For all its reckless, coked-up bluster, HBO's Vinyl is actually a very meticulous show. From the slowly unfurling plots to the sets and costuming, everything is very carefully designed for maximum emotional impact and period accuracy. And since Vinyl is a show about music, if the music isn't perfect, the whole show loses credibility. To make sure that doesn't happen, creators Martin Scorsese and Terence Winter brought in their go-to music supervisors Randall Poster and Meghan Currier. Winter and Scorsese had previously worked with Poster and Currier on Boardwalk Empire and The Wolf of Wall Street, and they hired them again to oversee the music on Vinyl, because Randall Poster, the more senior of the pair, is the best music supervisor in the business, having worked on every Wes Anderson movie since 1998, helping create the director's music-driven cinematic language.
Here it would be helpful to define what exactly a music supervisor's job entails.
"The music supervisor is the person who helps the director and producers devise and execute the musical strategy for the show," Poster explains to TVGuide.com. This means picking and licensing songs and recording music unique to the movie or show. No two movies or shows are exactly the same, of course, and each project requires a different combination of Poster's skills. For Vinyl, the sheer quantity of music on the show presented a challenge — every episode contains around 20 songs on its soundtrack. There's so much music that HBO has been releasing mini-soundtracks every Friday showcasing the songs of that week's episode, a combination of old recordings and new covers recorded for the show. For example, this week's is David Bowie-heavy, featuring the late singer's original recording of "Suffragette City," as well as a reinterpretation of "Life on Mars?" by R&B singer Trey Songz.
"We had to get involved very early on in plotting the on-camera performances and creating this musical universe that included both real and devised artists," Poster says.
In addition to the weekly mini-soundtracks, there are also two volumes of official soundtrack, the first of which came out when the show premiered in February and the second will come out right before the season finale in April.
Vinyl also requires being true to period. The show is set in 1973, and Poster supervised the re-creation of authentic studio equipment. The way the knobs moved on vintage recording consoles was researched for accuracy, for example.
The show is set a few years before punk, disco and hip-hop emerged, but there were a few artists setting the stage for what was to come. So Poster had to make sure he didn't jump the gun and use anachronistic songs. For example, The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" or the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" are well-known songs that would easily give a sense of time and place, but not the right time and place (they came out in 1976 and 1979, respectively). It was important to Poster to give the music room to grow. This meant seeking out obscure proto-punk nuggets that predicted where the music was going to go in the future, like little-known '70s New York band Jack Ruby, whose songs on the show are performed by the fictional band the Nasty Bits. Sometimes the show takes artistic liberties though — the Nasty Bits also perform a song called "What Love Is," which is best known from its 1976 recording by the early punk band the Dead Boys, but was originally written by Dead Boys predecessor Rocket From the Tombs in 1974.
For the new recordings, Poster enlisted the help of former Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo, a talented musician with an encyclopedic knowledge of downtown New York music. Ranaldo in turn brought in some of his musician contacts, like Strokes singer Julian Casablancas, who sings Vinyl's Velvet Underground re-creations. Casablancas is a documented Velvet Underground/Lou Reed devotee and probably the best person alive to hire to imitate Lou Reed.
"We try to make that the general rule, to get the best people to do it," Poster says.
Vinyl airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.