The Edit


The Top Female Music Supervisors


Are people outside of the TV and film industry becoming more aware of music supervisors? A Guardian article from 2021 posited that music supervisors are ‘the most unsung people in film’, but with the rise of streamers like Netflix, we’re seeing shows’ soundtracks buzzed about on a global scale.

With that comes both the opportunity – and potentially the pressure – to create ‘viral moments’ such as Stranger Things’ use of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up that Hill’ and The Last of Us introducing a new generation to ‘Long Long Time’ by Linda Ronstadt in the acclaimed ‘Bill and Frank’ episode.

Music supervision might be a relatively new vocation (the Emmys introduced its award for outstanding music supervision in 2017, while the category remains unrecognised at the Oscars), but it’s definitely fast-growing, and unusually diverse: the US Guild of Music Supervisors (GMS) has over 500 members, nearly half of whom are women (42%). And it’s leading the way at the top, too – seven of its 11-member board are women.

So, who are the women in music supervision who’ve been soundtracking your favourite TV shows over the last few years, from Stranger Things to Bridgerton, The Handmaid’s Tale to Wednesday and I May Destroy You?

Alexandra Patsavas

It’s arguable that Alexandra Patsavas is one of the most influential women in TV – certainly when it comes to music supervision. Patsavas has worked in the music department of over 60 films and TV series, breaking into TV in 1999 with her own music company, Chop Shop Music Supervision.

However, it was her work on The O.C. which took music supervision into a new dimension. For the show, she had to select, mix and supervise all the tracks featured, a substantial part of which involved approaching bands and artists about recording covers, and finding unsigned or non-mainstream performers. Death Cab for Cutie became synonymous with the show, because they were Seth Cohen’s favourite band, while The Killers were relative newcomers when they appeared, having just released debut album Hot Fuss. Imogen Heap, Modest Mouse and The Thrills were all little-known artists who benefited from The O.C. effect.

Patsavas went on to work her magic on Grey’s Anatomy, featuring Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’ and The Fray’s ‘How to Save a Life’, whilst Josh Schwartz, The O.C.’s showrunner, hired her to create the music backdrop for Gossip Girl.

She’s been nominated three times for a Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Media for her work on Grey’s Anatomy and two of the Twilight films, together with GMS awards for everything from Mad Men to Gossip Girl, Scandal to Grey’s Anatomy.

However, her work has been taken to a massive new global audience through Netflix’s Bridgerton.

If there’s anything that fans love as much as the Regency romance and romping, then it’s the show’s soundtrack, with brilliant, playful string quartet covers of Ariana Grande’s ‘Thank U, Next’, Sufjan Steven’s ‘Love Yourself’, Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’ and even Nirvana’s ‘Stay Away’.

Patsavas’ choices for Bridgerton saw her nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Music Supervision.

She explained to that, ‘[it] was definitely a goal to make sure there was a seamless quality to the music, so that a viewer might not know when a score piece left off, and a cover began. And for me, the Billie Eilish, the Ariana Grande, the Taylor Swift covers – we were so excited that all those amazing songwriters and performers said yes to this idea.

What was really important to me and to the producers, was that those pieces in those important moments were accessible, recognisable, but perhaps not right away. Perhaps it was a few bars or measures of the quartet performance before the viewer would recognise it.’

Jen Malone

Jen Malone is part of the Emmy-nominated, all-women music supervision team at Black & White and has been responsible for curating the soundtracks for everything from Atlanta to Zola, Euphoria and Yellowjackets, together with the all-conquering Netflix hit Wednesday. But being a music supervisor wasn’t something that was initially on her radar.

In 2008, Malone saw Iron Man in the cinema and was blown away by the film’s use of AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’. She spotted the music supervisor’s name (Dave Jordan) in the credits and had her epiphany on how to pivot in her career; she started interning at the age of 30 for none other than Dave Jordan’s company, Format Entertainment.

