Breaking Bad music boss on soundtracks, sync budgets and happy accidents

Tim Ingham Music 3/13/14

He’s the man behind the most celebrated TV soundtrack in recent memory, using music from the likes of Badfinger, The Silver Seas and America to fantastic effect in the multi-Emmy Award-winning Breaking Bad.

In a new video you can watch below, US music supervisor extraordinaire Thomas Golubic – who also managed the soundtracks for hit shows Six Feet Under, The Killing and The Walking Dead – gives his thoughts on all aspects of the modern sync world.

Interviewed by Music Week editor Tim Ingham at AIM’s recent Sync Conference in London, Golubic discusses his job at length – especially his tricky role as a middle-man between labels/publishers attempting to maximise music fees and TV studios trying to minimise music spend.

Golubic explains that for Breaking Bad, overseen by Sony Pictures, he managed on a significantly smaller music budget than he did years before on Six Feet Under.

“These are big corporations,” he says. “Some of the companies you deal with are a bit more respectful of the role music has, some are less so. It was a bummer to us all the way through that Sony would not loosen the purse strings [for Breaking Bad]. Even when the show was successful, they still didn’t. But I have to recognise they’re a corporate culture and they operate within certain parameters. And to be honest, most studios are not filled with the bravest people. None of them are going to say: ‘It’s important for us to make music a bigger thing.’ They’re just going to say: ‘Here’s what you have, good luck.’”

The bad news for labels and publishers is that Golubic predicts that music sync budgets would continue to fall, due to TV production houses like Sony Pictures driving down costs.

“I think the honest truth of it is that music was in a way overvalued in the past,” he says. “If you look at it from a purely economic level, the amount of money music was costing to licence and the amount of extra revenue generated as a result was probably not commensurate. It was a set of rules essentially established by different publishers and labels saying: ‘This is how much it should be.’

“Now, the studios ultimately have the power, and they’re saying, screw that, you only have $20,000 to spend so… you’re going to have to shave everything down. We all have to readjust to the idea that the way this ecosystem is going to work has shifted – the Arctic just got colder.”

However, there are still plenty of happy music outcomes in Golubic’s world – and not all of them are planned. In one classic Breaking Bad scene, protagonist Walter White is seen driving along a road, belting out America’s 1972 single A Horse With No Name. So integral is the music to the scene, the whole episode is named after the track.

“Originally that was supposed to be a Crosby, Stills and Nash tune,” reveals Golubic. “It was scripted and it was supposed to be in there. They had written the episode with that song in mind and [song publisher] Wixen wouldn’t budge. We begged, but we couldn’t use it, so we dumped it.

“We re-wrote the title of the episode, we rewrote the whole thing and now I love how it works, it’s great… It was like the universe was saying, ‘They’re the wrong band, this is the right band – if Walt’s going to sing at the top of his voice in his car, it’s got to be a less cool band than Crosby Stills & Nash.’”


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