STRANGER THINGS. (L to R) Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson and Joseph Quinn as Eddie Munson in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022
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Interview: ‘Stranger Things’ Music Supervisor Nora Felder On The Music That Helped Forge Heroes

There is a reason Kate Bush became a household name and “Running Up That Hill” topped Billboard charts nearly forty years after the song’s original release. It is the same reason why Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” had a 400% increase in streams 36 years after its release, propelling it into the Billboard and U.K. Top 40, as well as the top 10 in Spotify’s Top 50 list.

That reason is Music Supervisor Nora Felder, the person behind using the songs during two key moments of season four of Netflix’s massively popular series, Stranger Things. To be fair, both songs are amazing on their own right, but the new found exposure took them to levels they had never reached before.

Stranger Things is packed with extraordinary songs from the 80s that did not enjoy the same success.
So why these songs? The reason is rather simple, it was not just that the use of the songs were in the series that made them overnight sensations decades after their releases, it is how they were used. Both songs connected with the emotions of viewers across generations in ways that few songs ever do. As Felder explained,”Each song was essential to the story by highlighting the long enduring plight and utter bravery of our heroes.” For fans of Stranger Things, these songs will forever be tied to the scenes in which they elevated.

Felder, who won the Emmy for Outstanding Music Supervision last year is nominated again for her work throughout the intense and emotional season four. She spoke with Awards Radar about her Emmy-nominated work, how those songs were choses, other favorite selections of the season, her work on two other very popular, but very different seasons, and much more. You can reach our conversation below and experience her work on Stranger Things, streaming exclusively on Netflix.

Steven Prusakowski:
How much info do you get before seeing a scene that requires licensed music? Do you get a synopsis of what the scene is about? Do the Duffer’s weigh in before you start?

Nora Felder: I generally receive full scripts in advance which is essential in order to facilitate both creative and clearance needs. It also helps creatively to have a fuller understanding of where the story is going and what needs there might be.  During the show’s post period, I receive notes from the picture editing team along with footage to work on particular scenes for their cut to present to the Duffer Brothers. During the next producer cut phase, the Duffers Brothers will weigh in if there are any exact emotions they might want to convey in choosing a song in order to push the particular narrative that they might have in mind. Many times, even when the Duffer Brothers have determined a song for a particular spot, sometimes they might want to continue to test other songs just to see if there might be either a better selection out there that might beat out whatever the current selection might be.

Where do you start looking for music for a show that has a very specific time & place for its setting? Any other restrictions?  When do YOU know you have the right song?  Is there an emotional reaction to it? Your music selections are a storytelling tool to advance the arcs and journeys of these characters we have grown to love. How much does this music live inside you day and night as you hunt for just the right song?

Nora Felder: Like any other project we do have budgetary limitations that we are required to meet financially. As is part of my gig, I’m always mindful to think out of the box creatively, while making sure we stay within a box financially.  Sometimes it can be tricky, especially when an idea works great that we just can’t afford. Thankfully there’s great independent music out there and we always manage to figure things out and find something that works great that meets our financial requirements.  
Aside from being mindful to stick within given time periods, for me it’s really about keying into the pulse of the characters and feeling the nuances of the performance and the movement of the scenes.  Creatively, I just take it from there and wing it, so to speak. I search for ideas in extremely random and varied ways.  This includes ideas that happen to pop in my mind as I start to process or focus on a particular scene or character. Sometimes certain songs in my subconscious can wake me up at night. I’ve come to presume this indicates that my mind is processing the stories and characters even while I’m sleeping.  It’s always intriguing when we experiment with different song ideas for scenes, and then to hear/see what resonates with the Duffer Brothers. It’s a very collaborative process that we’ve been doing for a few years now and the process is always fascinating. 

How do you factor in the knowledge that the show is a global hit with fans who grew up with music of the 80s era but also younger fans who may not?  It must be a great responsibility knowing you have the power to introduce new music to such a massive audience in both age scope and size. Does seeing the massive resurgence for each artist created by their use give you a huge benchmark for “getting it right”?

Nora Felder: It’s been so gratifying to see this season resonate with a diverse demographic of cultures from around the world. It has also been heartwarming to see that the music of Stranger Things has reconnected earlier generations to songs they grew up with during different phases of their lives.
As if that wasn’t enough, it been mind-blowing to have music in Stranger Things that introduces a younger generation to classic songs they were never familiar with, but instantly connected to.  I have to say, it really doesn’t get much better than this. This experience fuels me to always stay on top of my game in order to help the Duffer Brothers enhance their vision in whatever way they see fit.  

