4:40pm

Mon May 13, 2013
The Record

When The Right One Comes Along: How 'Nashville' Tells Stories In Song

Originally published on Sun May 19, 2013 9:28 am

With Nashville's first season about to wrap up — and a second one just ordered — the prime-time TV drama has found a niche audience on Wednesdays. The soundtrack has also enjoyed pop chart success.

The characters in Nashville fall into three categories: struggling unknowns looking for their big break, struggling up-and-comers and struggling superstars. And the songs — most of them previously unheard originals — are woven into the drama. They appear organically in living room songwriting sessions, late night honky-tonks or stadium dress rehearsals.

Makes sense for a town nicknamed Music City. But tracking down those songs is no easy thing. That job falls to Frankie Pine, the music supervisor for Nashville, who tells All Things Considered's Audie Cornish that when she first put out a call for unreleased music, she guessed she received "at least 50,000 songs."

I've read that you keep hundreds of songs on your computer in folders for each character. Is that true? And, if so, can you talk about what is the sound of one character versus another? Say, this Rayna Jaymes character — the main country diva — and the upstart character, Juliette Barnes.

"We started with Rayna being more of our poignant, lyrical country artist. The songs had to be saying something about some kind of matter rather than 'I don't like boys' or some kind of girly-type song. Juliette was our young pop princess, so songs that just had a lot of fun in them — it didn't really matter what the lyrics were saying at the beginning. As her character changed, we moved into a more poignant lyric that was more to the story point of what was happening in Juliette's life.

"As we sit in the writer's room and talk about where our characters are going, I just start pulling stories as I'm listening and I make a big, long playlist, so that when and if that story comes up, we've got something there for them."

And one of those songs that Juliette, the character, sings is "Hanging on a Lie."

"The writers of this are my new favorite 'little kids,' I call them. [Laughs.]"

This is a song that was written by Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmerman, people who were unknown, right?

"Yes. On my trip to Nashville, we got this last-minute call from Universal Publishing, begging me to please come to their offices. They had some young songwriters there that wanted to perform for us. We were actually on our way to the airport. So we just said, 'OK, let's just swing by. Let's see what this is all about.' I am so thankful that we stopped to see them because they were the two greatest — they probably played like four songs for us and we loved every single one of them."

This pair is also on another song on the soundtrack called "When the Right One Comes Along," which is interesting because it's also written for characters who are supposed to be unknown, young people trying to break into the business.

"That was the part of it that felt so natural to me when we heard that song. They played it that day. We just thought it was amazing for Scarlett and Gunnar, knowing that ultimately that they would find themselves in love — obviously with a struggle, of course, it wouldn't be good television without a struggle. When it finally came to fruition, this was the most poignant song that, I feel, exuded how these two people feel about each other.

"When I'm listening, I'm listening very specific to our characters. One of the things we said from the very beginning is that we only want to use great songs. To us in television, what makes a great song is how it's used in the program and how it comes across in the storytelling. I think that's the one thing that the show has done so successfully: Allowing those songs and the lyrics of those songs to be another part of the story rather than just the writers of the scripts, per se. When we're listening to music, that is the highest criteria. Obviously, finding a hit song, that's great, but what makes a hit song in television is when it's used so incredibly well. I think that's what our audience responds to in regards to the iTunes downloads and things like that."

What has it meant to these songwriters for the song to appear on the show? Has this opened up new avenues?

"I think it has. I think there has been a struggle for years for Nashville to get heard within the film and TV community. Their music is not hugely used in film and television. It was a bit of a learning curve because that's an area that they typically have within the publishing houses. They don't have film and television pitch people like we do here in L.A. And here is the perfect show to make that happen for them. I think the other thing Nashville would like to see is we're representing that music and those songwriters in the right way. And I think that our show has done that."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. The TV network axes have come down. It's TV renewal season, and the prime-time drama "Nashville" has survived. Now finishing its first season with ABC, the show has found a niche audience on Wednesday nights. But beyond TV ratings, it's also found success on the music charts with its soundtrack.

"Nashville" is an ensemble show about life in the country music industry. Its characters fall into three categories: struggling unknowns looking for their big break, up-and-comers struggling to become stars, and superstars struggling to stay on top. And the songs - most of them previously unheard originals - are seamlessly woven into the drama in living room songwriting sessions, late-night honky-tonks and stadium dress rehearsals.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NASHVILLE")

CONNIE BRITTON: (As Rayna Jaymes) (Singing) ...what it's all about, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh...

