Why Is There So Much Indie Rock on Television?

Categories: Music Industry

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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.

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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.

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