STRANGER THINGS. Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Speaking of emotional connections, every viewer has been moved by two of your selections both used in the episode that you are nominated for   Can you tell me the story behind selecting Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” and Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” for their respective moments? Why did they resonate?

Nora Felder: Back when The Duffers were in the early stages of writing the Season 4 scripts, they were searching for the perfect song to capture Max’s emotional state – her pain, loss, disconnection from others and need for strength and support. When I had the idea to use Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” I knew it could be very special for its powerful melodic flow and very poignant themes. I felt strongly that it would resonate with Max’s experiences.  I sent this song to The Duffer Brothers and was overjoyed that they ended up reacting so strongly to this and felt as deep of a connection to the song as I did. 

Kate Bush’s lyrics are so profound and can mean many different things to different people. But my personal interpretation of the song in relation to its connection with Stranger Things was how it could capture the emotional disconnection Max feels from her friends. The lyrics speak to a need for empathy born from love in order to swap places and deeply understand one another.  The scene of the “Running Up That Hil”l use in this last nominated chapter illustrates Max’s continued reliance on the unyielding love of her friends for strength as she strives to tap into their undying love and support in order to battle Vecna’s evil, and embodied representation of evil and the absence of love.

Like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”, Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” was woven into the script during pre-production. It was also another one of those “it has to be this song!” moments.  

This part of the story was anticipated to be a pivotal, especially hair-raising, monumental scene in which the season’s new and beloved character Eddie is heroically standing tall as he gallantly embarks on the fight of his life as well as performing his most ultimate rock performance ever. As I mentioned earlier, many times during the song select process we experiment with other options. However, in the case of “Master of Puppets”, everyone involved felt it was perfect, and no other song was discussed or contemplated. The high-octane driving musical elements of “Masters of Puppets” can be understood as not only metaphorically amplifying what clearly could be considered the episode’s most epic scenes, but also to accent Eddie’s character evolution in the most powerful way that lead up to this point in the story. It is the talisman-like qualities of Eddie’s guitar and metal music which help him fend off his own inner demons in order to help fight the all-powerful demon, Vecna, and his loyal fleet of Demobats. When Eddie cries out “This is for you Chrissy”, we begin to realize Eddie has taken back his power to selflessly risk it all for others and memorialize Chrissy in the process.

This moment lines up so well with the sentiments expressed in the lyrics of “Master of Puppets”.  From there I reached out to the Metallica camp straight away to let them know how Stranger Things intended to use their song. It was wonderful to hear they embraced the idea and entrusted the Duffer Brothers were going to make the scene as epic as it was intended. 

STRANGER THINGS. (L to R) Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson and Joseph Quinn as Eddie Munson in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

What was your reaction to the viewers’ responses to those songs? Did you hear back from the artists?

Nora Felder: With “Master of Puppets” being such a monumental moment in the series as a whole, before the release of this chapter, my Stranger Things team and I hoped with all our hearts for a world-wide huge reaction.  Metal music has been so grossly misunderstood by so many throughout the years. Like Eddie, I think people misunderstand the song’s aggressive nature as dark anger-invoking music, and never really gave it a chance to look deeper.  I’m so pleased that the song’s use in association with this scene demonstrates a supportive message for those that struggle with various demons in their lives.

Metallica has gained so many new fans and, after the show’s airing, seen “Master of Puppets” jump well into the top 40 charts for the first time worldwide 36 years after its release. With the sudden surge in Metallica’s fan base, the band was quoted as saying that it’s never too late to join the Metallica family. Music critics touted that since the “Master of Puppets” use in the Stranger Things, that Metal was making a huge comeback. My take on it is that metal music has never left, its just that a new audience of all ages are now discovering it and, this time perhaps, really paying attention.
Metallica and Kate Bush have each reached out in their own ways to demonstrate their approval and shown their delight in the public’s reaction to their songs in relation to the uses in the show.  Metallica has even shown their continued support for Stranger Things by specifically calling out my Emmy nomination recently on social media in order to encourage votes.  I feel so honored as those are the kind of things I’d never expect to happen! 

After the public and Billboard reactions to these songs I am assuming artists have been throwing themselves at you. Have things changed for you?

Nora Felder: Since the release of the first season of Stranger Things, the song clearance floodgates seemed to open much wider. Clearances went a lot smoother than when we pre-cleared songs before the show’s initial release. At that time no one had seen the show and had to solely rely on the scene descriptions that we provided. I remember making a lot of calls to various reps and trying to explain how special this project was and that it wasn’t just another run-of-the-mill period-based series. I’m happy they found out soon enough on their own how special the show was when the first season landed. 

