Our interview with music supervisor ANDREA VON FOERSTER, the songmaster behind “Yellowstone”

Last Updated: June 16, 2023By Tags: ,

Taylor Sheridan has nine shows on TV and more coming. The Oscar-nominated writer is the co-creator of “Yellowstone,” the cable TV modern western starring Kevin Costner that has racked up a rabid fanbase and been a serious moneymaker for the Paramount Network. Sheridan’s list of accolades—to say nothing of his bank account—will only continue to grow.

Yet as famous as Sheridan is, it takes hundreds, if not thousands, of people to bring his dark vision of an American mythology to the screen. One of those very dedicated professionals is Andrea von Foerster, a career music supervisor with well over 200 credits to her IMDb resume, including this year’s “Air,” from Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

It’s Von Foerster’s job to find songs that will underline the emotional reality of a scene, be it the hypermasculinity of professional cowboys on “Yellowstone” or the dreamlike narration of Elsa, the teenage girl migrating west from Texas with her family in the prequel series “1883.” She is also appearing this week at the Billboard Country Music Conference in Nashville for a panel discussing “Yellowstone” and its music.

Von Foerster recently met with me over Zoom to discuss her love of music, her ongoing relationship with the Hollywood titan Sheridan, as well as the lengths she’ll go to clear a song and give an artist “free money,” in her words. (Hint: Make your contact details prominent online!) My conversation with Von Foerster (she pronounces her first name “Ahn-drea” versus “Ann-drea,” so quite similar to the character on “90210”) has been edited and condensed.

People generally know what a screenwriter, a director, a producer or even a composer does on a movie or TV show. How would you explain to people the job of a music supervisor such as yourself?

There are a lot of people who think you just sit around and listen to music all day and hang out with artists [but] you’re involved creatively in the sonic vision of the show. So you collaborate with whoever the point people are—sometimes it’s showrunners, sometimes it’s directors, sometimes a producer, sometimes it’s writers—to deliver that vision. And [you foster] the personality of the show […] through the music.

And then it’s also clearance. It’s arranging on-camera [interviews and] any union things you need to have sorted out. It’s a lot of minutiae and paperwork and politics and psychology—a lot more involved than most people think.

There are some ridiculous things that I’ve had to do to get some song clearance [such as] finding people on remote islands to sign off on something because they haven’t been checking their email. [I’ve have to find] someone who is a friend to call them on their cell so they can then call me back or text me so I have [permission] in writing until they can get the paperwork back.

I’ve become a very proficient professional stalker.

The key word there is “professional.”

For music only! You kind of have to have that determination: “Challenge accepted.”

When you’re deciding what song to include for a particular scene, how early in the creative process does that start? When you first see the script or as late as post-production?

It depends. I always read the scripts and flag [anywhere] I think there’s a spot for music. Sometimes there’s [an included song already] scripted. Sometimes something will be [recorded] on camera [on set], and unless it’s cut, which doesn’t normally happen, that stays the same.

But most of the music usually happens in post. [On “Yellowstone”] we see something and [then decide] “Well, the bunkhouse has this sound,” or “The end of the episode has this sound.”

So I’m guessing you don’t frequently visit the “Yellowstone” sets in Utah and Montana.

It’d be nice to be there for the on-cameras but they’ve got it covered, and I can cover more ground from my office.

Tell me about your background as a music supervisor.

I have been in supervision for over 20 years, and I used to work for other supervisors. I worked on “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Providence,” “Roswell,” “The Mayor of the Sunset Strip,” and all these other projects. And then in 2006 I went independent and never looked back.

I’ve been especially blessed in the last five years to work on things that people A) actually see; B) love; and C) I work with people that we just “get each other”—a shorthand [and] a shared vision. It’s intuitive.

It’s just understanding who you work for and who you work with.

Do you play any instruments or sing yourself?

I do sing. Not to anybody. And I have many guitars and a piano that I’m working on getting better at.

