Industry Spotlight

Creating Mood and Enhancing the Story | A Conversation with “Sublets” Music Supervisor, Paul Payabyab-Cruz

by Sara Waber

Last week, while I was at work, I found myself binge watching Sublets. It was as if the bad habits of Will and Tess over took me. I wouldn’t recommend that per se – slouching over your laptop, headphones in, snack besides you, literally laughing out loud, while at work – but I do highly recommend watching this hilariously true to life web-series at a time that is most convenient to you.

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Sublets is the story of Will and Tess, two friends and roommates who are remarkably good at disempowering each other. On top of their personal struggles, their roommate’s unexpected departure leaves these two poor Manhattanites in a bind. With no way to make rent on their own, they turn to a New Yorker’s best friend and worst nightmare: A Subletter…or two…or three. Will and Tess feel like friends – annoying but lovable. Each new roommate they acquire feels like someone you’ve met before. But the character that stands out most of all is the MUSIC

Sublets has an undeniably cool soundtrack and I needed to know how this came to be. I reached out to my good friend and Sublets music supervisor, Paul Payabyab-Cruz, to give me the scoop.

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Paul Payabyab-Cruz: A music supervisor oversees the combining of music and visual media of a production. Basically, I had to make sure the soundtrack was appropriate and enhanced the mood or story being told. I also composed original soundtracks when we couldn’t find ready made songs for a scene.

PTM: How did you get involved with Sublets?

PPC: I worked with Caitlin Morris (co-creator and writer) on a 48hr Film Festival entry called “Musical Chairs” produced by 3mm Films. She was a lead actor and I was working on sound design and composed the End credits.

PTM: Was this your first time being a music supervisor? If so, what was the experience like?

PPC: Yes, this was my first time as a music supervisor. Finding artists was easy. Cailtin, Dolan Bloom (co-creator and writer), and I are lucky enough to be friends with a lot of talented musicians. We had so many to choose from that we didn’t even get to use everyone for Season 1. I’m hoping we can find a place for them in Season 2.

Pitching songs was an interesting collaborative process. We’d all sit together and run the scenes with different songs playing over them to see if it was right for the direction and mood. It was fascinating to see how songs could dictate and change the mood of the scenes.

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Composing music for scenes that we couldn’t find ready made music for was my favorite part. I got to flex a lot of my different composing muscles because I had to write everything from a heavy rock song, to a Game of Thrones inspired orchestral arrangement to a club song someone could vogue to.

PTM: What was your favorite episode to find music for?

PPC: My favorite episode to both find music for and compose for was Episode 2 “Cruise Baby”. There were some high energy party scenes that were also meant to have a dark tone for one of the main characters. Finding the right balance in the soundtrack to express that was a fun challenge. I also had to compose a song that had to have different genres fading in and out of each other while keeping a consistent tempo. Each genre had to match the party theme that was happening so I was able to get really creative.

PTM: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a music supervisor for a web series?

PPC: Watch your favorite TV shows and listen and feel how the music effects your mood. Start to ask yourself if you agree with the soundtrack or if you would have gone in a different direction. Doing this helped me set an intention for the series and find my own music supervision voice. You also need to be a good collaborator. Yes, my job was to find music, but it wasn’t only about what I liked. I always had to think about what was best for the end product. Team work and remembering to put my ego aside helped the process remain enjoyable.

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As for finding people to work with, put yourself and intentions out there and be confident in your abilities. I’ve always wanted to work as a composer and Music Supervisor on a series so whenever I’d meet someone who was working on a film I would offer my skills. If your first few opportunities don’t pan out, keep on trying. It took a few years for me to finally find a team and project to work with and it was absolutely worth the wait.

PTM: Can you shout out some of the artists you used in this series?

PPC: Yes! All of them. The Artists we used were: Andrea DeJonge, Daniel Harnett, Jamieson Lindenburg, Lex Rush, Radio Silence, Bad Cello, Sunfighters, Not the Arrow, and Sean Carney. Huge thank you to all of them, we couldn’t have finished Season 1 without you!

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