From ‘How to Get Away With Murder’ to ‘Grey’s Anatomy’: How TV shows get their music

Sia’s “Breathe Me” at the crushing conclusion of “Six Feet Under.” Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” as the president and his advisers gather at the end of the second season of “The West Wing.” Even the “Peanuts” theme in “Arrested Development.” Some of the best moments (or recurring jokes) in television history are tied to music so tightly that, when hearing the opening notes of a certain song, it’s impossible not to be transported to Claire Fisher’s car speeding across the desert or the corridors of the White House.

Those scenes, and others like them, are brought to you by music supervisors, tasked with sifting through the thousands of bands out there looking for exposure and finding the perfect song to match a feeling or idea that the director is trying to get across.

One of the best at that task is Alexandra Patsavas. She’s currently the music supervisor for Shonda Rhimes’ Thursday night domination on ABC (“How to Get Away With Murder,” “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy”), along with “Supernatural” for The CW. In the past, she’s contributed her expertise to “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the Twilight films and “The O.C.,” the television show credited by some as bridging the gap between the small screen and indie music worlds.

With the fall television season here, we caught up with Patsavas to talk about where she finds her music choices and how her job has changed since her first television gig 16 years ago.

How do you discover new artists?

All sorts of ways. My first television show was on in 1999, so I’ve been at it a while. I discover them through management, through labels. … It used to be a lot harder to find artists that were excited about television when I started 15 years ago, but now we definitely get sent a great wealth of material. But also the traditional ways: blogs, reviews, live shows. We hear it in an industry way and a natural way.

There seems to have been a sea change in how bands see television placements.

The essence of music supervision, which is helping the executive producers and creatives define a signature sound, has not changed. … But the biggest change is the appetite for all sorts of artists to not only sync their songs in TV shows, but to even debut songs. It’s a great way for artists to reach fans.

What are shows that, to you, used music effectively?

“Six Feet Under” used music so beautifully and with such great effect. “Girls” uses music so well. There are lots of moments everywhere. There are times that the fans are discovering music, but the loftiest goal for a supervisor is to help create a moment that is memorable because you’re focused on whatever key plot point is happening, but there’s a song also and it’s forever linked in the viewer’s mind.

If you could go back and help integrate pop music into one show that didn’t utilize it fully, what would it be?

Perhaps some of the pop [culturally-significant] shows, like “The Love Boat.” You could have had a band performing on the cruise every week. There could have been ways to explore popular music on a show like that for sure.

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