Interview with KARYN RACHTMAN, music supervisor for Pulp Fiction, Spongebob Squarepants - March 29, 2005
"Tarantino wanted surf music. It was a new approach, very edgy and driving, and it really worked for the film."Through her own company, Mind Your Music, she has been placing the music for Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Bulworth, Boogie Nights, Desperado, Spongebob and more. Her upcoming project is the animated movie Barnyard, released by Paramount Pictures and directed by Steve Oudekerk (Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty etc.).
Being the former Vice President of Capitol Records, she is now starting up an artist management, as well as releasing childrenís books called Hip Kid Hop, written by rappers (Shaggy etc.). All her projects fall under the corporation brand One Gazillion Inc.
What was your route to becoming a musical supervisor?
Iíve always been a big music fan, and I was the person who made mix-tapes for my friends: ďyou broke up with your boyfriend, hereís a tape for itÖĒ I was also making tapes for clothing stores, and all kinds of stuff. Then I met somebody who worked for a company called Canon Films, where I got a job as an assistant, learned all about music, and started placing music and working on films. That was twenty years ago.
What made you want to work combining music with moving pictures?
I always wondered if music supervising was a job, and I thought it would be great to work on all kinds of films at once, to sit with directors and producers trying to find the right composers. I grew up around music, because my father managed bands when I was little. Iím not really musical myself, except for the fact that I know what people like, and what suits a scene. I donít have any musical education.
Does a company employ you, or do you work as a freelance?
Iím independent. After I worked for Canon Films I worked for Chris Blackwellís company, Island, submitting songs to films. Then there was more independent music supervising, which became big: I did Quentin Tarantino films, became Vice-President of Capitol Records, then ran the soundtrack department at Interscope. After that I decided to go independent again. I finished ĎThe SpongeBob SquarePants Movieí this year, and Iím finishing up ĎThe Barnyardí right now. Iím self-employed, itís my company; I get hired by a film.
At what stage do directors contact you, before or after the camerawork is done?
Itís different every time. ĎThe Barnyardí is an animated musical, so we had to find all the music for that first, because the animal characters dance and sing to it. We had to clear the rights to all the songs, find all the songwriters and hire people really early on. But on other films itís all post-production; you put music to the film and edit when theyíve finished the shooting.
What do they ask for? Should certain moods and emotions be emphasized through music?
Yes, sometimes I help to create a temp-track, and sometimes they just give me the film and I try different songs and use them as a guide. Sometimes the director knows what he wants to use, like in the case of Barnyard. When that happens Iíll go and negotiate the rights for the music, find the band to record it, see what kind of sound we want, etc. But the process is always different.
What impact does pop music have in a film?
Well, sometimes a very big one, because itís like a direct appeal to the audience. If itís done right, the music helps to drive a film and to tell the story Ė whether itís specific to a scene or just as an overall feeling Ė because it helps to evoke certain moods.
Do you get a precise description of what a director is looking for, or are you given freedom to come up with ideas?
Sometimes you are, but sometimes you work closely with the director. You read the script, see the scene and say, ďyou know, you need something thatís more Ďhouseí hereĒ, or ďmore countryĒ, or ďyou need something thatís touchingĒ, ďthe lyrics need to be in a certain wayĒ, etc. You have to work with the director and figure out which direction to take. Sometimes it can be unexpected; it could be a rock- or a rap song, to evoke certain energy. Often itís trial and error, just trying to figure out what works.
What was the aesthetic idea behind using surf music in Pulp Fiction?
Quentin Tarantino wanted surf music. It had never been done that way before; it was a new approach, very edgy and driving, and it really worked for the film. He laid out what kind of surf music he liked, what sort of energy he wanted it to have, and we found the appropriate pieces.
What is the advantage of working with music that has existed earlier, independent from the film?
You know what youíre getting, which is a good advantage. And it can change the meaning of a song sometimes; itís funny when people hear something they recognize thatís in a totally different context, but that can work against you, because songs evoke different emotions.
You might think, ďoh, I was rollerskating in a disco when I first heard thatĒ, and that can be distracting. Thatís what you have to be careful of - you want the music to really take you further into the movie. When music is placed wrong, it takes you out of the film instead of drawing you more deeply into it.
Are there any disadvantages, like difficulties with editing or changing material?
Yes, sometimes you have to get hold of the master tracks and do remixes, and sometimes you have to re-record the tracks. Sometimes the track doesnít work; if you have a specific scene and are using an existing track as a guideline, it might not work because, say, the ending of the chorus isnít quite right.
