Homicide’s Music Master
Music Supervisor Chris Tergesen
Keeps the Homicide Beat Harmonious
By Keith Loria
May 14, 1999
When “Homicide: Life on the Street” executive
producer Tom Fontana needed a music master to score the closing
montage for the second-season episode "Black and Blue," he turned to
an old friend, recording engineer Chris Tergesen. Until then, music
hadn't been a primary component of the gritty, meditative cop show.
Dialogue rather than score provided the rhythm of the story.
But Tergesen soon convinced Fontana that the
NBC series' fast imagery and long segments would profit from a
soundtrack, and before long he was creating at least one musical
montage for almost every episode, adding a pulsating new tempo to a
show already acclaimed for its throbbing dramatic elements.
Now the show's musical supervisor, Tergesen
uses an eclectic mix of songs, including work from such diverse
artists as Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, The Bee Gees, Nine Inch Nails,
James Brown, Seal and Tori Amos.
His choices have gained so much popularity with
Homicide viewers that NBC's Web site contain[ed] a directory of
songs and performers.
Tergesen rhapsodized about his role with the
show to APBnews.com.
APB: How do you choose songs for the
video montages, and how do you decide what other music to play
throughout the episode?
Chris Tergesen: Sometimes those songs
are generated by the writers in the script. It will say, 'We hear so
and so sing so and so song.' Sometimes it says 'music plays,' and
then it's my job to find a piece of music that works well with that
scene. When I see the scene written or when it's shot, I see it in a
rough-cut form. We don't have a specific style or sound that we
adhere to. It's about what song fits what scene -- it's a
case-by-case basis. Basically it comes out of my CD player.
APB: Is it hard getting record companies
to allow you to use their stuff, or do they overload you with
material, hoping to get their stuff heard?
CT: Some of both. In the beginning when
the show wasn't as established, I was greeted with a lot of
skepticism, and artists didn't want their stuff on TV because of the
stigma attached to it. Now, a lot of people don't refuse. A lot of
record companies submit stuff to us that I just go through to try to
find a good sound.
APB: In the fifth season, the song
"Boom, Boom, Boom," which was featured in the montage segment of
"The Documentary," was so popular that NBC switchboards were swamped
with calls about it. Did this validate for you how important the
music had become on the show?
CT: It's very rewarding to hear, but
there had been response to other shows prior to that one, and I
don't think I was aware then that that show had generated a bigger
APB: There's obviously more to the job
than just picking music. Explain what your job entails for each
CT: My job is basically content. I also
hired the composer way back when-- it was one of my first tasks --
and I deal with him on an episode-by-episode basis. Usually now the
producers spot the show to determine where each piece of original
music goes, and I give notes on what's written. I mix the music in
and produce the final audio mix. Then I work with NBC and the
studio, and they have a music clearance department that actually
does all the paperwork and gets all the licenses.
APB: Since the show is shot in the
Baltimore area, do you ever utilize musicians from the city's strong
CT: If the script calls for background
stuff, such as a band onstage or a nightclub, every time it's been a
local band. I try to use a lot of Baltimore-based bands for the
APB: Are you surprised that music became
strongly associated with Homicide?
CT: Very surprised. We had no idea it
was going to become such an integral part of the show. It's very
nice to see a piece of music work so well with a scene. It's also
very nice that the fans like it and talk about it on the Web site
all the time.
APB: You use a very diverse selection of
music. Do you make a concentrated effort to do that to keep
different people interested?
CT: It's very important [to use]
different styles. We are doing it from a dramatic standpoint, what
works with the show, what works with each scene. It's important to
be open to any genre and not to be tied down because we don't do
this and we don't do that.
APB: Do actors ever request certain
songs for their scenes?
CT: Sometimes an actor directs an
episode and has specific ideas for a scene, or once in a while they
will tell me about an artist they like, but no one has ever really
asked me to get any specific song.
APB: What's your favorite part about the
CT: Finding a well-placed song in a
great montage. You don't know until you see it against the footage
-- sometimes it works better than others do-- but it's great when
it's a perfect fit.
APB: Do you have a favorite episode?
CT: That's tough. I liked "The
Documentary," and I liked "Every Mother's Son," but I probably could
change my answer every so often.