Malone is now famous for creating genre-blurring soundtracks that expertly combine recent and retro songs. She says of her role on Euphoria, ‘I’m the head of the music department of a huge show where music is a character’, and she finds inspiration everywhere from Instagram to SoundCloud, Twitter to Twitch to create huge Spotify lists for showrunner Sam Levinson to choose from.

As you’d expect in a teen show, Euphoria has plenty of party scenes – which required Malone and her team to go above and beyond to select and clear the tracks. In the first season, episode 6 (‘The Next Episode’) features a Hallowe’en party and 28 songs.

Season two’s premiere was built around a New Year’s Eve party, and has around 37 tracks, including everything from 90s hits by Tupac, the Notorious B.I.G, and DMX to Big Mali and B.o.B.

At the opposite end of the spectrum in the same episode, there’s Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Right Down the Line’, ‘Dirty Work’ by Steely Dan and 80s classic ‘(I Just) Died in Your Arms’ by Cutting Crew.

Across the season, Malone mixes up everything from classical music – Pierre Piccioni’s ‘Amore Mio Aiutami’ – to Mazzy Star, a number of INXS tracks (written into the script by Sam Levinson, who’s clearly a fan), The Pussycat Dolls and a great placement of Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Drink Before the War’.

And when you’re clearing that amount of music, it’s a time-consuming, often fraught, process, as Malone revealed to ‘You have to clear all the masters, all of the publishing, in which some of the [songs] had 10 different writers, so I had to go to 10 different people, get them all to agree to a price, and make sure they’re all OK with the scene content.

I say I look for d*ck and drugs when I’m screening the episodes, because those are always the red flags. It’s not just sitting around doing these fun deep-dives into playlists, because you can have the most perfect song in the world, but if you can’t clear it, you can’t use it.’

One that Malone did clear, creating another huge viral moment in the process, is The Cramps’ ‘Goo Goo Muck’, the track that Wednesday Addams dances to in the Netflix hit, Wednesday.

The track saw its streams grow by more than 8,650% in the week following the show’s premiere, according to Billboard.

Whilst Malone says that she and her team don’t set out to create viral ‘moments’, just to serve the story with their music choices, she is thrilled to potentially play a part in expanding viewers’ music knowledge. She told Forbes that, ‘I think it’s the accessibility that the kids have these days, that people have these days for the immediate, “What song is this?” and being able to go and find it and unlock this door.

Maybe from The Cramps they’re gonna find Siouxsie and the Banshees, and they’re going to maybe find Joy Division. And that opens up this whole world of music that I personally love. And I think it’s really cool to be a part of that.’

As well as The Cramps, Wednesday fans can discover everything from Edith Piaf (‘Non, Je Ne Regret Rien’) to Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Don’t Stop’ and Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons: Winter’.

Malone says that, ‘classical music – darker stuff, not cheery minuets – vintage Latin, and certainly Goth and post-punk’ were all on Wednesday’s playlist, together with her cello version of The Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’.

It’s another eclectic selection of perfectly idiosyncratic tracks chosen by Malone.

Nora Felder

The two big viral music moments in TV over the last year have both come courtesy of Netflix and female music supervisors: Wednesday’s dance to The Cramps’ ‘Goo Goo Muck’ and, of course Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up that Hill’ in Stranger Things Season 4.

Nora Felder is a four-times Emmy and Grammy-nominated Music Supervisor, winning for Stranger Things in 2022. She’s also received a GMS award for Stranger Things in 2017 and been nominated for her work on Californication and Better Things.

‘Running Up That Hill’ was the first track that Felder suggested to the Duffer Brothers for Season 4. It was the perfect choice for Max’s storyline in particular, but also chimed lyrically with her friends’ struggles to understand each other in the show.

The Duffers were looking for a song to capture Max’s emotional state – her pain, loss, disconnection from the others and need for strength and support. Plus it had the musical build that the Duffers were looking for, and it came out in 1985, making it the ideal fit for the timeline. Felder had some anxieties around getting the track cleared by Kate Bush, who’s known to be very particular about how her songs are used – however, it turned out the artist was a huge fan of the show and thus, a pop culture-defining moment was born.

