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Interview with Alexandra Patsavas, music supervisor, The O.C.
Interview with Alexandra Patsavas, music supervisor for "The O.C."
by: Mike Farley

Farley Home / CD Reviews / Entertainment Channel

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Have you ever wondered how music is chosen for a certain television show? And especially, how it is chosen for a white-hot show like Fox’s “The O.C.”? Well, believe it or not, someone has the super cool job of choosing the music and putting it against the dialogue and scenes. In the case of "The O.C.", that person is Alexandra Patsavas. She has not only done a fantastic job of putting music to the show’s episodes, but has developed a reputation for putting new artists on the map and helping to launch their careers. Bullz-Eye.com had a chat with Alexandra about all of that and more.

Bullz-Eye: So how long have you been doing music supervision and how did you land the gig with “The O.C.”?

Alexandra Patsavas: I’ve been doing music supervision for 10 years, since ’95. I started with Roger Corman, who did “Bucket of Blood,” sort of a legendary B-movie producer. Jack Nicholson worked with him in the ‘70s. I worked on it with McG (director of both “Charlie’s Angels” movies and executive producer of “The O.C.”) and Stephanie Savage (McG’s producing partner) on “Fastlane” and I had worked with some of the editors as well. So that’s how I was introduced to Josh (Schwartz).

BE: And Josh is the creator of the show?

AP: Yes, he is the creator of the show. Exactly.

BE: Can you take me through the selection process to place songs on the show and how you place them on the soundtrack?

AP: Well, as far as the soundtrack goes, we only select music that has actually been used on the show or will be used on the show. And we focus on songs that we really think are standouts, but also that represent big moments that the fans of the show can remember.

As far as picking music for the show goes, it sort of happens in so many ways. I send down music to the show that I’ve pre-screened. But Josh and the other producers are very into music so oftentimes music is scripted early on. Additionally, sometimes songs are scripted from the beginning, but I also pitch for certain scenes and pitch for already shot and edited footage. So once I actually see the footage I work to find the perfect song, which sometimes happens quickly and sometimes happens slowly.

BE: Gotcha. Are you the one with the final say?

AP: No, the producers have the final say. But sometimes music clearly works or clearly doesn’t to enhance what the producers have intended the scene to mean.

BE: Right. That sounds like such a cool job.

AP: It is a really cool job. I’m a lucky lady. But the other part of the job is a pretty intense licensing process. There is a lot of legal work and paper work in my office. Negotiations have to be done for every single song selection. And additionally, every episode has to hopefully be on budget and on time.

BE: Sure. Do you have anything on Mix 5 you are particularly excited about?

AP: I’m really excited about the two songs that were created for the Mix, which is “Forever Young,” our Youth Group cover. And Phantom Planet re-recorded…

BE: “California?”

AP: Yes. And then of course the Subways, which are appearing live on “The O.C.”

BE: Yeah, I thought that was really cool. And “Forever Young” is a favorite song of mine, so I thought that was really cool.

AP: Is it? Do you remember it from the first time around?

BE: Yeah (laughs). Does the cast ever try to suggest music to you?

AP: You know, they are really busy with acting on the show, but they definitely go to a lot of shows in town.

BE: And they’ll tell you, “Oh, check out this band. We saw them at this club”?

AP: Yeah, they’re into it, but they’ve got enough of their own work to do, really. But they’re definitely into it. They go to a lot of shows.

BE: That’s cool. Have you become a go-to person for record labels looking for new acts?

AP: In what sense?

BE: Like do labels look to you for new bands to sign?

AP: Oh, I’m not sure actually. That would be more of a question for the label, but I’m definitely interested in their new signings, you know?

BE: OK. I’m kind of surprised that they haven’t come to you because it’s almost like a screening process.

AP: Huh, that’s funny. If that’s the case, I’m certainly not being paid (laughs). No, I think that we sort of just focus on what’s working for the show. You know, a lot of the bands are already signed. They’re just signed to small labels like Arts & Crafts or Sub Pop.

BE: Right. And what do you look for in a band or in a song?

AP: I don’t know. I just want to like it. Music is so personal. I don’t know how to really define what it is that I look for, but I definitely know it when I hear it.

BE: Just something that moves you personally?

