Typing Faster

December 5, 2009

Don’t Stop Believing: How Glee Manages to Secure Music Rights

Filed under: Glee — petertypingfaster @ 1:46 pm

I think it’s safe to say that Glee wouldn’t work without the show’s great music. And as anyone who’s been involved in production can tell you, licensing popular music can be a royal pain in the ass. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been really impressed by what the Glee team has been able to pull off.

Which brings me to this great article in Variety, profiling Glee‘s music supervisor PJ Bloom. It’s an entertaining read, and while it doesn’t go into a lot of depth into how Bloom managed to secure a lot of these great songs, you definitely get a flavor of what it was like.

When Ryan Murphy initially approached Bloom with an idea to do a series about a high school show choir, he had to explain to Bloom what a show choir was.

Ryan said, ‘We’re going to do an episodic musical on show choir.’ I said, ‘Jeez, I’m really not all that familiar with what show choir is.’ So he sat me down in front of his computer and went on YouTube and started pulling up the video on show choirs around the country, doing pop songs, classic songs. I had really never seen anything like it, and in all honesty I wasn’t sure whether it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen or the worst thing I’d ever seen.

And can you really blame him? Musicals haven’t exactly done well on TV, undermined by the fantastical nature of the genre.

Cop Rock was an epic failure, Viva Laughlin was an epic failure,” Bloom notes. “I’m not sure that anyone can believe the Los Angeles Police Department breaks into song as they’re fighting crime, or necessarily believe casino workers break into song in the middle of the gaming industry in Laughlin, Nev. We have high school glee competition, and you can believe that environment.”

And that’s one of the reasons that Glee has been so successful in my books, the underlying sense of reality for most (some?) of its characters. But while the believability of the characters helps ground the show, there’s no way it would work if they weren’t able to secure the songs that they do. And that’s no easy feat.

“We had this uphill battle of trying to license some of the biggest songs in the world by the biggest artists in the world for an episodic musical that nobody had ever seen. And this type of show has failed miserably.”

Nailing the rights for Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” was a struggle, but its appearance in the pilot episode helped produce the show’s best-selling iTunes track to date.

“You were battling (writer/ex-vocalist) Steve Perry’s concerns about how his music is exploited,” Bloom says. “You were battling the band’s inner turmoil. It took everyone’s efforts — mine, (Fox executive in charge of music) Geoff Bywater, all the publicity people, the promo people — to develop an overall campaign to convince Steve Perry and the band to be involved. And it really has become the signature song moment of the show.”

Neil Diamond’s skittishness about licensing his “Sweet Caroline” almost ended in catastrophe, Bloom says: “There was a late-breaking moment where they actually retracted the clearance, which was a potential nightmare — we’d already shot it, and had they stuck to their position, it would have been an absolute disaster on multiple levels. But I was able to get it turned back around.”

Diamond later announced his delight with the Glee performance on Twitter, and, Bloom adds, “when we came back recently for (Diamond’s composition) “Hello Again,” it was pushed right through.”

John Lennon’s rock anthem “Imagine” also proved a tough clearance, but it resulted in a dramatically potent November episode.

Bloom says, “It was very difficult to convince Yoko Ono that it was the right thing to do. She needed to truly understand how the music was going to be used. The added component of us wanting to have a deaf choir singing the song made for this incredibly poignant moment. …it really took a lot of convincing to get her on board and realize that it was a great, great moment, and a tribute to John and his song.”

It really is incredible the quality of music Glee was able to license as an untested, unproven show. I’d be interested to know how much of the production budget is taken up by music licensing. It’s safe to say that now that the show is a hit, licensing music will become easier and easier.

Another interesting point that they cover is how song’s are selected.

“It all starts with Ryan and the writers in the writing room. The writers develop a storyline, and often those songs will stem from those storylines. Ryan will have thematic ideas for the show. He’ll pick a theme for an episode, or some moral or ethical message, or there’ll be some subplot that will dictate the type of songs that he wants to use.

“He will pick my brain with regard to songs that may fall in that category, and I’ll give him a broad list of songs that speak lyrically to the story that he’s trying to develop, or artists that speak to the story that he’s trying to develop.”

It’s nice to see that the song choices develop organically from the stories they decide to tell, rather than having their corporate overlords cram song choices down their throats.

Anyways, I’ve always thought that being a music supervisor would be a super cool job. If I wasn’t writing I would of probably tried to get into that. This was a nice little peek behind the curtains at what these guys actually do.


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