Alex Patsavas: The Music Of "The O.C."

The music of "The O.C." is a potent and powerful force that not only subliminally bolsters the emotional aspect of a particular scene, but, as is often the case on "The O.C.," music, artists and bands have also been the subject of conversation amongst the characters. And a growing number of live on-camera performances have also brought the show some well-deserved street cred as well. And with three compilation CDs-entitled "Music From The O.C."-already completed, there has been quite a cottage industry built around the show's obsession with music. And all this falls on the shoulders of the show's keeper of the music castle, music supervisor Alex Patsavas.

As if you don't already know, music and television fans everywhere are definitely jealous of your gig as the music supervisor for "The O.C."

Yeah, it is a great job; it's the best job ever [laughs]. I've been doing music supervision for about ten years. I was that kid who had the bad ‘80s haircut who went to all the clubs and shows, and when I got to college I booked bands for my university, so I would say that's really how I got started; kind of the classic entry into the music business.

I booked a lot of artists from Triad-which became William Morris-so I eventually came up through the Triad mailroom and when I was there in the early ‘90s, they were just starting to handle Lollapalooza and they had some great artists like Nirvana and The Laws. And from there I went to [Performance Rights Organization] BMI in the film and television department, and that's where I realized that music supervision existed, and I thought, "Now that's a great job."

I liked it because I've always been interested in all sorts of music, including classical. And I saw music supervision as a way to not only keep really current on music, but to use all of my music tastes. After that I went to work for [noted film director] Roger Corman and that's where I got my first taste of doing music supervision. I was the music coordinator for Concorde Films and I worked on about 100 projects in three years; things like "Deathrace 2000" and all these classic Corman things.

Corman is known for being the "low-budget king." Did that impact you as the music supervisor?

Oh definitely. I would take a lot of local bands into the studio because we didn't have money to really license anything. My first supervision gig was for a film called, "Caged Heat 3000"-it was a "women in prison in space" film, and my parents were so proud [laughs]. But I was able to get bands like The Melvins and Fu Manchu to go in the studio for the movie, which was great.

And after that I started my own company, The Chop Shop, and I did a couple of feature films like "Happy Texas"and Sandra Bullock's movie, "Gun Shy." My first TV show as a music supervisor was "Roswell."

In terms of "The O.C.," where music plays such a central role, is that vastly different than your role on something like "Roswell"?

Every show and situation is different in terms of the musical needs, but "The O.C." is a dream job because, as everyone knows, [show creator] Josh Schwartz loves music and so I get to work on a show where the producers are really into music and the editors are really into music, and we all have a really great time.

With so many people involved with the production being into music, doesn't that make your job difficult at times?

Not really, because we all share a similar sensibility. It's just a great way to work. Sometimes we try a lot of things before the perfect song emerges for a particular scene and sometimes Josh scripts a specific song early and it works beautifully in the scene, and sometimes I'll hear a song and want to use that. It really works in all different ways, which is great.

Generally speaking, are you given a number of music cues to fill for a particular episode?

Actually, it sort of works the opposite way. Song spots become obvious as we view the footage as it comes in and we work closely together to fill those particular spots. Each episode has a budget and sometimes we can't afford every single song that we hope to use, so we have to replace things based on budget. Basically we put in as many songs as an episode requires.

So song decisions don't happen at the script stage?

It really happens both ways. Some songs are scripted early on - like Josh scripted Finley Quaye and Beth Orton's "Dice" - and then you go through the clearance process, which can be easy and sometimes heart-wrenching.

And other times you think a song is perfect, but when you look at it with the visuals it requires a different emotion, different instrumentation or different lyric. It's really about matching the visuals with the vocal or the instrumental; and it has to do that in reality more than in your imagination.

When you're attempting to get songs for the show, are you explaining the context in which the song will be used?

Oh yes. Every request is put in writing and it has the name of the episode, the description of the scene, the exact timing, etc. It's incredibly specific because it has to stand-up legally.

One song that was used a couple of times during the first season was Bob Seger's 1976 classic, "Night Moves." Was that a case of Josh knowing that he wanted to use that song and you were going to have to figure out a way to get it no matter what?

AP: Absolutely. Sometimes we're getting a song no matter what-but within reason and within the budgetary limitations. The thing is that Bob Seger doesn't license his material to TV very much, so we went out to his company and he knew about the show and loves the show, so we were able to work it out.

On the other end of the spectrum, do you find yourself looking for indie artists more and more because it would seem-especially from a financial standpoint-easier to clear that type of material for use?

AP: The irony is that sometimes an indie artist is the most difficult to clear because they don't have a manager or you find out that you're actually calling a college dorm [laughs]. And because of that the major label things are sometimes easier to clear because there's a system that's already in place. I have a relationship with the clearance person at a label or a publisher and we're able to clear like ten songs a week, because we work in a kind of shorthand with each other.

Do the indie bands understand the process or do you spend a lot of time explaining what it all means?

AP: I do a lot of education with the indie bands, explaining to them that we don't own their song that they need to think of it as us "renting" their song for the project. They've been taught to fear large projects, so there's a lot of education but the overwhelming response is incredibly positive because bands are into "The O.C." I love the indie artists. I'm thrilled when we use a band like Pinback. We definitely support indie labels and indie artists.

Let's talk for a minute about Rooney, because we've heard that the band got quite a big boost after their appearance on the show. What do you know about that?

AP: They came off of their tour to do the show and I know that they had a tremendous boost in their sales after their appearance, which they're obviously very happy about. And we're going to be featuring them on our upcoming "Chrismukkah" album, which is our third O.C. CD release. I work really closely with Josh on putting those together.

In the second season, with the show's nightclub, The Bait Shop, are you planning on working in more live performances?

AP: We've lined up our first four, which include The Walkmen, The Killers, Modest Mouse and The Thrills, and they'll be appearing in the first arc-or the first part-of the second season. Josh lets me know when there's room for a band in a script and when I should start looking around for who's available and all of that.

Despite the show's name, you aren't limited to the using of music or bands from the real O.C., right?

AP: I feel like it all has to do with what best fits. We have certainly used bands from the O.C., but also bands like The Thrills who are Irish. And Modest Mouse is from Washington, The Killers are from Las Vegas, and The Walkmen are from D.C., so for "The O.C." it's more about attitude than place.

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