Andrea Higgins on crafting the musical moods of Wynonna Earp and Killjoys

Contributed by
Aug 27, 2018, 2:00 PM EDT

It takes a lot of components to make an episode of television. There's the script, of course, as well as the actors who breathe life into the words on the page and everyone who works on the set to help capture those stories on camera. But after the episode has been shot and edited, there's another important ingredient that has to be added in for powerful, often emotional effect: the music.

You might be surprised to learn that it's someone's job to help pick the songs used to break our hearts on a regular basis. On Wynonna Earp and Killjoys, that someone is Andrea Higgins, head of music supervision at Arpix Media, who has hundreds of episodes of television under her belt. SYFY FANGRRLS had the opportunity to speak to Higgins about her background in music, the decision-making behind some of the most memorable musical moments on both Wynonna Earp and Killjoys, and what she's most excited for fans to hear in upcoming episodes.

Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in music, and how did you eventually get the gig as music supervisor on both Wynonna Earp and Killjoys?

My music teacher always told me that I had an amazing ear. I loved to play music, but never really had aspirations to become a professional musician. I didn’t think I was good enough, but I thought I might be able to find a career in the music industry. Once I discovered music supervision, that was it. I knew where I fit in.

I've been obsessed with music my entire life. I'm just a super music nerd. When I was young, did I think I would have a career in music? Not necessarily, I guess, because I didn't really realize that music supervision was a job until I was about 19, 20 years old.

I was an artsy musical kind of kid; I took dance lessons forever, that was a big part of my life, being in dance competitions. I took piano lessons and then guitar class in high school. Then drums. I feel like I discovered music when I was a kid not just by the radio or what my parents were listening to at home. Dance really introduced me to a broader range of music, because I would be in ballet class and I would discover classical music, which wasn't necessarily being played at home. And there were certain pieces that I really loved any time I would go to dance class; my tap teacher always played soul, so I learned a lot about James Brown and that world of music through dance. I was obsessed with musicals and musical movies, old MGM movies growing up, and I was obsessed with a lot of film soundtracks. So I always feel like I had a broad music taste, whereas maybe kids at school were just listening to radio/top 40. Music always resonated with me, dance, movement, and song, rhythm. Just through my whole life, there were different ways that I discovered new music and just became really obsessive about it.

And then I started getting into bands; there were bands in high school who I managed. I loved concerts and music festivals. I was really starstruck by the behind-the-scenes people, the movers and shakers, the record executives. When I'd go to a concert, I'd always pay attention to what was going on side-stage, and that was really exciting to me. 

I always had an eye and an ear for talent scouting. I'd go to the school play and think, "She needs to be on Broadway," and I'd always look at it with a critical eye as opposed to just enjoying the show. I had a sixth sense for picking out a great song or a great performer. And so I thought I'd be a record executive, an A&R, an artist and repertoire rep at a major record label. Or be a talent scout, and go to shows every day, and concerts. I wanted to be the person that was like, "Hey, I'm gonna offer you a record deal; you're gonna be a star." That was my dream, to be that person. But I also had a knack for law and I was a bit of a copyright nerd; I thought it was interesting hearing stories about publishing or copyright infringement. I thought the business side was interesting to me along with the creative. And so I went to a school called the Harris Institute, and I took a recording arts management program where I learned about the technical side of the music industry. I had art of management classes, classes about publishing, about live sound, about producing and engineering, about marketing, how to prepare a business plan, and that was really interesting to me.

And I interned at a music publishing company, and that's where I learned about what music supervision was because part of what they were trying to do was pitch their songwriters to film companies. So I was part of helping that, and when I discovered what a music supervisor was, I thought, "I didn't even know that was an actual job. That's what I want to do. I want to be the person who is working alongside the director of a film or producer of a television series, and creatively putting the soundtrack together."

It just so happened that a week later at my school, there was a course being taught by a Ron Proulx, who was a Music Supervisor in Toronto who owned a company called Arpix Media. He saw something in me and I started interning, and then I started assisting him on various projects, doing a lot of admin work but eventually being given creative tasks and becoming a coordinator, handling searches, preparing licenses then taking over on some productions and eventually music supervising on my own. So that led to working on a bunch of different productions over the last 17 years, which eventually led me to Wynonna Earp and Killjoys, which is where I'm at now!

What is the process of choosing a song for an episode of television look like from start to finish?

