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“I would hate for people to say the movie soundtracks I’ve done were the same as a Morning Becomes Eclectic playlist.”
NIC HARCOURT: MUSIC SUPERVISING BECOMES ECLECTIC
A Conversation with KCRW’s Pioneering MD on Music in the Movies
Nic Harcourt is arguably the most influential disc jockey tastemaker in music today as Music Director at the groundbreaking L.A. station KCRW and as host of the popular Morning Becomes Eclectic. The Birmingham, England-born Harcourt, who got his start as a Music Director at WDST Woodstock, has also been a music supervisor and executive producer for the TV show Love Monkey and worked on such films as Ice Age, Anchorman and Igby Goes Down as well as advertising campaigns for Mitsubishi Motors, Apple’s iPod and Victoria’s Secret. He opens up to HITS' own music on celluloid freak Roy Trakin.

Where do you go to find new music?
We get so much stuff coming here, so it’s a good place to start. I have a couple of friends in England and Australia who get things to me. I also look at Pitchfork and the NME. And that’s pretty much it. I don’t have the time for anything more. I’m still trying to deal with the fact I’m getting unsolicited MP3s and how to listen to them.

Is there a typical Nic Harcourt musical aesthetic? You have been associated with a certain strain of music, say Garden State… Coldplay, Zero 7, Remy Zero, Frou Frou…
Garden State should be referred to as a KCRW soundtrack since they borrowed most of the music from the program. I hope my aesthetic expands as time goes on. We’re all sort of victims of our backgrounds as far as musical tastes. But I must say, since I’ve been in Los Angeles, my musical palette has expanded so much more than it did when I was music director at WDST (Woodstock) because I’m not limited to a single format now. So far this morning, we’ve played [West African folk artist] Mamadou Diabate, a track from a Shanghai diva’s album, some Cuban re-mixes. And in the middle of all that, you’ll get a block party featuring Bright Eyes and Badly Drawn Boy.

Is TV the new radio in terms of breaking new acts?
It’s one of the places. Whether it’s popular programs or even commercials. I just put the Teddy Bears with Iggy Pop for a Cadillac spot. Musicians are looking for any avenue if they can’t get on the radio. There’s no doubt that the attitude about having your music in ads has changed in the younger generation. People are still leery, but it’s up to the individual, ultimately, a judgment call. Some won’t license their music to sell certain products, like beer or cigarettes. And now a lot of that money is shifting to the Web.

How close do you work with record labels, publishers and managers in terms of working with the acts you do?
If you have relationships with people, you’re inevitably going to listen to them more than those who just cold call you. Those relationships are always helpful for the station, like getting Coldplay to come by the station when they’re in town because of what we’ve done for them in the past. If you have that kind of situation with a manager or a band, maybe you can get a better deal on using a particular song for a TV show or movie.

How do you look back on your experience working on Love Monkey?
It would have been better if the show had been successful. It was a fun project in the beginning, but it ran into difficulties because of the demands. There were two studios, a network and a record label involved.  That’s one of the reasons it didn’t work out, but they didn’t give it much of a chance, either. I learned a lot, though.

Do you think a show about the music business can succeed on TV?
Yes. And I’m going to come up with one.

What are the differences between music-supervising a TV show as opposed to a feature film?
It depends on the project. It’s not just about the money; it’s about getting creative fulfillment. With TV, if everybody is on the same page, the fact that you don’t have as much time can be good because you can be more immediate. With movies, you get a lot more time, and sometimes it can be too much. Bu it’s great working with a good director and it’s nice to expose music in a feature movie that might not get noticed otherwise.

How do you mesh your own taste with what’s required by the director?
The collaborative effort is about communication, really. If the director has a vision, and there are certain songs that will fit that project, it doesn’t matter if it’s something I’d never play on the radio. I would hate for people to say the movie soundtracks I’ve done were the same as a Morning Becomes Eclectic playlist.

How important is it for you to break new acts or expose them to a wider audience?
I don’t think we ever set out to break a band. It’s very nice that people say we were early or first on artists like Coldplay, Norah Jones or Damien Rice. Because there are other times you put something on the air thinking people will like it and nothing happens. At the end of the day, you can’t think about that because you start second-guessing yourself. You just have to do what you feel.

How do you balance your job at KCRW with music supervising?
One thing I make really clear when I’m hired as a music supervisor is that it doesn’t mean I will play their music or interview their directors on the radio. I keep the two very separate. I’m here every morning to do my show and that sort of juices me, and then it continues past midday, when I tape Sounds Eclectic. The other stuff I do in the late afternoon and evenings, when I’ll sit down with a Ben Affleck and talk about his movie, Gone Baby Gone, based on a book by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) about a missing child. It should be pretty intense.

Do you think about a soundtrack album when you’re music supervising a project?
I don’t worry about it. On an indie film, people aren’t even thinking about that. For a big studio movie, it’s another story. Still, like on Love Monkey, when you start to think about these other considerations, you’re not serving the project.

 


 

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