Inside The Interrogation Room with Blacklist Music Supervisor, John Bissell and Dave Amcher of Spacelab9
The music selections for The Blacklist are brilliant to say the least. The music is so unique and emotionally charged it has literally became a character on the show. Without the music’s impact, the adventures of Liz and Red would lack a certain connection between the stories they tell and fans.
The collaboration of series creator, Jon Bokenkamp, along with veteran music supervisor, John Bissell, and the record label, Spacelab9, have introduced The Blacklist Soundtrack on vinyl. The soundtrack contains very carefully selected tracks from seasons 1 & 2 of The Blacklist.
It’s a beautiful package that comes with special features such as a red vinyl record and a complimentary dossier that contains top secret text that can only be decoded by placing the record over the text to reveal the classified information.
Inside The Interrogation Room recently sat down with music supervisor, John Bissell, and Spacelab9‘s Dave Amcher, to find out more about the album, the music selection process and the forces behind the music of The Blacklist.
Follow me Inside The Interrogation Room to find out more.
JOHN BISSELL, Music Supervisor for The Blacklist
How long did take to become a successful music director? Was it lots of hard work or did it just fall in your lap?
I came from a family that was pretty passionate about music, so I was surrounded by it all my life and developed a fairly broad knowledge of many music genres. While in film school, I was doing some DJ work on the side, and ultimately my love for music eclipsed any ambitions I had for working in the film industry. Once I moved to Los Angeles, I worked on music for television and film for one of the studios, before having my big LA freak out and moving to Montana. Though I was still working on some small independent features there, my first big film as an independent Music Supervisor came when I started working on the Robert Redford film, The Horse Whisperer, which was shooting in the town I lived in. One project led to another and before I knew it I was back in Los Angeles supervising music for films, television and commercials. Its been pretty much the same old job for the last 17 years.
You have worked as a music director for film and television. Which of these is the most challenging? Is there a significant difference between selecting music for films versus that of network television shows? If so, why?
Though the initial process for both is similar, the actual day to day can differ greatly. With film, or even a television pilot, it’s a one time shot, so the stakes are higher, and options are oftentimes overthought, especially with film, because there is so much more time in the schedule. With film, there are oftentimes audience test screenings when you’re deep into post production, and if the scores don’t match expectations, the only thing you can really change is the music, unless the production decides to do massive rewrites and spend oodles to shoot a more scenes. Ninety five times out of a hundred that doesn’t happen, so it’s scrambling for more music to see if it helps.
With television, it’s all about preparation and organization to be able to jump at a moment’s notice. Once the show is in production, there is very little turnaround in post production and really no time for re-dos for finding songs or clearing songs. For the most part, most of the bigger songs in shows that I’ve worked on have already been thought about and organized and sometimes pre-cleared before production even starts. Once it starts rolling it’s a lot of fun.
Please discuss the challenges associated with choosing music for television and films. What part comes easiest? Hardest?
It’s easy when I’m working with somebody like Jon Bokenkamp, who makes the final decisions musically for the series. On other shows or films, it becomes more difficult when there are many parties involved in the approval process, and they don’t necessarily see eye to eye. There was one film I worked on that had two different groups of producers who couldn’t stand each other, but the one thing that they all agreed on is that neither group liked the director. With just about every song I put forth, if one party had a positive response, at least one of the other parties would loathe the idea. I literally marked down the days until the film was done to know that there would be an ending.
The music on The Blacklist is outstanding and it’s essentially a character on the show. Can you tell me more about the process in which music selections are chosen?
Before every season starts I start pulling and organizing songs that seem to fit the theme and feeling of the series. It’s a pretty broad stroke as I really have no idea how plots will ultimately twist and turn throughout the season. From there I organize the songs into various folders, adding to the folders as new releases come out, or songs that labels or publishers or cohorts have brought to my attention, or songs that I have simply found going through my own collection. Jon Bokenkamp also has a lot of ideas, as do some of the picture editors, so it becomes a bit of group effort. Choosing creatively is only one aspect of the process though, as we have a strict budget to adhere to over the season, and many songs are problematic in clearing for use, be it budget wise or artist wise.
Jon Bokenkamp has a brilliant ear for music that delivers the greatest emotional impact on The Blacklist. What is it like working with Bokenkamp?
I cannot think of a better person to work with in all my years of doing this. He’s always curious, always open to ideas and has such a great feel for what gives an emotional punch to a scene.
How do you select which indie bands to include in the soundtrack for The Blacklist?
I don’t go out of my way to look for “indie” bands, but I do look for songs that have not been overused or overplayed, which runs a pretty big gamut from the great 1960’s sensation Scott Walker, to avant bass saxophonist Colin Stetson, who has a huge career ahead for himself, to an unreleased Jamie Commons and X Ambassadors song that we used that ultimately became the FIFA theme song months later. The Blacklist would not be able to use songs as a character if they were already so well known on a regular basis. It’s been nice to mix some of the classics, be it in popular or classical music with the seemingly unknown, not set by radio charts or any other agenda.
Who decided on developing The Blacklist LP? Did Spacelab9 come you with the project or did you go to them?
Sony TV had approached us about a Blacklist Soundtrack and handled all the tough work. On The Blacklist side all we had to do was decide on the songs.
