Interview with Alexandra Patsavas, music
supervisor for "The O.C."
by: Mike Farley
Drink Music to post your thoughts, gripes
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
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
BE: Sure. Do you have anything on Mix 5 you are particularly
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
AP: Yes. And then of course the Subways, which are appearing live on “The
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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