Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 17, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

GREY'S ANATOMY MUSIC REVISITED....This wouldn't normally make it onto the Washington Monthly's radar screen, but a few days ago I wrote a vague post about "Grey's Anatomy music," asking if people understood what I meant by that term. Some did, some didn't. Today, by chance, the Wall Street Journal introduces us to the performer on tonight's finale episode:

The singer is Ingrid Michaelson, a 26-year-old Staten Island native who lives at home with her parents and has become the chanteuse of "Grey's Anatomy." She was discovered on MySpace by a management company that specializes in finding little-known acts and placing their works in soundtracks for TV shows, commercials, movies and videogames....Three of her songs have already been aired on this season's "Grey's" as the sonic backdrop for the drama's soapy tales of Seattle Grace Hospital.

....TV, of course, has become an increasingly powerful force for driving music sales. Apart from "American Idol" and "Saturday Night Live," possibly the most coveted TV slots for musicians are on "Grey's Anatomy," which has helped make songs like "How to Save a Life" by the Fray into top sellers on iTunes. A finale spot on "Grey's" is considered a particularly plum slot. Last year, the finale allowed Scottish band Snow Patrol to break through to a broad audience and played a role in making its featured song, "Chasing Cars," a hit.

So there you have it. That "finale spot" is what I was talking about, and I had no idea that it was (a) a different performer every week, or (b) even recognizable music, let alone a "particularly plum" soapbox for aspiring artists. I thought it was just the show's version of Muzak.

Yet another demonstration that I'm totally out of touch with this stuff. Consider me schooled.

Kevin Drum 1:46 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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Comments

I remember first seeing this in the late 1990s with BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Was it going on before then?

Posted by: Steve on May 17, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

It's both a plum soapbox AND the show's elevator muzak. Neither prohibits the other. Nuts.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on May 17, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

It is a frightening thing to realize that I learn about pop culture from the Wall Street Journal.

Posted by: Rod Hoffman on May 17, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, yeah, Steve. The first one I remember was Northern Exposure - there was some great music showcased on that program.

By the way, Kevin, my 15-year-old, who has the most eclectic music taste of anyone I've ever known, has quite a bit of Grey's music in her iTunes library right now. I know this because I'm treated to her favorite playlist whenever she's home.

Posted by: cmac on May 17, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, the finale spot was not what you were talking about. The finale spot, from the context of this article, is a spot in the season finale (not at the end of each episode) and hence is too limited a phenomenon to be what was bothering you.

Posted by: washerdreyer on May 17, 2007 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know if you recall Salon's articles on radio payola from what 1-2 years ago(???)... but artists and smaller labels have realized for years that if they want to break through to American audiences they cannot rely on radio, which is essentially locked out to anyone who won't pay for play time.

TV and TV-advertizing has been a significant outlet for techno for a number of years--to the point where there are awards for 'best electronic dance song featured in a television ad'.

I expect with the continuing boom of YouTube, that the internet and word-of-mouth will become ever more important in giving teenagers the music they want to listen to, and in allowing them to claim a cultural identity of their own. And artists and independent labels will continue to find crafty ways to insert their works in out of the way places where they can be found.

Posted by: sdh on May 17, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

The singer is Ingrid Michaelson, a 26-year-old Staten Island native

Kevin, now you're looking up information on 26 year old New Yawk girls from Staten Island? I hope your wife doesn't find out (just kidding!). Frankly, I don't watch Grey's Anatomy for the music you're talking about right now. How come Toby Keith isn't the one singing in the show? Or Clint Black? Or the Right Brothers? They aren't on because they're conservatives. Just another example of liberal bias on the liberal controlled TV networks.

Posted by: Al on May 17, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK


i rely on the washington monthly to keep me in tune with popular culture. thank you kevin, thank you charlie peters.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on May 17, 2007 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

The only time I watched Grey's Anatomy--something about somebody drowning--I thought "what dreary music." Went with the teary plot. Give me the Sopranos any day. And get off my lawn!

Posted by: Henry on May 17, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

What's interesting is that in many cases, the shows are making deals with indie musicians. This is better for both the TV people and the artist, as it cuts the record label out of the deal.

There's less and less reason for musicians to sign with major labels all the time. If the artist is willing to self-promote, he or she can make a lot more money by staying independent. Even major stars with record label contracts often wind up broke, because of the terms of the typical contract.

Posted by: Joe Buck on May 17, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

"...TV, of course, has become an increasingly powerful force for driving music sales."

As opposed to the old days of, say, Dick Clark or "The Monkees" or Ed Sullivan or "Your Hit Parade" or...or...

Sigh. I must be getting old.

Posted by: Robert Earle on May 17, 2007 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

*TV and TV-advertizing has been a significant outlet for techno for a number of years...*

I thought today's TV ads were dominated by 60's & 70's music, now that Boomers run most of the ad agencies.

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on May 17, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

How come Toby Keith isn't the one singing in the show? Or Clint Black? Or the Right Brothers?

How about... because the style of their music doesn't fit the concept the music director has for the show?

But perhaps you can get the ghost of McCarthy to interrogate the music director for his or her unAmerican musical choices?

On another note, I misremembered the date of Salon's payola series, it was from 2001. Still, gives you an idea of what an up and coming artist is up against.

