• Sat. Sep 18th, 2021

Emmy Music Nominations Show Changing Role of the Music Director, From Billie Eilish to Zoeys Playlist

Aug 27, 2021

As music has become an increasingly integral component of the storytelling process, thanks to such series as “Pose” and “Bridgerton,” the role of the music director has changed.

“I’m seeing music being used in ways that you didn’t see before,” says Harvey Mason Jr. He landed two nominations this year for “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” earning a nod for music direction as well as original music and lyrics. Mason, who also serves as head of the Recording Academy and has collaborated with the likes of Brandy and Destiny’s Child, says the need for a music director has become more apparent.

That was especially so during the COVID pandemic. “The way things were being produced changed the role of a music director,” he says. “We were doing things remotely, using different software and apps. We really had to adapt.”

It resulted in more interaction with showrunners, directors and talent to ensure “that their vision is coming out through music,” he adds. Such collaboration “didn’t used to happen as much — the director wasn’t talking to an executive music producer or music director. They would talk to someone else, and we’d get the message down the chain.”

What was traditionally thought of as a role involving staging or arranging a band hasn’t disappeared, however. Rickey Minor serves on the Television Academy’s board of directors representing music, and is up for a music direction nomination for “Celebrating America: An Inauguration Night Special.”

“It was about determining schedules and working with musicians, studios and recording engineers and making sure everything is where it needs to be,” says Minor of his work on the special. His checkboxes: when, what, how, where and how much? Those factors remain constant.

That’s a very different role than the one played by longtime Billie Eilish collaborator Aron Forbes, who earned a music direction nomination for the documentary “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry.” He views the role of a music director in his realm, working on a documentary instead of an awards show or live special, as being “an advocate for the artist.”

In following the superstar as she recorded her album and took it on the road, Forbes, who worked closely with the documentary’s editors Greg Finton and Lindsay Utz, curated 26 performances for the documentary. “Who knows the music better than all the years I’ve spent with it?” he says. “Music direction is about us coming together with the director to elevate and heighten the music and artist.”

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