Music Ally’s Stuart Dredge reports on one of MIDEM’s biggest star speakers…
Glee has built a global and devoted fanbase in just a couple of series, achieving TV ratings success, but also sending a succession of songs rocketing up the charts – both in their Glee cast covers and the original versions.
The show’s music supervisor PJ Bloom was on-stage for a keynote conversation session this morning at MIDEM, interviewed by journalist Ann Donahue. Bloom works on a range of shows, including CSI Miami, but Glee is what’s getting people talking now.
Glee took about a year to come together. “Doing a musical in any shape or form is a tough endeavour. Doing it on television every week is impossible!” said Bloom. “It had really never been done before.”
How does that week-in week-out process work? “It’s pretty brutal…” Securing “Don’t Stop Believin'” for the pilot episode took Bloom 40 different demos with various singers and producers.
“Now, we probably have about four or five weeks of pre-production prior to getting in front of the camera,” he said. That includes everything from choreography to rights and clearances, then final recording. A highly condensed schedule, not to mention the fact that four or five episodes are being juggled at any one point in time.
Bloom said that in the first season of the show, he spent a lot of time convincing people to let their music be part of Glee – more than in the second series, when it had become “wildly popular”.
Some artists have rejected Glee: ELO was one example, who Bloom says thought it was an American Idol-style reality show. “Without even really understanding what it was, they just said no off the bat.”
Coldplay also turned Bloom down, although he says the band’s management have since got in touch to say they’d be more open to the idea now, with Glee riding high in terms of popularity. Others, like Gorillaz and Kings of Leon, have publicly said they’d never consider it. Not that Bloom is worried.
“It seems like it’s the chic thing to say ‘I turned Glee down!’ – that’s a testament to its popularity. If people care so much that they wanna talk shit about my show, that’s a positive thing!”
With stellar soundtrack sales, is there any pressure on Bloom to get songs that will be sales-drivers? He said that the model of the show focuses on using “wildly popular music… we don’t break music on this show. This is not the type of show where I’m looking for new artists… Glee is definitely exploiting stuff that everybody already knows.”
Glee will soon have a Super Bowl episode, shown directly after the American football showpiece, which will include a version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Bloom described securing the slot as “nothing short of miraculous” but was careful not to give away any more details about the episode’s content.
What can artists, labels and publishers do to make Bloom’s job easier, and increase their chances of getting a song on Glee? “The key is making the easiest path to music licensing. There is a lot of art out there… creating that easy path to licensing and allowing us to feel comfortable that doing business with you is going to be easy and safe… that is going to be the easiest way to develop a relationship with buyers like myself.”
Bloom talked about syncs being a very ancillary part of the music business ten years ago, when he started. It’s a very different story now, with the spotlight shining on Bloom’s area.
“In a lot of ways it’s THE income stream, and the only income stream for a lot of people,” he said. “Syncs have become significantly important to the industry and how we operate, so much so that MIDEM is now doing their own sync day.”
Where will this go in the next 5-10 years? Bloom said sync fees will shrink from the peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which have since falling. “We’re really not paying that much at all,” he said. “I pay five digits for songs that end up in Glee, but I do plenty of shows and films where I’m only paying hundreds of dollars.”
However, Bloom said he tries to secure as much budget as he can for projects: but that the ultimate decision-makers often “don’t care about your art” – addressing the songwriters and rightsholders in the room.
Should artists ever give their music away to TV shows and films for promotional purposes? Bloom was even-handed in his response: saying he understands why many artists want to get paid for their art, but that others are weighing up the benefits of exposure.
How does Bloom stop a show like Glee sliding into gimmickry or obviousness? “Something burning as bright as this has the potential to burn out rather quickly,” he admitted. “We’re gonna try to do some fun stuff, but I hope people continue to care. I don’t know if we have any tricks in our bag to keep this show interesting.”
But he said what makes Glee work is the writing is good, and the storylines. “If the actors sucked or the stories weren’t that good, I don’t think the songs would carry the show.” However, he also hinted again at his concerns over Glee being a long-term franchise.
“It’s difficult for me to think about doing Glee five or six years down the road,” he said. “Five seasons down the road seems like a lot of Glee to me!”
Bloom also talked about how the Glee studio works – the producers will soon be building vocal booths on-set so the actors don’t have to leave to record their parts. Glee’s music team alone is 10 or 15 people, which Bloom said was testament to 20th Century Fox’s commitment to the show.
He was also asked about the creative process in making the mash-ups in Glee. Bloom said “generally speaking these are not licensable pieces of music.. it’s a licensing nightmare: multiple record labels, multiple artists…” He stressed that these are medleys, not mash-ups – which he said is less problematic for publishers.
He also said he is regularly asked if songwriters and rightsholders can hear a Glee version of a song (or medley) before it airs.
“[That’s something] we really don’t do,” said Bloom. “We don’t want to get in the habit of sharing our creative work and process with people, and letting them have an opinion about it.”