“Running Up That Hill” and “Master of Puppets” were each undoubtedly truly monumental ground-breaking moments in television synch and charting history. It’s also important to make note that, since Season 1, many of the songs we have used have experienced significant, respectable gains after the various episode airings throughout the seasons.  It’s also wonderful that the show has resonated with so many artists and songwriters who clearly love being associated with the series. They each must clearly be enjoying songs from their past being heard and appreciated with fresh new ears.

Besides those two song selections, can you tell me about some of your other favorite selections from the nominated episode and why?

Nora Felder: Several songs were used throughout this extended 2 hours plus final chapter of the season. Each song was essential to the story by highlighting the long enduring plight and utter bravery of our heroes as they worked in tandem to combat formidable evil forces. Some other examples besides the Kate Bush and Metallica songs used in the episode include these standouts:

When Its Cold I’d Like to Die” (Moby) accentuated the emotionality of defeat and seemingly unbreakable powerful bonds between the best of friends and in this case, the two Stranger Things characters, Eddie and Dustin.

“Dream A Little Dream” (Ella Fitzgerald) and “Every Breath You Take” (Police) were each placed in key moments to amplify the psychological feeling of terror inflicted by the villainous Vecna during his continued attempts to break down his victims both emotionally and physically.

“Spellbound” (Siouxsie & The Banshees) highlighted the closing of the chapter by anchoring the chilling reminder that evil has not been vanquished, but rather still lays in wait lurking in the shadows waiting to rise again and ultimately kill off our beloved characters, their home town, and beyond.  

STRANGER THINGS. (L to R) Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven and Jamie Campbell Bower as Vecna in STRANGER THINGS. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Your work is in sync with my tastes. In addition to Stranger Things, you work on two other of my very favorites Yellowjackets and What We Do In The ShadowsThe next time I need a new show to watch I will just turn to your latest project. 🙂 Three shows, three unique feels set by music. How does your approach differ between the shows?  

Nora Felder: Each of these series most certainly have very contrasting needs musically.  My approach in coming up with ideas is the same in that I keep my discovery process quite random. What is drastically different is the type of music I zero in on for each series. Not only does each show takes place in different time periods, but also the storylines and each of the characters are extremely unique and unlike any other.  

Yellowjackets is wonderfully dark and twisted series primarily revolved around severely traumatized individuals from events happening in their teen years in the 1990’s. The viewer watches these main female characters failing miserably in attempting to lead normal lives as grownups in present day. As the storyline flashes back and forth from the 90’s mostly horrific events to today, the musical needs veer between those periods as well. Finding songs to play up the idiosyncrasies of the drastically contrasting personalities of each main character is usually my focus.  Having a wider creative well to pull from with the time period range serves to broaden my creative perspectives. 

What We Do in the Shadows is a comedy mockumentary which revolves around a group of vampires who have been alive for hundreds of years who are living together in Staten Island, New York in current day. The philosophy behind many of our song selects is always the older, the better, which is most evident when we flash back to their past lives in different centuries. We also introduce a lot of world traditional music to represent our vampires and their varied cultures. For each episode’s ending moments, we place mostly left of center song gems which in most cases are fairly unknown.  The songs we land on for these moments are mainly used to accent the zaniness of any particular episode’s storyline and its characters.  It’s been 5 seasons and counting and What We Do In the Shadows is certainly a blast to work on. 

Including Stranger Things, each of these vastly different stories and cast of compelling characters definitely keeps me on my toes.  It’s truly never boring, even whilst spending so many wee hours alone in my music cave. 

Is there any other part of your work that we did not discuss here that you are proud of and/or you feel readers will appreciate in regard to this last chapter? 

Nora Felder: After the release of this last chapter, with everyone wanting to hear about the music, I participated on several press trips that included visits to counties such as Italy France and the UK. It was really exciting to experience having heard both “Master of Puppets” and “Running Up That Hill” being played seemingly non-stop everywhere I traveled. In real time, it became quite evident that as “Running Up That Hill” was deemed the #1 pop song of the summer, that “Master of Puppets” had become the metal song of the summer.  It was then that I understood that the Stranger Things usage of Master of Puppetsundoubtedly served as a catalyst for re-introducing the metal genre to a much wider worldwide audience, as it proceeded to scale the single’s charts for the first time 36 years after its release. 

Along with the rest of my Stranger Things family, I’m proud and humbled to have been a part of these historical lightning-in-a-bottle achievements in television and music history and work on such an incredible show.  Since Stranger Things first season, I continue to pinch myself and remain forever thankful.

Closing out of a quick one. What are 3 words to describe Stranger Things?



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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.

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