Posted by: sdh on May 17, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

I remember reading a feature story on some hip hop artist enjoying his 15 minutes. They were talking about how he made it, and he said that his big break was when he got on Madden. I didn't understand at first, and then I realized he meant that one of his songs had gone onto the soundtrack of the Madden video football games.

This is all related to the loss of movie sound tracks. I blame "The Big Chill." You don't have to contract with a composer and an orchestra any more, you just have an administrative assistant sit on the phone and license some old rock and roll songs.

Posted by: Wally on May 17, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

The parent of any teen could've told you all about this "Grey's Anatomy" music stuff. "The O.C." was also a source of interesting but obscure music.

Posted by: Debra on May 17, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Snow Patrol broke through because of Grey's Anatomy? Hardly. SP is huge here; they hardly need an American tv show to build an audience.

I love them, btw, but other than that, I'm about as out of touch as anyone, these days anyway.

Posted by: KathyF on May 17, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

I thought today's TV ads were dominated by 60's & 70's music, now that Boomers run most of the ad agencies.

There is a lot of 60s and 70s music in ads... but in ads usually targetted to boomers. You wouldn't market anything to a teen using 'old' music, would you?

Posted by: sdh on May 17, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

The "Friends" theme was a big hit for the Rembrandts. It's a big deal, yeah, because making money from music is all about volume. Heh.

Posted by: Liv Pooleside on May 17, 2007 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Another data point is the recent emergence of an unknown former punk named Moby to national prominence, big bucks, and videos schmoozing with Gwen Stefani on the strength of....touring? Radio play? Opening for a major act? Huge ad budgets and promotional spots on music showcases? Carson Daly wearing a Moby t-shirt?

Nope. Just licensing every song on his CD to television shows, TV ads, movies, anyone who would pony up for it. Moby's Play went double platinum.

Posted by: Daddy Love on May 17, 2007 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Oh yeah. Even though I'm older (36ish) for *years* the only place to hear good new music was tv shows with younger audiences and video games.

The mainstream music industry wants to give you the next Brittney and NSync. I'm sick of the formula.

Posted by: gex on May 17, 2007 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

The Right Brothers? Didn't the FTC make them change their names to the Wrong Brothers for truth in advertising?

Posted by: fasteddie on May 17, 2007 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Miami Vice was the first TV show to prominantly feature pop music in the soundtrack. It set off a wave of copycats.

Posted by: fish on May 17, 2007 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

For those interested: a link to WIRED's short piece from last fall on Alexandra Patsavas, the music supervisor for GREY'S and THE O.C.

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.09/patsavas.html

Posted by: Gus Dahlberg on May 17, 2007 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

How come Toby Keith isn't the one singing in the show? Or Clint Black? Or the Right Brothers? They aren't on because they're conservatives.

Toby Keith is a Democrat.

Posted by: Maximus on May 17, 2007 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

How come Toby Keith isn't the one singing in the show? Or Clint Black? Or the Right Brothers? They aren't on because they're conservatives.

Oh, please. They aren't on because they're country singers, and the people who make Grey's Anatomy know that their target demographic doesn't like country music.

Posted by: Steve M. on May 17, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, that answer covers only Clint Black and Toby Keith, whose music some people actually like. Nobody actually likes the Right Brothers' music. The music of the Right Brothers are like Chris Muir's "Day by Day" -- something right-wingers have convinced themselves they enjoy because it's conservatively correct.

Posted by: Steve M. on May 17, 2007 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

There's a more interesting phenomenon going on here. The reason TV shows are going with obscure bands they pick up on MySpace etc. is because licensing costs for big name bands is rising beyond affordability. Only a few big network shows like Cold Case buy famous songs, they have to because it's part of the show's premise, to evoke a past time with songs people would recognize from that time. But if you just need theme music, go find some unsigned band, they'd take pennies just for the exposure.

Posted by: charlie don't surf on May 17, 2007 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

How come Toby Keith isn't the one singing in the show? Or Clint Black?

Actually, it's becasue they suck. Politics doesn't enter into it.

The best music on the air is in VW commercials and bumper music on various NPR shows. I'll never forget LMAO in the car one day when they closed out a segment on gays in the military with Gang of Four's "I Love a Man in Uniform." Twice as funny since I'm sure not one listener in 100 recognized the song.

Posted by: Jambo on May 17, 2007 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks for this piece. I find not only the music at the end of Grey's Anatomy but the ponderous monologue which "wraps up" the plot to be examples of the most annoying trend in prime-time drama; you can find it also in Desperate Housewives, which also ends every week on a cloying coda of pithy maxims pronounced a syllabus at a time, along with some faux-sentimental dirge.

Posted by: David Ross on May 18, 2007 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

I believe this shows that the "net" has brought some power to the people. I hope we won't look back on the "net" in 10 to 20 years and say that the early 2000's were the golden years for the "net." The trend seems to be the "net" becoming more and more corporate America

Posted by: Kstan on May 18, 2007 at 12:18 AM | PERMALINK

I hate to burst some bubbles here, but Grey's Anatomy is riding the trend of "borrowing" the music of hip and relatively unknown "indie" acts in order to give their show some credibility. I don't like to be one of those people who doesn't like something just because a lot of other people do, but when a big-time TV show borrows less-than-mainstream music, it's hard to listen to that same music knowing that a hundred thousand other people are doing the same because they heard it on big time TV show.

Posted by: Xanthippas on May 18, 2007 at 9:46 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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