The Anatomy of Hit Music

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At a cozy downtown hair salon in New York City, a stylist was buzzing about Teddybears and Peter Bjorn & John, two bands he heard the previous night. But he didn't get tuned in to the tracks at a hip club or on the radio - it was on ABC's hit medical drama, Grey's Anatomy.

Alexandra Patsavas
According to an article in today's New York Post, that's all thanks to Alexandra Patsavas (right), a 38-year-old independent music supervisor and the sonic treasure hunter behind Grey's Anatomy, as well as other shows.

Because of the popularity of these programs, and the high priority they put on good music, getting Patsavas' ear is as important as scoring a spot on MTV or a Top 40 radio station.

One beneficiary was the group Snow Patrol, which was featured in Grey's Anatomy's emotional season finale, "Losing My Religion."

The song plays as Izzy lies on the bed of her dead fiancé, Denny Duquette. Patsavas chose Snow Patrol's acoustic version of "Chasing Cars" as an emotional counter note, and the band received a huge national boost.

Another beneficiary has been The Fray, whose track "How to Save a Life" was featured on Grey's Anatomy and is now a smash hit.

To find the right tune, Patsavas pores over 400 CDs a week.

"I just get through it. Really bad music reveals itself quickly. And the good stuff - when you hear it, you know it," she said.

She compiles the best tracks for the producers to hear in "the cutting room or the car."

Sometimes the Grey's Anatomy music is already in the script. Other times, she'll pitch a song after reading the script or after the show's been shot and edited.

"There's really no formula. I keep the signature sound for a show in mind, pitching certain songs for an operation scene or a date scene," she said.

Patsavas has been a music junkie forever. In the '80s, she had an asymmetrical haircut to go with the new-wave scene. As a student at University of Illinois, the go-getter started her own business and booked indie bands, such as Nirvana, Love & Rockets and Jane's Addiction.

She moved to L.A. to be a booking agent, but changed her tune when she discovered that music supervision was a career option.

After a stint at BMI, she worked for legendary B-movie maker Roger Corman ("A Bucket of Blood" and "Rock 'n' Roll High School"). To stretch her limited budget, she turned to her beloved indie bands for soundtracks.

In 1998, she started her own company, Chop Shop. Her first TV show was Roswell, which starred current Grey's actress Katherine Heigl. There, she licensed acts such as Doves, Coldplay, Radiohead and Ivy, then went on to work on Boston Public, Without a Trace and Rescue Me.

Currently, Patavas programs for six prime-time shows - including The O.C., a huge program to break alternative bands.

"The O.C. has been such an amazing experience. Those kind of shows don't come along very often. Music is a character on the show, and that is what's different," she said.

For The O.C., she also has suggested bands (such as the Walkmen and Death Cab for Cutie) to play live at the fictional hangout, the Bait Shop.

The O.C., which was recently moved to Thursdays opposite Grey's Anatomy, was cancelled last night, with the final episode scheduled for February 22.

Since 1994, when the Flaming Lips appeared on Beverly Hills, 90210, the stigma attached to performing on the small screen has all but disappeared.

"In the old days, a TV sync was perceived as not so cool or whittling away at your indie cred," Patsavas said. "Now it's seen as much more of an opportunity than a sellout, as a way to find fans who wouldn't have ordinarily come across their genre of music."

Steve Marsi is the Managing Editor of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Google+ or email him here.


Hi there! I'm wondering if you can help me. I heard a song which was played on a trailer for Grey's Anatomy. It was for series 3 and I think it's the 5 one of that series. The trailer was showed on Living TV about a month ago in the UK and since I heard it, I've been searching everyday on the net trying to find out the song. Sometimes up to six hours. Here 's a link to the trailer which I found on youtube: If you find out what this song is I'll be soooo so so happy. I know you don't know me and you probably don't care, but I really need to know this song it's so beautiful and I want it so badly : ( Please help. Vanessa


I was just discussing this with... myself, but that part's not important. Anyways, I found Kate Havnevik from Grey's Anatomy, and I am totally in love with her music. I also found Gomez (How We Operate), Snow Patrol (I actually like Somewhere A Clock is Ticking better than Chasing Cars) and the Fray (How to Save a Life is freaking classic.) Anyways, great article!


alexandra you are just awesome! I got switched onto a kind of earthly folk after finding Nick Drake a few years ago. Since then I have been searching the planet for more of the same but more contemporary and am now glued every week to Greys. It's not only the drama which is up there but the music fits perfectly and is the best selection I have heard on any TV show.
I also love Rescue me byt the way!!


I love it when people turn a passion into a career. I had never even thought about how they chose the music until I read this article. I have also wided my range of music I listen to just by watching Grey's Anatomy.


I know, I found Tegan and Sara from Grey's Anatomy first season. They are used quite often, and are now some of my favorite music!!


I LOVE LOVE LOVE the music on greys!!!!! i look forward to the show recap every week just to be able to find all the artist that were played and get there music. She does a really great job corresponding scenes with the BEST sound.


What an interesting article. I always just assumed it was Shonda Rhimes who had the great collection of musice. This actually makes sense that someone is actually in charge of identifying the perfect song for the important scenes.


Seems like the perfect job. Nice article too, although I'm sure that the version of Chasing Cars in the last episode wasn't the acoustic one. Try and compare the two: the song featured in 'Losing my religion' (nice R.E.M.-touch btw) was definitely the album-version.


Grey's Anatomy Quotes

Did you say it? 'I love you. I don't ever want to live without you. You changed my life.' Did you say it? Make a plan. Set a goal. Work toward it, but every now and then, look around; Drink it in 'cause this is it. It might all be gone tomorrow."

Meredith (closing voiceover)

Burke was- He took something from me. He took little pieces of me, little pieces over time, so small I didn't even notice, you know? He wanted me to be something I wasn't, and I made myself into what he wanted. One day I was me Cristina Yang, and then suddenly I was lying for him, and jeopardizing my career, and agreeing to be married and wearing a ring, and being a bride. Until I was standing there in a wedding dress with no eyebrows, and I wasn't Cristina Yang anymore. And even then, I would've married him. I would have. I lost myself for a long time. And now that I'm finally me again, I can't. I love you. I love you more than I loved Burke. I love you. And that scares the crap out of me because when you asked me to ignore Teddy's page, you took a piece of me, and I let you. And that will never happen again.