Despite what you may think, Netflix’s Love Is Blind doesn’t craft entire songs to fit one line of dialogue — though sometimes, the matchup between words and lyrics is a little uncanny. And viewers who question that, who think the music is a little bit too on the nose? Well, music supervisor Jon Ernst has seen your tweets. (Which is rough; some of them are not that nice.)
“I’ve been accused of locking songwriters and musicians and vocalists in my studio and forcing them to write a song that matches the exact words, but that’s not how it works,” Ernst laughs. So what happens when the two line up perfectly? “Let’s call it television magic.”
He has a good sense of humor about the online cracks, because it means people are paying attention. After all, the reality genre thrives on that; all talk is good talk. As one viewer tweeted, “They have to know it’s over the top but it also is what keeps me coming back.”
So, the question is: If it’s not this intensely word-specific process, how do songs get selected for Love Is Blind? The answer is Ernst, who has been with the show since its very first season, and as its sole music supervisor, is responsible for sourcing music long before he knows the scene it’ll fit in. It’s a position he’s held since the early aughts, so he knows how important music can be to the genre — and what music in particular works.
“[The Love Is Blind production team] started becoming, in these three seasons, a very well-oiled machine. We kind of know what the story points are going to be — at least, we can predict,” Ernst said. “And so what I like to do is supply the editors and producers with a whole pot of gold: music that we know they can use. And then I categorize those in separate bins per the types of mood and genres that we might be looking for so it helps streamline that for the editors and the producers.”
The music comes from, generally, one of two places: a music library or a “trusted source,” which is what Ernst calls musicians he often looks to for submissions. These “trusted sources” are “people that I know are going to get me the best of the best music. When I give them my briefs, I know that they’re going to send me stuff that’s actually going to work according to what my directions are.” He added that he depends on them to help him find “the best music for the show.”
In the current season, he said the split between the library (which entails a wide-ranging bucket of existing music) and known musicians (he’ll send them briefs of what sort of music he’s looking for) is about 50-50. Season 1 relied heavily on music libraries, as the success of the show was uncertain — there were budget considerations in play. As they’re made for large databases in the hope that someone picks them up, these songs are often very direct in their lyrics, fairly dramatic in one direction, and very easily applicable to a number of situations.
Love Is Blind is quite kind to its music — a certain song could play for as long as a minute or two, which Ernst said is incredibly uncommon on shows, where snippets or short transitions are favored. That means more exposure for a musician. As a result, he said, “even record labels are starting to come knocking on our door here and there for exposure for some of their bands as well.” He cited season 3’s final episode, which features Coldplay’s “Biutyful,” as well as musician Forest Blakk, whose songs are frequently featured.
Of course, that’s the music sourcing, where Ernst is the “gatekeeper.” When it comes to placing any of those songs in an episode, it’s a collaborative effort; show creator Chris Coelen — “He’s got amazing taste in music,” Ernst said — often makes the final decision. And often, song placement is a bit of a race — one where Ernst has hand-selected music based on potential themes, but with little information as to the story itself.
“Because of the pace we work at, the editors and the producers and the story producers, they’re all in the room, furiously trying to get the cuts out,” Ernst said, and they’ll send him a text asking urgently for a specific sort of music. “The way they cut reality, they’re cutting [the scene] at the same time [as] the music. So it’s not something very often where I get a chance to see that scene.”
He’s proud, though, that songs on Love Is Blind get a long playtime, and that bands (or their labels) are clamoring to be on the show. Compared to a TV sitcom, where there may be five songs or scores used in an episode, Ernst said, an episode of reality TV uses maybe 20 to 25 songs. And even within those, he’ll take a song and use its instrumental version throughout a scene, so when the full song kicks in, the emotion’s been swelling in the background.
At the start of the reality TV boom — think 2003 — Ernst was composing for various shows in the MTV universe, including The Hills predecessor Laguna Beach. “Those were the early days; reality television was still kind of trying to find its way with music. And I think when they hired me as the composer on that show, they quickly realized that they needed songs more than they needed a score,” he said. “When The Hills came around, that obviously became a huge juggernaut for exposing music to the world.”
And he knew earlier shows had proven the importance of soundtracks, but after Love Is Blind’s first season, he was surprised by the volume of emails, Facebook messages, and Twitter and Instagram DMs he received; people were asking him where certain songs came from. For that season, which used libraries, there was less he could tell them — some of the music wasn’t publicly available or from a “real artist.”
“Luckily, when we all kind of realized what the music was doing for the viewers, we were able to — in season 2 — upgrade the music and go out to some people and spend a little bit more money and get some real artists that actually had songs up on iTunes and their own labels,” he said.
“I think that’s been the most exciting part of working on Love Is Blind: seeing that the music has taken on a life of its own, almost like it’s a character on its own. As a music supervisor, like I said, that’s kind of what we live for,” Ernst said. “We live for people actually paying attention and caring about the music.”
Even if that means viewers who are certain the songs are engineered to fit in the scenes or popped out by an advanced AI or written by Coldplay, locked in a studio. “To be honest, there’s only so many ways to say the same thing, whether it’s a lyric or what our cast is saying on camera, so sometimes it just matches up,” Ernst said. “And if we happen to find it and it works: Why not?”
All three seasons of Love Is Blind are now streaming on Netflix.