When Nora Felder, the Emmy-winning music supervisor behind Stranger Things, selects tracks for the Netflix megahit, character and storytelling serve as her primary focus. The series interweaves Felder’s carefully picked songs into pivotal moments in a way that enhances emotion and accelerates action. A key example of this is the use of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” first featured in the episode “Dear Billy,” where a grieving Max (Sadie Sink) listens to the 1985 classic on repeat. “Running Up That Hill” exploded on TikTok, and ran up the charts.
Similarly, when Eddie (Joseph Quinn) performs Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” during a heroic montage, the song entered the Billboard charts for the first time ever. The band publically thanked Felder for The Stranger Things placement, which has earned the group a new generation of fans.
For Felder, it’s imperative that artists understand how their music will be used in the show and why it’s essential to the story—not that there needs to be much convincing nowadays; musicians are clamoring to get their songs on Stranger Things.
A killer soundtrack is intrinsic to the Stranger Things brand, and Felder is the master magician pulling trick after trick out of her hat. Felder joins Awards Daily to discuss her approach to music supervision, the role of music in Stranger Things, and the smash success of her selections.
Awards Daily: Nora, the music of Stranger Things has taken on a life of its own (hello, “Running up that Hill),” and fans definitely pay attention. Has that changed how you think of music’s role in the show and your selection process?
Nora Felder: “Running Up That Hill” and “Master of Puppets” each have taken on a life beyond their placements in the show. When Chapter 9 (which contained both songs) was released, it had already become clear that “Running Up That Hill” was on its way to being deemed the 2022 song of the summer. Once this episode aired, “Master of Puppets” swiftly started its rise on the charts and, I believe, became the metal song of the summer. “Master of Puppets” also seemed to serve as a catalyst for re-introducing the metal genre to a much wider audience.
As Part 1 and Part 2 were released, several representatives that controlled other songs used in the series reached out to me. Each was thrilled and equally amazed by the impressive rapid-fire increase in airplay and streaming achieved by many songs after the episodes’ release.
As incredible an experience as it has been to be a part of these lightning-in-a-bottle moments, I don’t think it has necessarily changed how I think of music’s role in the show. Instead, it has cemented the belief to continue to stay true and follow one’s gut on what ultimately serves the story best. It’s important for me to strive to enhance whatever vision the Duffer Brothers intend in any way I can and, of course, to get those songs cleared!
AD: How would you describe the role of the music within the show? How do you use your song selections to help shape the episode? What stands out to you about the Stranger Things music supervision process?
NF: From my perspective, music serves as a main character in the series. It often accents the scenes in a powerful and thoughtful way. The quiet moments highlighted with songs are as important for me as the prominent placements.
When Eddie climbs onto that roof and dauntlessly starts playing “Master of Puppets,” it is as if Dustin, Eddie’s friend, and the Stranger Things audience are all rooting Eddie on his courageous attempt to reclaim his power and fend off Vecna’s evil fleet to save his friends and the world.
Just as “Running Up That Hill” holds a truth to Max that speaks to the core of her being, “Master of Puppets” also speaks directly to Eddie’s core. Songs, characters, and scenes each go hand in hand.
After the release of the first season of Stranger Things, it quickly became evident to me that the fans seemed to love the songs in the show almost as much as the characters themselves. 80s music really came back in such a big way. With each new season, families seemed bonded by the Stranger Things experience and couldn’t seem to get enough of the music. While that didn’t change my process, it did add to my and everyone on the show’s desire to deliver the best they possibly can. First and foremost, I owe that to my incredible team, that relies on me each season, and of course, we owe it to the fans.
After the release of “The Piggyback,” there was a lot of interest in hearing more about the music used in the show. I participated in several overseas press trips, and it was really exciting to hear “Master of Puppets” and “Running Up That Hill” being played on radio stations all over the world due to their popularity on the show.
It was truly surreal to witness each song’s historical rise on the music charts and the global impact that both songs experienced some 30 years after their initial releases. I will always remain humbled and honored by these experiences with such an incredible show and producers!
AD: Other than financial concerns, what’s the biggest hurdle you’ve had to face when trying to get the rights to a song?
NF: The main hurdles occurred when clearing songs for season 1 since it was a brand new series with many new, young actors. We needed to include a lot of detail in our pitches for song clearances in order to portray this new series as something to be taken seriously.
After the first season landed and seemingly took off to the stratosphere, the clearance path became a lot easier. Going into season 2, many 80s artists seemed excited to align their songs with the show. For Season 4, we had artists like Kate Bush, Metallica, and Steve Perry, that are historically very particular about licensing their songs, be much more open to having them included since they were fans of the show.
It’s important for any season of a show I’m working on to be sure artists fully understand how we intend to use the songs. With the show’s success, artists have been much more receptive.
AD: Your Emmy-nominated episode, “The Piggyback,” is one of the biggest episodes of the series in terms of scope and scale. How did you approach finding the music for this big battle and visual spectacle?
