hit television series CSI: Miami and Nip/Tuck. His film projects include the current Sony Pictures production of the best-selling book Running With Scissors starring Annette Bening and Gwyneth Paltrow and New Line’s Normal Adolescent Behavior starring Amber Tamblyn. PJ is also a longtime Music Consultant for HBO Films, overseeing projects like Angels In America, American Splendor and Maria Full of Grace.  He is also a Music Consultant for Disneyland theme park's music-driven rides and attractions. Why he deigned to speak with HITSRoy Trakin is anybody’s guess.

How did you get into music supervision?
In the early ’90s, I stopped playing in bands and defected to "the other side." I landed a job in the newly created soundtrack division at Columbia Records. I was completely floored that there was this field where I could be involved in picking songs for movies, and did everything I could to stay a part of it.

Where do you go to find new music for use on the soundtracks of films and TV shows?
I look everywhere!!! I talk to everyone, I read voraciously, I go to shows most of the week and I listen, listen, listen all the time! I’m a buyer in a world of sellers. That alone gives me incredible access on an immeasurable scale. The people I trust have incredible ears, impeccable taste, are connected on a worldwide scale and have outstanding business acumen. This generally excludes most A&R guys.

Do you consider TV to be taking over from radio in terms of exposing new acts to the public?
Absolutely! Terrestrial radio is over. Record companies know they can no longer count on that medium to break artists. However, if a song is used on huge show like CSI: Miami, it’s guaranteed to be heard by 15 million people at the time it airs. A record company will also know exactly when that song is going to air and can build a marketing and promotion strategy around it. Plus, you can see very distinct sales spikes after big song moments occur on television. Radio no longer has that quantifiable impact.

What are the differences in the role music plays in Nip/Tuck and CSI: Miami?
The two shows have a very different aesthetic. Nip/Tuck uses a lot of classic hits combined with sexy new tunes from the international underground. CSI: Miami uses more current songs by big, known acts. Also, the entire CSI franchise uses electronic, beat-driven instrumental music for its “processing” sequences, something that has become a show trademark.

Do you prefer familiar music as opposed to something that might be new to the audience?
I prefer to do what's best for the screen moment. It's certainly fun to expose an audience to brand-new music they haven't heard because they crave it and it's important to pop culture. But sometimes a classic song everyone knows makes more sense because that level of familiarity serves to anchor audiences in the emotion of the sequence.

What are the differences between music supervising a feature film as opposed to a TV series?
The main differences are schedule and quantity. In a film, I may have an entire year or longer to come up with a 15-song soundtrack. We have plenty of time to experiment with different songs, record new material, approach artists for involvement and create a definitive music arc. In television, we are constantly chasing a weekly mix and airdate. We don't have the benefit of time like we do in features. It's much more mechanical. But over the course of an entire six-month television season, I may use 100-plus songs. Television provides way more opportunity for the music community and spreads way more money around, which is nice.  Further, if I put a song in a film, no one will see it until the film’s release, which could be months. If I put a song in television show, audiences will hear it the following week.

How do you balance your own tastes against the artistic demands of using
music that effectively accompanies the visuals in a movie or TV show?

I fight the battles worth fighting. At this point in my career, I get hired on productions because I bring a particular music palette to the party. I’m fortunate to get a lot of creative latitude, which ultimately results in many wonderful song moments. But at the end of the day, I'm providing a service. If television producers and filmmakers are passionate about something, it's my job to make their vision happen. If I become so insistent that someone else's creative concept is wrong and fight too hard to make that point, I'm not doing my job.

Do you view breaking new acts as one of the roles you play?
That's a record company's role, not mine. I am not beholden to album sales or making back the money I overpaid in deal advances. My role is to do what's artistically and financially right for my shows. If that coincides with breaking a new artist, it's just gravy.

What's been the proudest accomplishment in your music supervisory career?
I've had many big, high-profile moments. One of my proudest is much smaller and involves the band Psapp. I used one of their songs in Nip/Tuck a couple of years ago, before anyone had heard of them. About a week later, I received a handwritten letter from their singer, Galia Durant, who told me that with the licensing money the band received, she could finally afford to buy a full-size harp, an instrument she'd long wanted to incorporate into the band’s music. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

Do you supervise music with a compilation album in the back of your mind?
I always try to create a unique soundtrack that's rooted in the emotional content of the show and the message it’s trying to relay. I spend a great deal of time talking with producers and directors about their overall vision and the arc of each individual character. Then I find a music tone, invest myself in it emotionally and build from there. I like to keep that process as organic and malleable as possible, since there's no one right way to approach a soundtrack.

When a soundtrack does come out for a show you're working on, how involved are you in it?
I am always very involved. This is primarily because no record label is going to be as personally invested as I am. If we give birth to something incredible on-screen, that music vision needs to translate onto an album. Consumers are our bread and butter. If you cheat them, they'll know and both album and show will suffer. The current state of the record business is testament to that.

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