There are two places in the world where you can hear the Wu-Tang Clan, 1970s Christian folk music, and the theme song to Perfect Strangers all in the span of one hour. The first is an especially weird edition of Spotify Discovery Weekly. The other is on The Leftovers, the critically acclaimed HBO series that features the boldest and most diverse musical stylings on television.
And the curator of that crazy soundtrack is the show’s music supervisor, Liza Richardson. The former DJ’s job is twofold: source cool songs, and then license them for use on the show. It’s a unique position, combining left-brain and right-brain thinking as she gets to flex her creative muscles while simultaneously negotiating deals with her team to secure the rights to broadcast your next musical obsession.
“I love the business side of negotiations and making deals for songs,” Richardson told Quartz. “I’m lucky that I can do both.”
A DJ for almost 30 years, Richardson possesses an encyclopedia knowledge of music that spans genres, styles, and centuries. That makes her a good fit for The Leftovers, which prides itself on unusual creative choices, in its music most of all. In addition to The Leftovers, she has supervised the music for Friday Night Lights, Narcos, and a number of other TV shows and films.
The Leftovers isn’t the only show to attract attention for its bold music supervision. Indeed, this era of “peak TV” has also created something of a golden age for soundtrack music. Mr. Robot and Netflix’s Stranger Things, among others, have been praised for their distinctive soundtracks (worth a listen as playlists even without the shows’ context).
Perhaps because there’s so much good work in the industry, the Emmys have taken notice: This year will be the first time ever an award is handed out for the best music supervision, putting a huge spotlight on a traditionally hidden, obscure position in the entertainment business.
The Leftovers incorporates more bizarre musical selections in only the first two episodes of its stunning final season than any other show has this year (blowing another HBO series with an eclectic soundtrack, Big Little Lies, out of the water). Its opening scene, a wordless, enigmatic sequence that takes place in 1844, is set to a sarcastically on-the-nose song about the Rapture by a Christian folk group.
“There’s no time to change your mind, the son has come and you’ve been left behind,” they sing, appropriately for a TV show that’s literally about the people “left behind” from a Rapture-like event in which 2% of the world’s population has inexplicably vanished.
The second episode’s opening credits is cut to the exceedingly cheesy theme song to the 1980s sitcom Perfect Strangers. Later, we hear a delicate piano reprise of the theme, interpreted by the show’s composer, Max Richter. (Perfect Strangers is something of a running in-joke in the…