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‘Master of None’ Music Supervisor Zach Cowie Explains Why You Won’t Be Hearing A Drake Song On The Show

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Master Of None

While you’re getting ready to dive into the new season of Master of None, which landed on Netflix today, the show’s music supervisor is getting ready to field a whole bunch of texts. “It’s pretty weird. You get texts from everyone you’ve ever known,” Zach Cowie explained. “Especially in the streaming thing, where we’ve been working on this for like a year. It’s so strange to know that in one weekend, a lot of people watched the entire thing.”

Cowie redefines what it means to be a music-lover: he’s got a bigger record collection than you and everyone you know, and he’s one half of the Wooden Wisdom DJ duo with his pal Elijah Wood. Those songs you loved so much in season one of Master of None? Yeah, he’s responsible for those too. But according to Cowie, season two of the Netflix comedy was an even better experience for him. “This season went pretty smooth. We were also all riding so high after the fact that people liked the first one because that was terrifying, to go through this, ‘Will they like this?’ thing. I think that gave everybody a bit of confidence and removed some of the self-doubt.” It’s clear in nearly every aspect that season two is much more fearless and bold, while keeping the sweet and silly elements of the show that viewers cherished so much in the first 10 episodes of the show.

The master of music became friends with the show’s creators, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, from running in similar circles in LA, which is how he landed the sweet gig in the first place. “We were all buds before the first season started. But doing that together, we all became really close. The collaboration aspect for the second season was twice what it was on the first. We had established music as an important part of the storytelling in the first season and we took it to the next level on the second. There were a lot of scripts where they didn’t even start writing before they told me what the topic was going to be and we started to exchange music. We have a shared playlist between the three of us. They’d be like ‘Hey we’re going to do a flashback episode. A lot of 90’s stuff.’ So we’d just start loading up the playlist with that and they would get revised. Then they’d start listening and writing and I’d start to see scripts, even sometimes just a few pages. A lot of times something from our shared playlist would just be in there which was really amazing, because if you have an idea of what it’s going to sound like before you shoot, you can tailor things really, really specifically for the song. That was a blast, to be able to work on that. But there’s still tons of stuff that you have no idea what’s going to work until you see it.”

(Note: some spoilers are ahead as we delve into the way some songs fell into the episodes. While we don’t recommend binging, we do recommend discovering plot points on your own, so continue on after you’ve been dazzled!)

As far as the first playlist this crew worked on? “Obviously the first thing that they threw my way was, ‘I think we’re going to go to Italy,’” Cowie recalled, laughing. “That prompted me to start throwing some Italian music into our shared folder and that’s where it starts for me. There’s definitely a bit of a rulebook, like a style guide as to how we handle the music and we just carried that over from the first season and, again, just tried to push it to a new level on the second.” Mission accomplished there. With each episode bringing a distinctive feel and story to the screen, it was important to match that to exactly the right sounds.

Netflix

For Cowie, sometimes it’s the songs that come first, and other times it’s the actual scene. “The Storm King sculpture garden is a good example, in the ninth episode. [The scene] was in the script but the way it was shot and the colors and everything, that determined the song. There was no way we could have picked that beforehand. It’s very case by case.”

While he genuinely appreciated the collaboration on the project, Cowie is also sure to note, “There’s a lot of stuff that’s just Aziz. If anything is funny, it’s those guys. I can make people dance and I can make them cry but I’m not so confident with the comedy cues. The only comedy cue in both seasons that I did was that Aphex Twin thing in the very first episode. All the rest of that stuff? Like Vengaboys, Scatman, that’s those guys trying to crack each other up in the script. A lot of the other music is just straight from Aziz. More often is the case that him and I are just having an exchange back and forth. I’ll think of something, throw it in the folder and he’ll be like, ‘That’s really good but can you think of something that goes like this a little bit more?’ I’ll sort of refine the ideas. There’s some stuff that pops into my head the second I see it and then it makes the final cut. I’d say true collaboration is where this stuff comes from.”

When a song in the show catches your ear and you realize there are a few oddities in the mix, you can rest assured that it’s an element the people working on this show are proud of. “Something I love about the show is Alan and Aziz, everybody involved, they’re fairly experimental in terms of format and really taking advantage of the lack of rules in the streaming world. It’s best exemplified by like, ‘We’ll make this episode an hour. We’ll make this episode thirty minutes.’”

