First it was teens. Now it's the adults' turn to discover tunes on TV, as a new breed of musically sophisticated crime and drama programming emerges in prime time.
The shows--glossy, cinematic, and atmospheric--are feeding viewers' appetite for under-the-radar acts.
"The landscape of using music in TV has changed greatly in the last couple of years," says Billy Gottlieb, music supervisor for Fox TV's new crime drama, Bones. "It used to be the bastard stepchild--the last thing a studio wanted to do was put extra money into the music. But now there's an expectation that audiences want to hear new music and not some standard needle drop."
That is a welcome change for the music business and is especially appealing to indie artists, who tend to be ignored by commercial radio and need every opportunity for mass exposure.
"When you can only get so much radio airplay--which is mainly taken over by major labels--(TV) helps with a critical-mass kind of approach," says Jennifer Czeisler, VP of licensing for indie Sub Pop Records.
Expectations for music on TV were heightened in large part by hipster audiophile Seth Cohen, played by Adam Brody, who served as a guidepost to breaking acts on Fox TV's The OC.
Though they may not have the same coolness factor as The OC, today's crime dramas--including the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise, Without a Trace, and Cold Case, all on CBS--mix high-profile musical talents like Johnny Cash, John Lennon, and the Who with such indie darlings as the White Stripes, Gary Jules, and Sub Pop's Iron & Wine.
"There is so much quality in the production and the writing that goes into these shows today that (artists) want to be a part of it," says Hollywood veteran Jerry Bruckheimer, executive producer of the CBS dramas. "They know that they'll be widely represented to millions, and for a breaking artist, that's a great shot."
With the TV studios eager to showcase new acts, Gottlieb says his job is that much easier: "I don't have to chase down an established artist who wouldn't be nearly as interested as the baby bands."
A prime-time example is Australian singer Sia, whose performance of the much-talked-about Breathe Me played during the closing montage in this summer's series finale of HBO's Six Feet Under. Virtually unknown in the United States before the Aug. 21 broadcast, her import album, Colour the Small One (Go! Beat/Island/Universal)--which is not yet available in US stores--shot to number three on iTunes after the TV exposure, according to her manager, Juliet Lloyd-Price of IE Music Management.
"A series that takes a cinematic approach and treats music as an essential component rather than incidental is going to be a better platform," Lloyd-Price says. "The makers of Six Feet Under used music incredibly intelligently and emotively within the series."
The dramas also have proved effective for house DJs and electronic acts, whose music seems to fit the genre. Songs by Paul Oakenfold are frequently used on CSI and ABC's Alias and an original Crystal Method score is featured as the theme song to Bones.
"You need that driving feel of high-energy beats when you're watching those shows," says 3 Artist Management's SuzAnn Brantner, who manages Oakenfold and the Crystal Method.
Brantner says she realized the reach of TV drama placements while in Europe with the Crystal Method, and kids in Germany and the Netherlands knew the group from its theme to the now-defunct Third Watch on NBC.
In the case of house DJ Sasha, the placements are a way to generate excitement among his fan base by unveiling new material.
Despite the temptation, Bruckheimer says he steers clear of trying to find a hit.
"It's always about the emotion that a song gives you in a particular scene, and if it turns out to be a hit, then that's good," he says. "When you choose a placement that helps the song become a hit rather than helping the emotion behind the scene, that's when you get in trouble."