It starts with a meeting with the showrunner, and the producers. We discuss tone and how music will be used. Typically showrunners or producers have a very clear vision and we build upon on that. We discuss the characters, arcs, locations, et cetera. I’ll play the “if money is no object game” to stylistically get inside their heads and then find songs that fit the creative direction within our allotted budget. I find the lower the budget, the more creative you have to be, which is what I love to do. I love independent music. 

Once the episodes are locked, we have a music spotting session with the producers and the composers to map out where we’re putting music in the episode, both songs and score, then go off and do our thing. Typically a week later, we’ll meet again to review all of our work and get producer feedback. Love this, or try again. Once the producer approves the songs, we reach out to the copyright owners and negotiate the rights (term/territory/media) deal. Then we deliver a ProTools session of the edited music to picture to the mix. Once the mix is complete, we finalize licenses for all the music used in the episode. After that, we complete a cuesheet which is a blueprint of the music in the show which generates royalties for the writers and publishers everytime the show airs.

Does that process change at all when you have to incorporate music like instrumental scores?

A production may need help finding the right composer. At Arpix, we actually do manage a roster of composers. Sometimes producers have a composer in mind and sometimes they're just not sure. So part of my job is to assist in finding the right composer and creating the sonic palette of the show.

For example, on Wynonna Earp, Emily [Andras] had a very clear vision of the type of score she was looking for; she was drawn to a cinematic, orchestral palette but fused with modern synths. And using the strengths of [composers] Rob Carli and Peter Chapman, we had these really cinematic hero themes, with a really cool edge. 

In looking at both Wynonna and Killjoys, they feel very different in terms of overall sound, but is there any genre that you have noticed that each show tends to lean towards? 

It's something I'm very conscious of because they're two very different shows and I want them to feel very different from each other. And they naturally are very different sonically. I feel like there have been instances where we may have used the same artist in both shows, but one was definitely a Wynonna song and one was a very Killjoys song. I'm very conscious of making sure we don't cross the streams sonically. 

Killjoys is much more synth-based, a little more ethereal, but also more beat-driven, while there's a little more of an organic sound, a dusty kind of edge in the songs that we use in Wynonna Earp. And Killjoys has more of a synth palette. Sometimes there's a little more techno, but there's also a nod to Guardians of the Galaxy. I love playing with Johnny's music taste because it's a little more eclectic and cheeky, and we've had the opportunity to put a few vintage songs against Johnny, and those are my favorite kinds of placements. There's just a lot of fun. He has such a swagger about him and it's fun finding songs to place against him, but also Dutch? I mean, girl's amazing. Her fight sequences are just incredible and it's so fun placing some really badass female hip-hop, and rocking tracks against her. And even just the lounge music on the ship [Lucy] has this down-tempo, kind of sexy groove, and that's been a lot of fun too.

One thing that I love too about both of these shows is that they're female-led not just in front of but also behind the camera. Is there a difference, in your experience, when it comes to that collaboration with female showrunners or producers, and what has that been like?

The majority of showrunners and producers I have had the privilege of working with over the years have been women with vision. Emily and Michelle [Lovretta] and I’ve learned so much from Karen Troubetzkoy [on Killjoys] over the years but also some other shows we work on: Heartland with Heather Conkie, and Bellevue and Durham County with Adrienne Mitchell, Workin' Moms with Catherine Reitman, many a Shaftesbury production with Christina Jennings, Laura Harbin. I treasure these relationships. I’ve learned so much about the industry and life from each of them.

And I love the process. They're so open, and creative, and trusting. But also they make it almost ... I don't like to say the word easy because nothing's easy, everything is always a challenge, which I love. They have such vision that they make it easy because they come to the table saying, "This is how I see it," and I just execute that vision sonically. They give me a seed and I water it, and it grows, and it takes on a life of its own.

How has the music of Killjoys changed from the beginning of the series?

With Killjoys, I'm just starting on Season 5 now, and it's really interesting to go back and listen through the playlists of where we started and where we ended up because it has taken some turns along the way. The fun thing with Killjoys is there's always a new location, a new bar, a new planet.

In Season 4, we just returned to Utopia, which was one of my favorite scenes to work on in season one. It was just this crazy bar with really hard, hard electronica. It was fun going back there because it did feel like a throwback to season one a bit with certain sounds of the bar. Or take the Royale. Westerley changed, and so the music had changed because the people had changed, and it got a little dark and scary for a while so that the bar took on a new sound of being a little more cowboy outlaw-ish The stakes were higher, a lot happened. 

