Catherine Grieves: The woman who chooses the music for Killing Eve

Among the shows Catherine Grieves chooses the music for is Killing Eve

A killer soundtrack can elevate a mediocre television show or movie and make a good one great. 

One irresistible recent example is the BBC America thriller Killing Eve, which rises above its occasionally muddled dark comedy courtesy of a fantastic vintage score Killing Eve’s swinging music feels like an effortless adjunct to its old school chic. 

But in fact huge effort goes into picking the songs for Eve, much of it by music supervisor Catherine Grieves.

“Killing Eve is an amazing project to work on,” says Grieves who collaborates with Belfast producer David Holmes on the soundtrack (he also contributes much of the music via his band Unloved). 

She will share her experiences at the Music Cork industry conference, beginning tomorrow at the Clayton Hotel in the city centre.

“The Killing Eve production team is fantastic. They give us incredible freedom. I have worked on shows where directors and producers want to have the final say on every single song. 

"On Killing Eve they trust our opinion on everything. They may have a song in mind for a scene. But there is always a discussion. If we think something is really right they will rely on our judgement.”

Grieves is head of film and TV at publishers Faber Music. In that capacity she represents composers in pitching their music to filmmakers. 

As music supervisor she is on the other side of the table — curating and securing the rights to songs for screen projects and receiving pitches from artists who believe their music might be a good fit for her clients (since Killing Eve the number of unsolicited approaches has increased hugely).

Artists in the past were often sniffy about licensing their material. Today, says Grieves, they are generally eager to have their songs featured in commercials or on film and TV. 

With music sales languishing and royalties from streaming services lower than many in the industry would like, writing for the screen is as close as the business comes to a straightforward pay-day.

“Commercials can pay really well,” says Grieves. “With film and TV it depends on what level of artists you are. If you are Adele you get paid a lot. 

"As an independent artist, if you get your song on an advert it could be a big fee. On a TV show or movie, the upfront money is nice. 

"It’s not going to be life-changing. It’s more of an addition to your income, though the knock on effect in terms of people Shazamming or being introduced to your music can be useful.”

Catherine Grieves

One or two artists turned down Killing Eve, she reports. 

These were mainly older French singers — the score leans heavily on material from the 1950s and ’60s — who were not chuffed at the idea of their music appearing in a drama about a glamorous hit-woman. 

They, however, are very much the exception.

“The attitude has changed completely,” says Grieves. “Commercials can be a bit tricky. So with a McDonalds commercial — some artists may not want to be associated with that brand. 

"Film and TV is different. Some artists 20 years ago might not have wanted to be associated. Now I very rarely have an artist turning offers down.

“Occasionally they may not want to be associated with, for instance, a scene where a character is taking drugs. Most are fine with it.”

Certain songs have become cliche when it comes to the screen. Grieves tries to avoid them. 

So a shot of the Manhattan skyline is unlikely to be accompanied by Sinatra belting ‘New York, New York’. 

She doesn’t want the sequence to come across as hackneyed. But it is also the case that familiar songs tend to be more expensive to license.

“I try to avoid well-known tracks on the whole,” she says. “Sometimes a director has a piece of music that they recognise or like and so really push for it. 

"Ultimately, it is their choice. But if a piece of music has an association with another film or TV series it can take you out of the drama. 

"That said, if you are doing something in the ’80s then you will want an ’80s soundtrack. It’s about getting the balance.”

Music Cork runs at Clayton Hotel and venues around the city through until Friday.

Showcase and Tell

Here are some of the bands performing at Music Cork.

Pillow Queens

Wednesday, Cyprus Avenue

The acclaimed Dublin punk band will perform at the newly refurbished Cyprus Avenue in the first of three nightly showcases.

Also on the bill are Flynn, Jyellowl and Mango X Mathman.

Xo Mo

Thursday, Crane Lane

Irish pop is on an upward trajectory and Mullingar duo Xo Mo are at the frontline of this revolution, with songs that draw on influences such as Christina Aguilera and Kanye West.

Milk and Aislinn Logan also play on the night.

Thumper

Thursday, Cyprus Avenue

Up-and-coming Dublin post-punks may get to tap into the raw guitar revival that seems to be under way in Ireland.

Aimée

Thursday, Old Oak

A trained dancer as well as singer, Aimée first built a fanbase on social media.

With a big pop sound she cites Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato as influences.

With Ryan Mack and Josh Gray.

Inhaler

Thurday, Cyprus Avenue

Would having Bono’s son in your band be a help or a hindrance when trying to climb the industry ladder?

You could make an argument on both sides, but at least Elijah Hewson and co doing it the slow, old-fashioned way with lots of hard work.

Happyalone

Thursday, Cyprus Avenue

Corkonians playing genre-fluid electronica, who should get a good reception on home turf.

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