Rachel Brosnahan (Miriam 'Midge' Maisel)
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Interview: Finding Just The Right Music For ‘Maisel’ Is No Joke For Music Supervisor Robin Urdang

It takes a tremendous amount of work to make Maisel sound so marvelous. For five seasons Prime Video’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has had the perfect music selection for every occasion, venue, character, and era. Though the series may make it seem easy, finding, procuring the rights, and often producing the music provided a plethora of challenges, each as unique as the music itself.

For its fifth and final season the music flashed forward and backwards as the show closed out Mirian “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) and Susie Myerson’s (Alex Borstein) story in a season that spanned decades. To accomplish this feat, the producers relied on the Music Supervisor Robin Urdang who has made quite the name for herself with five Emmy nominations and three wins for the series.

Urdang spoke with Awards Radar about challenges, the fun, and the family involved to make Maisel sing. You can read our conversation below and hear the fruit of Urdang’s labors on all five seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel streaming exclusively on Prime Video.

Steven Prusakowski
While you may look back at all the fond memories, it must be tough to walk away from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Robin UrdangYou know, I’ve done bunches of movies and TV shows, and, you know, ones that I’ve been on for six years, seven years, and then had 18 episodes instead of eight. But this one, there’s nothing like Maisel. Nothing. I mean, I still watch it. I still rewatch it. The people that we’ve worked with, the cast, the crew, everybody was just marvelous. Everyone worked as a team. It started at the top, from Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, and then Dhana Gilbert and Matt Shapiro and everyone else – it was a family. There was so much synchronicity.

Steven Prusakowski
We’ve started by talking about the ending, let’s also talk about the beginning. Besides the people, what was the initial draw to working on this series?

Robin Urdang

I worked on Bunheads with Amy and Dan, and then went to Gilmore Girls and the Gilmore Girls revival. They called me one day saying, ‘Hey, lady, we’re doing a new show, it’s going to be a pilot, a little pilot New York and we’d love to bring you on. You don’t have to live in New York, it’s okay,’ because they knew I was living out in LA. They told me a little bit about it and that was amazing. The first question I asked musically was, ‘Are you looking to record new versions of older songs or use authentic material?’ Amy was like, ‘Absolutely authentic all the way.’ And that I said, ‘I’m in!’ It sounded fun and we didn’t know what was going to happen. It became a little show that turned into this amazing project for five seasons?

Steven Prusakowski
What is your process like when finding the sound of each season? I’m always curious because you have to set the tone and then you have done it, you kind of have to live with what you’ve established to some degree. Do you break it down by season, episode, or by moments?

Robin Urdang
We don’t break it down by season. This season, I knew we were going to be going back and forth and not staying in the 1950s, early 60s. Generally speaking, the heads of departments get an outline. I go through the outline, and they’ll say, “Hmmm, we’re in Joel’s club. I wonder if they’re gonna want a band?” And that’s the first thing I’ll think about, because Joel’s or in The Gaslight, or in certain places we had bands performing more often than not. Sometimes it’s scripted, there’ll be a band. Then I will ask Dan and Amy, ‘Hey, do you want to band? What kind of musicians do you want?’

When I get an outline and go through an outline, I break it down. We don’t usually get the scripts until about a week before we’re shooting. You never know what you’re going to be hit with. You never know what they’re going to ask for. The littlest scene where you use incidental music that you would think nobody would even know about becomes the biggest challenge for me. But even these little pieces, nothing’s incidental. Everything is used with reason, everything is used for the character. Everything is used for the scene or we don’t use music. We don’t even have a score. We have no composer so we use songs as a score.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is used for a reason in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  It is character driven, and it moves you. Amy will literally have a song on set that Midge is actually walking to. It’s not something we put in afterwards. We have it for the set. We know what we’re going to use. It’s for movements. The cameraman has it, the actors have it. Everybody has this piece of music. And that’s what Midge is walking down the street to.

Steven PrusakowskiI love the idea that no matter how big or how small the usage of a song that you’re putting your all into it, this means something to you. Every song we hear is all being processed with the same level of care. The, just having people find and appreciate those moments. It has to be rewarding for you.

