Indie music plays starring role on `The O.C.'

November 20, 2005|By SUSAN CARPENTER

LOS ANGELES - Citizens Here and Abroad, a 3-year-old alternative-rock group from San Francisco, spent a recent Thursday night mesmerized by the latest TV episode of The O.C.

They were not ordinary fans. The band, whose "Appearances" was one of the featured songs, was hoping to catch the wave of success that airplay on the hit Fox show has brought to so many groups before them.

"It's kind of known among a lot of indie bands that being on there could mean great exposure," said Adrienne Robillard, 30, one of Citizens' singers.

In the two-plus seasons The O.C. has been on the air, it has developed into a musical alchemist, transforming unknown bands into critics' darlings and sparking online chatter and sales. Originally intended to illuminate the emotional lives of the characters, the music instead has become a character in its own right.

Call it The O.C. Effect. Jem. Imogen Heap. Death Cab for Cutie. Dios Malos - the list of independent artists whose profiles have been boosted by the show's meshing of music and emotionally charged moments is growing.

And then there is The O.C. Ripple Effect: Thus far, Warner Bros. Records has released five soundtrack albums - Music From The O.C.: Mix 1 in March 2004 was the first. The fifth in the series, Mix 5, hit record stores this month.

`An amazing moment'

When it comes to major indie-rock taste makers, Alexandra Patsavas doesn't exactly look the part. Her mane of wavy dark hair isn't spiked blond or streaked fuchsia. Her jeans aren't low-rise and ripped. But as The O.C.'s music supervisor, Patsavas has been instrumental in defining the show's sound.

"We try to go through almost everything," said Patsavas, whom music fans, record labels, artists and band managers alike respect for her keen ear and her open mind - to say nothing of her willingness to slog through the slush pile of unknown musicians.

What's she listening for?

"An amazing emotional moment," she said. "When I'm listening to music, I definitely save things, like, `That would be a great breakup song.' That's how I hear music."

Scrolling through her iTunes, Patsavas runs her cursor over some of the tracks she's considering for forthcoming episodes: underground bands such as Her Space Holiday, Great Northern, Durango Park, Jason Collett, Clue to Kalo. Some of those songs will make their way onto the weekly compilation CDs Patsavas sends to the show's executive producers, Josh Schwartz and McG. From there, the music selection becomes a collaborative process.

"Anthemic" is the sound Schwartz is going for.

A prime-time soap opera embraced by teens and twentysomethings - a demographic that dovetails with the music industry's hungriest consumers - The O.C. made its debut in 2003. It takes place in Newport Beach, Calif., and chronicles a group of hip, well heeled teens as they negotiate the turbulent waters of friendship, romance, family and school.

In its 8 p.m. Thursday slot, still one of the most competitive on prime time, the show is averaging 6.5 million viewers, a drop of 7 percent compared to last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Likewise, sales of Music From the O.C. mix CDs have been declining. The four volumes have sold a total of just under 600,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, the most, not surprisingly, for the first edition (270,000), the least for the third (40,000), a compilation of alt-rock holiday music.

And while the show's viewership has slipped 3 percent this year in its key adults 18-to-49-audience, The O.C. is still hanging on to its young audience.

Not hugely popular

Schwartz said he always listens to music when he writes, and while writing the show's pilot, he was listening to the Joseph Arthur track "Honey and the Moon."

"In the beginning, the bands we used - the Doves, South, Jeff Buckley - weren't hugely popular artists," said Schwartz, who scored most of the music for the first six episodes from his iPod. "We weren't trying necessarily to start a new trend. It was just the music I really responded to and all the people who worked on the show responded to, and all of a sudden we realized it was connecting with people."

When Schwartz ran out of music, he hired Patsavas: "She took what I was trying to do and elevated it, and it kind of became this other component of the show."

They also began incorporating live music, beginning with an in-show performance by the band Rooney. A week after that appearance, Rooney's album sales tripled. The experience prompted Schwartz to make live performances a standard feature.

Certainly, The O.C. is not the first show to link teen drama with new music, but it gets more attention than most because so much music is used. Each episode contains from four to 14 songs.

"It just has become a resource more than anything for the kids out there who are looking for some other avenue, some other way of finding out about cool new acts," said Marisa Porter, co-founder of Zync Music, a music-placement company in Santa Monica, Calif.

"I don't think any other show has established itself as that kind of oracle."

Susan Carpenter is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

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