Hitmakers: TV's original songs

Music on TV is nothing new, but dramas like 'Nashville' and 'Smash' are using original songs that are some of the newest hit singles.

Hayden Panettiere (r.) on ‘Nashville.’

Move aside, Taylor Swift. There's a new blond ingénue on the country music scene: Hayden Panettiere. Yes, that Hayden Panettiere, the actress who stars as singer Juliette Barnes on the ABC soap opera "Nashville." Ms. Panettiere's "Telescope," a top 40 hit on country radio, is one of several original chart-friendly songs from "Nashville."

For years, reality TV shows such as "American Idol" and "The Voice" have scored chart hits with cover versions. Now, drama series such as "Nashville," "Smash," "Glee," and "Treme" are going one step further: They're creating original songs that not only enhance story lines, but also offer a lucrative revenue stream.

"It's way more profitable to write your own songs," says Adam Anders, music supervisor and composer for "Glee." "I work for Fox. So, automatically, they own their piece of the song. I keep my piece of the song, so I make money on it. You don't have to pay an exorbitant licensing fee for an existing No. 1 hit."

Mr. Anders is quick to add that "Glee" is primarily driven by covers. But it occasionally features newly composed material. Indeed, the episode "Original Song" became the show's top-selling week to date with more than a million downloaded singles.

The key, of course, is strong songs. "Glee" hired Max Martin (Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson) to pen the anthem "Loser Like Me." "Nashville" roped in superstar country producer T Bone Burnett as well as Elvis Costello, Buddy Miller, and The Civil Wars. And "Smash," a show about a big-budget musical, relies on veteran Broadway songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman ("Hairspray").

It remains to be seen how many nonmusical TV shows will create original music. As Anders observes, it's difficult to pen original songs every week. Yet music composer Brian Reitzell did just that for the recently canceled drama "Boss" by collaborating with artists such as My Morning Jacket, Air, The Blue Nile, and Shearwater.

"I fully expect someone to take the concept we've just started and sell millions of records with it," says Mr. Reitzell. He envisions a model in which a TV show's music supervisor teams with a record label's roster to create new music. The label would reap soundtrack sales and generate buzz about its artists. "It's a really great way to exploit their artists and do it in a really cool, unique way rather than licensing stuff. I think it's the future of television."

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