Felder revealed to Billboard that the sync placements in this season had resonated so strongly because, ‘Stranger Things’ loyal fan base of all ages just might feel that a piece of themselves is represented in these characters, as well as the story that unfolded this season. In recent years, I believe that for many there had been an overall sense of uncertainty and fear — as if there have been invisible dangers and monsters, if you will — looming over us. With that in mind, it makes sense that the Stranger Things songs — which evocatively amplify the plights and unique internal landscapes and circumstances of our characters — would resonate around the world just as strongly as the characters and stories themselves.’

When she’s choosing tracks, Felder test drives a few options and selects the ones that ‘my gut tells me could bring one closer to the character and to the emotions that I think my filmmakers are trying to get across in a scene or a character’s performance.’ And, crucially, ‘a song must enhance a scene or its character, not the other way around. The more memorable a cinematic moment is, the more likely it is that a song was used to enhance that moment will become iconically memorable as well.’

She’s not wrong - the other transformative hit created by Season 4 was Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’, which new fan favourite Eddie Munson plays in the Upside Down to distract the monsters and save his friends.

Felder said that, ‘In my mind, to love Eddie was to love ‘Master of Puppets’, as its lyrics really spoke to the core of Eddie’s being’ and she’s thrilled that Stranger Things fans have discovered metal and found that it has more to offer than its stereotypical ‘angry music’ reputation would suggest.

Watch Nora Felder talking about putting together the soundtrack for Season 4 to find out more about her process, from c 20 minutes into this round table with the Emmy-nominated Stranger Things team:

Maggie Phillips

Maggie Phillips has created some iconic TV moments through music, from the raw power of Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work’ in the terrifying, brutal hanging scene in The Handmaid’s Tale to a Patti Smith cover of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ in The Great.

Her background was in fine art and Phillips has cornered the market in indie films, most notably on the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning Moonlight, and Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, The Miseducation of Cameron Post plus cult favourite Ingrid Goes West.

Phillips’ TV work spans genres as varied as SF with Legion and fantasy superhero adventure The Umbrella Academy, true crime (The Act), espionage drama Counterpart, Aidy Bryant’s comedy Shrill, Fargo, lockdown super-hit Normal People, and, of course the violent dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Phillips joined the creative team on The Handmaid’s Tale for season two; the first season had already used songs that elicited a visceral reaction. Of her approach to the show, Phillips told that, ‘The Handmaid's Tale is a difficult show to work on. The content is so loaded, and unfortunately, in our current political environment, Gilead doesn’t seem so far-fetched. It’s sometimes painful to watch. People react so strongly to it, and the reactions are varied. I think men and women watch it differently. I think victims of sexual abuse watch it differently. The generations react differently. Everyone is bringing their own experiences into their experience of watching the show — and music is so personal.

‘I have my own songs that I’d love to hear at the end of some of these episodes as I’m sure others do. I tend to want to suspend the emotion at the end of the scene. I want to sit with it, stay in the moment — I don’t like to be taken out. This is [showrunner] Bruce Miller’s show, and he has a clear creative vision when it comes to the music, and I help facilitate. He likes to provoke. He likes to be daring and jarring — sometimes slapping you back into reality, taking you out of the world of Gilead and back into your world. It’s effective. Some people love it, some people hate it, but people definitely talk about it.’

Season five, which follows the fallout of June’s revenge – including aiding in the killing of Fred Waterford, the Commander of Gilead – opens with The Everly Brothers’ ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’. The rest of the soundtrack features a typically eclectic mix of Dolly Parton, a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ by Kerala Dust, ‘Let’s Stay Together’ by Al Green, the sweet, melodic ‘I’ll be Your Mirror’ by Clem Snide, together with ‘Americans’ by Janelle Monae. The season ends with Serena Joy and June once again facing off, with Billie Eilish’s ‘Bury a Friend’ playing out over the credits.

