Darkness may have washed over the retail music landscape (RIP, Tower Records; Fare thee well, Virgin Megastore), but hordes of teenagers dressed in black and clutching hardcover books nonetheless descended upon Hot Topic stores in malls across America last weekend for a nationally synchronized CD listening party. On November 5th, Twi-hards, those obsessive, dedicated fans of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight book series and the blockbuster movies it spawned, gathered to listen to the soundtrack to Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1, just as they had in 2008, 2009, and 2010. (The film, directed by Bill Condon, is out this Friday, November 18th.)
Which means the record business may be a bloody pulp, but the carefully selected soundtracks to the Twilight franchise may prove outlast immortal vamp-heartthrob Edward Cullen himself. The first Twilight soundtrack went double platinum (over two million units); the second went platinum; and the third went gold. Artists such as Muse, Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers, The Black Keys, Bon Iver, and Bruno Mars have each experienced sales boosts after being included on the soundtracks, a phenomenon the Boston Herald‘s Jed Gottlieb dubbed the “Twilight bump.”
Much of the success of the soundtracks rests on the shoulders of Alex Patsavas, the series’ music supervisor and producer of all four Twilight soundtracks. Patsavas, who got her start as a music supervisor for television on shows like Roswell, Grey’s Anatomy, The O.C., Chuck, and Mad Men, has become the go-to collaborator for showrunners and directors who want to reach beyond the predictable and make distinctive statements with their music choices.
She’s also become an important tastemaker as music critics, radio, MTV, and other traditional outlets for promoting music have declined in prominence. Aside from knowing just the right track to select for a given scene, Patsavas is the kind of free-ranging cultural curator a magazine like Vogue asks to select a Halloween playlist.
When it comes to the Twilight saga soundtracks (which are released by Patsavas’ own label, Chop Shop, along with Atlantic Records), she’s also doing her part to prop up the record industry, one teenager’s allowance at a time. This is especially challenging at a time when young people don’t just avoid buying music, they actively seek to get it free.
“In order to inspire fans to buy music, it has to be an experience,” says Patsavas. Hence, those Hot Topic listening parties, that bring the excitement of a midnight screening to a soundtrack release, an event that was traditionally far less splashy than a movie rollout.
Patsavas also notes that Twilight fans are interested in “companion pieces,” which is why the soundtracks come loaded with foldout posters, “something for the fans to touch,” that encourages them to purchase the physical disc over illegal downloads.
It also helps that music is so integral to the series.
“Twilight, at its core is a music project,” says Patsavas. “All the directors have been committed to making it a music project…. There’s a coherent tone movie-to-movie and a general ‘Twilight tone’ to the music we’ve selected.”
Patsavas explains she doesn’t pick songs with the finished soundtrack in mind, but rather what works best from moment-to-moment on screen. “Of course you think of a cohesive album, but none of that works unless the songs tell the story.”
The series’ soundtracks, in a way, predate the films themselves. “Stephenie Meyer, from the very beginning, has dedicated the books to bands and kept up a blog and a website and talked about the bands that have inspired her. It’s a very natural, authentic relationship to music. There’s nothing forced about having music in the movies.”
While it’s true that Meyer’s personal site has featured playlists for each book, her tastes–at least sometimes–skew a little more mainstream than the indie- and unsigned artist-heavy roster Patsavas selected for the four Twilight movies.
For instance, Meyer selected Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” to start book one of Breaking Dawn. While the song’s menacing opening chords certainly evoke the right atmosphere of dread, any Twi-hards old enough to remember the song’s cheesy 1982 video would probably snicker at the three black vinyl-clad dancers spanking their own bottoms and the ballerina bride dancing amid the exploding appliances of a thoroughly modern kitchen. Not to mention the tune has appeared on numerous soundtracks from True Romance to The Wedding Singer, making it far too familiar of a throwback to fit with Patsavas’ goal that, “The first time the audience experiences the track, it’s in the context of the movie.”
Her solution: rather than Billy Idol’s ode to shotgun marriage, Patsavas instead chose a song with less “needle drop” familiarity, a new track by Bruno Mars called “It Will Rain.” The song’s official video first appeared on YouTube on November 9th and has already garnered 3.5 million views.
“It’s a wedding movie,” she explained. “That Bruno Mars track is a timeless love song.” Asked what would she would think if a generation of teenage girls grew up to select “It Will Rain” as their wedding songs, Patsavas briefly sounded as rapturous as those kids massing in Hot Topic: “Wouldn’t that be wonderful if Twilight affected future weddings! That would be a successful moment.”
As for the other perfect union–of movie and soundtrack–Patsavas is optimistic that the right grouping of songs can enrich the movies she works on and help ailing record labels. “Because the traditional music industry has changed so much, it has allowed music supervision to come to the fore as it never did before, she said. “I think a successful album, a soundtrack, is a win for the music industry. Execs in the music business are supportive of that for sure.”
[Ed note: Top image is from the 2008 Pattinson vehicle How To Be]