Alexandra Patsavas: Music supervisor

Alexandra Patsavas licensing indie rock for TV and movies like a boss; image courtesy of letterstotwilight.wordpress.com

I’ve been thinking about Alexandra Patsavas for a long time. She started blipping on my radar during the first season of The O.C., which she helped make a phenomenon early in the show’s run. She’s worked similar magic for Grey’s Anatomy and collaborates with creator Josh Schwartz, who also gave us The O.C.Chuck, Gossip Girl, and Rockville CA. Her credits are all over network and cable television. She’s also worked in film, most notably with the Twilight franchise.

Patsavas in between Josh Schwartz and Kaiser Chiefs' lead singer Ricky Wilson; image courtesy of pedrowatcher.freedomblogging.com

What does she do, you ask? She’s a music supervisor, and one of the few women to rise to such prominence in the industry. The role of music supervisor has expanded considerably in the past fifteen years or so to include legal finagling with record labels. I’d also argue that their role, depending on the project and the collaborative spirit of a director or show runner, warrants entitlement to authorial claims. As such, Patsavas is also the person largely responsible for the commercialization of indie rock during the 2000s, almost single-handedly catapulting bands like Death Cab for Cutie into mainstream success. She even has a hand in distribution, as the indie-friendly Twilight soundtracks that she developed were released on her record label, Chop Shop

New Moon soundtrack (Chop Shop/Atlantic, 2009); image courtesy of openbooksociety.com

Thus, she’s been a figure I’ve followed obsessively during this decade, sometimes causing me to sniff that I’d never sell independent music out like she has and other times provoking me to growl “bitch took my job,” depending on my cash flow at the time. Either way, I’m fascinated with her and think we should think about her work more closely. 

It seems I’m not alone in thinking Ms. Patsavas is interesting. In a previous post on designer Anna Sui and her Gossip Girl-inspired collection for Target, reader Alaina made an astute comment about the shared importance of music and fashion on the show. To her, if anyone on the trendsetting teen soap has the cultural clout akin to, say, Sex and the City costume designer Pat Field, it isn’t designer Eric Daman but music supervisor Patsavas.

Now, I don’t want to put words in her mouth so hopefully she’ll feel compelled to elaborate her point further. But I interpreted her comment to mean that Patsavas’s work on Schwartz’s television shows, which all feature characters who are tremendously literate in popular and independent music, creates a sense of authenticity both for the show and for the characters whose lives are changed and identities formed by the right song from Spoon, Sonic Youth, LCD Soundsystem, Death Cab for Cutie, Air, Daft Punk, or any other cool-kid music act. In fact, Seth Cohen and Dan and Jenny Humphrey might not even exist without her, as they certainly wouldn’t know what band names to drop. Thus, Patsavas creates a brand awareness akin to the sort of work Field did through Carrie Bradshaw in making Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, and Christian Louboutin such household names.

"Sarah, I own you like Alex Patsavas owns the Humphreys!", Pat Field with Sarah Jessica Parker; image courtesy of observer.com

For me, though, perhaps her most fascinating work is on Mad Men, which is often period-appropriate but sometimes dabbles with pointed anachronism, thus potentially opening up inquiry about the show’s relationship to historical authenticity. The most jarring (and discussed) musical moment so far has been season two’s “Maidenform,” which opens to Betty Draper, Joan Holloway, and Peggy Olsen getting dressed to the galloping strains of The Decemberists’s “The Infanta,” a track off Picaresque that was released in 2005 and not 1962. I’m assuming she’s responsible for selecting the show’s theme as well, though imagine score composer David Carbonara or creator/show runner/auteur Matthew Weiner could be responsible. Regardless, this is easily the show’s most heard but least commented upon bit of anachronism

As I mentioned in my comment to Gary Edgerton’s essay for In Media Res about the show’s opening credits, the theme song is not the work of Bernard Herrmann or a Carbonara approximation. It’s an instrumental version of a song called “A Beautiful Mine.” The people responsible for it are an instrumental hip hop artist named RDJ2, a rapper from Freestyle Fellowship named Aceyalone, and a period-appropriate violinist named Enoch Light, whose “Autumn Leaves” provides the basis for the tune. The song originally appeared on Acey’s Magnificent City.

Pointedly, his vocals are absent from the show’s theme. I suppose a black man’s rap might be too anachronistic for some. But I also think there’s something unsettling about such an argument. It may either provide a comment on the deliberate absence of people of color in a show set in pre-integration America or validate many of the show’s detractors who cry “racism!” I think it does both.

Thus, song selection matters. But of course, so do song selectors.

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5 comments

  1. mabel rosenheck

    excellent post, alyx! i too have thought alot about patsavas and how her taste in (indie) music (and i agree it very much uniquely authors the stuff she works on) shapes these very mainstream shows and these stars like Adam Brody who straddle a line between indie/mainstream in no small part due to how her cultural tastes construct those characters. Its also really interesting to see her as a thread that runs through fare from the oc to gossip girl to twilight to mad men all of which have a certain “hipster” following though it is not always so easy to pinpoint what they have in common.

  2. Pingback: Women at work | Feminist Music Geek

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