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‘Stranger Things’ Music Supervisor On What Makes a Great Synch Placement — and Why the Show’s Latest Season Resonated So Strongly

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This year brought an endless supply of memorable music in TV and film — both through original creations and already-existent works. Disney’s Encanto led the Billboard 200 for nine nonconsecutive weeks, fueled by its Billboard Hot 100-topping hit, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” while films including Top Gun: Maverick and Elvis also spawned top 10-charting hits. Synch placements yielded similar massive and pop culture-defining moments — with the two most notable coming from the same show. The fourth season of Netflix’s Stranger Things, broken up into two volumes, first led to the revitalization of both Kate Bush’s 1985 classic “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” and then Metallica’s 1986 single “Master of Puppets.” Following their appearances in the show, the former reached a No. 3 peak on the Hot 100 — a career-best for Bush — and the latter led to the group’s first No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Hard Rock Songs chart in its illustrious history.

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Behind the placements is music supervisor Nora Felder, who in addition to her work on Stranger Things has previously worked on series including FX’s What We Do in the Shadows and Showtime’s Ray Donovan, and will contribute to the second season of Yellowjackets (also on Showtime). And though she tells Billboard “it’s literally impossible to keep up with the surge of music that comes in on a daily basis,” she’s found a knack for picking the perfect musical accompaniments to a show’s most pivotal moments, time and again.

Below, Felder reflects on why she thinks the synchs in season four struck such a resonant chord with viewers, what goes into landing a successful placement and more.

Nora Felder
Nora Felder, winner of the Outstanding Music Supervision award for “Stranger Things,” attends the 2022 Creative Arts Emmys at Microsoft Theater on September 04, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.

The reaction to Stranger Things‘ season four soundtrack — specifically “Running Up That Hill” and “Master of Puppets” — was massive. Looking back, how did that feel for you?

I’m not sure I have fully processed it yet. When I run into friends or associates that I don’t see on a regular basis, it seems everyone is still blown away by it because, inevitably, it’s one of the first things they want to talk about.

In the first season of Stranger Things, we had used The Clash’s song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go” across several episodes. Similar to Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” the multiple uses of both songs became, in part, a bridge for forging bonds between our key characters, while also helping save [them] from malevolent forces in precarious life-threatening moments. After season one aired, The Clash’s song experienced a bit of a resurgence, so we definitely anticipated and hoped for a similar reaction to Kate Bush’s song. However, after “Running Up That Hill” aired and the reaction to it unfolded in real time, we were staggered and humbled by this beyond-next-level response. To think that a song which was released 36 years ago could outrun some of the top artists of today really felt like a true lightning-in-a-bottle moment that was a privilege to be a part of.

With the subsequent airing of “Master of Puppets,” we were a little more prepared and anticipated that the needle would move in a big way. Metallica’s song was hugely connected to our beloved new character, Eddie. In my mind, to love Eddie was to love “Master of Puppets” as its lyrics really spoke to the core of Eddie’s being. But to now see that the metal community has a budding new audience makes me personally very happy. Metal music has been misunderstood as “angry music” for decades. I’m thrilled that people are really listening now and frankly getting into it on a deeper level.

Do you have a favorite memory from working on this season?

Off the cuff, three moments stand out in my mind. First, watching Rob Simonsen conduct The London City Orchestra in real time — adding an overlay to the original recording of “Running Up That Hill,” which fans got to hear in completion during the monumental Max moment in episode four — was simply breathtaking.

Second, sitting in a small Netflix theater stage with my Stranger Things team working on a weekend, and watching Eddie’s monumental scene with “Master of Puppets” for the first time. The few of us who were in the intimate setting of that room felt as if we each were at the greatest rock concert in the world — and had front row seats.

Third, I’ve had many people reaching out through my socials or website sending videos of festivals and concerts around the world with young and old [people] dancing and singing, or performing “Running Up That Hill” and “Master of Puppets.” One that particularly touched me was from a teacher of a 6th grade class in Florida. She sent a video of her students swaying together and singing “Running Up That Hill” and congratulating me on my Emmy win. That profoundly touched my heart. The power of a great song is endless and can be ageless.

Why did the synch placements in this season of Stranger Things resonate so strongly?

I suspect that Stranger Things‘ loyal fan base of all ages just might feel that a piece of themselves is represented in these characters, as well as the story that unfolded this season. In recent years, I believe that for many there had been an overall sense of uncertainty and fear — as if there have been invisible dangers and monsters, if you will — looming over us. With that in mind, it makes sense that the Stranger Things songs — which evocatively amplify the plights and unique internal landscapes and circumstances of our characters — would resonate around the world just as strongly as the characters and stories themselves.

Why was 2022 such a big year for music in TV and film to make an impact on the charts and in pop culture?

I have been inclined to think that following the impact of the worldwide pandemic, many people have become more accustomed to staying home more often than not. Getting lost in and binging on visual media, and listening to music has been at its heights. It could then make sense that through one’s favorite and relatable shows or movies (particularly those that are music driven), audiences would come to rely on such outlets as a source for the discovery of music.

What determines if a song will land a memorable synch placement?

When I’m reviewing songs against picture, my selections for my filmmakers emerge solely from my feeling, intuition and understanding. I know no other way to explain it. I usually test drive quite a few options, and I select the ones that my gut tells me could bring one closer to the character and to the emotions that I think my filmmakers are trying to get across in a scene or a character’s performance. A song must enhance a scene or its character, not the other way around. The more memorable a cinematic moment is, the more likely it is that a song that was used to enhance that moment will become iconically memorable as well.

What can synch placements in TV and film can add to a character’s arc or a scene that dialogue — or visual media — may not be able to otherwise?

Adding a music element behind a character or story can help elevate a message in a way that words can’t. Adding a musicality and lyrics to tip an emotion sparks one’s senses in a very unique way. That’s the power of music. That’s not to say that music, whether it be score or a needle drop, is needed for every scene or story. Some scenes are impactful on their own and adding a musical element would be distracting.

What kind of lasting impact will the success of synch placements in season four be?

We generally strive to look at where we came from in order to form a better understanding of where we are going. Through the power of the Stranger Things story, fans latched on to “Running Up That Hill” [and] “Master of Puppets” and others and allowed these songs — decades after their release — to become a source of validation and strength today. I hope the lasting impact of this historical moment in music will be that people will remain open to all genres of music, no matter if the a song came out last week or centuries ago.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Dec. 10, 2022, issue of Billboard.

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