Music supervisor, Gabe Hilfer commands one of the most aspirational jobs in television.
Beginning his career as a college DJ at the University of Michigan, Hilfer’s transition into artist management at BMG Entertainment eventually led to him landing a role as a Music Supervisor. Cutting his teeth in NYC working on indie films like The Wackness and The Wrestler, Hilfer would go on to create award-winning soundscapes for Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart’s comedy Get Hard, boxing drama Creed and Ryan Gosling-feature, The Place Beyond The Pines.
Hilfer’s work with ABC’s hit show, Black-ish has garnered incredible praise— he was hired on the spot as the music supervisor after one meeting with series creator Kenya Barris. Having worked on television shows like The Mindy Project, Luke Cage, and The Walking Dead, he has honed in on what audiences connect to on-screen. “I’m a fan of music, but I’m really a fan of story,” Hilfer told Splinter. “What I do is just an additional layer.”
Since working on Black-ish, he has created on-screen moments with music that has become indented in the cultural consciousness: From season two’s first episode that sparked a provocative conversation regarding the use of the n-word with the help of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” to the show turning its 100th episode into a half-hour tribute to the music and legacy of Prince, and the episode based around the public reaction to Donald Trump’s election soundtracked to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.”
On that moment, Hilfer told Pop Disciple: “We had an idea to use that song, and then we were going to blend it into “Blood on the Leaves” by Kanye who, you know, famously used a big sample from that Nina Simone song. But when we were trying it, that song (“Strange Fruit”) was so powerful and such a relevant, thematic song for that moment, and it just worked perfectly.”
Black-ish uses hip-hop, R&B, and songs that capture the zeitgeist to create memorable moments. “The show tackles a lot of cultural issues—and music is a big part of the culture we’re representing,” Hilfer says. “A lot of it is nostalgic. Kenya [the show’s creator] and I talk all the time, we’re around Dre’s age in the show, so a lot of our influences are joint memories of hip-hop, and music in general, from the same era. Then it’s just about getting creative and figuring out what we can actually license—and get done in time to make it on to the screen.”
Hilfer is no stranger to creating powerful moments that proliferate culture, political distress, and most importantly, sheer joy. From his work on Crazy Rich Asians, Venom and Ocean’s 8, his keen sense to create a moment through music, rather than use it as part of the background, takes center stage.
“Music supervision is a fantastic job because every single project requires different music and different skill sets, and a different level of expertise for a wide variety of genres,” says Hilfer. “There are a lot of producers who are the same on all of these projects, so you develop that relationship and that rapport with the people making the TV or the film. Ultimately, our job as I see it, and I know Season would agree with me too, is to help the producers and the directors of the shows and the movies fulfill their creative vision and get it on the screen as best we can.”
In 2015, he started his full-service Music Supervision & Clearance company, Full Pursuit Media, with fellow music supervisor Season Kent.