How was your onboarding process to “Yellowstone”? Surely it must have been competitive.

Basically Richard Glasser, who was at the Weinstein Company at the time, hired me to do “Scream: The TV Series” because he knew I loved horror. He [introduced me] to post supervisor [and eventual “Yellowstone” associate producer] Tim Pedegana, and [said] if he likes you, you’ll move on and meet Taylor over the phone. So I met with Tim; he was great. Then he’s like, “Taylor will call you.”

I didn’t hear for like a week so, oh well, I guess it’s not happening. And then on a Sunday I get [a call saying] “It’s Taylor Sheridan. Welcome aboard.” I thought this was going to be a round 2 interview, but he [said], “Nah, you got it because Tim liked you.”

And you now music supervise many of Taylor Sheridan’s shows?

All of them. There’s nine!

Everything with Taylor has been a very easy flow from my side of things because he loves music, he understands music, and he values music. A lot of people love music but they don’t value it; they don’t want to pay for it. So it’s really nice working for someone who [believes] “We license it and we pay [the artists].”

And I also book a lot of [Sheridan’s] horse events as well, including Run for a Million.

One of the greatest aspects of “Yellowstone” is that it introduces people to new music. My wife and I positively fell in love with “Summertime Blues” by Zach Bryan in Season 5, Episode 7.

It’s an amazing song. We were very lucky to have Zach on the show. We went through his new records because there were more than one at the time. There’s certain songs that weren’t the right tempo for playing on camera. I suggested a few, then Taylor suggested a few; most of those overlapped, and “Summertime Blues” was one of them.

And there was another [Zach Bryan] song that we wanted to do—a duet with Charles Wesley Godwin called “Jamie.” We thought it might be a little confusing given the song and [a “Yellowstone”] character named Jamie [so it was dropped].

Is there a difference between placing a song in a drama versus say a comedy?

I love working on dramas because you can do the most musically. Comedies are a little more confining because [the songs are] usually the punchline to a joke—they’re not usually supporting the scene emotionally. Or, if they are, it’s still in a comedic emotional way. I think that’s why “Yellowstone” works so well: We do have levity, but it’s not comedy necessarily.

And there’s just a lot more amazing sad songs out there in the world than there are happy ones.

Are there any songwriters or artists you’re particularly proud to have gotten on “Yellowstone” or any of the other “Taylorverse” shows?

Lainey Wilson and Zach Bryan were two of my biggest. 49 Winchester, I’m getting to use them [and] Jackson Dean.

The funny thing is most of the time a director or producer wants to go with something that they know, sometimes from their childhood or just something that they currently love. If you love something it comes across: It doesn’t need to be new, it doesn’t need to be hip. Taylor [says] “I don’t care [what era] it’s from. If it’s good and it fits lyrically and vibe-wise, let’s do it.”

We like concentrating on newer artists. I love helping everybody, and I feel like the entertainment industry can be very supportive when done right. And I like hearing that on the music side as well. And so [their music] elevates our show and we get to help their career. Everybody wins.

Do the artists ever send you thank-you notes?

Not everybody but a lot of people. I honestly think Americana and country is the best genre for people having manners. You don’t “need” anything, but it’s always pretty cool to get a thank you.

I once placed an indie band…and they sent me a note that said, “Because of this thing that you got us, we were able to replace all four flat tires on our van and keep touring.” So it’s nice that they could keep going—literally.

I imagine it must be harder to place songs in shows set in the past, including the “Yellowstone” prequels “1883” and “1923.”

So “1883” was easy because [all music from that era] is public domain, so you can take sheet music [from the time] and have somebody record it. For “1923” it’s really complicated because in the U.S. a lot of things are public domain, but not in the rest of the world…so you have to clear it for the rest of the world. [It’s difficult] finding accurate years for songs because accuracy is not so big on the internet [for songs] in the ‘20s. So we had some things created, like a waltz in episode 7 or 8.