Your job shares similarities with composing. Do you have any experience of working with music written specifically for a film?
Yes, a lot of the time I work specifically with songwriters who write in a certain way, or are good at evoking a kind of emotion. And there are also songwriters who are not good at writing for film, so you have to work with them and explain the scenes to them.
Can you describe the process of searching for music?
I keep up-to-date with all new music, and go through catalogues. A lot of the time I reach out to publishers and record companies, describing what Iím after: ďIím looking for a beat song for a scene in which a boy and girl start dancingĒ, and Iíll put something in the temp-track thatís similar to what Iím looking for, that has the right kind of flavor. People also submit material to me from all over the place. I go through it, load it into my computer, and try it out, picturing different things that I like and that feel appropriate.
Does it often happen that music producers or songwriters contact you?
Yes, but I usually like to go through representation. Iíve acquired a great general knowledge over the years; I know what songwriters are worthwhile, and I build up relationships. There are new artists out there that people want to work with, and sometimes they contact me.
Is much emphasis placed on using music thatís going to sound good on the radio, and on a soundtrack CD?
I think that the movie comes first, because thatís what Iím working for. But having a song on the radio can help promote the movie, especially if itís in the right thing, like with the Flaming Lips track in ĎSpongebobí - we were trying to appeal to the college audience, and put the song out on college radio. A lot of the time you want a hit, and if itís a new song, the record company loves it if they have a film to market the song, and vice versa. Usually you also try to think of a song that will work well in a film commercial.
Do directors ever want to build a movie around a certain song?
Yes, sometimes films are written with a certain song in mind. When directors are working on movies theyíre listening to certain music, and a lot of the time they want to put it in the film.
What was the relation between the movie 'Bulworth' and the song "Ghetto Supastar"?
"Ghetto Supastar" was written for the film. It was funny because Warren Beatty heard this hardcore rap music and then said: "What about for my people?! I need something that people in my age will like, and will tell the story of this politician". The Fugees were accepted by everybody, and Warren explained to Pras what he was looking for. He thought of sampling "Islands in the Stream", and wrote the song "Ghetto Supastar" about the film and about Warren Beatty's character.
How important was it for the movie?
Well it was great, because it became a big hit. Warren Beatty really loved the song and thought it was a great marketing thing. Itís just played in the end title of the film, which was a fun way to end the movie, but the video was a big hit. MTV played it, so there were free commercials all the time - every time you heard that song you would think about the movie, so it really worked for a marketing thing as well.
When pop music is used in movies, are there any standard-deals of sharing the fees?
They get paid a lot of money. You license the music and if you include it in advertising, they get paid more. Sometimes the advertising campaigns are very big.
Are the rights ever bought?
If itís being written specifically for a film, then most of the time the studio will acquire the rights as well. Thatís part of publishing.
As a music supervisor, do you get a percentage on the selling?
Of the records, yes. Not on the compositions or the fees with the artists, but I do get a royalty as an executive soundtrack producer.
How many employees does One Gazillion Inc. have?
I usually have two or three. Right now itís just one. A lot of the time when I go on a project Iíll hire contractors, and they come on board to help co-ordinate, to edit music or different things. I have my office in my house.
Do you have any tips for musicians or producers that want to make music for films?
I would go on the website IMDb (The Internet Movie Database) and really read. Learn to know what your music is suited for. Donít just send out mass emails or make mass phonecalls; think about what kind of movies your music is suited for, and get addresses to send CDs to.
But make sure that your music is really suited for the film, and then you can be specific, rather than just saying, ďI think my music will be great for whatever film youíre working on because ÖĒ. Try to find out exactly what kind of music you think theyíre going to need, and make sure itís specific to the film.
Are there any schools?
There really arenít any schools. I didnít even go to high school. Itís not as big a business as it used to be; soundtracks used to do so well, but they donít sell as much anymore.
If you could change anything in the music business, what would it be?
I would change this attitude that people have of having to sell so many records. There are so many bands that are great, but they get dropped because they donít sell millions. I would like to see people able to work with bands on a smaller level, making them profitable just to their niche audience.
There should be more of the independent attitude in the big labels. If you have an artist that makes money, you donít have to take it to the next level and become the biggest thing. Pay more attention to niche artists; artists who are fantastic deserve to be taken care of.
What are your future plans?
Iíve found a young girl in Mississippi that Iím working with, developing her as an artist. And Iím taking a break from doing too many films right now.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
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