Netflix

And the fact that these episodes are part of a greater whole of season two, yet work so well on their own, only made Cowie’s job that much more exciting. “Not having to really carry too much of a story sometimes is really great because I do look at it like working on these little movies. This season we have the Italy thing, the Francesca relationship. Those definitely have some longer planned arcs. I think of [episode] nine and ten, the two of those together are a movie. There is continuity between those things, but getting to work on that “New York, I Love You (episode 6) was so amazing because I didn’t have to pay attention to anything else. It’s a dream come true for me because I’m much more interested in film than television. This is the perfect thing for me. I get to work on ten movies instead of one show.”

Not that working on 10 movies doesn’t come with a speed bump or two in the process though. “One of the biggest challenges we had this season was licensing-wise, especially with all the Italian music. A lot of that was really tricky to track down. I have a co-supervisor on the show, Kerri Drootin, and she is a superstar for getting through this season. She cracked through some really crazy stuff. Like, Lucio Battisti, who we named the ninth episode after one of his songs (“Amarsi Un Po”) and that’s one of the first pieces of Italian music I sent Aziz when he said that they were going to go to Italy. He’s hugely successful in Italy. He was one of the biggest pop singers in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. But, his music has never been licensed outside of the country. Him, and then after he passed away, his estate, has always denied it. Kerri spent like six months trying to get this. It cleared three days before we had to mix the episode. It was totally insane. I’m so happy about that because there is clearly a love letter to Italy in this season. To honor the country by taking his music out of the country and putting it in front of other people, that kind of stuff means a lot to me. I come from the record business. That’s what I did before I did this for like 12 years. My number one job is to just spread music. This is just the new way that I do it.”

With the new season, he’s spreading it far and wide. Cowie’s pulling out deep cuts your ears have never had the joy of knowing before, which he acknowledged by saying, “I think it’s just that I’m pulling from an underground that a lot of folks just haven’t heard yet. That’s sort of the number one rule I put on the music for this show. It’s to use things that are lesser known, so the first time people hear them it’s in connection with our show. It lets us own the moments and not have to share emotional baggage with the thirty commercials you’ve heard them on. I love Drake, but when Drake puts out a new record, no one will be listening to the older Drake. So if we use one of those, it’s going to sound kind of silly in a year. I think that that’s something that is really important to all of us, is this idea of permanence. A lot of that comes from the Woody Allen and Hal Ashby inspiration that really feeds the show, filmmaking-wise.”

Netflix

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Hey, we all love Drake, but there’s a time and a place for him and his jams. But Cowie doesn’t often have to wrestle with adding his top tunes into projects. In fact, he largely stays away from it. “I don’t put my favorite music in the show because my favorite music isn’t necessarily appropriate for the kind of story that we’re telling. My job is to run it through a quality filter that I hope to have.” If it’s not evident by now, let me promise you, he’s got it. But he’s also got a soft spot in his heart for the songs that mean to the most to him, and that’s another reason why you probably won’t come across them in a show or movie he’s involved with. “When you work on something of this scale, you’re kind of just giving your songs away to the world. I can’t listen to a lot of the stuff after I’ve sat with it for months and months and months. It’s not to say I don’t really like it, but it becomes fused with the show and then we give it away. It’s nice sometimes to not [use] your desert island stuff. It’s nice to still have some private value, I guess.”

We’ll let him have his songs, because his already provided an abundance of new hits for both viewers, and of course Ansari and Yang to enjoy as they prepare the episodes. So, might those collaborative playlists switch from private to public anytime soon? “I’m not too sacred about anything but I hope that we make another one of these. Maybe we’ll keep them on the low because in season two we ended up pulling out some stuff that didn’t make it in season one. Or when Aziz was writing, he remembered something that caught his ear from season one that we never used so he would throw it in one of these scripts. It’s cool to have it around as this pool of ideas and potential directions. But maybe if this thing ever officially goes away, it would be really fun to make that collaborative playlist public because there’s like a thousand things in there.” Our ear drums will be waiting.

Get the Master of None season 2 soundtrack here.

Where to watch Master of None

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