Seven musicians declined to have their songs used on Netflix's new musical series, but only one didn't give a reason.
Credit: Parrish Lewis/Netflix; Inset: Patrick Randak/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

We all have the one that got away.

For Joshua Safran, the creator of Soundtrack, a new Netflix series that brings to life the soundtracks of our lives through elaborate lip-synced dance numbers, it’s two songs. The show features its cast, which includes Callie Hernandez, Paul James, Jenna Dewan, and Madeleine Stowe, dancing out their frustrations and excitements in musical numbers that take a pre-existing song and have the characters lip-sync to it. It’s how you end up with a scenario like Kelly Clarkson’s voice coming out of Dewan’s body.

Without question, the music licensing budget had to be a huge part of the show, and that involves a lot of hurdles including getting artist approval. Given that, Safran admits there were two songs in particular that still are painful for him to know they just couldn’t make it work.

“One is ‘Cry Me a River’ by Justin Timberlake,” he tells EW. “We were only denied by seven artists out of 60 which is crazy, but all of the artists gave a reason except for Justin. There was not any word back. It wasn’t like ‘I’m just not interested in the project’ or ‘Don’t make a new song from my song’ or I’ don’t understand the concept of lip syncing’. It was just radio silence. That was a little bit weird, because so many great people had come forward.”

The other situation is a little more delicate, given that it wasn’t a rights issue so much as a monetary one. “Taylor Swift actually gave us a song, which I never thought she would do. I just thought she wouldn’t let her voice come out of somebody else’s mouth,” Safran explains. “The song was really important to me — it was ‘Delicate.’ But we ended up having to cut the budget, and it got cut. Episode 6 we cut all of the songs except for one, because we had to lose a chunk of money to make the show. So there’s only one song in that episode. But there used to be five songs like with all the other episodes, and that sequence was so beautiful, and I’m very sad.”

Not only does Soundtrack feature numerous artists’ voices coming out of the mouths of the ensemble cast, but it also introduces a slew of mash-ups, moments in the episodes where the characters’ stories merge together. Safran and his team created all of the mash-ups specifically for the series. “I had no idea how hard that was going to be until I attempted it,” he confesses. “The mash-up idea came from it’s two people’s mix tapes coming together. I was like, ‘Cool, I’ll find two songs and I’ll mash them up together.’ But, even though I know music a little bit, I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be.”

The challenge is two-fold, making sure both the two keys and the BPMs (beats per minute), which is essentially the rhythm of the song, match. “First I had to find songs that related to the characters, then I had to make sure the BPMs and the keys matched, then I had to have the mash-up made,” Safran details his process. “I would do a preliminary mash-up on my computer, but I’m not a music producer and then I’d send them to a music producer when I thought they worked. He would make them. Then I’d have to write a letter to the two artists. Send the demo of the mash-up. They’d have to approve it, and then, we could go forward. Some artists did not approve a mash-up because they were basically saying you’re making a new song from my song. So then I’d have to go back to the drawing board and sometimes that process took months.”

Whether a fan of Sia, Joni Mitchell, Miguel, Bruno Mars, or Bonnie Raitt, there’s plenty of songs to love in Soundtrack. The series is on Netflix now.

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