Phillips told The Pop Disciple Podcast that her process as a music supervisor usually sees her creating a character playlist for each project’s main characters; however for Hulu’s The Dropout, the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos docu-drama, the show’s creator, Liz Meriwether wanted to create a ‘time stamp’ with the music, as the series takes place from 2003-2018.

Thus, Phillips pulled together episode-based playlists, based on the years featured in each.

The director wanted something that ‘would scream the year’, so Phillips was mainly choosing tracks which had had heavy radio play.

Typically, she says that directors ‘want something more obscure’ and to find ‘hidden gems’ to use, so this was an unusual brief. Phillips used tracks such as Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’, Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ and Justin Timberlake’s ‘Rock Your Body’.

However, Phillips admitted that using such big hits caused a few problems when it came to the budget, meaning that in some episodes the score (composed by Anne Nikitin) came to the fore instead.

Almost at the opposite end of the spectrum, Phillips’ work on the TV series Homecoming led to her assembling classic film scores by Vangelis, Lalo Schifrin, James Horner, Ennio Morricone, John Carpenter and more.

As well as being a budgetary challenge, the task of tracking down all the copyright holders proved particularly laborious – highlighting another key skill in a music supervisor’s arsenal: ‘With so many studio mergers, buyouts, etc, we hit a ton of dead ends. We got really crafty. A few times, we were about to reach out to the composers themselves. One composer we got on the phone was equally as baffled — he had no clue who owned his score. We tracked down family on Facebook and Twitter. We did everything we could. These scores had never been licensed before, so there was no existing paper trail like with songs.’

When it comes to the skill of knowing not just where you use a song, but when, Phillips points to the scene in episode 1 of The Umbrella Academy where Five has a fight in a donut shop, which is soundtracked by They Might be Giants’ super-quirky ‘Istanbul, not Constantinople’.

The song itself brings a lot of fun and innocence, but one of the reasons the scene worked so well is that it came at the end of an episode, so ‘we had a little time to get to know [Five]’. If the fight sequence had been the audience’s introduction to the character, then it would have been slick, but not as memorable.

Catch up on Maggie Phillips’ latest project, Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby’s pirate romp, Our Flag Means Death:

Catherine Grieves

Catherine Grieves is a classically-trained musician and singer who leapt into music supervision straight after university, working for London-based music supervision company HotHouse Music.

She’s now the Director of Eyeline Music, working across TV and film.

Remember when Killing Eve burst onto our screens, with its to-die-for visual style, gorgeous costumes and Jodie Comer’s murderously brilliant Villanelle?

Its brio and idiosyncrasy was, of course, partially down to its superlative soundtrack, which created a particularly strong musical identity.

Catherine Grieves was awarded Music Supervisor of the Year at the AIM Sync Awards in 2022 for her work on Killing Eve. The show is known for its country-hopping storylines and locations, so Grieves likes to use music from the country where the characters are located, sung in the local language. For series three, there are rare Spanish Ye-Ye songs from the 60s which fit with the ‘Killing Eve sound’ of 60s/70s European, psychedelia and garage rock, plus classical and an intriguing cover of Taylor Swift’s ‘Look What You Made Me Do’.

Her ethos for the show was to avoid popular tracks as, ‘it can take you out of the show – but if it’s something you’ve never heard before, it becomes part of our world. As a music supervisor, it’s really powerful when people go, “Oh, that’s the song from Killing Eve” rather than “Oh, that’s a song I heard on Killing Eve”.’

For the fourth and final season, Grieves assembled another unique list of tracks, including ‘Jesus’ by the Velvet Underground, ‘Je Suis Une Go-Go Girl’, by The Limiñanas, ‘Ting Toung’ by Sacha Distel, ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ by Cilla Black and ‘Don’t Take the Lovers from the World’ by Shirley Bassey.

Grieves is going from strength to strength, working on acclaimed Apple+ spy series Slow Horses, (yes, she worked with Mick Jagger on the original title song for the show), Stephen Merchant’s The Outlaws for the BBC, and Disney+’s 20-something comedy Extraordinary.

