Our Fine Friends: Susan Dolan, Music Supervisor

December 12, 2013
- Our Fine Friends


You know when you’re watching a movie and a song comes on and there’s this moment of complete convergence, as if that song was written so many years ago but destined for this specific place in this film to make this moment of near-spiritual completion?

Susan Dolan is behind those moments.

For films, commercials, and TV. She’s Head of Music Supervision & Licensing over at HUM (peep their website, we did it) and she music supervised an indie film that premiered at Slamdance this past year, Hank and Asha.

Meet Susan, Our Fine Friend.

What is your Day in the Life?

My alarm clock is programmed to KUSC, the classical radio station. I get to HUM in Santa Monica by 9:30am, which is when we all sit down and talk about our projects for the day. From there on out, it’s music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m under headphones most of the day but will emerge when I’m needed in the studio, or for a creative call or meeting. A few times a week, I’ll go see a band after work, usually at the Echo or somewhere on the east side. It’s a trek from Santa Monica, but I don’t mind so much because my car is where I do my best listening and catch up on new records. Or if my ears are really fatigued, I’ll listen to classical on a low volume. But never silence; that’s just creepy.

What’s on repeat on the Dolan playlist right now?

I’m still pretty addicted to that Chvrches album that came out. It’s like candy. I should probably cut myself off from it as I’ve been neglecting a lot of other records. But it’s hard; I’ve really let myself indulge in this one. There’s something nostalgic yet timeless about it.

What do you use as inspiration right now? Music or otherwise.

Anytime I see music work really well with picture, it’s inspiring. Or coming across an amazing song with cinematic qualities that conjure up great images, I’ll file away in a special playlist. Plus, we have a really great team at HUM right now. Scott Glenn has been Creative Director since January. We have a lot of passionate debates about music and movies, and we’re excited about building the company. We just renovated our space into a music venue and bar, and launched a new label called Nonchalant Records. It’s really motivating.

How do you know when the song clicks with the project?

You know the song is right when — combined with the picture — you get a heightened emotional response. That happened recently with a client. We were all sitting around in HUM’s studio trying a range of song ideas against the roughcut. It was a heartwarming, fuzzy-feeling kind of spot. One track just lined up so perfectly with the edit, with a beautiful chord change right where we wanted it. It was magic. All of us suddenly got watery eyes and a lump in the throat and were like, “Wait, let’s see that again!” After that, there was no question which track they were going with.

What types of distractions do you like to have around your workspace?

Sometimes I’ll be working on a research project with specific parameters, but I’ll come across something that reminds me of a song from my youth, which I have to listen to immediately. And that will make me think, “Oh yeah! What was that other song they did?,” and before I know it I’m totally off track and going down the music rabbit hole. Plus, HUM has a lot of great snacks in the kitchen.

Is there one piece of advice you wish you could give to a childhood you?

Well, when I was 15, music was much less accessible than it is now. Anything that came from the radio or MTV felt so far away. I wasn’t allowed to go to concerts. I felt pretty removed from anything remotely cool that happened in the world. The idea of working in music would have been delusional; it was out of my reach. Had I believed in it as a possibility, maybe I would have found myself in this career a little sooner. But would that have been better? Maybe not. I’m getting a little Tony Robbins here, but everything leading up to this point I apply to what I do today; I wouldn’t change anything about my career trajectory.