Exec boosts bands through hot TV shows


November 8, 2005


For many hard-core music fans, Alexandra Patsavas has a dream job: selecting great songs by her favorite bands and giving them national exposure on some of the hottest shows on television, including "The O.C.," "Rescue Me," "Supernatural," "Without a Trace" and "Grey's Anatomy."

In fact, Patsavas, 38, has been so good at her work that she has shot to the top of a short list of music-industry hitmakers, helping cult bands such as Death Cab for Cutie score platinum sales with little or no radio play, and presiding over a string of successful soundtrack albums.

The latest, "Music From 'The O.C.': Mix 5," arrives in stores today, featuring Stars, Imogen Heap, the Shout Out Louds, LCD Soundsystem and others.

The path Patsavas took from growing up in Glen Ellyn to forming her music clearance company, the Chop Shop, in Los Angeles was hardly a direct one.

"I was a music fanatic when I was growing up, just like many kids," Patsavas said. Throughout her years at Glenbard South High School, she'd take the train from the western suburbs to Lincoln Park to visit Wax Trax Records, stocking up on underground music. That led to helping the college activities board book concerts when she enrolled at the University of Illinois, and to trying her hand as an independent promoter at several venues in Champaign-Urbana once she'd graduated.

"I bought a lot of acts from an agent at Triad named Marc Geiger," Patsavas recalled, "and I got to know the agents and the bands." Geiger, a key organizer of the original Lollapalooza tours, eventually offered her a job in the mailroom at Triad's offices in L.A. "I had no idea that working in the mailroom would mean I'd be driving all over this strange city delivering packages," she said, laughing.

After her next gig with the music rights organization BMI, where she began to learn how songs are licensed to television and film, she got the chance to work for legendary B-movie director Roger Corman: The first soundtrack she compiled was for the 1995 classic, "Caged Heat 3000," and it included the Melvins and Fu Manchu.

Three years later, Patsavas went into business for herself, and the Chop Shop soon became a favorite of directors such as McG, whose credits include music videos and the "Charlie's Angels" movies, in addition to "The O.C."

"Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage and McG, the executive producers for 'The O.C.,' are very interested in music, and they always intended that music be a character on the show," Patsavas said. They allowed her not only to choose existing songs new and old, but to commission bands to enter the studio to record exclusive tracks, and in some cases to appear on the show. "And the fact that we're now on soundtrack [album] five is very exciting."

It seems obligatory for virtually every show on television and every movie in the theaters these days to issue a companion CD, but Patsavas' carefully sequenced and well-chosen soundtrack albums aim to be more than quick cash-ins. This is partly because she wants to track the story arc of the season in progress, "so fans remember their favorite moments, or associate songs with the characters." But it's also because she has great taste, and listening is like borrowing an iPod from an ultra-hip friend and talented DJ.

Modest to a fault, Patsavas said she's surprised to find herself in a position where record companies, artists' managers and artists themselves are beating down her door to win a spot on one of the shows or films she scores. And she still sounds like a teenage music fan when pausing to take stock of her success.

"I think many of the bands were already destined for big, big things, and I only helped them reach an audience sooner. More than anything, I'm still just in my office with my buckets of CDs threatening to fall on my head, trying to figure out what works for the show. Sure, we're working with the knowledge that people are paying attention. But we're also just really interested in creating platforms for good indie music.

"In the end, it all comes down to, 'Why use bad music when there's so much great stuff out there?' "