Robin Urdang
It feels great because it’s a tough job being a music supervisor. It’s not just taking records and going, ‘Here, I like this, let’s use it.’ It’s knowing what you can use and knowing how to make sure that you can use it, and how you can clear it. Barbra Streisand was scripted in the first episode pilot, and I looked at that and I just went, ‘Oh, God, Barbara’s never cleared for TV, she barely clears for anything.’ I knew Amy didn’t know this. I told them I was going to try, and we went through this entire process. I had written a letter and sent Barbara the scene. Within 15 minutes of her opening up the QuickTime – because my producer called me and said, ‘Somebody just opened the link in Malibu,’ and I said, ‘That would be Babs,’ and 15 minutes later, we got the approval. So it’s fun, but this is the most challenging project I’ve ever worked on. As hard as it was , it is worth every second of it.

Steven Prusakowski
When you say challenging, is it because of finding that emotional connection between the music and what is happening on screen or were you referring to the rights and working through it, because you’re working with older music.  Where do the challenges lie?

Robin Urdang
Well, it is challenging, for a lot of reasons – it’s a period piece. So when Amy and Dan have something scripted, we know that there’s going to be a band playing. For example, we could get the best band to pre-record, but not everyone wants to cut their hair or shave their beards and look like they’re from the 1950s. So sometimes we had to find musicians who did not mind cutting their hair. We have great musicians, but we could not use them. If you recall, Shai Baldwin, he was not a singer, so I had to find someone to hire for Shai’s voice. So our singer Darius was standing behind the set, in the wings singing for it live, while Sterling K. Brown sang live. It is the little things like this. It’s fun and challenging, it’s just things that you would never think about, but we get it done. We’re pushed to a degree that we don’t even know that we have. We’ve accomplished things that I would think we couldn’t touch.

There’s so much music in this show. Somebody said to me the other day, ‘How come musicals are up against every other show?’ I said, ‘Well, there are no musicals that are up against other shows’. They said, ‘Yes, Maisel!’ And I said, ‘Maisel is not a musical. It’s a comedy! But thank you, because that means the world to me that you’re thinking it is a musical, because it means we’re using the music the right way.’ It was a big compliment to Amy and to Dan and to all of the music people for someone to think that it’s a musical because the music is used like that.

Steven Prusakowski
You identify those songs and the spirit of each situation, allowing them all to mesh together.

Robin Urdang
Amy and Dan are so musical. They know what they want. They have their ideas and then they ask for ideas. There was a time there was a Christmas scene and Amy said, ‘You know, I want a song. But I don’t want this to be a Christmas show. So maybe we could use some French Christmas music.’ I sent her French Christmas music and I sent this song by Peggy Lee called “The Tree.” And she said, ‘That is the dumbest song I have ever heard.’ And I was like, ‘Oh no!’ Then she goes, ‘Perfect. Let’s use it.’ Sorry, Peggy Lee. Because that’s Amy. That’s who Amy is.

Amy and Dan work together on the episodes but they have different tastes in music. Dan is a musical aficionado. From the very, very beginning and from working on Bunheads and everything else, music is hugely important to them and it’s hugely important that it’s used correctly or it is not used.

Steven Prusakowski
Did you hear music in your head and connect it with the characters and their tempo?

Robin Urdang

Yeah, I do hear music and think of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and I’m gonna miss it because I love that kind of music. I love the era.

Steven Prusakowski
Let’s close with a simple one. Three words to describe The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in any way, shape or form.

Robin Urdang
Most ‘marvelous’ experience.

Steven Prusakowski
I love it. Perfect.

Robin Urdang
I never said that before.

Steven Prusakowski
Thank you so much for your time. Congrats on your work this season and throughout the series, but also for the nomination. I wish you the best.

Robin Urdang
Thank you so much.

(This interview was edited for brevity and clarity purposes.)


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Written by Steven Prusakowski

Steven Prusakowski has been a cinephile as far back as he can remember, literally. At the age of ten, while other kids his age were sleeping, he was up into the late hours of the night watching the Oscars. Since then, his passion for film, television, and awards has only grown. For over a decade he has reviewed and written about entertainment through publications including Awards Circuit and Screen Radar. He has conducted interviews with some of the best in the business - learning more about them, their projects and their crafts. He is a graduate of the RIT film program. You can find him on Twitter and Letterboxd as @FilmSnork – we don’t know why the name, but he seems to be sticking to it.
Email: filmsnork@gmail.com

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