When it comes to the world of film, people are fascinated by the brilliant minds of the writers and directors who create the stories that touch so many lives. There is no arguing that these minds are uniquely gifted. However, what has flown under the radar for so many years is now finally receiving the recognition it deserves; the magnificent mind of a music supervisor.
Rob Lowry knew his calling from the minute the credits began to roll on cult classic Almost Famous. Sharply focused with a keen taste in music, he was able get his foot in the door of the industry. He made mix tapes for anyone who would hear them, and lucky enough for us, they were heard. His mind lives outside the box, taking on projects that span far and wide away while carefully crafting soundtracks for each. The songs are precisely picked and delicately placed creating moments that are impossible to forget. Currently, Rob is working tirelessly to serve audiences feelings on a silver platter for Freeform’s The Bold Type.
Rob is passionate, kind, and thoughtful. Below you’ll get a glimpse into his mind and see why this is a career that is truly just getting started.
MEET ROB LOWRY
ATWOOD MAGAZINE: I read in your bio that Almost Famous is what inspired you to become a music supervisor. What was it about that film that made you want to be a music supervisor and were there any other inspirations along the way?
Rob Lowry: I think it was just a perfect representation of the marriage of film and music, and was elevated by also being a film about music. It checked every single box for me. It took all of these incredible, classic songs that you’d heard before, and re-contextualized them into this specific narrative. Everything about the film spoke to me on a visual level, and an audio level. It was one of the first times where I think I really noticed how important music was in playing a role of supporting a film’s narrative.
Is there a music supervisor you admire? And why?
Rob: There are lots of music supervisors I admire. I think that’s what’s so great about the community is that you continuously feel inspired by your peers. It can be competitive, but in a way where other people challenge you, inspire you to do your job at a very high level. All in all though, I’m a huge fan and constantly in awe of my friend Joe Rudge. He’s always been a huge inspiration, and eventually became a mentor, and is now a close friend. He’s done films like Blue Valentine, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and more recently Don’t Think Twice and The Big Sick. Aside from his talents, he’s a genuinely kind and thoughtful human being.
What was your first big break in the business? How did you achieve it?
Rob: I’d say my “big break” was actually just getting into the entertainment industry. From there, it was just kind of navigating the road to get where I wanted to be. I was a PA on Parenthood and Friday Night Lights, kind of telling anyone who would listen that I wanted to be a music supervisor. I was giving writers and editors mix CDs, talking music, etc. Eventually one of the editors on FNL had a friend who was producing an indie film, and he introduced me to her. We hit it off and I music supervised the film. That was my foot in the door, and from then on I was just always learning pushing forward. (Side note – Sarah Watson – The Bold Type creator – was a writer on Parenthood. That’s when we met. I was a PA. And when The Bold Type came along, she got in touch, and that’s how I ended up doing the show.)
On par with the last question, what would your advice be for an aspiring music supervisor?
Rob: Understand what music supervision is, because it’s wearing a lot of different hats. It’s dealing with budgets, negotiating copyrights, managing expectations… Having “good taste” is cool and absolutely important – but you also have to understand you’re serving someone else’s vision. What is their taste? What’s going to be the best way to serve the story that she/he is trying to tell? There’s no room for ego. It’s a very collaborative process.
I love the name of your music supervision company, Sweater Weather Music. It gives off an immediate vibe that is sort of calming and comforting. What made you come up with this name?
Rob: Ah, calming and comforting is good. I think that’s part of the inspiration behind it. I’m from the East Coast, and fall was always my favorite season. As the leaves change, and there’s that bit of bite in the air. You go from shorts and t-shirts to jeans and sweatshirts. It’s all very romantic to me, in the general sense. And I think I share a similarly romantic relationship with music, as a lot of us do. So Sweater Weather Music just creates a very specific type of imagery and sound in my head. And I wanted my perspective, my “image,” to kind of embody that.
The Bold Type is a predominantly female-driven show. Your music placement is so precise, and if I may say, bold. It’s not just a bunch of predictable female pop ballads – it’s truly a powerful collective of thoughtful songs with the right energy and message for each moment. How did you get into the mindset of placing music in this show? Did you find it any more or less difficult than other projects?
