Why Is There So Much Indie Rock on Television?

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

Alex Photo BBGUN.jpg
By Dave Good

It's hard not to notice: Indie bands seemingly soundtrack just about every sitcom, film and television commercial today. But why? Influential music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas swears it's not just about cheap labor.

"It's far more of a creative decision than a monetary one," she says. "We're picking out the kind of music that the characters in the show might listen to."

Patsavas worked on the music for The O.C., known for breaking indie bands, as well as Grey's Anatomy, Roswell and The Twilight Saga, the latest of which comes out Nov. 16. Since 1998 she's run her own Pasadena-based music company, Chop Shop Supervision, which became its own record label five years ago.

See also: Indie Rock Is Worth Hating See also: My Stolen MP3 Collection Got Stolen See also: Hydra Head Records: A Personal Recollection

It wasn't always this way. In 1984, Miami Vice became the first series to eschew the old-school made-for-television soundtracks in favor of pop music. But in the 20th century, Top 40 hits rarely made it into commercials. Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" was a game changer when used in a Volkswagen ad in 1999, while Moby's licensing of almost every track on his album Play that year may have been the tipping point.

Steve Jobs certainly took notice. Throughout the next decade, iPod media campaigns launched one indie rocker after another to fame: Consider Jet, Feist and Yael Naim, which helped them gain careers and helped Apple stand apart. This trend became a new business model, as advertising -- previously closed to alternative musicians -- became a new conduit to the Billboard Hot 100.

The days when peddling one's music got you labeled a sell-out are long gone. Bruce Springsteen famously declined millions to keep his "Born in the USA" from a Chrysler ad, but Bob Seger took Chevrolet money for "Like a Rock" and Led Zeppelin peddled "Rock and Roll" to Cadillac. Those Victoria's Secret ads, meanwhile, did little to tarnish the Black Keys' credibility.

What kind of money are we talking? Billboard.biz says the payment range for national campaigns can start from four to five figures per track for an unsigned artist to the high six figures and beyond for a name act. In some cases, this type of work has opened doors to recording contracts, so much so that CNNMoney wondered if advertisers had become the new labels. In that case, wouldn't music supervisors be the new A&R staff?

Patsavas doesn't agree entirely. "I think supervisors really have a different goal: to find the very best song that will enhance the story. The job's not necessarily going to go to the best-looking band, or to a musician in a certain age group. Often, when a song hits, it hits because it was tied to a scene that fans liked." She adds that she hears about new music by scanning music blogs, as well as getting some 300 promotional CDs per week. She may be modest about it, but many groups' hopes and dreams undoubtedly live in that pile.

Follow us on Twitter and friend us on Facebook

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.