The High Note (directed by Nisha Ganatra) premiered at home last month and Republic Records released the film’s original soundtrack last week. Watching The High Note feels like meeting a performer you grew up loving. This warm feeling is largely due to its believable characters and incorporation of many relevant facts and references to the music industry. Part of the success of the film is its blurring of the line between reality and the fictionalized music careers of the characters. Further complicating this is the fact that while Grace Davis (played by Tracee Ellis Ross) is not a famous, Grammy-winning singer, the songs she performs in The High Note are, in fact, original pieces written and recorded for this film.

In this article, I will briefly elaborate upon some of the people and music terms referenced in the film, identify what songs are The High Note originals, and give credit to the talented people responsible for this film’s catchy songs. I have divided this information into categories (in bold). I hope this list helps you appreciate The High Note as not only a heartwarming film but also a source for some great music and fun facts.


Vegas residency: a concert residency is when an artist agrees to perform at a single location for a period of time. Venues throughout Las Vegas have been host to many resident artists because of its massive entertainment industry. The High Note specifically references Celine Dion’s residency at Caesars Palace, a hotel and casino on The Strip. Celine Dion broke money-making records during her two residencies at Caesars Palace from 2003-2007 and from 2011-2019.

20% cut for Jack the manager: The salaries of managers for musical artists range widely and depend largely on the fame and sales of the artist they manage. A range of 15 to 20 percent is pretty typical, and certainly realistic given how famous Grace Davis is (in the world of the movie, that is – I remind you that while the film does a tremendously convincing job of presenting Grace Davis as a real star, she is fictional).

House monitor: In an important scene demonstrating the closeness of the main characters, Maggie cleverly gets Grace out of a conversation that Grace clearly does not want to indulge but cannot leave on her own without being disrespectful. Maggie does this by telling Grace that there is a problem with house monitor so she needs to do another sound check. To recognize this as Maggie sneakily communicating with Grace to rescue her, the viewer needs to understand the term “house monitor.” A monitor is a speaker directed toward the performer so she can hear herself. The term “house” refers to equipment belonging to the venue. In this scene, Grace has already done a sound check. Since she is the only one affected by the monitor volume, she would have noticed a problem at that time. Maggie’s statement is a stress-free way for her to pull Grace away from the tedious Vegas man.

Record label: You may have heard people refer to artists “getting signed.” This means the artist is getting signed to a record label. Record labels are major players in the music industry. They are “companies, large or small, that manufacture, distribute, and promote the recordings of affiliated musicians” (Luke Evans). They take on artists who they think have potential to grow in success. Record labels work with artists to help them make as much money as possible through advertising, distribution, etc. In turn, the label gets a cut of the profits. There are many kinds of labels and if you want to learn more I recommend the “What is a Record Label?” article on exploration.io.

Demo: You can think of a demo as kind of a first draft for a musician. Artists send demos to producers, labels, or other musicians to demonstrate (hence the name) what they are capable of and what they want in a song.

Getting an engineering credit: In general, every song you hear on the radio had many different people work on it before it got to you. However, most listeners only know the name of the artist or band performing the song. Here are a few of the jobs involved in making a song (one person sometimes does more than one of these jobs): composer (writes the music), songwriter (writes the lyrics), producer, vocal producer, and arranger (decides how to arrange a song for a certain group of performers). The High Note has a reference to getting an engineering credit on a song. There are recording engineers, mixing engineers, and mastering engineers – one person often does all three of these. This is a hugely important job and can make or break a song, but these people don’t typically get recognized for their work.

Spotify curated: A curated playlist is one put together based on your input on artists, genres, and songs. On Spotify’s website, they boast of their playlists “curated by music experts from around the globe.” Artists can submit their songs to Spotify Playlist Curators in an effort to get their songs out to a wider audience.


The High Note is filled to the brim with references to different artists and bands. You’ve probably heard of most of them, but there are a few that are lesser-known and worth looking up. Here are a few of the artists, super famous and less famous alike: Carole King, Brian Wilson, Nina Simone, Mariah Carey, Otis Redding, Phantom Planet, Richie Williams, Missy Elliott, Marvin Gaye, Elmore James, Cardi B, James Taylor, Dan Deacon.

There is a point in the film when Grace states that “in the history of music, only 5 women over 40 had a number one hit, and only 1 of them was black.” It is difficult to find a list of these women, but from my research it appears that they are Sia, Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and Cher. This is inconsistent with the film statistic, however, because both Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner are black. However, the sentiment of the statement remains. It is unusual for artists over 40 to top the charts, significantly more so for female artists, and even more so if she is black.

Notably Grace’s manager, Jack, is played by Ice Cube. Ice Cube (born O’Shea Jackson) has been an extremely successful rapper and played an important role in the east coast versus west coast rivalry between different American hip hop artists.

Sam Cooke (whose given name is Samuel Cook) is a prominent reference throughout The High Note. A few facts about him include that he is often admiringly called the King of Soul, he was active from 1951 (when he was twenty-one years old) until his death in 1964, and that like many successful soul artists at the time he began his music career singing gospel music before he moved on to the secular side of R&B as he got older.

Original Music

While Grace Davis and David Cliff are fictional characters, the songs attributed to them in The High Note are original and performed by the actors (Tracee Ellis Ross and Kelvin Harrison Jr.). The song “Love Myself,” for example, was written by Sarah Aarons and Greg Kurstin and sung by Ross. Aarons and Kurstin are established writers for other artists including John Legend, Khalid, Paul McCartney, and Celine Dion. The soundtrack was produced by Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins who is a Grammy winner and worked with Michael Jackson and Beyoncé. You can check out information about who is behind this soundtrack on the website for this film.

 I hope this article helps you more fully appreciate this wonderful movie for all it has to offer. Please do not be discouraged by the amount of content included here! Whether or not you consider yourself knowledgeable about music, you are sure to enjoy the authentic characters and uplifting story of this film. Part of the appeal of The High Note is that it has enjoyable content for people both well informed and completely ignorant about the music industry. This is because first and foremost, this is not a story about music. It is a story about people. The filmlooks squarely at some of the major concerns for musical artists at all stages of the game and asks us to address them within ourselves. It is in this reckoning that we realize we are not so different from these ultra talented characters, and their questions are nearly universal. What if I’m not good enough? Then what?

 You are valid in this questioning, and you are not alone. The High Note will reassure you of this. It will also dare you to answer yourself with hope. What if you are not good enough? Then you’ll put in more work. So instead this film challenges you to ask a different question. What if you are?

There are many references made throughout The High Note that I have not included in these lists. Any exclusions are only for the sake of space, and not to make any statements about the value of the people or companies omitted.

For a more general piece on this movie, check out my previous article entitled “The High Note Review.”

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