Music is a huge part of a television show. Dramatic scenes have them, they’re a montage staple, and help launch an episode through the all-important opening theme. Andrea Higgins has been accenting Canadian TV moments in current shows like Wynonna Earp, Heartland, Killjoys, X Company and Murdoch Mysteries, and past programs in The Listener, Bomb Girls, Flashpoint and Durham County, finding the perfect tune to amp up the feels in your favourite programs.
We spoke to the head of music supervision at Arpix Media about her career working with on-staff composers who create original music and hunting down the perfect song for a scene.
How did you get into this gig?
Andrea Higgins: It’s been a journey. I’ve been at Arpix for almost 15 years, which is crazy. I listened to music growing up and I was in bands and I was obsessed with movies and TV and music. I was always kind of star-struck with the behind-the-scenes of the music industry and in high school thought, “I want to be an A&R person that scouts bands.” I’m from Hamilton, Ont., so I moved to Toronto and went to the Harris Institute, which is a recording arts school. There are two different sides to the school—the producing and engineering side and the music management side—and I took the management side and learned a lot about the industry, marketing and publishing.
I interned at some record companies and I hated it. It felt very corporate to me and I didn’t like the music they were pushing out into the world. I started hanging around film school kids, going to movies and somehow discovered, “Oh, that’s a job!” The way I got into music growing up was via soundtracks and musicals and Tarantino soundtracks. I had an epiphany moment and decided to find the person that did that job and work for that guy. A week later, I was in this class called Music and Film, taught by this guy named Ron Proulx. We clicked instantly and I’ve been working with him for 15 years. I started out alphabetizing CDs and faxing things and making coffee. Then I started going to meetings and learning, through osmosis, how to negotiate deals with rights holders.
What I do now really all started with Heather Conkie. One of the first shows that I ever worked on was Dark Oracle. Heather and I hit it off instantly and were always in sync. I was very young, but she clearly saw something in me. So, when Heartland came along she said, ‘I want to do this with you.’
Walk me through the process you go through every week. With Heartland as an example, do you get all of the scripts?
Typically, we have our one staple song in the show, the end montage to kind of wrap it all up and that helps me get what the tone and the emotion is. Is it a sad ending? Is it a happy ending? Is someone breaking up or making up with someone else? Then I kind of pull some ideas for the emotional theme, but I’m a visual person. I need to see the way the camera is moving, the pacing of the scene. There are songs that are scripted, like Georgie is at the father-daughter dance and they are dancing to a song on-camera so they can film it. Or more recently, there was a scene with Lou and Mitch dancing and it was really important to Heather to have a song for filming. I sent her a couple of options that fit lyrically and tonally and it worked out.
Do you have a bunch of bands and their songs lined up for possible use? Are you always on YouTube or the radio, listening to music for use in shows?
It’s a mixture of things. I have several labels, publishers and managers sending me music and singer-songwriters sending me music every day. I dig through blogs, I’m a word-of-mouth person. There is so much music out there, you can’t know about everything. I’m also lucky enough to be invited to music festivals. I am also lucky enough to be invited to music festivals all around the world. I’ll hear something and I’ll make a quick note: “Heartland.”
Can someone get into the music industry by having their song featured on a TV show?
Absolutely. A lot of the music you’re hearing on these shows are unsigned artists. Some are signed, some are signed to indie labels, some have a publisher and some don’t. I think it’s an amazing way to at least get heard and be able to say they’ve had their song featured on Heartland. It’s amazing to see all of the feedback we get regarding the music on these shows.
Let’s switch gears and talk about Wynonna Earp. Who wrote the theme, “Tell That Devil”?
The song is by an artist named Jill Andrews. We had a conversation with Emily Andras and the producers. We wondered if we should get a big song, an indie artist cover a well-known song … we had all kinds of ideas. I’d been gathering a ton of music that felt right for the show early on and there was this one that I kept playing over and over and over. It was “Tell That Devil.” I had put together a playlist and I told my co-worker Kyle Merkley, “This is the one.” I sent them the playlist with an asterisk next to it. Emily loved it, the producers loved it and everyone on the crew responded to it. There was just something special about that one that grabbed all of us.
Who composes the instrumental music for Wynonna Earp?
It’s Robert Carli and Peter Chapman. We thought they’d be a really interesting pair because Rob has an orchestral, more traditional background, and Peter is kind of a young composer with a video game background. He worked on Durham County, which is dark and very sound design-y, with a lot of improvised sounds. We wondered what it would be like to pair them together. Emily wanted an orchestral score from the very beginning and wanted it to sound cool.
What are you working on now?
Right now it’s Wynonna Earp and Killjoys. Heartland is starting back up again, but I won’t dive back into that until summer when we start seeing some picture on that.
Wynonna Earp airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on CHCH. Killjoys returns for Season 2 on Friday, July 1, at 9 p.m. ET on Space. Heartland returns in the fall on CBC.