How Raedio's Head Music Supervisor Stephanie Diaz-Matos Shapes Stories Through Sounds
Television and film have long been praised for their art of storytelling, yet a majority of it couldn't be executed to its best potential without music. And Stephanie Diaz-Matos, the award-winning music supervisor and current Head of Music Supervision at Raedio, understands utilizing music to heighten emotions, drive a plot home, and provide nuanced context. Diaz-Matos has transformed her former club kid passions into a respected career that has led to working on HBO's Sweet Life: Los Angeles (she scored a 2022 Guild of Music Supervisors Awards win for Best Music Supervision for Reality Television for Sweet Life: Los Angeles); STARZ series P-Valley and Power Book III: Raising Kanan, HBO's And Just Like That reboot and many more.
The New York native grew up as a dancer, performing in a dance company throughout high school doing modern dance for 24 hours a week -- essentially a part-time job. As she got older, she discovered the city's thrilling club scene. "That lifestyle experience became my passion. All of those things really became more and more part of my identity," Diaz-Matos recalls to EDITION. When you’re in New York, you’re surrounded by music. I live in Brooklyn now and it’s always lively. Like, I’ll be sitting here working and hear something completely incredible. So much of the way I work and the way I'm inspired is through experience."
You attended NYU, and then you were a club kid, you also worked at different labels and agencies. Can you specify a little bit more about the work you did prior to getting into this field?
So when I was in NYU film school, I thought I wanted to do documentary films. But in film school, I realized I really love albums that influenced [the storyline]. There was a show on MTV called Amp which was an electronic show that aired at 4 in the morning. I watched the credits, called the support line and I asked to speak to the executive producer. He gave me an internship and then a job when I graduated. That was my first music supervision job and I didn't know it [at the time]. But I was essentially picking the music that was playing before and after commercial breaks and helping program videos and that's how I started to work with labels.
I was out one night at Twilo [night club] and the next day, I got a call at MTV from someone who became a dear friend who worked at London Records. He was like, “Did I see you last night?” And I said, "Yeah", and he had me come in and meet the label president. I was offered an assistant job doing A&R and marketing. And that's where I met Randall Poster who at the time was probably-—and still is—a world-renowned music supervisor. At the time, he was doing Wes Anderson's Royal Tenenbaums, and things like that. I said to him, “I want to do what you do” and he gave me a script. I read it and came back and we talked music.
I informally supported him while I was doing these other gigs at London Records, then the label closed. Then I ultimately took a job in advertising where I was doing production, but then something opened up in music and I took the music gig. Because I had been doing A&R, I brought to the commercial space the way that I worked when I was putting records together. Randy called me and was like, “Do you want to start a company with me doing music for commercials?” And I said yes. So then I started this company with him with no experience. I completely figured it out, grew the company, and then went off on my own. That was when I got the gig for The Get Down around 2014.
That was what I like to call the “Olympics of Music Supervision” because it was every possible way you can imagine using music and storytelling. Baz [Lurhmann] has a beautiful, expansive vision and so you have to deliver for an extremely creative person. We had a soundtrack, original songs, and songs written for the actors. I was working with Grandmaster Flash and Nas and it was just unbelievable. That [experience] really got me on my way as far as doing my own business.
I'm a mom and as my daughter started to get older, I [asked myself] “What if I didn't have to worry so much about running the business and could just be more in my creative space?” That's when discussions started with Raedio. Basically, Issa had been looking to do her music company, and we're both repped by UTA. So they connected us and I met with Benoni [Tagoe, Raedio’s president].
I had always wanted to be plugged into something bigger because I just felt that music supervision wasn’t the end game—I think it's part of a larger conversation. With Raedio, we have our music library, publishing company, and the record label. But then we also have this incredible ecosystem with the management company, the production company and smart, incredibly talented, creatives that support, look and depend on each other. It was an emotional decision to give up my company, but it was also my best decision.
What are your responsibilities when working at Raedio?
As the head of music supervision, I have projects that I work on that I'm responsible for delivering on the creative [side]. Then I have supervisors that work both with me and on their own projects that I have to oversee, and I'm available to them to make sure that they've got what they need. We also have a music library that we are constantly discussing and developing new volumes for.
I work with Ariella, who's the head of sales, to make sure that she has what she needs from us to pitch. Raedio is constantly innovating in the brand space. So the Creators Program, as you mentioned, kind of falls into that category. That is a very good example of how our company brainstorms. Everyone's allowed in on the brainstorming. The Creators Program is an opportunity: we did a call for submissions. I'm working on the composer side, Xtina [Prince, Raedio's general manager of label and publishing] is working on the artist side.
Basically, we get all these submissions, we go through them, we narrow it down to identify the winners. What to me is really exciting about it is the winners are getting a fund from which they're going to create on the composition side two reels that they will own. We will work with them to get exposure. Every artist needs money. So it is very exciting to have this fund. The idea is that we'll help them manage it, and understand how to allocate for things like recording costs.