The eclectic soundtrack for Extraordinary showcases everything from Wet Leg and CHAI to Courtney Barnett, Wolf Mother, Self Esteem, Princess Nokia and Mitski, to classics from the 70s and 80s such as ‘I Fought the Law’ by The Clash and Heart’s ‘Alone’.

Ciara Elwis

One of 2020’s undoubted TV standouts was Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. Music supervisor Ciara Elwis was in charge of putting together the soundtrack for the 12 episodes, in which the fragments of a traumatic event are pieced together by Coel’s character Arabella and she and her friends navigate their world of friendship, power and sex.

Elwis revealed to The Forty-Five that five or six of the tracks were already scripted, including ‘Something About Us’ by Daft Punk, ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ by Rev. Milton Brunson and the Thompson Community Singers and Sweet Female Attitude’s ‘Flowers’.

Prompts for the sync choices were eclectic – spanning hip hop, electronic, R&B and jazz – because of the show’s multicultural London setting, and also character-led, which meant that it would be varied. As well as tracks such as ‘My Queen is Albertina Sisulu’ by Sons of Kemet, there are 2000s club classics, such as the aforementioned ‘Flowers’ and DJ Luck & MC Neat’s ‘A Little Bit of Luck’, whilst artists such as Tierra Whack, Arlo Parks and Little Simz reflected the Black characters’ musical tastes.

Elwis told that when selecting the music, ‘a lot of the conversation would be about what the character might be thinking in the scene, or what they might be listening to. With Arabella, she’s really upbeat and bubbly and full of life — regardless of these horrible things that seem to happen to her — so Michaela wanted a lot of female hip hop and gospel and things like that for her character. With Kwame [Arabella’s friend, a gay aerobics instructor played by Paapa Essiedu] we used some LGBT artists that he might have an affinity for. It’s not meant to be reductive, but it was really important for all the characters to have songs representing them, including in the lyrics, and for that to add to your understanding of who they are.’

As Elwis pointed out, there’s no score for the show, it’s all commercial tracks, so she and her colleague Matt Biffa (with whom she’d also worked on Sex Education, another brilliantly eclectic soundtrack) had to bring together a wealth of options – plus Coel and her team were keen to reflect the show’s nuance and ambiguity through the selections of synced songs.

‘I think it’s the main reason that early on they decided that they didn’t want to have a score. They were really keen that people be able to make up their own minds about how they felt about something, rather than having the music tell you, “This is sad, and you must feel sad now.” Because a lot of what happens is quite complicated. Characters that we’re supposed to feel sorry for in one episode go on to do horrible things to other characters in another. So with the music, we didn’t want it to be leading you too much in one direction’, Elwis explained.

‘A good example of that is at the end of Episode 2, where Terry’s crying and they just put Arabella to bed after coming back from the police station. Instead of having a sort of classic sad song there, you have ‘Nightmares’ [by Easy Life], which has trumpets and a kind of upbeat groove to it. It takes you out of a place of being like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe what happened to her, this is awful,” and just creates some distance there for a different kind of release, which I think is really powerful.’

Elwis’s fantastic choices saw her winning Outstanding Music Supervision at the 2021 Creative Arts Emmys, (together with Matt Biffa), for the drama. Since then, she’s worked on everything from Netflix’s Heartstopper and After Life to Aisling Bea’s This Way Up, Katherine Ryan’s The Duchess, Adam Kay’s medical drama This is Going to Hurt and historical drama The North Water. Catch her latest work on Sharon Horgan’s Bad Sisters.

What Are the Key Skills to Being a Successful Music Supervisor?