NF: Several songs were used throughout “The Piggyback,” which runs well over two hours. Each song was essential to the story to emphasize our heroes’ plight and pure bravery as they worked in tandem to combat formidable evil forces. Some examples of how the music was approached are: “Master of Puppets” (Metallica) was selected to highlight a dramatic focal point of the chapter during which Eddie plays the ultimate rock performance of his life. “When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die” (Moby) accentuated the emotionality of defeat and the powerful bond between the two Stranger Things characters, Eddie and Dustin. In this last chapter, “Running Up That Hill” (Kate Bush) served as the singular source of sustained emotional sustenance and strength our beloved main character, Max, needed for the most intense struggle she faced. “Dream A Little Dream” (Ella Fitzgerald) and “Every Breath You Take” (The Police) were each placed in key moments to induce the eerie psychological feeling of terror inflicted by the villainous Vecna on his victims. “Spellbound” (Siouxsie & The Banshees) highlighted the closing of this last chapter by anchoring the befitting chilling reminder that evil lies in wait lurking in the shadows.
AD: I have to ask about “Master of Puppets” and “Every Breath You Take” in particular. How did that come together?
NF: “Every Breath You Take” was originally heard at the end of Season 2 during the Snowball high school dance scenes, which included touching moments with Max and Lucas. In “The Piggyback,” Max tries to tap into this flashback from the dance to keep emotionally strong to fight off Vecna. The viewer begins to hear “Every Breath You Take” start to distort and slowly turn into a nightmare. Using the song in this way helped push the narrative of Vecna’s astute capabilities in truly messing with his captor’s mind in an attempt to push them into a weakened state.
As “Every Breath You Take” cleared fairly quickly this time around, I like to think that the band members were fans of the show. I’m hopeful they understood that with Stranger Things, we try to use music artfully and thoughtfully.
The part of “The Piggyback” that included the use of “Master of Puppets” was anticipated to be a pivotal and especially hair-raising scene in which Eddie heroically stood tall for the fight of his life. Like the Kate Bush song, we believed it was another “it has to be this song!” moment. From my perspective, the high octane driving sonic elements of “Masters of Puppets” can be understood as not only metaphorically amplifying what clearly could be considered the episode’s most epic scenes but also powerfully accent Eddie’s character evolution that leads up to this point of the season. I jumped right into clearing it, and we were elated when we received news of the band’s sign-off from their management. We knew Metallica were fans of the show, and one always remains hopeful, but you never really know how it will go until you get word.
Once approved, Metallica’s amazing team was on hand to help with whatever needs we had during the intricate pre-production phase in setting up for this massive scene and performance. We were also thrilled to engage Ty Trujillo, who is the son of Metallica’s bassist, Rob Trujillo, to enhance the guitar parts in post. I can’t say enough about the care and good vibes Metallica’s team showered with us during this whole process.
AD: Which song from the season did you have to fight for the hardest? Which are you proudest of?
NF: The Kate Bush song required the most attention, as it was so integral to the storyline and woven throughout many episodes, including “The Piggyback.” As the scripts were evolving, we made sure to update Kate’s camp on the evolution of the scenes so she felt comfortable with how the uses were coming together.
Generally speaking, I’m really proud of the season as a whole. Each and every single moment with a song is considered precious to me. Of course, I’m proud of the way “Master of Puppets” came together. I remember sitting on stage with our amazing post team at the spotting session. It was very early in the morning on a weekend, so we were all still working on getting each of our inner cylinders fired up to jump into work mode.
After watching the full scene, you could hear a pin drop in the room. We were all astounded and gobsmacked with feelings of pure joy. To help organize a massive scene like that and see it come to life on the screen felt just plain magical for everyone involved. For us, it was like watching the greatest song at a rock concert, and we each had front-row seats!
AD: Tell me about Nora, the music lover, vs. Nora, the music supervisor. How has your personal taste influenced the music of Stranger Things and vice versa?
NF: I’d say both the music lover and music supervisor in me have one constant in common—both strive to remain excited about music, although in different ways. When I’m randomly listening to music, I might gravitate toward a particular style that makes me experience whatever emotion I might want to feel at any given moment. As a music supervisor, I must focus on the needs of my filmmakers and ultimately tap into what they intend the audience to feel through the music. It’s less about me and what I personally like and more about their vision or what is necessary for a particular character, locale, or moment. Either way, when we land on something amazing that works, or I discover a new song or artist that I think is beyond amazing—it’s all equally thrilling to me.
AD: What’s your favorite way to discover new music? What have you been loving recently?
NF: My favorite way to discover music is very random. I’m a strong believer in keeping myself open to however it comes and just go with it. Sometimes I’m purposefully searching, and sometimes, I happen to hear something while out and about, which leads to further discovery.
I tend to keep new discoveries close to my vest. However, I will say that the music I try to discover is all over the place. I constantly go forward and backward in time. I strongly believe there’s always great music to discover, no matter what decade it was initially released, the number of streams, or how many people have heard the music before. My goal is more about the find than the method of discovery, which always keeps things fresh for me.
Stranger Things is streaming on Netflix.