Industry Insider: Music Supervisor Brian Reitzell
He’s spent the last two decades redefining the role of film soundtracks.
Brian Reitzell may have stumbled into music supervision with The Virgin Suicides in 1999, but in working with French dream-pop band Air on the film's score, he helped ring in our current era of movie music, where known artists take a central role in crafting soundtracks that play like proper albums. Before Thom Yorke scored Suspiria and Kendrick Lamar oversaw Black Panther: The Album, Reitzell was performing equally synergistic audiovisual feats. In 2003, he convinced My Bloody Valentine recluse Kevin Shields to record for Lost in Translation, and he launched Explosions in the Sky into the mainstream by having them score Friday Night Lights in 2004. More recently, Reitzell wrote original songs with the likes of Debbie Harry while scoring Starz's American Gods series, and created a uniquely interactive soundtrack for Netflix's choose-your-own-adventure flick Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. As syncing music to visuals remains one of the more lucrative and creatively satisfying outlets for working musicians, we reached out to Reitzell for a chat.
Spotify for Artists: Describe what you do and give us the short story of how you got there.
Brian Reitzell: I met Sofia Coppola when I was a touring drummer in a band called Redd Kross. I'd been a record geek my whole life—the kind of guy who memorized where the records were recorded, what year, who was in the band—and when she was making The Virgin Suicides, she asked if I could help her track down some old songs. She'd already brought Air in to score the movie, but when I met them, we had a lot in common and I ended up joining the band, so we did the score together. Now when I work on something, I don't just wear one hat as music supervisor or composer. I'll think about music as I'm watching something or reading a script, and if that music exists, I'll pull it from my record collection or digital libraries. If it doesn't exist, I'll sit down and write something. Of course, I can’t do or play everything, so it's nice to be able to draw on the thing that someone else does. Like for Lost in Translation, I was going for that sort of upside-down, intoxicated, jet-lagged feeling that only My Bloody Valentine can give you, so why not invite Kevin Shields to be part of it?
Is there an artist you were a fan of growing up, a story you heard, or an artist you crossed paths with at some point that sparked you to pursue this as a career?
I didn't know what a music supervisor was until I was actually doing that job. At the time, only people like Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Martin Scorsese were using heavy music supervision. But in terms of composers, when I was a kid, Stewart Copeland went from being the drummer in The Police to scoring Rumble Fish. Around the same time, Mark Isham, who was from a band I loved called Group 87, became a film composer. I remember listening to those scores the same way I'd listen to my rock or jazz records. I'd dreamt of being a drummer in a rock band—to tour and make records—but I'd done that and was tired of being Ringo. I was planning on leaving, so Sofia saved me. I worked on the movie and learned what to do.
What do you look for in an artist you want to work with?
It's really all about the film. I've worked with so many different kinds of artists over the years—as long as the music is emotionally and sonically in tune with the movie, I can score the entire thing with even just one or two songs. Early on I started requesting instrumentals from bands, which is how I was able to edit a bunch of tracks from a Spoon album, throw them to Stranger Than Fiction, then bring in Britt Daniel to play over it and make a new version. Today, record companies sometimes even send stems, which really gives me the opportunity to make something work. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if you're a famous rock star or not—I've put bands in films that are hardly known—it's good to have instrumental versions out there. The days of music supervisors spending ten hours on the floor of a record store doing research are over.
What's the biggest tool at an artist's disposal in 2019 from your perspective, and why?
The greatest tool is the computer. If you're interested in seeing your music work with film, then go put your music to film. A lot of my scenes have been rescored by people who use their own music or a favorite artist, then share it online. I'm a Pro Tools guy, but I'm sure there are lots of programs where you can work with video—take a film you love and either play along, or take whatever songs you already have and start moving them around. Do my job a little bit and you start to learn what works, and why it works, as you watch how the music changes the furniture in the room, so to speak. It teaches you how powerful music is in a movie. It's also a lot of fun.
What's the best advice you have for any artist just starting out?
I think the most important thing is to just be doing it. Whether that's playing your instrument in a band or making music for a movie, you don't have to wait to get paid—you can just do it. The tools are there, but what's really important is to always be inspired. I find the best way to stay passionate is to never stop seeking out the stuff that interests you. There's so much music that none of us will ever really find everything we love. So it's not possible to run out of fuel. And for getting involved with film, the field is wide open. I started out working with Air, who were already essentially making soundtrack music, but you don't need a sound like that to be cinematic. You can be two people with acoustic guitars, or samplers, or whatever. You can be anything, really.