Letter from the Editor: Radio is Dying, but Music Has “One Life to Live”
I try to do right, I try to do right, because I only got, only got, only got, only got…all that I have is one life to live.
These are the words that greeted viewers of the long-running ABC daytime serial One Life to Live when they tuned in for a pair of episodes last May, thanks to a remixed-and-revamped version of the show’s theme song performed by Snoop Dogg. Yes, that Snoop Dogg. You may have seen blurbs here and there about Snoop’s OLTL appearance and chalked it up to a joke, or some of the hard-hitting investigative journalism the Internet is known for, but no — Snoop really did tape a two-episode guest stint that had him rolling into the fictional Pennsylvania town of Llanview to perform at a bachelorette party. As far as musicians-on-scripted-TV crossovers go, it was both utterly ridiculous and eminently believable — of all the multiplatinum veteran rap artists in the world, who would be more likely than Snoop Dogg to take the microphone for a small club filled with screaming women in a random Philadelphia suburb? — and far less awkward than, say, the Counting Crows showing up to play in a bar during an episode of Boston Public:
As any Ricky Nelson fan could tell you, musicians have been taking advantage of television shows’ built-in audiences pretty much since the dawn of the medium. But the slow, painful death of Top 40 radio — hell, of radio in general, at least as a reliable conduit for new music — has given rise to a new breed of TV music supervisors who actively work to connect their viewers with songs and artists. One such music supervisor is One Life to Live‘s Paul Glass, who has used his position with the show to help turn it into a surprisingly popular destination for musicians promoting new releases. Many of us still tend to think of daytime television as the last refuge for cheesy strings and organ music, but when Mary J. Blige booked an appearance on One Life to Live in 2006 — and enjoyed a 40% bump in sales the following week — OLTL quickly became the Ed Sullivan Show of the soaps, with Glass booking and producing a succession of artists that now includes Lifehouse, Nelly Furtado, Simply Red, Erykah Badu, Timbaland (with the loathsome OneRepublic), and, uh, Puddle of Mudd (you can’t win ‘em all).
Though Blige’s 40% bounce remains the peak example of OLTL‘s sales power, its audience is clearly receptive to the artists Glass books. Earlier this year, the Plain White T’s used an appearance on the show to promote their latest single, and although sales from their most recent album have been underwhelming since its release — at least in comparison to the band’s debut — the single immediately appeared on iTunes’ singles chart, where it’s remained for the last couple of months.
Actors on daytime dramas, generally speaking, do a lot of work for comparatively little pay and even less recognition, and the shows’ music supervisors aren’t much different. In some cases, the job entails little more than acting as, in Glass’s words, “a go-between for the director and composer and also the record label that may be releasing a soundtrack,” but his responsibilities are broader. “In my case,” he says, “I compose music for the original score (along with a number of other composers that I commission music from), select source music for background in clubs, et cetera, and also license songs for feature uses. I also book and produce the guest performers.”
It’s on that last front that Glass has found his niche. Though he admits that ABC has suggested guest performers in the past, the network has never dictated an appearance, leaving him free to channel his love of music into his work — for example, the April 2 episode that’s set to feature a performance from Rachael Yamagata, an artist who isn’t a household name, but one Glass has been a fan of for years — since 2005, to be specific, when he used her song “I’ll Find a Way” for a montage in another episode of OLTL. This time around, Yamagata will not only be featured, but she’ll be performing her new single. “I didn’t think she’d agree to do the show, but she did, and it was amazing,” says Glass. “She and the band performed ‘Elephants’ completely live. Her musicality both vocally and at the piano is so delicate and focused. I can’t believe how solid her pitch is singing in those hushed tones — she’s a very special artist and I hope that our audience enjoys the segment.”
The segment in question comes with a twist, too: “It’s basically a montage that we performed live, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. We move from the club through various scenes and back to Rachael. Mary Ryan directed and edited and did a really great job — you feel something with every shot.”
Obviously, a show with dozens of cast members and a constantly shifting series of storylines can’t always make room for live performances, even if it is on five days a week, 52 weeks a year — but Glass also gets to play DJ during OLTL‘s montage sequences, as he did on the show’s March 18 episode, which highlighted a track from former Rock Star contestant Ryan Star. Fast-forward to the 5:30 spot in this clip — it’s long:
In this case, the song in question, titled “We Might Fall,” stayed in Glass’s mind for awhile before he had a chance to use it; it was originally in the running for the show’s 10,000th episode, which aired in August of 2007, but he “wanted something a little more introspective.” He didn’t forget it, though, and when the right opportunity presented itself with the March 18 montage, he went back to the Star ballad. “I thought it had the right balance of sadness and regret but still enough power and a little tension to carry those moments,” he says now. “I think you can feel the life-changing events throughout that track.”
It’s quotes like that that really underscore what makes Glass such a unique asset for One Life to Live, as well as a good example of where the long marriage between original music and scripted television might be heading. (Glass hastens to add that he enjoys a terrific rapport with, and support from, his executive producer, Frank Valentini: “We work very closely to find the right performers and scenarios for these shows, as well as for the montages. Frank and I have been working together for over 10 years and are almost always on the same page with what we like. He’s such a huge part of making what I do possible.”) For most Popdose readers, the “good old days” of Top 40 radio may not have been as wonderfully eclectic as FM’s infancy, but they still allowed us to hear a blend of genres that you can’t find on terrestrial stations today. Survivor sharing playlist space with DeBarge? Bon Jovi and the Beastie Boys? You don’t hear the same variety on major stations today, and the lost art of creating a comfortably eclectic listening environment is part of why the radio has lost so much of its hitmaking mojo.
That spirit survives, albeit in a different, more limited form, in the work of music fans like Paul Glass. As we’ve discussed here before, the old methods of delivery are — to pinch a phrase from Tommy Keene — places that are gone. If the music business is going to survive in any meaningful form, it’ll be through the development, adaptation, and strengthening of new (or at least new-ish) ones. And scripted daytime television, an industry that’s in no small danger itself these days, stands only to benefit from the mainstream exposure it gains from these collaborations. Creative expression through corporate synergy…on the soaps? As Snoop might say, it’s a brizzave new world.