The Chemistry Behind the Music in ‘Breaking Bad’

Photo courtesy of Thomas Golubić. Photo: Ashley West Leonard

Breaking Bad returned last night, kicking off its fifth and final season — which will be split into two eight-episodes chunks this summer and next — with a delightfully potential-filled flash forward. Our anti-hero, Walter White, fully bearded and enjoying a birthday breakfast at Denny’s, is on the run from something. The opening tease is precisely that. We don’t know who’s after him or why he’s meeting with shady people in restaurant restrooms, but the soon-to-unfold story is promising indeed. Flashing back to the present, we re-enter a world where fast-food chicken magnate/drug kingpin Gustavo Fring is dead, and Walter is as terrifying and unpredictable as ever.

Without spoiling anything for those who’ve yet to see the episode, let’s just say it’ll be interesting to see if Walter makes it out of this show alive, Saul Goodman’s decisions in this episode prove, once again, that a spin-off is a wonderful idea, and it sure was nice of the Breaking Bad team to give us an excuse to make Insane Clown Posse jokes.

Hive caught up with Breaking Bad music supervisor Thomas Golubić to find out what goes into to choosing the songs for one of television’s greatest shows. Golubić, who also supervises for The Walking Dead and The Killing, and worked on Six Feet Under previously, stresses that the show comes first. “The key to doing good work as a music supervisor is to always support the story,” he says. We discussed his process, from last-minute work the week before the premiere, to finding the perfect song at three in the morning and celebrating with his cat. Golubić who counts Daft Punk and Stanley Kubrick as guiding lights, was careful not to ruin any of the show’s final-season mystique, musically or otherwise. “There will be a lot of surprises in store,” he said. “Buckle up and enjoy the ride.”

What’s the office like the week leading up to the season premiere?

We have a lot of irons in the fire right now, so the days have been starting early and ending late. There are three of us on the Super Music Vision team: Yvette Metoyer, Michelle Johnson and myself, and between us, we search for music, do the music licensing, coordinate the music editing, prepare the music previews, supervise the mix, prepare cue sheets and coordinate all creative efforts on soundtrack albums. It’s an endless string of efforts that gets increasingly more complicated when there are a number of projects going on at the same time. That said, we work very well as a team and our coordinated efforts are smooth, efficient, and the quality of the resulting work is something I’m extremely proud of.

Photo: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Breaking Bad music spotting sessions, where we creatively decide the role of music in an episode, have been happening early, around 9 a.m., and while I’m away at those, Yvette and Michelle are working on music clearances and reviewing music for the present searches. Once I’m back, we discuss as a team what the approach should be for the new episode and come up with a game plan, sometimes putting together music solicitation letters for the few companies that we reach out to. That is followed by phone calls to labels, publishers, and licensing companies to negotiate the rates, hear what music is forthcoming, and then working with our music editors to cut the songs to picture.

Add into this equation the music consulting we do for promos, the Comic Con trailers for Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, soundtrack albums in the works, semi-regular DJ gigs to bring in extra income and you have a pretty relentless pace.

Tell me about one of your favorite Breaking Bad musical moments.

I still remember working on the closing of the episode “Over” from season two, and Walt’s first big Heisenberg moment when he decides to confront and scare off a rival meth cook in the hardware store parking lot. It was one of the key scenes in Walt’s transformation from teacher to meth cook, and I found TV On The Radio’s “DLZ” at like 3 a.m. There was nobody to celebrate with but my cat who had no idea why I was so deliriously happy at that hour. I can’t imagine another song in that scene, and thankfully we were able to beg, borrow and steal to afford it.

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