Scott Vener has what many people consider a dream job: He gets paid to listen to music. But there's a lot more to it than that. As HBO's music supervisor, Vener is the guy who hand-picks the tunes heard throughout episodes of shows like Entourage and How To Make It In America, as well as The CW's 90210. Complex recently spoke with the TV industry's go-to musical mind to learn more about the blending of hip-hop and small-screen entertainment.
Complex: How did you land the Music Supervisor job?
Scott Vener: I was actually good friends with Doug Ellin, who created [Entourage], for a long time. I was watching the show with him and he asked me why I wasn’t laughing, and I was like, “The music’s so bad I can’t even pay attention to the jokes.” He told me, “If you think you can do a better job, go for it. “ I played the song “Lucifer” for him, the Jay-Z song, and he loved it. He was like, “We need to get this.” So I started picking out music for the next few episodes, and eventually I was like, “Can I at least get credit for this?” It started out as a music consulting position, and then when the second season started it became more official.
What’s the song selection process? Do you watch the show first and then pick the songs, or do you have certain songs in your head that you know you want to use?
A lot of the time I’ll hear a song that I really like that has a strong energy, and I’ll try to find the right scene to place it, and sometimes it’s just one part of a song that’s perfect as a transitional piece of music. It really depends. Picking the right song can really change the mood of a scene, so sometimes I’ll try out a few different songs and see how it feels.
Where do you find your music?
Mostly the Internet, the music blogs. That’s really the place that everyone is talking about music before most people hear about it.
You recently started putting out mixtapes that feature music from the shows. Why did you start doing that?
I’ve actually been doing it for a while, but I just recently started adding covers to the mixes. I used to just put them out with no cover. I started adding the covers, and all of a sudden it’s a lot more appealing to people. I guess that makes it more official. But I started making the mixes and putting them on my blog just because people would always come up to me like, “Hey, what was that song you played in that one episode during that one scene?” So now, whenever people ask me, I can just tell them to go to my blog.
Do you have a favorite song that you matched up with a scene?
My favorite would have to be the “In My Lifetime” remix I used for the end credits in Season Six [of Entourage]. When I talk to other people, they always pick “Good Life” from the Cannes Film Festival episode, because that was the first time everyone heard that song. It hadn’t been released before that, so everyone was being introduced to it at the same time during that episode.
Are there ever songs you really want to use for the show but can’t because of clearance issues or for whatever reason?
That happens a lot with hip-hop, especially the ‘90s hip-hop because there are so many uncleared samples, but I can’t think of any specifically. Like Camp Lo’s “Luchini,” if I hadn’t wanted to use that so bad it probably wouldn’t have happened. The licensors actually found a creative way to do it. They licensed the original version and then also licensed Camp Lo's version. We ended up having to pay for both, but people really liked it.
Do you get a lot of submissions from people who pitch their music for placement on the shows?
A lot. Right now I have over 600 emails, and that’s just on my Blackberry. And I’m not saying other music supervisors don’t get just as many, but I think through Twitter and my blog and everything, I’ve made myself more accessible. I’ll try to listen to stuff, like, if a band I know sends me their album before it gets released or hits radio, I’ll listen to that and try to use it.
Do you go out of your way to pick songs that people haven’t heard before, or artists that haven’t broken, or are those songs just easier to clear?
They’re actually harder to clear, because a lot of the time the bands are hard to find or they haven’t figured out the split yet. But yeah, I do go out of my way to choose that kind of stuff. I remember when I used “Lady Don’t Tek No.” That was an independent classic to me, but when I used that for the end credits, it was the first time a lot of people heard it. I’d hear people say, “This is my new favorite song” and I was like “That’s old, you guys.” But the people that are watching the show aren’t necessarily the same people that are on all the blogs and searching out new music constantly.
There seems to be a big gap between the people who listen to music on the radio and discover new music on television and the people who are checking out all the online buzz.
I say that all the time. Most of the people I’m reaching are primarily television fans, not music fans. They may be music fans too, but for a lot of these people, when they hear a song during one of the shows, that’s the first time they’re hearing it, and that’s how they discover a lot of this music.