HBO's How to Make It in America airs its season finale Sunday, and if you listen close, you'll see what sets music supervisor Scott Vener apart.
"I think when I'm placing music, mostly at the end credits, what I'm thinking in my head is, 'I have 10 friends who I know love music, and if I can stump five out of those 10, then I won,' " he tells weekends on All Things Considered's Laura Sullivan. "Or if I can make them say, 'Oh my god, I remember that,' Then I won."
Vener got his start on the hit series Entourage, choosing unknown music to reflect the show's youthful energy and tone. His became known for discovering new music, but Vener says it's the music buffs online that really deserve the credit.
"A lot of the music I'm finding is sort of like what is bubbling on the Internet," Vener says.
He scours through conversations on his Twitter account and picks up on what music people are listening to. Vener says his own taste obviously plays a part, "but it's almost like watching trends."
A Song To Start A Pilot And End A Series
For the last scene of the Entourage pilot, Vener says he advised the show's creator, Doug Ellin, to use Jay-Z's "Lucifer," but ultimately, another song was chosen. After selling the show to HBO, Ellin showed the pilot to Vener, but got a strange reaction. Ellin asked Vener why he wasn't laughing.
"I'm not laughing because the music's so bad I can't even pay attention to the jokes,'" Vener replied. As he tells it, Vener played "Lucifer" again for Ellin, who was ultimately convinced to end the episode with the song.
Vener got known for picking obscure music on Entourage, yet ended the series on a classic. He knew he wanted Led Zeppelin's "Going to California" to be the final song as far back as three years ago.
"Everyone makes the biggest deal about the final song ever, and I wanted to find one song that I felt could top all the other songs," he says. "I would put that song as being in my top five favorite songs of all time."
Setting The Scene And Making A Hit
Vener's current show, How to Make It in America, follows two twenty-somethings as they try to make it big in New York City's fashion scene.
One scene ends with Bobby Womack's "110th Street" accompanying a character as he pushes his newly-purchased stove through the streets. Womack's lyrics are about pimps, hustlers and prostitutes in Harlem, but Vener felt the tone fit the moment.
"I thought it was a not-on-the-nose way of making you feel like he's surviving, you know, he's making it," Vener says.
For another episode, Vener used Theophilus London's "I Stand Alone" before the album was even released. The song became a hit, but again, Vener doesn't take the credit.
"It's a lot easier to recognize a hit than it is to make one," he says, "and very few of them come around."
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