Meet Rob Lowry, the music supervisor extraordinaire who soundtracks all of your favorite shows & movies
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Rob Lowry always followed the rules in his adolescence in Pennsylvania, but he made an exception for two things: movies and music. The now-acclaimed music supervisor and founder of Sweater Weather Music only skipped school to go to the movies, and one day in ninth grade, he played hooky for a double-feature showing of Almost Famous and Urban Legends: Final Cut.
“Almost Famous was the first movie that felt like the music was so fully integrated into the storytelling that it was hard to separate one from the other. That was a big moment for me,” Lowry tells AltPress.
Lowry dug into Cameron Crowe’s filmography — Singles, Say Anything, Jerry Maguire — and fell in love with Crowe’s use of music as a narrative device.
Read more: 10 iconic alt ’90s movie soundtracks
“People don't receive it the way they used to,” he says. “I think it's more a reflection of how our culture is and how we enjoy entertainment and respond to things. Instagram, Twitter, and meme culture have robbed us of enjoying sweet, innocent, and saccharine things.”
But Lowry hasn’t let any of that pollute his sensibilities. Proof can be heard throughout his many, diverse projects — from the Arabic music on Hulu's A24-produced comedy Ramy or the modern pop and R&B explosion that defined the Freeform hit The Bold Type to soundtracking films such as Netflix’s teen sensation Do Revenge or major blockbusters such as Bros and The Lost City. With a massive 2022 behind him, more exciting projects on the way (including Anderson .Paak's directorial debut K-POPS!), AltPress caught up with Lowry to talk about his prolific career soundtracking all of our favorite shows and movies.
[Do Revenge / Courtesy of Kim Simms/Netflix]
HBO Max’s Gossip Girl to movies like Cha Cha Real Smooth and Do Revenge: How is it possible that your taste is so unique, yet you nail soundtracks that demand such different tones?
It is really about loving storytelling — hearing a song, and it makes you feel something and figuring out, "What is this script making me feel?" I think one of the coolest parts of our job [as music supervisors] is we get to work with so many amazing writers, directors, showrunners, and producers. The thing with music that can be wonderful, but it can also be frustrating, is that everyone has an opinion about it. Everyone has their own taste. And so, you get to take in other people's ideas and perspectives. Sometimes, it forces you to think outside the box. It’s a very collaborative medium.
You started out as a PA on Parenthood and Friday Night Lights. What did working on such iconic shows, for someone as prolific as Jason Katims, demonstrate for you early on about what it takes to make great television?
I got to read scripts, and that's a big part of my job now as a music supervisor. I saw how the process works. I became Jason's assistant, so I listened to notes from the studio, from the network, from producers.
I think what I learned the most, and it's intangible, [is that] Jason is such a creative, prolific powerhouse, but he's also one of the kindest people I've ever met. Seeing how he treated his staff, the writers, and how he had this balance of work and life — 6 o'clock every day, he went home to his family — that taught me that you don't have to be some shark out for blood to get ahead in the industry.
[The Bold Type / Courtesy of Freeform]
Why do you think The Bold Type fans clung so tightly to the soundtrack?
The way pop music is perceived today is certainly different than it was 10 or 15 years ago. I think it's more critically accepted, and because of that, people who maybe used to be snobs about pop music are now accepting of it.
We had a nice thing going, because of the success of the show and the soundtrack, we would get sent like, “Hey, here’s the new Hayley Kiyoko song if you want to premiere it.” Being able to use a song that you were hearing on the radio or Spotify, but recontextualizing it as it was becoming a hit in real-time — associating it with a montage or dance sequence — it was unabashedly using pop music in a way that felt very empowering.
I mean, The Bold Type is a love story, but it's a platonic love story. We were using songs that maybe centered around love or breakups or falling in love, but we were recontextualizing the lyrics and reshaping the framing of it to be more about friendship and empowerment.
What would surprise people the most about the requirements of working as a music supervisor?
It's not as easy as putting my favorite song in a scene, right? It’s understanding that, as a music supervisor, you're one part of a much bigger production. The editor is not going to tell an actor how to act or the cinematographer how to light the shot, but everybody has an opinion and taste in music. That can be good, and that can also be frustrating when everyone feels like they know your job or they know what something costs.
That's not a knock on anyone because it's a very complicated job. As long as people are willing to listen and hear you out and have a conversation about it, then it's totally cool. I feel like a lot of our job is educating people we work with about what we do. But it can also be frustrating if someone's like, “Oh, can we check on how much these 20 songs will cost?”
[The Lost City / Courtesy of Paramount Pictures]
Which soundtrack from last year pushed you the most out of your comfort zone?
The Lost City and Bros were new experiences for me because they were such big-budget studio projects. When you're making these big projects, you're using music in a different way than if you're working on something that's a little bit more intimate. Bros and The Lost City are both very unique. They don't feel like a typical generic blockbuster.
I feel like the storytelling perspective benefited from the unique perspectives of [directors] Adam [Nee] and Aaron [Nee] on The Lost City and Billy [Eichner] and Nick [Stoller] on Bros. Even with the soundtrack, I didn't feel like we were handcuffed or had to follow a certain formula. But a $100 million film with The Lost City and huge expectations from the studio, it's different politics to navigate. I learned a ton from it.
What have you learned recently in your career and is most applicable to whatever you do next?
I think an important lesson that I've learned, especially over the last few years, is that part of being a music supervisor is knowing you're not always right. If five other people feel differently than you, then you're probably wrong because you know you're gonna be biased in your taste and storytelling.
When someone says, “I found the perfect song for this scene,” I don't think there's a perfect song because any song is going to tell the story with a little bit of a different perspective. Just because someone has a different perspective or wants to frame the scene or sequence differently, it doesn't mean it's wrong; it's just what they want. As a music supervisor, you're always supporting someone else's vision, and you're doing everything you can to fulfill that vision. That doesn't always mean that you're using the song that you really want to use or a song that you absolutely love. It just means that you're making that showrunner, director, or producer happy and fulfilling the vision.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.