How were the tracks selected for the album? How significant was your role in developing the album?
We went through every song that was placed in the first two seasons, and as I recall narrowed it down to our top twenty or top twenty five, from there we had to further narrow it down to our top 13. My lists and Jon’s were almost identical. The only last minute change came when we didn’t get soundtrack rights to one song. I wish every process could be so easy. Thank you, Sony.
Did you have any involvement with the album design, booklet or artwork? What do you think of the finished product?
I did not other than writing the liner notes, though I did get to see the artwork and overall design in advance of release, which I think is a fabulous reflection of the show.
Will there be more Blacklist LPs for additional seasons of the show?
I certainly hope so, as I think we have enough stand out songs every season to fill a soundtrack.
DAVE AMCHER, Spacelab9
How did you get into the record business?
Music has been my passion from a very young age, however not having known anyone who worked in the music industry growing up, it hadn’t immediately occurred to me that I could make a living in the business.
I began my career in an unrelated field but quickly came to the conclusion that life was too short to be spent doing anything that didn’t excite me. Fortunately, I reached that conclusion in 1995 while in my early 20’s when my responsibilities and financial obligations were minimal so I was able to start at the bottom and learn the industry from the inside out over these past two decades.
The music industry has seen a lot of very big, tectonic plate-shifting changes during that time so we have had to adapt and reinvent ourselves a few times in order to survive those changes and thrive. SPACELAB9 is a relatively new label imprint launched in 2013 with a focus on film, television and now video game soundtracks, primarily on vinyl format.
The music selections on The Blacklist are brilliant and they have almost become a character on the show. Who made the decision issue a compilation album of the music showcased on the show?
That would have been The Blacklist’s Music Supervisor, John Bissell, in conjunction with Sony Pictures Television.
Who was responsible for selecting the music for the album? Why were these tracks selected? Jon Bokenkamp (series creator) plays a big role in choosing the music for the show. Did he have any input on the album?
The show’s creator, Jon Bokenkamp, together with Music Supervisor, John Bissell, did a fantastic job of selecting a balance of both old and newer tracks as the backdrop to the on-screen drama. John Bissell also contributed some great, in-depth liner notes detailing the selection process and how some episodes are actually written by Jon Bokenkamp around a specific track. Fans are highly encouraged to read them for an interesting and in-depth look into how integral the musical selections really are to the series.
The book that accompanies the record is very unique. Who was the creator of the book? Please discuss specifics such as the “secret” passages that can only be viewed by placing the record over the text and the show information included in the book.
The booklet, which is designed to resemble a confidential dossier, was actually a collaborative effort. The first version was released with the Sony Pictures Television Home Entertainment’s Season 1 DVD release. It evolved with each subsequent version, finally culminating into the expansive, 16-page, 12” x 12” booklet that is included with the vinyl album. Following the initial DVD version, the booklet was revised and expanded to be included with Madison Gate Records CD release and then once again revised and expanded by our lead designer for the SPACELAB9 vinyl album release. At that point profiles for several newer characters were added and the “Classified Information” that made up the encrypted text in the booklet was provided by the showrunners and integrated into the booklet design.
Why red vinyl?
“Red” would be an obvious choice of vinyl color in this situation, however in reality it was a case of function before form. Red vinyl was initially chosen because it is the ideal color for decoding the “encryption” effect that was created in the booklet. The color’s eponymous relation with the series’ lead character was actually an afterthought that just happened to work out well!
Have you produced albums for other television dramas?
Yes, we’ve been very fortunate to have worked with many talented music supervisors and production companies to create vinyl soundtracks for many of the most popular modern television series. We’ve worked specifically with the Sony Pictures Television / Madison Gate Records folks many times over the past few years to create multiple vinyl soundtrack albums for television dramas such as Breaking Bad, Outlander and most recently, the hit Breaking Bad sequel, Better Call Saul.
What was your most successful album for a television show?
In terms of quantities sold to date, our most successful television soundtrack would be AMC’s The Walking Dead: Original Television Soundtrack Vol.1 LP.
Any future projects in the works?
We have quite a few projects on the horizon for 2016 that we’re very excited about.
Beginning in late 2015 we expanded beyond television and film into the burgeoning video game soundtrack space, which has been received with a lot of enthusiasm from fans. We’ll be continuing that momentum this year with vinyl soundtrack releases for hit games such as Fallout 4, Assassin’s Creed and the 2015 Game Awards “Game of the Year” Award-Winnerd, The Witcher 3, among others. All three are fantastic orchestral score albums from genre-favorite composers Inon Zur, Jesper Kyd and Marcin Przybylowicz, respectively. We will be providing Game Stop with a special picture disc LP edition of the Fallout 4 soundtrack. It is their first-ever vinyl record soundtrack exclusive title and will debut in stores as well as online in June.
In the fall and into the holiday season we have the follow-up to the best-selling soundtrack, AMC’s The Walking Dead: Original Television Soundtrack Vol.2 LP. We are also extremely excited and honored to be a part of – the vinyl record debut for Thomas Newman’s score to the modern classic film, The Shawshank Redemption.
Anyone wishing to receive up-to-date info on these releases and many more coming from SPACELAB9 can join their email news list or follow us on their social media platform dujour: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.