While Breaking Bad celebrated record-crushing ratings during its 4th season finale, Bronson and Preston Taalbi were high-fiving in their musical headquarters—also known as their parents’ basement in Wisconsin.
The brothers had just experienced the national debut of their first song “Freestyle” to an audience of nearly 3 million viewers. And they were only 13 and 15 years old.
The story of how their music made it into a finale episode of Breaking Bad starts on the 3rd St. Promenade in Santa Monica, California.
“We were busking and met a guy who started talking to us about music licensing,” Bronson explains.
The guy convinced the brothers to give him a gratis copy of their CD by claiming that he had a friend in the industry. As it turned out, that friend was Lauren Harman, CEO of then-fledgling Lip Sync Music—an agency that helps artists place their tracks in TV shows, movies, and ads.
Harman held a showcase for them on the rooftop of the London Hotel in West Hollywood. Sadly, the turnout was terrible. Only a handful of people came and she felt disheartened. The brothers returned to their lives as teenagers in the Midwest.
Then, three months later, Harman received a request to include “Freestyle” in Breaking Bad. One of the few audience members at the hotel had been a rep from the show.
When 13-year-old Preston heard that Breaking Bad wanted permission to use their song, the shock left him speechless. “I remember desperately trying to respond and say, ‘Yes, please let them know it’s okay for them to do that!’”
The brothers had never actually seen Breaking Bad, but they knew it was a huge deal, so they decided to license the song to the show. What they didn’t know was the enormous impact this choice would have on their lives.
“Freestyle” played during a pivotal scene: the destruction of Gustavo Fring’s meth superlab. Listening to it, you may get flashbacks of Walt and Jesse frenetically dousing the laboratory in combustible liquids and jerry-rigging a timer to create a spark.
In the days after the Season 4 Finale aired, the Taalbi Brothers’ flamenco beats flew to the #2 spot on the iTunes World Chart.
Vince Gilligan was oblivious to how young the Taalbi Brothers were when he first heard their music, yet he became an immediate fan. Their song wasn’t selected because they were big industry names—it was chosen entirely on its own merits. The boys made something great, they had the guts to share it with the world, and that courage was rewarded with unanticipated success.
The pattern of seeking greatness in unexpected places is part of what made Breaking Bad one of the best shows in history. Gilligan didn’t cast an archetypal “bad guy” actor as Walter White, nor did he seek out some mega-star with an established following—he hired Bryan Cranston, the bumbling dad from “Malcom in the Middle.”
Just as the role of Walt altered Cranston’s career trajectory forever, so did a spot on the Breaking Bad soundtrack for the Taalbi Brothers.
The exposure provided many opportunities beyond iTunes charts. They’ve been playing shows and recording music ever since. And in addition to sudden success, it supplied confidence that the brothers should continue pursuing their art.
“It showed me that my songs are ‘TV worthy’ and that’s given me a sense of assurance,” said Bronson, now 21. “Even as I continue to write—whether it’s Latin songs, folk songs, or piano pieces—I feel like I have something to offer.”
Breaking Bad may have come to an end, but for the Taalbi Brothers and many other musicians who license their music, things are just getting started.
 performing on a street or in another public place, usually for donations
Melissa Mapes writes about television, soundtracks and the untold stories behind teenage musicians who become TV sensations for VideoBlocks.