The Bold Type: How music supervisor Rob Lowry creates a stellar soundtrack
Some songs will always be associated with the TV shows that used them as sound cues. The O.C. made Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” meme fodder for Saturday Night Live while many will forever associate Anna Nalick’s “Breathe (2AM)” with the image of Meredith grasping a bomb housed in someone’s body on Grey’s Anatomy. These are shows that became known for using new, relevant music to an unprecedented artistic effect — and now, The Bold Type has a good chance of joining their ranks.
Over the Freeform drama’s first season, the show’s music choices have been notably on point, and that’s all thanks to Rob Lowry, The Bold Type’s music supervisor. Ahead, Lowry tells EW how he pulls off the series’ “empowering” sound.
1. Keep it positive
Lowry credits the show’s musical sensibility to the story’s unique setup. “A lot of people point out the show doesn’t really have a villain or it doesn’t really have an antagonist,” he notes. “Something that we’ve done with the music is tried to remain always on the positive front in terms of, there are sad moments in the show, but even when we’re scoring these moments, it’s more about highlighting the triumphs of overcoming the sadness or dealing with the problems or whatever it may be.”
For instance, when Sutton and Richard break up in episode 7, Lowry says that’s one of the first moments where the show uses an explicitly sad song (“Bitter End” by Gordi). But then Jane and Kat comfort her by jumping into the bathtub and Leon’s “Surround Me” begins to play, transitioning the moment to something more warm. “That’s really the message of the show. The calling card with the whole show is empowerment, and the soundtrack is very much the idea of, We’ve got your back.”
2. Don’t hit a moment over the head
“We’re lucky on this show in that the leads have such incredible chemistry that you don’t necessarily have to highlight every single nuanced moment because they are doing it themselves,” says Lowry. “The risk is usually, you don’t want to hit stuff over the head. You don’t want to be too obvious. You don’t want to be too on the nose.”
3. Establish the show’s musical brand, and stick to it
The music of The Bold Type has a defined “DNA” that Lowry has helped craft. “There’s a common thread to it. The show’s music is a pretty specific character and when we’re pulling music and pitching music, you want it to live within that world,” he explains. “There might be this amazing song that we love, but if it doesn’t feel like the show, it can be a little alienating or distracting.”
4. Resist the urge to use Beyoncé
Lowry says he and his team are always concerned with whether a song amplifies a moment or distracts from it. “When you have a song like ‘Hands to Myself’ or a Beyoncé song or a Taylor Swift song, people have these preconceived ideas and feelings about these songs because they’ve heard them a million times,” he says. “When you’re seeing something for the first time, and then hearing something for the first time, it creates this unique moment, and using a song that’s well known can potentially impact that or dilute that experience.”
But sometimes it can work, like in episode 2, where Selena Gomez hit “Hands to Myself” plays when Jane kisses Pinstripe. “I was in the edit bay with Katie, our editor, and [Sarah Watson], the showrunner, and I was like, you guys are gonna think I’m crazy but I think ‘Hands to Myself’ is the song here.” Watson agreed to try it and what followed was a “magic moment” to Lowry. “It hits every beat, the build is so perfect, it’s got the drive, and the way it was cut is so great. You’re not sure what’s happening, and there’s the subtle percussion and the guitar comes in and then she kisses him and it just erupts.”
5. Get the fans involved
Lowry claims that music supervision is currently experiencing a “moment” because shows are using music in innovative ways, which gets fans excited. He cites Fargo and Master of None as examples of current, relevant shows digging up older songs and giving them new life. “But I love shows like Insecure and Girls that are using modern pop music in a unique way or a new context,” he adds. “And the thing about Bold Type is we’re getting to use a lot of new music, which people have either heard recently or haven’t heard yet and are excited to find.”
He’s not kidding about fans getting excited about the soundtrack. Before each episode, Lowry tweets out a picture of a track list with the songs fans can expect that night, and their positive responses have been overwhelming. “I have all these people tweeting at me saying, ‘The Bold Type soundtrack saved my life,” he says.
This week’s track list is here early: Lowry revealed some songs that will play in Tuesday night’s episode, like Cage the Elephant’s “Mess Around” and Phantogram’s “Bill Murray.” “In episode 9, it’s a little bit about scattering the pieces, for all three of our leads,” Lowry hints. “And the music definitely reflects that.” Other songs highlighted in the latest episode include Ralph’s “Lit the Fire” and Mandisa’s “What You’re Worth.”
6. Do your research
The image of music supervisors just randomly stumbling across good pop music and giving it a new life on TV isn’t exactly accurate: Lowry maintains a folder on his computer just for potential Bold Type songs, which he says contains at least 15,000 songs all organized by theme and tone. “It’s not some garage rock band who’s recording records in their basement in San Francisco and you just find them on Bandcamp,” he jokes. While he admits that is possible, his music search and digital “crate-digging” happen mainly on streaming services like Spotify and music blogs.
7. Don’t be afraid to debut a song from lesser known artists
Lowry says he gets pitched new music from upcoming artists all the time, and developing relationships with labels and publishers is part of the gig. So far the show has premiered Canadian pop singer Lowell’s song “No Talk,” Gordi’s “Bitter End,” and Sophie Tucker’s “Energia.”
The show plans to premiere a new song from up-and-coming singer MILCK for a “pivotal scene of the finale” that deals with sexual assault. “It’s just a really empowering moment,” he promises. “We get to comment on a social issue, raise awareness within the context of this story, and then [the song] gets to take on a life outside of the world of the show.”
8. Keep some artists in your back pocket for season 2… like Lorde or Carly Rae Jepsen
Another folder on Lowry’s computer is full of “hidden gems” that he wants to use some day on the show, like Tinashe’s “Flame” or Lorde’s “Perfect Places.” “We’ve talked about using those songs, they’ve just never worked anywhere,” he explains. “I basically love the whole last Carly Rae record, so hopefully if there’s a season 2 of The Bold Type, we can get some Carly Rae in there.” Please, god, let there be a season 2 of The Bold Type.
Catch episode 9 Tuesday, Aug. 29 at 9 p.m. ET on Freeform.