It’s fun assembling the right team to execute the plan. It’s Taylor’s vision and I’m happy to serve it. I don’t ever stop listening to new music throughout the year, and I just feed it to Taylor. We never have a day off because we’re always just looking. So I have a whole stockpile of things that I’m dying to get out in the world, and I can’t talk about them yet because I don’t want anyone else to use them before we do.

Do people then constantly bombard you with music they hope to get on TV?

I mean I get music from everywhere all the time. And to me it just makes my job easier because I don’t have to look for it if it’s coming to me already. I just kind of patrol [online], especially YouTube. That’s where I found Zach Bryan. Everybody should have videos up.

You would make someone’s day with a phone call asking to use their music.

That’s the one thing: Too many artists and composers are very bad about having their contact info available. So people don’t answer their social media. They have to be “findable” and they have to communicate. I don’t care if it’s your cousin, just give me a link [to you]. Something!

There’s a lot of times where I’ve moved off something after bombing every social media platform because they didn’t answer. I had one guy answer me back two years later: “Yeah, you can go ahead and use it.” And I’m like, “Did you see the date my friend? We had to move on.”

[The artist] didn’t do anything more than make the songs because you wanted to make the songs. I would love to give you free money, and then they don’t answer. And you can’t make people be better at business.

So in that instance where the person didn’t respond for two years, it was someone else’s stroke of luck?

It was, and they were very happy.

Are there any dream collaborators you’d still like to work with?

Taylor has covered so many people I’ve wanted to work with. I would like to work with Cillian Murphy because “Peaky Blinders” is my favorite TV show. I don’t actually normally love contemporary music in a period piece, but I love that show so much.

I feel Ewan McGregor used to be the guy that did the really off-kilter [work] but Cillian Murphy has followed in the footsteps of that. I don’t know if he’ll end up ever directing, but I would love to work on anything he’s acting in.

I worked on “Air”; I had always wanted to work with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. That was huge. And Jason Bateman, that was really amazing.

There’s the [phenomenon] where you know that [a filmmaker] has their “someone,” so you don’t step on loyalty. Like I wish I could do a Tarantino film but I know he has his person and she’s amazing. So no there. Danny Boyle would be a big thing, but I know he has a person too.

I’m working with Rob Reiner and Albert Brooks right now [on] a documentary about Albert Brooks. There’s literally nothing more you can ask for than that. I’m also working with Meg Ryan on her film right now, and she’s amazing. So it’s been a good year. [laughs] With the writer’s strike ongoing, has that affected your workload?

I had a lot of things going into post right before [the strike]. And I kind of had the same thing happen during covid too. So I was busy all through covid and I’m busy now—but I don’t know how long it’ll last.

I am very much behind the writers getting what they deserve because none of us have jobs without them. And also from a songwriter’s perspective too. Instrumentals are great, but give me some words. I’m behind anyone who writes, and I’m not sure why that’s ever undervalued. But the world is what it is.

So I hope [the strike goes] until [the writers] get what they need, but we also hope that it doesn’t last too long.

It is a music “business” the way it’s a film business—the way it is with anything else. It’s the business of show.

Are you able to tease anything about the next season of “Yellowstone”?

No, we haven’t shot it. I haven’t seen the scripts [and] don’t know if there are any. The great thing is I’m lucky in that I can’t leak anything because I don’t know anything!

Hopefully we get to start up production as planned later in the summer, strike willing. There’s also “1944” planned, which is the next prequel. I used to call “1883” the prequel and we had “1923,” the three-prequel, and now [because of “1944”] “1883” is the pre-pre-prequel. It just keeps going.

If you don’t value every single person who has anything to do with making a show, get out of the way. Because it takes a village, and we have an amazing village on all of Taylor’s shows. The Taylorverse is a good one to be in. The casting is killer. The music that I get to play with is amazing, so I feel like a kid in a candy store.

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