Ariel Sommer - synch2it Music Supervision
Ariel Sommer - Music Supervisor

Music in Fim Blog

Has Grey's Anatomy Blown Its Cover?

12 Seasons and 250 episodes, Greys Anatomy is closing in on the king of medical dramas, E.R, which ran for 330 episodes over 15 seasons. Amongst many similarities were A-list guest directors (Denzel Washington directed the 9th episode in this current season and E.R had Quentin Tarantino on an early episode). But Greys Anatomy differs in its creative DNA. Music’s role in the show cannot be underestimated.

Over 1,300 songs have been placed. Whether they are commercial songs or score, there is rarely a moment of silence behind the dialogue. I’m not sure any TV drama has ever used music to such an extent and, consequently, played such a powerful promotional platform for helping artists. Alexandra Patsavas, the show’s music supervisor, deserves all the plaudits having played an integral role in defining a new form of TV drama with music, its key protagonist

The most famous illustration of Alex’s work on the show dates back 10 years this very month, when we were treated to 4 minutes of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” accompanying the dramatic closing scenes, devoid of dialogue but rich in emotions. Rarely does a song musically and lyrically fit so well. One could easily have been fooled in thinking the band composed the song for those scenes. 

Yet, fast forward to the current season and I can’t help feeling music’s influence has waned. Firstly, too much of a good thing isn’t always such a good thing. Most episodes have music layered in from start to finish. Our ears have become so used to hearing music throughout, its power has lost some of its potency. Perhaps, against my better interests as a music supervisor, I’d love to hear just a fraction less music. It’s worth noting that the episode Denzel Washington directed named “The Sound Of Silence” is notable for its lack of music and that makes the episode feel different and significant.

Secondly, I wonder whether we’ve heard just a few too many covers. They’ve been in vogue in the U.K for some time and on Greys, they have dominated the show’s soundtrack over the past few seasons. We’ve had numerous covers including Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and Britney Spears’ “Oops”.  Freedom Fry’s acoustically understated cover of the latter is unexpected but alongside other covers, it lacks identity or punch. We’ve even had 2 different covers of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”. Again, neither come close to the original and you can’t help but wish we were listening to the original.

Covers can be great but risky too. They work when intelligently re-imagined but repeated use of them and you strip away their power. Budgets are a factor, but perhaps, and this is a personal thing, I’m longing for the days where scenes stick in my mind because a great song is plucked out and brilliantly placed, like the original “Chasing Cars".

There are so many songs out there. Labels, publishers and artists send them to music supervisors like myself, every day. And there are always a few standout tracks that I’m itching to place. Beautifully written, polished productions, affordable and with an ear for syncs, I would love to hear more of these original songs which don’t fit commercial radio formats or the immediacy requirement of the major label business models, pitched and placed. After all, when you do, success can follow: Chasing Cars’ placement propelled the band to U.S chart success, selling over 1 million copies of their album “Eyes Open”, achieving platinum status, and a Grammy nomination.

The music on Greys Anatomy remains a beacon for TV music supervisors in TV. But, I hope the continued growth of outstanding song writing gets more consideration in a world defined by ever increasing clutter.

To finish off, here is the most comprehensive playlist on Spotify featuring music heard in Greys Anatomy over the past 12 seasons.

https://open.spotify.com/user/sam85uk/playlist/5wd18vdBTf98H1APz0HXtn