AP: Yeah! Or you look for music that will sit well under dialogue. It’s a very different set of criteria to look for music that works with a picture. You’re enhancing something that’s already there. So it’s different, you’re not listening for a full album; I’m listening for a song. It’s just different.

BE: Do you get bombarded with submissions from crappy bands?

AP: Yes! (laughs) But I also get bombarded with submissions from really great bands.

BE: (laughs) Right. What would you say is a percentage of what gets used from what’s sent?

AP: Well what actually gets used is such a small amount. I think I probably keep about 50 percent of what comes into my office. But as far as what actually makes it to air is unfortunately a really small percentage because we can only use so many things. Really good music doesn’t get placed sometimes just because the appropriate scene didn’t present itself for whatever reason. It might be a great song by itself, but with the dialogue wasn’t quite the right mood.

BE: Do you feel pressure at all to make the music as cutting edge as possible, or does that come naturally?

AP: No, I don’t feel pressure at all about that. I’m very dedicated to keeping up with whatever comes into the mailroom. I always try not to get too behind, because it gets overwhelming. But I just really focus on what I feel is going to work for the show.

BE: Cool. Do you listen to anything in particular outside of work?

AP: I love the new Rogue Wave album. Have you heard it?

BE: No, I haven’t.

AP: It’s on Sub Pop. You should have them send it to you. And the new Calla.

BE: Haven’t heard that one either.

AP: Yeah. And the Subways…those are the three that are really on my “turntable” the most. My “turntable”…that’s my CD player, my iPod.

BE: Do you ever get tempted as you’re going through the selection process to say, “Screw it, I’m going to take a song by Squeeze and put it in here”?

AP: I do! We do! (laughs) Definitely. We’ve used Journey, we’ve used Bob Seger. Yeah. We’ve definitely returned to some “older gems” on the show.

BE: And obviously some good remakes too.

AP: Right. Well “Maybe I’m Amazed” of course, and “If You Leave,” and “Champagne Supernova.” And of course the new one (“Forever Young”).

BE: Tell me about the satisfaction that comes with helping a band get instant success from being on “The O.C.”

AP: I think there are many components to instant success. It has to get to me somehow, which takes some planning.

BE: But have you had anyone in particular that has become really successful that you feel good about because you played a part in it?

AP: Oh you know, I think I feel really good anytime that I can help some really interesting musicians reach a larger audience. We’re really dedicated to doing that. But I think we’re just one piece in the puzzle of how that happens.

BE: That’s about all I’ve got. Is there anything you want to add?

AP: It is important to know that music supervision is interesting because it is so collaborative. You sort of straddle two industries. We work in the TV and film industry; we’re hired by our producers to carry out what they see as the musical vision for the project. And then we have the good fortune to be able to sort of pick and choose what we are interested in in the music business. It’s a lot of collaboration.

BE: It’s always been fascinating to me.

AP: Music supervision?

BE: Yeah. I’m a songwriter and have had some of my songs placed in TV shows, and things like that, so I know how all that licensing works.

AP: Yeah, fun, huh?

BE: Exactly, but the selection process of how that all fits together, like I’ll listen to music and say “That sounds like a great song for a movie.” And it just sounds like a really cool thing.

AP: Right, and it is. It is also really interesting to see what actually does work. Sometimes I have in my head a certain song or band that I just totally dig on its own, and then when we try to put it to picture for whatever reason it overwhelms it or under-whelms it, it’s interesting, like how it changes. How certain bands are just incredibly sync-able. Iron and Wine comes to mind as a band that works really well with picture.

BE: And is that because of how much lyrics they have or…?

AP: I don’t know…it is sort of not definable, really. Like I’m not sure what it is, but I do know that certain bands and sounds just marry the picture really well.

BE: That’s really interesting. Do you have a staff that you sit down with all together and you all go through this, or do you do it yourself?

AP: I have three great coordinators. They are all huge music fanatics, so we have very opinionated discussions about things. So they contribute a lot.

BE: Do you personally listen to everything that comes in?

AP: I do.

BE: You do? That’s impressive.

AP: (laughs). It’s depressing. I do. I think it’s important that I at least hear it. I may not want to hear a lot of it, and it may leave the CD player quickly. But certain things really stand out, like this Rogue Wave that I’ve talked about and the Shout Out Louds album and certain albums just really, really….you can tell from the first listen that they’re going to be classics.   

Send any questions or comments to mfarley@bullz-eye.com.  




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