'Go for it!' Call Me By Your Name music supervisor Robin Urdang on her movie and TV career so far

Robin Urdang is a TV and movie music supervisor who has worked on hits Call Me By Your Name, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Broad City, Younger and ParaNorman. Here the award-winning supervisor tells Mandy News how she got into the industry, details of the amazing productions she's worked on and what aspiring music supervisors can do to follow in her footsteps.

3rd May 2018
/ By James Collins

Robin Urdang interview – Call Me By Your Name music supervisor ROBINURDANG

Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got involved in the music, and then film industry.
I’m Robin Urdang, a music supervisor for many years. I began working in different fields of the music industry, which ultimately led me to becoming a music supervisor. People ask me all the time, “do you play an instrument”. Unfortunately, not really. I took piano lessons as a child and was reading the numbers instead of learning the notes. My piano teacher blacked out the numbers with a black marker, and I took my finger, wet it and smudged the marker so I could see the numbers again. That was it, no more piano lessons for me. I was told I had to quit. I can still play with my right hand, by ear though. 

My first realisation that I was destined to be a music supervisor, was when I would play music while reading a book. The book would become a film and I was consciously aware that the songs weren’t the same in the film as what I expected. They weren’t the soundtrack that I listened to when I was reading, before it became a movie.

My lucky break was getting a call from one of the singers in The Manhattan Transfer, asking me if I would be interested in assisting their friend on a film in New York. The film was The Mambo Kings. I started as the music assistant to the executive music producer and learned so much on that film. I was thrown into music clearances, on camera music performances, playback, song searches and more. I loved that film and today it's still one of my best experiences. I was on set for every musical number, dancing off stage to the amazing music of Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco and our Mambo Kings band. It was surreal, especially when Antonio Banderas was my partner.

From that film, I became known for working on films that had music on camera, and got hired on Glitter, Center Stage, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Out To Sea and more. My career turned into full-fledged music supervision, consulting, clearances, etc. 

Majoring in Psychology was a huge help – we have a lot of personalities to deal with in this business. Haha.

***** Check out our EXCLUSIVE interview with This Is Us and Marvel's Runaways composer Siddhartha Khosla about his process and career *****

You recently won a Guild of Music Supervisors Award for Call Me By Your Name. How did you get involved with the film?
A producer I worked with on Glitter called me to work on a film that was shooting in Italy, A Bigger Splash. It was supposed to be a small job and I agreed. I met Luca Guadagnino on the film and we had a great working relationship. He then called me and asked me if I would work on his next two films. Call Me By Your Name, he said would be a very simple, beautiful film with a low budget and Suspiria would be a remake of the 1970s cult film. That'll be released in November and Thom Yorke of Radiohead is composing the music. Luca is a genius director who I adore as a person and a passionate, creative artist.

How did you approach working on the film? What was process and turnaround for delivering the project?
This film I worked on for about two years. From pre-production through post and then through awards season. I mostly worked on bringing Luca’s vision to the big screen. We got Sufjan Stevens on board, got the songs Luca wanted, and more, and built the soundtrack, which is just so beautiful. With Sufjan up for the Best Original Song Oscar, I also became part of the PR team (not really, it just felt that way). I was honoured to win the Guild Of Music Supervisor Award for both categories I was nominated in – Supervising and Best Song. Sufjan deserved that recognition.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a music supervisor?
Many people think and believe that if they have a collection of music, if they know and love music, they can become a music supervisor. WARNING TO ALL…that is not the case. As a music supervisor, you have to deal with many personalities and be politically correct, know how to get music for a budget, know how to clear music and negotiate deals, stay on schedule, stay on budget and be available 24/7. There is lots of paperwork and lots of organisation, etc. 

It’s great but creativity is only one part of the job. There is research. Sometimes you can’t find an owner of a song, sometimes you can’t get a quote you need, sometimes you are told “WE ARE USING THIS ANYWAY”, and you stay up all night to reach a French office to make sure you can get an approval before they shoot the song on camera. There are a ton of challenges. But, that’s what keeps it interesting. At least, for me.

What do you have planned for 2018 and beyond?
Ah, always the scary question. What’s next? I am working on the second season of the award winning show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for Amazon. Finishing up a film, After Party and also Suspiria. Working on the show Younger for TV Land and am waiting to find out if I can get on this other show that I love and would be thrilled to do. And, I am doing the music clearances for Ballers and Broad City. That’s it for the moment and not sure what else, but for now, this is enough. Next week, I’ll want more!!! 

I work better under pressure and being busy is what keeps me happy.

What advice do you have for people wanting to get involved in the music department, and more specifically as a music supervisor?
I would say, work for a music supervisor, or a publisher, or a label in the film/TV department. Work for a clearance company. Watch a music supervisor. Take a music supervision class so you really know what you are getting in to. Be detailed and organised, listen, learn and figure out if you really want to do this before changing your life to become a music supervisor. 

Many people are disappointed that it is not what they thought (which I mentioned in greater detail earlier). But, if you can multi task and are smart and love music, go for it.