Emmys: ‘Empire’ Music Supervisor on Season 3’s Biggest Challenge

Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon in Fox’s <i>Empire</i> (Photo Credit: Chuck Hodes/FOX)
Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon in Fox’s Empire (Photo Credit: Chuck Hodes/FOX)

As we enter Emmy season — nomination voting runs June 12 to June 26 — Yahoo TV will be spotlighting performances and other contributions that we feel deserve recognition.

This year, Outstanding Music Supervision makes its long-awaited debut as an Emmy category. In honor of the milestone, Yahoo TV asked music supervisors for some of our favorite series to answer the same set of questions about their work this season — and to name a past show they believe would have been recognized had this category existed sooner.

We continue with Jen Ross, music supervisor on Fox’s Empire (along with Fox’s Star and Starz’s Power).

1. What song/placement are you proudest of this season?

This season on Empire, we had approximately 208 music moments in total with on-camera performances and background placements combined. That said, if I am being honest, it’s super tough to pick just one when I am so very proud to be a part of a show and creative team that consistently uses music to help enhance the storyline.

2. What was the most challenging scene/moment for you this season creatively?

The “Las Vegas” storyline in the last two episodes of the season opened the door to some different creative demands. It was important to find a musical path that could embellish an Ocean’s Eleven-esque heist, all the while staying within the world of Empire. We were in a Laviticus Casino after all. Only on Empire could it feel completely organic to kick off an episode with Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head (RJD2 Remix)“ only to later play out the unfolding of Cookie and her crew’s master heist to the beat and swagger of Big Sean’s “Moves.”

3. Was there a song swap that worked out even better than your original idea?

We are beyond fortunate to have a pretty good track record with most of the songs sticking in the cuts and going to air. Occasionally, we hit a licensing bump (which happens in the clearance world of Hip Hop). We did have an instance this season of needing to replace an Eric B & Rakim song in episode 311 for a flashback of teenage Cookie in a motel having to defend herself. We wound up using Kool Moe Dee’s “How Ya Like Me Now,” which added a little extra temperament to the scene.

4. What’s the song that isn’t the theme song of the show that you think would make the perfect theme song for the show?

First and foremost, the Empire theme of “No Apologies” from Season 1 is pretty perfect, so it would be tough to beat. Given that the show’s foundation is deeply rooted in the Lyon Family legacy, it only feels authentic for the theme to be an original song. That said, if one were taking votes for the theme to be season-specific, my ballot would read: Season 1 “No Apologies,” Season 2 “Ain’t About The Money,” and Season 3 “We Got Us.”

5. Name a past show that you think would have been recognized for its music supervision had the Emmy category existed.

Six Feet Under. The end montage use in the series finale of Sia’s “Breathe Me” is one of my favorite uses of all time. To this day, I cry like a baby whenever I watch it.

6. What’s the song you never thought you’d get the rights to this season but you did (and how did you do it)?

Hip Hop tends to be extremely challenging to clear, so with it typically comes some nail-biting moments. This season brought a few clearance challenges. “Goosebumps” by Travis Scott (Ft Kendrick Lamar) had the most hoops to jump through [in episode 313], as we had requested it pretty early on in its release. Luckily we were fortunate enough to get it secured for use. Without giving away trade secrets, it’s fair to say it takes a lot of legwork and shameless persistence to get some songs cleared. Also, we light a few candles and say a few prayers to the licensing gods. I am only kinda kidding when I say that!

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