Muses For Your Ears

Despite a fractured soundscape, these music tastemakers influence what we hear

August 20, 2006|By RASHOD D. OLLISON | RASHOD D. OLLISON,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Your best friend's downloading "Me & U" by Cassie. Your sister's listening to Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" on her iPod. Your neighbor is addicted to Snoop Dogg's XM station.

The musical landscape is far more fractured than in the days when you and seemingly everybody else on the block knew the latest Michael Jackson song, the new Madonna hit or the current Prince jam. Any tune that was "No. 1 with a bullet," the most frequently played cut on Top 40 radio, blared from cars, storefronts and boomboxes in the park. Regardless of the genre, if the song sat high on the charts, it's likely that anybody with a radio heard it.

Those days have long passed.

Despite the disparate nature of today's pop music consumption and the implosion of the genre's distribution, there are still "tastemakers" out there, people who influence what many of us hear on TV (the last bastion of massive music promotion), commercial radio, surging satellite radio and the Internet. These people aren't publicists, record producers or frustrated artists-turned-critics. They started out as music fans, then parlayed their passions into rewarding careers behind the scenes - on TV, through satellite radio and online - managing to carve out a role exposing listeners to new music. Here are a few of these influential names to know:

Reigning on the radio

Nic Harcourt, author, music director at KCRW in Los Angeles and host of the syndicated radio show "Morning Becomes Eclectic" and its spinoff, "Sounds Eclectic"

A native of Birmingham, England, Harcourt helped launch the careers of Garbage and Moby during his eight years as music director at WDST-FM, a respected radio station in Woodstock, N.Y. In 1998, he became the music director at KCRW, where his influential work as host and director of Morning Becomes Eclectic has garnered praise from such esteemed publications as Esquire.

"A handful of tastemakers can make or break a career," the magazine said in a December 2003 profile. "The most artistically savvy of them all is Nic Harcourt."

Through Morning Becomes Eclectic, he has developed or enhanced the reputations of such varied and notable artists as Norah Jones, Damien Rice, Pete Yorn, Jem, David Gray, Sigur Ros and Coldplay. In late 2000, KCRW and Public Radio International launched Sounds Eclectic, a weekly, two-hour, best-of version of Morning Becomes Eclectic, which airs on weekdays.

Last fall, Sasquatch, a publishing house in Seattle, released Harcourt's first book, Music Lust: Recommended Listening for Every Mood, Moment and Reason. Around the same time, KCRW and Nacional Records issued Sounds Eclectico, the ninth compilation of live tracks performed in-studio by artists who have appeared on Morning Becomes Eclectic.

Like anyone who is influential in the music industry, Harcourt is regularly inundated with CDs and press kits from record labels.

"I pick the music that's on my show," says Harcourt, 48. "There's a lot of freedom there. Sometimes it strikes a chord; sometimes it doesn't. Usually, it's something that makes me want to tap my feet or a lyric that stops me, something that stands out different from the pack."

Harcourt's broad reach extends into other media. He has worked as a music supervisor for such TV shows as CBS' Love Monkey, Showtime's Queer as Folk and ABC's In Justice, which he also co-produced.

TV ads have become another platform to push music, and Harcourt has overseen music for campaigns including Mitsubishi Motors, Apple iPods and Victoria's Secret. In the movie realm, he has selected tunes for Anchorman, Ice Age and The Dukes of Hazzard.

But his devotion to music began in a simpler, less technologically savvy time. Growing up in England in the 1960s, his passion was sparked after hearing the Beatles for the first time. "That's where it starts for me," he says. "They were really good with melody and proper songs that had a beginning, middle and end - not that I'm not into artier stuff that deviates from that."

Getting tunes on TV

Alexandra Patsavas --music supervisor for "Grey's Anatomy" and "The O.C."

There's no formula to what the Chicago native does every day as the music supervisor for two popular primetime TV shows. And she likes it that way.

"It seems obvious to say this, but to be a music supervisor, you have to really be a music fanatic," she says. "I mean, love it in that `My life would be a big, dark room without it' kind of way."

In her job, Patsavas, 38, has helped push into the mainstream some of the most talked-about bands in indie rock. Just last year, music by Modest Mouse, the Shins, the Thrills, the Killers and the Walkmen all appeared on Fox's The O.C., the young-adult soap opera focusing on a group of beautiful teens in an affluent harbor-front community in California. Death Cab for Cutie, a Bellingham, Wash., quartet, is perhaps the most famous example of an act that has benefited from exposure on the show.

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