Stranger Things Music Editor Lena Glikson on Creating Iconic Moments
Who can say when a song will have its moment? Take the 1985 hit "Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)" by art rock singer-songwriter Kate Bush, which reentered the charts when it played a prominent role in the fourth season of the Netflix show Stranger Things and caused a new generation to discover Bush's music. As the show's music editor, Lena Glikson B.M. '15 was tasked with the job of stitching the song into the fabric of the season's narrative arc, and she went on to earn an Emmy Award for her efforts.
[I]t's an enormous privilege to work on projects recognized worldwide when people emotionally connect to the work you do[.]
Glikson has been a musician her whole life, beginning as a performer steeped in classical traditions, and ultimately finding her passion in the Screen Scoring Department when she enrolled at Berklee. "I saw that there would be an opportunity to use my classical background and apply it in a very modern way," Glikson said of her decision to major in film and media scoring. After graduating, she landed a music editing internship in L.A., and has since built an impressive list of credits for TV shows such as Stranger Things and Always Jane, as well as films including A Star Is Born, Joker, and Ad Astra. In the following interview, Glikson talks about her experience in crafting the iconic scene in the season finale for Stranger Things, how working on a show differs from a film, and her path to becoming a successful music editor.
What does your recent Emmy Award win mean to you?
To be honest, I never dreamed of getting an Emmy. I was always very concentrated on the work process more than anything else, and even being nominated for it was huge and unexpected. Everything happened so fast! I can't fully believe that this happened to me. I feel fortunate and grateful to the TV Academy and my colleagues for it. I think it's a recognition of the entire Stranger Things team's work, including [showrunners] the Duffer brothers, our picture editors, composers, and many people supporting us.
You helped adapt the iconic sequences in this season of Stranger Things that feature "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush. What was that process like for you?
My first big task related to the song was working on the "Running Up That Hill" edit in episode four. It's such a wonderful song that's much longer than the scene, so it needed to be cut to have the right length and work with all the picture edits. There was a reference created by Dean Zimmerman, our excellent picture editor, and I used it as a guide and finessed all the transitions and shaped it to match the dramatic movement of the scene.
One of the most memorable things about working on this song for the season was cutting it for the epic montage in episode nine. Originally the Duffer brothers wanted to have a piece of score in that scene, but they asked me to cut the Totem remix of the song for it, simply out of curiosity. So I got incredibly excited about that. It seemed to be a very creative and fun task. So when I showed my first version to the Duffer brothers, they were thrilled and told me we should send it to Kate Bush because it works with the scene so well, and she would love it. So that was an invaluable recognition of my work. I was very grateful for such feedback.
Listen to Lena Glikson's music editing work in the Stranger Things season finale (contains spoilers):
You’ve worked on some incredibly memorable film and TV moments. What’s it like knowing that you were behind the scenes on things that resonate with millions of people?
I think it's an enormous privilege to work on projects recognized worldwide when people emotionally connect to the work you do and when the things you create resonate with them.
As a music editor, are there any major differences when working within one medium versus another (TV versus film, for example)? If so, how does your own process change? Do you have a favorite part of the process?
Before working on Stranger Things, I always worked in the feature film world, and by season four, Stranger Things wasn't a typical TV show anymore. Instead, it's much closer to the feature world because of its big scale and popularity. The main difference for me was the time we had to work on the music for each episode. They are pretty long for a TV show (up to two and a half hours long), and we had only two to three weeks to work on the music for each of them. In the feature world, you have several months to complete the same amount of work. Therefore in TV you need to work much faster and don’t have much time to make changes. There is no such thing as a temporary solution. Pretty much everything you do goes in the cut.
My favorite part of the music editing process is tracking—when I get a chance to create a new piece of music using different audio elements (instrument stems) from the cues written by the composer. This part is very creative and allows me to sculpt a piece of music to fit a scene.
Before Berklee, you had an eclectic background as a performer. Was there a moment where you knew that music had to be your life’s path?
When I was a child and then a teenager, my life was split in half between general and music education. I didn't have time for anything else. Music has always been my passion and choosing it as my life path felt natural. As a child, I dreamed of becoming a famous singer, but I always knew that I needed to study to achieve my dream and always took it very seriously. So when something becomes such an essential part of your life at a very young age, it becomes tough to let it go.
At Berklee, what was it about film scoring that spoke to you?
Before coming to Berklee, in parallel with vocal performance and voice/dance lessons, I studied classical piano and musicology at a music college in my hometown. I came to Berklee because there was no opportunity to learn contemporary music where I lived, and I was following my dream. At first, I wanted to become a voice performance major; however, as I was learning about all the different majors at Berklee, film scoring became my dream. I saw that there would be an opportunity to use my classical background and apply it in a very modern way. On top of that, since both of my parents worked in IT, I grew up surrounded by technology, with a deep and natural interest in computers and software. This program's combination of musical and technical aspects made me choose it. And I couldn't be happier.
How did a career as a music editor come about as a result of your major?
I remember thinking about music editing as a career path for the first time when my extraordinary professor Sheldon Mirowitz talked to my Introduction to Film Scoring class about all the different people working with a film composer. I remember learning all the responsibilities of a music editor by heart and thinking it would be a suitable career path. I was looking forward to my music editing class with Eric Reasoner, which once again made me realize that the creative and technical aspects of the profession interested me. After graduating from Berklee, I was looking for film-music internships in Los Angeles and found music editor Nick South, who was looking for interns. I was blessed that Nick had the time and patience to train me. He became my mentor. I was observing him, writing down every Pro Tools shortcut and every technical process he was going through. Then, a few weeks into my internship, Nick offered me to work for him as an assistant, which is how my career as a music editor began.