Categories
Interviews

Interview: “Genera+ion” Music Supervisors Maggie Phillips + Andrew Brady on the show’s “Eclectic” Soundtrack and Approach to Curating the Songs

Genera+ion on HBO Max does such a great job of featuring a diverse range of music that is a precise representation of Gen Z’s taste in music today. With music from teenage artists and artists from the LGTBQ+ community, there are few shows on TV that feature so much inclusion on their soundtrack, as well as their cast.

Advertisement

Genera+ion on HBO Max does such a great job of featuring a diverse range of music that is a precise representation of Gen Z’s taste in music today. With music from teenage artists and artists from the LGTBQ+ community, there are few shows on TV that feature so much inclusion on their soundtrack, as well as their cast.

I had the chance to talk to the music supervisors for Genera+ion, Maggie Phillips and Andrew Brady, about their approach to curating the soundtrack for the HBO Max series. For the last few weeks, I have been keeping up with all of the songs featured in the show as part of my “Super Soundtrack” series here on the site.

Created by now-nineteen-year-old Zelda Barnz with her father Daniel Barnz, the show is the product of a collaboration with Lena Dunham. Zelda came out to her fathers Ben and Daniel Barnz a few years ago, so the queer representation in the show is something with which she personally connects.

Daniel Barnz and his husband Ben reached out to music supervisors Maggie Phillips and Andrew Brady to see if they would do the music for genera+ion during the pandemic. Maggie said she had heard that they really liked their work in Normal People. With schedules moving around due to COVID, shows were being pushed back and moved up, so once schedules worked out, Maggie and Andrew were able to officially sign on to do the music.

One especially important aspect of the soundtrack is how they curated music that doesn’t only pull from top 10 hits. They were drawn to up and coming artists who might be independent or looking for a record deal of their own.

Maggie Phillips spoke about breaking artists by including their music in the show: “As a general rule, I and my team, we like to break artists. We like to discover new artists. That’s what makes this job fun. And it’s rewarding to get to work with artists who don’t have a platform.”

“…we like to break artists. We like to discover new artists. That’s what makes this job fun. And it’s rewarding to get to work with artists who don’t have a platform.” — Maggie Phillips

As I mentioned earlier, LGBTQ+ representation is something that is evidently important to the show. Phillips detailed how that influenced their approach to the soundtrack:

“We wanted to have younger artists, LGBTQ as much as we could with members from the queer community, to represent our cast and our storyline. And we wanted young artists. Just like in the nature of Zelda [Barnz] writing and creating the story at age eighteen, we wanted the musicians to represent our characters.”

Andrew Brady is more in tune with younger artists, so he was tasked with finding Gen Z artists. He told me that he thinks “some of the most transgressive and interesting music is coming from LGTBQ artists, specifically.”

When asked where he was looking for inspiration as to which songs might work best, he said that TikTok and sub-23-year-old artists were a general parameter:

“Digging into Gen Z was something I hadn’t really done before. We were looking at TikTok. We were looking at what was popular there. Any artist that was, like, under the age of 23, roughly, was what we were shooting for, and it was challenging to fit that parameter. We definitely go outside that parameter and took liberties here and there. […] And we’d go through thousands of songs, going through, listening, and sorting through who’s right for the show.”

“We were looking at TikTok. We were looking at what was popular there. […] And we’d go through thousands of songs, going through, listening, and sorting through who’s right for the show.” — Andrew Brady

Maggie Phillips revealed that they made playlists for each of the characters that were curated with music they felt each would listen to and fit their taste. “It’s fun to put yourself in other people’s shoes,” she said.

Maggie and Andrew would then pick songs from those character playlists to see which ones made it to the next round of playlists for each episode.

Andrew Brady put it in terms that would explain the insane volume of music they put together in preparation for the series: “We probably have, collectively, like over a hundred playlists that we made for the show…”

Maggie Phillips went event further to break the process down of playlists in saying that, “If you watch an episode, there’s 10-20 songs per episode, and we definitely shared more than one round of playlists per song. Let’s say 20-30 playlists an episode times 16. It was a massive project.”

Brady explained how they approached the timing of when to include these songs and compared it to “the characters sort of passing the Spotify button between each other”:

“When Chester and Nathan pick Riley up, and the music changes, in my head I’m like imagining, ‘Oh, they put this song on for Riley because they knew it’s a Riley song.’ […] It became very fun to bounce between the characters’ vibes and as the vibes started to intersect with each other, it was really important to us […] As the season goes on, I feel like their taste starts to intermingle more and more. So the sound of the show becomes this collective taste of music they found together.”

Co-creator Daniel Barnz was especially involved with the music, according to Phillips: “Daniel in particular was very opinionated about the music, which we love when someone has a very clear opinion about what the music in the show is going to be.”

Maggie Phillips puts their job as music supervisors succinctly in saying, “Long story short, a lot of conversations.”

Maggie Phillips and Andrew Brady’s collaboration made for an interesting pairing with each of them coming from different backgrounds. Phillips explains their dynamic:

“Andrew and I had a lot of conversations about what it was like listening to music when we were in high school. And I have 10+ years on Andrew, so our music listening capabilities were different. I was putting in tapes and CDs. It’s fun to dive back and remember when you were in high school sharing music and discovering music for the first time. And then also trying to figure out what it would be like now to discover music. That’s the part we love.”

I asked Andrew to describe the “vibe” of the show’s soundtrack in a word, and he chose “eclectic” before laughing and saying he hoped that choice wasn’t a copout: “We wanted the vibe to be as eclectic as these people were and to represent all these different types of existing. I feel like eclectic is a bit of a copout, but we wanted it to represent them, and I feel really proud of what we were able to put together.”

At the age of these high school characters, it’s a very revealing and exploratory time period. Teenagers and young adults, especially nowadays, have a vast taste in music that isn’t defined by one genre or specific artists. Music is so widely available that you can listen to anything you want.

Maggie Phillips touched on that sentiment saying, “When you’re that age, you’re exploring a bunch of different genres. Your taste hasn’t been clear. You’re not like, ‘I like this and this alone.’ It’s all at your fingertips and you can listen to everything.”

Because the music is such an integral part of series and films, I wanted to know when music supervisors typically get involved on projects. Their answer to me was “from the get-go.” They are part of the process from “pre-production all the way through editorial,” especially on shows like this with a lot of music integrated into the script.

As with any job, deadlines and last minute changes are always getting thrown at the music supervisors: “Through that last mix even, we’re making some last minute changes. We’re making sure the budgets are all lining up. It’s very involved.” 

Maggie Phillips and Andrew Brady have worked on countless other projects, including The Handmaid’s Tale, Fargo, The Great, Snowfall, Shrill, and The Act. Their work spans everything from teen dramedies to period pieces, sci-fi to YA adaptations, and everything in between.

I asked Maggie how they had managed to conquer working on so many different genres of projects, and her answer was simple: “We work on projects that the people who make them really care, so they demand and want excellence, so that makes us step up and deliver.”

“We work on projects that the people who make them really care, so they demand and want excellence, so that makes us step up and deliver.” — Maggie Phillips

Maggie Phillips and Andrew Brady’s upcoming work as music supervisors can be heard in the upcoming series The Dropout on Hulu, Angelyne on Peacock, Harriet the Spy and The Shining Girls on Apple TV+, Our Flag Means Death on HBO Max, and upcoming films There’s Someone Inside Your House and The Adam Project on Netflix. They teased that there are even a few more projects in development they’ll be doing but couldn’t tell me more than that. Maybe one day we’ll talk again about the music they’ve curated for the next big series or film.

Season 1 of Genera+ion is now streaming on HBO Max.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s