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Alexandra Patsavas: Music Supervisor Talks "Mad Men" & Placing Music In TV/Films
Alexandra Patsavas is arguably the most recognizable name in music supervision. Her credits include popular series “Mad Men,” “Gossip Girl,” “The O.C.,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Scandal” and blockbuster films such as the Twilight series, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The GRAMMY-nominated music supervisor has helped expose an ever-growing list of indie artists to mainstream audiences, bolstering the careers of Death Cab for Cutie, the Fray, the Killers, Modest Mouse, and many others by placing their songs in high profile scenes. When she’s not on the frontlines of supervising, Patsavas is busy overseeing her crew at Chop Shop Music Supervision and signing emerging talent with her label, Chop Shop Records.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Patsavas to hear about her personal experiences working with television show runners and composers, the differences between working in film and television, and trendspotting in the industry.
You just wrapped up production on the final season of “Mad Men.” What are you turning your focus to next?
I was sad to see that one go. At Chop Shop, we’re working on a great Stephen King miniseries called “11/22/63,” which is going to be released on Hulu next year. And additionally, just finished the finale for “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “Supernatural” and are looking forward to the next season, which will include “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” and ShondaLand’s new show “The Catch.” One other thing we are really looking forward to is a 10-part miniseries that is airing on ABC called “The Astronaut Wives Club.” It’s based on the book of the same name.
How do you go about overseeing and finding the music that best accompanies the picture?
The very first thing [I do] is get involved at the pilot stage. I spend a long time talking with the creators and producers and show runner about the musical signature of the show. Is it going to be score heavy or source heavy? For example, for “The Astronaut Wives Club,” I spoke with [series creator] Stephanie Savage. The show spans the decade of the ‘60s, basically from 1960-1970 and she was very interested in making sure that her musical choices included not only songs from the era but covers from new bands and contemporary music as well.
The composer and supervisor sort of work hand in hand. We definitely work together [to answer questions like] what key is the song? Is this going to be score? The composer certainly has their own enormous job, which is underscoring perhaps 25-30 minutes an episode depending on how many songs there are. As far as music libraries go, once the show has been shot and it is in the editorial process, there might be moments that we’re not looking for a known song and are instead focused on a classical piece or a different type of piece. A music supervisor will call all sorts of libraries, pitch companies, labels, publishers. We have contacts all over the place to make sure that our producers get the songs that they are interested in.
There is a third important component of any music team on a TV show and that’s the music editor who is working with both the supervisor and the composer, making sure that the songs are cut in the right way and that the score and the source is pretty seamless.
What is the difference in music supervision for television and music supervision for film?
It’s really about timeline … what can be different is a typical movie can take almost a year from beginning to end. With TV shows, the time frame is much shorter and we also are telling a story in chapters. There are 22-24 episodes to tell that story – 22 hours of television. It’s a longer process and there is a lot of opportunity for music.
Movie wise, I was lucky enough to work on the Twilight series and that was similar [to a television show], where we were able to watch the characters evolve over five movies. It was very interesting to be able to work on a series of movies that told one story.
What are some of the music composition trends that you’re seeing right now?
Trends are so tough because music supervisors work project to project. And we really follow the creative impulses of the show runner and the scripts themselves. The show itself will really inform what kind of music they are going to end up using. With a show like “The Astronaut Wives Club,” it’s important to make sure that the show feels like the ‘60s. But in a show like “Supernatural,” we just finished our tenth season and from the very beginning, the creators of the show wanted the music to feel like old fashion road songs. So although it is in the present, so many classic rock songs are used and that is the musical signature of that show. As far as “Scandal,” Shonda [Rhimes, the show’s creator,] always knew that she wanted to look back in the first season to the late ‘60s and the ‘70s, and almost all of the source music is from that era. That was a creative choice that Shonda made and we’ve had a lot of fun with it. We have a lot of Stevie Wonder, for instance. The last song from this season was Nina Simone doing a Beatles track. We’ve had a lot of fun with some of these older songs.