If you fancy being a music supervisor, then yes, you need to know your music – across a wide variety of genres – but you also need to be able to multi-task. As Maggie Phillips told, ‘A great music supervisor needs to not only be creative with music but also on how to get the job done and done well, on time, on budget, all while managing different expectations, different opinions and different personalities. And you have to do it on multiple projects, all while making every project you work on a priority because they all should be a priority. It takes a lot of juggling, multi-tasking and a lot of time. So honestly, maybe the most important thing is a music supervisor’s work ethic and the care someone puts into their work.’

Being adept at working within a team is another vital skill, as Ciara Elwis revealed to ‘There’s a lot more people management involved with the role than people would ever really believe. I definitely don’t just sit on Spotify all day listening to nice music and say “I’m just gonna shove this in a TV show: bish-bosh-done”. That’s unfortunately not really how it works. It’s very much more like working with a team to try and find something that works for everyone.’

Your daily tasks as a music supervisor will include liaising with record labels to clear song rights; negotiating pay rates with songwriters; ensuring they’re aware of how their music will be used in the project, and on top of all that, you have to manage the budget that you’ve been allocated.

And what are the main differences between being a music supervisor for TV and film? According to Catherine Grieves, ‘there are lot of similarities, except TV usually involves more work at quicker speeds, as you are working on and delivering back-to-back episodes. The biggest difference for me is the politics: film is almost always director-led creatively, whereas a lot of TV has more people with a creative say… this can affect the scope of your creative input as a music supervisor, so it’s nice to work on a range of different projects.’

Music Supervision – A World of Possibilities?

As for the perks of the job, Ciara Elwis says that, ‘it’s hugely exciting to be able to share music that I really love with a lot of people – millions of people realistically now – especially with artists that I really rate, that haven’t done that well to date. Off the back of TV features, they end up doing a lot better, so it’s always really exciting to be part of that as a music lover.’

And with so many players in the small-screen space, all needing songs for their shows, are we entering a ‘golden age’ for music supervision? Maggie Phillips thinks so, telling Variety that, ‘we’re living in the golden age of TV, and because of that, music supervisors have to step up. There are more excellent programmes and more seasons, and more opportunities to do something different and original.’

However, she also flagged that, as with many other media and entertainment roles, ‘it’s really not fair pay. If people broke it down to an hourly pay, it would be below minimum wage… As music supervisors, we’re not exclusive [so] we have to work on a ton of stuff at the same time to make enough money to live on.’

For more insight into a music supervisor’s work, watch this Netflix In Conversation, which features Alexandra Patsavas and Jen Malone:

Trends in Music Supervision

When it comes to what music and genres supervisors are looking for, as demonstrated by the shows above, it’s not easy to pin down. However, when quizzed three other influential music supervisors, Patricia Portaro, Johanna Cranitch and Alexandra Carlsson Norlin, they did identify a few trends.

Cranitch said that ‘I’m seeing a lot of nostalgia, especially since the pandemic. I think we’re looking back on times before 2019 with a fondness, when things were classic and simple. We’ve been getting a lot of requests for cover versions of well-known songs, or songs that are nostalgic in a sense, with a retro-sounding vibe.’

Carlsson Norlin identified a desire to ‘be a bit more brave and willing to try things that maybe have not been explored in the past. There’s also more thought being put into being inclusive in this space, including more women and people who identify as non-binary.’

Music supervisors looking for music often pick classical music as it can be used in so many different situations, and also for practical reasons: you only pay for one right for the recording, not the copyright.  

Looking For More Inspiration?

For more on our featured female music supervisors’ work, check out our deep dives on Extraordinary, Stranger Things, Yellowjackets and Euphoria, together with other TV shows featuring eclectic soundtracks, such as Fleabag, Big Little Lies and Peaky Blinders.

Read about more trailblazing women in film, music and art (including I May Destroy You’s Michaela Coel) and, if you’re a music supervisor, the best female artists of all time. If you want to learn more about the history of women in music then we have a wealth of articles, from extraordinary female activists to the key women in hip hop. When it comes to inspiring women you might work with as a music supervisor, these are the female directors you need to have on your radar.

And if you need music to license for your TV show, then look no further than our hand-picked kick-ass women playlist

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