I love the evolution that the soundtrack of Killjoys has taken, so now that we're moving into Season 5, it's really exciting. It's the last season and the whole attitude has just been, "Let's be crazy, let's just go for it and be wild." So I'm reading scripts, watching rough cuts and figuring out what that is now, which is a really fun creative space to live in.

How did you decide on which songs to open Season 3 of Wynonna Earp?

The big note from the beginning was no country. We had a few country songs this year, but it still felt aesthetically like our show. It didn't sound like we were changing, but it was right for a certain moment [in the Season 3 premiere]. We're in Pussy Willows, it's this crazy cowboy bar with lowlifes and drunks and it's a party, right? Let's play this fun, rowdy country song.

Like the bar fight in "Jolene."

Exactly. So sometimes it's fun to just go for it, but I feel like you have to kind of earn it. But it's not something we do like every episode. Yeah. It's fun when we do get to do it though.

Putting that vintage country song [Editor's note: "Darkness Falls" by Margaret Lewis] at the end of Season 3, Episode 1 was my dream because we don't do that. It's a little unexpected at first, but also this is probably a tape that belonged to Mama Earp, and they're talking about Mama, so it makes sense that Wynonna would play just something vintage that Mama Earp would've listened to. It is an authentic recording from the '50s or '60s. Anyway, it's one of my favorite moments and it's not something we do all the time, but it did still feel true to the series.

It's very eerie and beautiful at the same time, especially when you get the slow-mo of the car crash as the song continues.

Eerie/beautiful, that's what I was going for, and the lyrics are very haunting. It's like this beautiful Patsy Cline-esque country song, and then all of a sudden you have these lyrics like "darkness falls." But it's so beautiful and so haunting at the same time. Counterpoint! 

The funnest part of what I do is just experimenting; that period where you're just trying things. Ultimately, Emily makes the final decisions. Same with Michelle and Karen on Killjoys. I present ideas to them and they choose, but it does feel like a very collaborative process, so it is creatively very rewarding.

I know you probably can't say too much, but are you able to hint at any musical moments you're really looking forward to fans hearing in an upcoming episode?

On Wynonna Earp, the Christmas episode ("If We Make It Through December") is really fun, but there is one scene in particular that I think fans are just going to freak out about. Once this comes out, they'll be like, "Oh yeah, I know exactly what scene you're talking about." There's a little cosplay action involved. I'll say that. [Editor's note: "Let's Stay Inside" (Stripped) by Adaline ]

There are some really great song moments coming up some on Wynonna Earp, two in particular that I think the fans are really going to respond emotionally to. One is in the Christmas episode, but there's one other placement that I'm so looking forward to because it's really amazing and beautiful. Really excited. Proud moments for me; they're very exciting. 

Killjoys is just all around super fun. There's always something fun and interesting and cool happening in Killjoys. We always land in an interesting location. Any time we get to play with Johnny's taste is always my favorite. Killjoys is such a wild show every episode. There are some really good music moments this season. Yeah, I'm proud of what we've done. I think people will like it.

If budget was no object, what song would you love to use on either Wynonna Earp or Killjoys, and what kind of scene would you set it to?

That’s a really hard question! How much time do you have? Honestly, there is an overwhelming amount of music out there. I love digging under rocks and going down rabbit holes to find and feature awesome independent unknown bands that fit in our productions. I love receiving feedback such as “Thank you for introducing me to ____ band. They’re my new favorite! I just bought that song and told all my friends!” How amazing is that?!

But for fun… fine, here it goes! Dolly [Parton]. Obviously. I really love The Kills. They’re one of my favorite bands. Alison Mosshart is a goddess. She kicks so much ass. Have you seen her perform?! I love her. They have this amazing cover of “Desperado” from Rihanna’s Anti album. I’d love to put that in Wynonna Earp. I would have also loved to license Tanya Tucker’s “Blood Red and Going Down”, which Emily named 301 after. That song is so haunting and amazing. It was my inspiration for the vintage song over the crash. Thanks, Emily!

On Killjoys, Michelle makes really amazing playlists when she writes and shares it with me so I take inspiration there. From Eartha Kitt to M83 to Supertramp. That’s our jam. I would love to license any of these artists. I also thought some kind of Grimes collaboration would be cool. One day, when we make the musical!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Top stories
Top stories