Music Supervisor Thomas Vale

Next Big Things on the silver screen

Austin’s Thomas Vale
Austin’s Thomas Vale (by Annie Ray)

I’ve discovered incredible music while watching TV and films.

The song my friend Ramona Beattie performs that I most admire remains “Moon River,” a song written specifically for Audrey Hepburn’s voice in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

When I saw When Harry Tries to Marry, I really liked the music and a couple of years later I found myself playing and writing songs with the film’s music supervisor, Sarah Sharp.

I discovered one of my favorite bands, the Boxer Rebellion, in Going the Distance. My neighbor Justin Long plays the guy who’s going to break the band and take them to the next level while romancing Drew Barrymore.

I recently watched the pilot for new TV series The Americans. The episode starts off with Mick Fleetwood steadily pounding until he finally erupts into “Tusk.” The episode ends with Phil Collins. The music supervisor strategically placed two of the most famous drummers of the Eighties as bookends for the episode.

Over the years, music for the screen has changed. It’s more about discovery than hiring the next Henry Mancini, although some people, like local composer Graham Reynolds (A Scanner Darkly, Bernie), still build careers out of it.

Last week I went over to Thomas Vale’s house, of Frog Music Licensing, to ask him more about the process. Vale started out as a music fan helping film students. Then he started working on the HBO hit series Six Feet Under.

“I have relationships with music supervisors now,” explains Vale. “What I do is follow projects they’re working on and figure out what kind of style of music they’re looking for. I’ll send them a compilation and they’ll also send me requests looking for a specific thing.

“They detail what they need and I put together ideas to give them.”

Vale works with over 70 Austin musicians, including Ghostland Observatory, Ben Kweller, my dad Jon Dee Graham, as well as up and comers like the Eastern Sea and Quiet Company.

“A lot of shows want new stuff,” says Vale. “They want music that’s about to be released or has just been released. Most music supervisors in TV enjoy breaking new artists or new music. They like to be the first to get it out there.

“In the commercial world, they chase whatever’s hot. Whenever there’s a big hit band there tends to be an echo effect, people wanting that sound. In TV I don’t see that as much.”

Vale’s recently worked on Sons of Anarchy, The Following, Royal Pains, and several Canadian shows.

It’s exciting to hear music that you know on shows, especially if it’s your dad, which happens to me once in a while. Last year I heard one of my favorites, Matthew Ryan out of Nashville, on Parenthood, another show that Vale works on.

Listen closely next time you’re watching TV or a flick. If you’re from Austin, there’s a good chance you might just hear someone you know.

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Thomas Vale, Ramona Beattie, Audrey Hepburn, Sarah Sharpe, Justin Long, Mick Fleetwood, Phil Collins, Henry Mancini, Graham Reynolds, Ghostland Observatory, Ben Kweller, Jon Dee Graham, Matthew Ryan

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