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Can TV Music Placement Save the Industry?

Music supervisor Chris Mollere talks about getting bands exposure on shows like 'Pretty Little Liars' and 'Vampire Diaries'

The Civil Wars perform in Nashville; a scene from 'Pretty Little Liars.'
Ed Rode/Getty Images; Courtesy ABC
September 7, 2013 3:50 PM ET

"It’s a crazy music world out there," Chris Mollere said during a recent phone interview with Rolling Stone. The in-demand music supervisor was fresh off of the Georgia set for the Vampire Diaries spin-off, The Originals, where he was overseeing a brass band brought on set to recreate a New Orleans street scene, and he was tired after the long days. But Mollere, who also works on the CW’s The Vampire Diaries and ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars, is used to the grind. "TV moves quickly," he said. "We’re probably mixing one episode of a show each week." Overseeing the music for two teen dramas means that Mollere has to read the scripts, work with the crew to spot where songs will go in the show, select the songs, clear the rights and then stick everything into the mix. Then he does it all again for the next episode.  

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While Mollere has always loved music, even managing bands while living in Austin, his start in the music supervision business was an accident. He had moved to Los Angeles and happened to cross paths with a frustrated director who was unable to find music for his film that worked within his budget. "I told him to give me a week and let me check it out. I sat down and worked it out and gave him a bunch of song options and he loved it. From that point on, I’ve been doing music supervision for film and then advertising and then for TV." Mollere’s first turn at music supervision for a network show was for Kyle XY, a teen-oriented sci-fi show that ran on ABC Family for three seasons. The soundtrack for the show featured cuts from American Analog Set, Mates of State and Earlimart among other indie fare that rarely found an audience on American television before the advent of the television soundtrack under Josh Schwartz’s The OC.

"The OC was where music really jumped out at me on TV," Mollere said. "Easy Rider was one of the first movies to have a song soundtrack, but The OC was the show that changed that format on television and showed that you could do things like have a song with lyrics play during a scene with dialogue. Before The OC, that was not an accepted thing. The OC also broke bands like Death Cab and the Killers. A placement on that show took bands to another level." It’s something that Mollere hopes to do as well, by featuring lesser-known indie acts before they break big. His use of Florence and the Machine on a Vampire Diaries episode came months before the band was filling stadiums. Temper Trap and Airborne Toxic Event were also beneficiaries of Mollere’s placements. Lately, Mollere has been featuring MsMr regularly on Pretty Little Liars and Telekinesis has had more than a handful of spots on The Vampire Diaries soundtrack.

The song lists for both shows – ABC Family publishes a weekly roundup of songs on their blog and Mollere tweets the song lists for both shows – read like the iPod of a true indie music fan. Bands like Cults, Hands, TV on the Radio, Yuck, Arctic Monkeys, the Naked and Famous have all been featured on the shows. "It’s cool when I can work on projects that I can feature music that I’m listening to at the time," Mollere said. "On a lot of projects that isn’t the case, but on TV the turnaround is so quick that we can feature a song even before it’s been released."

Mollere considers himself lucky to be working with two networks that support his vision. "They are very musically driven networks," Mollere said. "They are adamant about it and so is the audience."

Aside from working with artists that he likes, Mollere is excited to be supporting them. "I started as a music fan and musician first," he said, "so when we hear that artists are getting bumps in sales after we feature them on the show, that’s great, especially because no one is buying records these days." For Mollere, music placement is about one thing: "My big goal is to keep artists as artists," he said. "I don’t want artists to be working in a coffee shop or selling real estate. They need to be making music. If they can be working as musicians that means there will be better music out there for everybody."

"The music industry is in limbo right now," he continued, "And I think film and TV placements are a really important part of the solution. Music supervision is going to be a very huge part of the music industry. We need to allow creative people to be creative and by using their music in television shows, everyone benefits." 

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