We walk them through the process. Along the way, we'll be setting up meetings with mentors and different industry tools to get them good stage time. I'm pretty excited about it because the passion and the focus is POC women specifically. In the composer space, there can never be enough nurturing and support and elevation for women in music.
At the 2017 GMS Awards, Diaz-Matos won Best Song/Recording Created for Television and Best Music Supervision for Television Comedy or Musical for Netflix's The Get Down. Photo courtesy of Guild of Music Supervisors
Can you walk me through your thought process with music selections?
It can be tedious, but I do sometimes pinch myself like, “I can't believe I do this for a living.” The story and the world that you're creating, music is a part of that. Issa, I think as a human, is very much about uplifting and finding your people. She's not afraid of the underground indie artists that you've never heard. But then she also loves a good Drake or Kendrick [Lamar]. She has excellent taste, and that's what you're getting with her shows.
Then there are shows like Godfather of Harlem that are period specific. That is particularly fun because I get to dive in and really think about Harlem in 1962, and then 1963, and then 1964. You start to see how much music changes. It's really fascinating. I'm working with Swizz Beatz as well on a couple of projects.
There's a documentary in development that Lena Waithe is producing. Swizz and Timbaland are also executive producers. I don't know when it's coming out. But it is a documentary that's going to discuss the Verzuz effect, how it came to be and the cultural impact it has. It’ll be contextualized within the backdrop of Black music: the community, rituals, and all these different things that exist within Black music, and how Verzuz is a part of all of that. They're shooting now, and it's going to be epic.
What are your thoughts on the relationship between the storyline and the music in a movie?
Music is a character and it plays an incredible supporting role in a show or in a movie. It's very interesting how most people involved in production are super passionate about the music. There are more spirited conversations around how music is helping the pace, helping the emotion or distracting from the scene, or the nuances in the ways that music can really elevate the picture.
Generally, it's very important to all the producers and the directors. There are times when it feels like a lot of pressure to find that song that will do all the things. But when you're in a flow, and you have good dialogue with your creative team when you are building your world, it then becomes like a sandbox that you're playing in. It’s super fun and you get a sense of what's going to work and what's going to build. If you go outside the sandbox, it's usually pretty intentional. You're building a world and as you do so, the music comes to you. So something like P-Valley, for example, we're on season two now. It’s really insane how they have pushed the whole thing forward. Just the dance numbers are mind-blowing. It's so beautiful and the story is epic.
Katori [Hall, creator of P-Valley] is an unbelievable creative and music is her lifeblood. She is from the south, and this is very much a personal story for her in terms of, culturally, it's who she is. It's funny for me, as a New Yorker, I usually get hired to do New York shows. But this is my first deeply Southern show. When we were doing pre-records for the first season, I was like, “Can we have a dialect coach come to the session?” because I'm just super specific about the dialects and everything. But for season two, we put a call out to local Mississippi and Memphis artists, so that we could make sure that we had even more attachment to the area.
It's been really successful, as far as placing some of these artists that are unsigned that have submitted through the email box. It speaks volumes to Katori, she really stays open and really understands the idea that a good idea can come from anywhere. But when you're building that world, there's parameters. Like you want Southern, you want a lot of women, you want it to feel authentic to the club, so you know what you're building. In that regard, it's not quite so tedious, because they're like musical building blocks.
The music industry does need more of an even playing field that includes more women.
I think that music supervision is a job that requires many hats. You have to be creative, we also have to be super organized, and you have to be able to deal with all kinds of personalities and manage what could be a really intricate workflow. I think it's known that women are very good multitaskers and that there's a strong need for supervision. So I think that is one reason why women are very good music supervisors, in addition to being creative just by nature. I know, for myself as a woman, I am constantly calling upon my tools as a negotiator and diplomacy and my emotional self to be the best at my job.
I actually would like to flip that question, because I think what would be interesting to advance film and TV in the world is if those with very masculine traits could connect a little bit more with their feminine side. Everyone has both sides. I constantly am tapping into my feminine energy in a lot of ways and like I said, there's a lot of things that come naturally for me that make it a good fit.
But, I am very much in response to a very masculine situation pretty much all the time. One of the best things about working with Katori and with Issa is that the balance is more there. There's a lot of projects that I work on that are super masculine, it can be exhausting.
I think there's women working in music supervision making some of the biggest impact right now. I'm more curious about how the industry as a whole could embrace more awareness and interest in the feminine side. When I was in film school, I was the only girl in my class. There was like a class that I took where I was the only woman in the class and it was hard. There's a lot of times and a lot of shows that I still feel that way. So, part of the attraction to projects like Issa’s and Katori’s works is just being able to be more me.