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Perfectly Attuned

If you’ve ever hummed a tune from The O.C. or teared up to a Grey’s Anatomy track, then music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas has done her job
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Alexandra Patsavas
Job: Music supervisor

Companies that hire them: Most movie studios, TV production companies, video game makers, and advertising agencies employ music supervisors on a freelance basis.

How to find out about openings: Forget the want ads. The trajectory for this career starts with grunt work, like opening mail at a music label. Once that door's open, prepare for years of essential industry networking. Only the well connected land one of these coveted gigs.

How much you can earn: Freelance contracts are usually negotiated on a per-series or per-episode basis. Depending on the project and their level of experience, supervisors can expect anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000 per film. For TV the range is $1,500 to $4,000 an episode.

Useful skills: An obsession with music and an ear for undiscovered bands. Also a plus: enough charm and tenacity to negotiate with music labels as well as the patience to sort through a mountain of legal paperwork to secure broadcast rights.

Number of jobs in the U.S.: Probably less than 500.
Alexandra Patsavas knows that no TV moment, be it a dramatic breakup or a tense open-heart surgery, is quite as poignant without a melody behind it.

As the owner and founder of Chop Shop Music Supervision, Patsavas lays the background tracks for a sizable chunk of prime-time programming. Her nine-year-old company sets the musical mood for such shows as Grey's Anatomy, Shark, Without a Trace, Rescue Me, Supernatural, and Numb3rs. It's a job any music buff would kill for, admits Patsavas, but she says there's more to her job than going to concerts and listening to CD's. "I don't think people realize what kind of legal processes are involved," she says. Patsavas spends about 25 percent of her day securing broadcast clearances from music labels and publishers.

Patsavas also has to work on a strict schedule and with tight budgets. She currently supervises six television series, each with up to eight musical slots to fill per episode. Typically, she only has one week to select the music for each show before it's televised. And while she won't disclose the budgets she's given, they're limited enough that she has to spend much of her time haggling with record companies and publishers. Fees "depend on how long the use is and how big the band is -- is it Radiohead or your mom's sister's friend's band? The range is about $1,500 to $20,000."

Because she's known for making Billboard kings out of indie sensations, bands are always clamoring for Patsavas' attention. She receives hundreds of submissions a week, many through Chop Shop's MySpace page. Even already-established groups vie for her golden ear. "Coldplay came to us," she says, referring to the band's single "Fix You" debuting on season three of teen soap The O.C., which Patsavas oversaw throughout its four seasons.

She'll miss The O.C., which came to an end this year. Before going off the air in February, the show yielded six compilation albums of her choices. "I had incredibly generous producers who always wanted to make music a character," she says of the series. "But I've got my movie Invisible coming up, new scripts are coming out, and I'm looking forward to [head O.C. writer] Josh [Schwartz]'s new projects." And if the hundreds of submissions she receives a week -- through the mail and MySpace -- are any indication, there's lots of unsung talent left to crown.

Typical day:

9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Meets with execs from ABC's Grey's Anatomy to discuss song selections for scenes that need music.

11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Reviews cues (a.k.a. clips of songs that are cut to a scene) for Supernatural, a CW network program Patsavas oversees.

12:15 to 12:30 p.m. Eats lunch in her Acura TL while teleconferencing with Atlantic Records, for which she's currently developing a label.

12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Loads about 15 CD's of new music submissions into her iTunes. She samples each disc but doesn't feel the need to listen to every second of every track. "Bad music just screams," she says. She keeps five.

1:30 to 4:00 p.m. Expedites legal clearances. Without securing all the rights, her song selections won't make it to prime-time TV.

4:00 to 5:30 p.m. Watches a 40-minute cut of Without a Trace, CBS's F.B.I. drama, in preparation to pitch the editors song choices for a few scenes.

5:30 to 7:00 p.m. Writes an entry for her blog on the music of Grey's Anatomy.

7:00 p.m. Leaves the office and heads straight to a concert.



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