Think for a second: Who’s the best in the world at making you cry while watching a TV show?
First, you’ll probably run right to characters on dramas. The “Private Practices,” the “Parenthoods.” But if they cry too much, it gets sappy, melodramatic. Nobody likes a ball of tears. So they’re out.
Then you think of Michael Scott’s move, the end of “Cheers,” that first Phil Hartman-less episode on “Newsradio.” Maybe nobody makes you sad better than those people, but Frasier only moves to Seattle once.
Then you think of the Jersey Shore, and you realize you’re crying for all the wrong reasons.
So who’s really capable of the most emotional destruction while you’re watching a TV show?
Her name is Alex Patsavas. You probably don’t know who she is by name, but she’s dictated your every emotion at the bottom of the hour on your favorite TV night for the past six years. And she’s introduced you to a lot of your favorite bands in the process
You know those involved musical moments at the end of Grey’s Anatomy? You know the music from Mad Men and Chuck and Rescue Me and Gossip Girl? You know how you liked all of those songs on The O.C., even though you never watched The O.C.?
Well, that was all her. She and her company Chop Shop Music are the music supervisors for all of those shows. Turns out nobody’s got the keys to your heart like Alex Patsavas. So we decided to talk to her about it.
Hulu: So how long have you been at this?
Alex: I’ve been lucky enough to have been in music supervision since 2004. So I’ve been involved for quite some time now. Our company works with creative on a project—television, film, commercials—to help create a signature sound . I guess that’s another way of saying “vibe.” We coordinate everything from on-camera bands to theme songs to scores.
How did you get involved in Grey’s Anatomy? That soundtrack is such an important part to the aesthetic of that show. I can’t imagine that show with a different soundtrack.
You cannot separate music supervision from television. I’ve been grateful for (Grey’s Anatomy”), in that it was created by Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers—that it was always their choice to make it a very musical show that fans are invested in. I’ve worked on it since the pilot and they always wanted music to be a very integral part of the show. And the songs tend to play for quite a long time. They’re used almost as a score.
That’s the other thing: You’re given an amazing amount of time and space in “Grey’s” to affect how that show feels in big moments.
That’s a pretty serious creative choice, but (Rhimes) loves to do that.
You’ve helped launch some careers of bands that were almost impossibly hard to find before you played their songs on these shows. That kind of requires you to go to these grimy clubs that smell like sweat and beer and pee. Do you also have an affection for those kinds of places at this point?
I’ve always been interested in tiny clubs. I’m probably much older than the average fan at these places now, but I relate very much to those fans. I was that kid at one point. I was always very invested in the vinyl culture—and still am, really.
There have just been changes in the way that bands are signed and the way music is recorded now. Before, somebody had to decide to give them enough money to put their music to tape. Now, if it’s recorded well enough, if the music is good enough, they might be able to find a way.
So how do you delineate between all of the sheer stuff that’s on the Internet?
My job has been the same for years. I have sort of a different way of looking at it I guess. It’s my profession. I get submissions from trusted sources, from people that sign unsigned bands for a living, think agents, people like that.
Is there a specific band or a specific that you’ve always wanted you use on the show that you’ve never been able to?
Oh, I’ll have to think about this question. Some bands’ sounds—they take up a lot of room. This is difficult. I’d have to find a very specific situation. I guess it would be a song that characters wouldn’t be able to talk over.
Has it been a challenge to score Mad Men from a period piece perspective?
Actually, that’s the real treat of this gig. We are not married to a timeframe or point of view. To get to go back to a historical moment in history—getting hired by a director or a producer carry out a vision or a story—those are some of the best parts. Whether it’s in the future in the past or the present, to mine catalogues from the ‘60s. We did this show Carnivale (an HBO Depression-era period piece), and you find out that good music is simply good music, whichever era it comes from. It becomes very evident.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to be a music supervisor?
For any aspiring music supervisor, I’ll say these three things:
1) You must be collaborative by nature. It’s not a job for someone who doesn’t want to hear about somebody else’s vision for a project.
2) We spend a lot of time negotiating film licenses for the show. Every song has a deal attached with that deal, so that is certainly part of it.
3) You must have a real profound love of music. That’s probably the most important part.