Rob: The Bold Type has been a dream show in many ways. I think one perspective we’ve taken on the show, is the idea of empowering our characters and doing our best to project a message of positive. Even the “sadder” scenes or “minor” songs ultimately have an uplifting message. There have been less than a handful of songs that really kind of dwell in a certain kind of sadness. It’s about keeping your head up, knowing you’re not alone. And part of that is highlighting these incredible female artists, giving them a voice, and simultaneously having them give a voice to our characters, to our stories, and to our audience.
I don’t know that it’s any more or less difficult than any other project, but it’s different. Every project is different and presents its own unique challenges. We’re telling very specific stories with The Bold Type, and I think one challenge has been – there’s not a ton of songs about “friendship.” SO I think we’ve done a really great job of taking songs that are about more specific things – relationships, breakups, etc. – and re-contextualizing them into anthems about friendship, empowerment, self-love, etc. That’s been a really fun part, actually.
Going off of that, do you have a general approach for getting into the right mindset at the beginning of each project?
Rob: Music supervision is very collaborative, so I think a lot of getting into the right mindset is having a lot of conversations with the creatives behind the story – the writer, director, showrunner, producer(s), whoever. Keeping an open dialogue throughout the process. What were they listening to when they wrote it or shot it? Having discussions about what these characters would be listening to? Talking about tone, genre, etc., is very helpful in narrowing down what exactly the story is we are trying to tell with the music.
Music Supervisors have slid under the radar in the past. Now, it seems that more of you are being recognized for the crucial role you play in creating television series and/or movies. Have you felt a shift in this recognition?
Rob: Absolutely. I think the Emmy recognition was the culmination shifting focus on music supervision, and it’s something supervisors have been fighting for, for quite awhile.
I see that you post a picture of the soundtrack each week for The Bold Type on Instagram. That is such a clever and cool way to get the word out on the music in the show. What made you think of this? Have you received positive feedback?
Rob: Honestly, the feedback has been incredible. I didn’t really anticipate people enjoying it as much as I did. I just wanted an interesting and unique way to post the soundtrack of the episode each week. Obviously, the main objective with music supervision is to supportive the narrative. But these soundtracks are all mix tapes – they tell their own narrative. I’ve been making mix tapes since I got my first boom box in third grade. And I have a bunch of blank cassettes for when I still make friends the occasional mix tape. So it was definitely paying homage to that – to where we all started with our music fandom. I think it’s also in line with the whole idea of Sweater Weather Music, which is that warm, I don’t want to say nostalgic feeling – but that reminder of why you do what you do and what the essence of it is.
Do you have a favorite project or even a favorite single song placement you’ve done so far in your career? If so, what was it and why is it your favorite?
Rob: Every project is so different. Each one presents its own unique set of challenges, and you learn something new from each one. The Bold Type has been pretty special. The entire team feels like a family, and with all of the support from the fans and media, there’s been an extreme sense of community – which I’ve never really been on a project that had the potential for that kind of exposure, so it’s been great. It’s hard to pick one project or one song. Every one has had something amazing about it. I think my favorite song placement is in The Bold Type finale. It’s something we’ve been working on for awhile, and I’m proud of the placement but also what it means, and what we’re able to do with the message of it.
What is your go-to way to find new music?
Rob: Today, you have so many resources. I have trusted friends in the record label world, in the publishing world, who are always pitching/sending me new music. I do a lot of searching, getting lost on Spotify, blogs, etc. I’ll go to places like Amoeba and just pick up a bunch of random stuff. We live in a day and age where it’s all accessible – which can be exciting and also overwhelming at times.
And finally, what is next for Rob Lowry and Sweater Weather Music? Perhaps an Emmy nomination in the future?
Rob: Ha. You never know. Being celebrated by your peers is obviously a huge honor, but I don’t think that’s why anyone does this. First and foremost, I love music, and I love film. I love the storytelling aspect of both, and I love the idea that as a music supervisor, you get to support that creative vision and also, n a way, create your own narrative within a very specific medium – the marriage of visual and audio. The love of that will always be the drive, the inspiration.
Project wise, I have show called Future Man that will premiere on Hulu November 14th and a new show called Miracle Workers from the creator of Man Seeking Woman that will premiere on TBS in the new year. And, fingers crossed, we’ll be back at it with The Bold Type Season 2 before you know it…
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Cover © Brendan Lowry