Why is my voice distorted? Are these the new ones? Well, they suck!

CORNISH: But tracking down songs for "Nashville" was no small task. Just ask Frankie Pine. She's the music supervisor for the show.

FRANKIE PINE: When the show first got picked up, we took a trip to Nashville; and we did a big presentation and showed all of the publishers the pilot show and said to everyone, send us your unreleased music. And I can't begin to tell you how many songs we got. It's probably, I would say, at least 50,000 songs.

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Fifty thousand songs. Now, I've read that you keep hundreds of songs on your computer in kind of folders for each character. Is that true? And if so...

PINE: Yes.

CORNISH: ...can you talk about kind of what is the sound of one character versus another? Say, this Rayna Jaymes character - the main country diva - and then the upstart character, Juliette Barnes.

PINE: You know, we started with Rayna being more of our - more poignant, lyrical country artist.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NASHVILLE")

BRITTON: (As Rayna) (Singing) Judging words as they ricochet, honesty that will never pay, your convictions I believe, like an apparition haunting me...

PINE: You know, the songs had to be saying something about some kind of matter rather than, I don't like boys - or some kind of girly-type song. And Juliette was our young pop princess, so songs that just had a lot of fun in them - it didn't really matter what the lyrics were saying, at the beginning.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NASHVILLE")

HAYDEN PANETTIERE: (As Juliette Barnes) (Singing) I'm going to stay up, drunk on wine, hurt like hell and ugly, crying black mascara tears. I'm going to lock my door, sleep with my phone, miss you bad for a month or so. But let me tell you something, my dear. I'm going to be just fine, but you're never going to find another love like mine...

PINE: As her character changed, we kind of moved into a more poignant lyric that was more to the story point of what was happening in Juliette's life. And as, you know, we sit in the writers' room and kind of talk about where our characters are going, I just start pulling songs as I'm listening. And I just make a big, long playlist so that when and if that story comes up, we've got something there for them.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NASHVILLE")

CORNISH: One of those songs that the character Juliette does is called "Hangin' on a Lie."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NASHVILLE")

PANETTIERE: (As Juliette) (Singing) What'cha hidin'? Where you runnin'? Baby, you've been up to something...

CORNISH: This is a song written by people who were essentially unknown, right?

PINE: Yes. The writers of this are my new favorite little kids, I call them.

(LAUGHTER)

PINE: On my trip to Nashville, we got this last-minute call from Universal Publishing, begging me to please come to their offices. They had some young songwriters there that wanted to perform for us - just please, please come. And we were actually on our way to the airport. So we said OK, let's just swing by; let's see what this is all about. And we stopped. And I am so thankful that we stopped to see them because they were the two greatest - every song that we heard them play - they probably played like, four songs for us; and we loved every single one of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NASHVILLE")

PANETTIERE: (As Juliette) (Singing) Try and try too little, too late. Better open up your mouth, you've got somethin' to say. Don't keep me waitin'. Don't keep me hangin' on a lie...

CORNISH: And that's the song "Hangin' on a Lie," written by Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmerman. And this pair, they're also behind another song on the soundtrack, called "When the Right One Comes Along" - which is interesting because it's also written for characters who are supposed to be unknown, young people trying to break into the business.

PINE: Yes. And that was the part of it that felt so natural to me, when we heard that song. They played it that day, and we just thought it was amazing for Scarlett and Gunnar and knowing that ultimately, they would find themselves in love - obviously with a struggle, of course; it wouldn't be good television without a struggle. And, you know, when it finally came to fruition, this was the most poignant song that, I feel, really kind of exuded how these two people feel about each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NASHVILLE")

CLARE BOWEN, SAM PALLADIO: (As Scarlett O'Connor and Gunnar Scott) (Singing) Every single broken heart will lead you to the truth. You think you know what you're looking for till what you're looking for finds you...

PINE: When I'm listening, I'm really listening for very specific to our characters. And, you know, one of the things that we said, from the very beginning, is that we only want to use great songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NASHVILLE")

BOWEN, PALLADIO: (As Scarlett and Gunnar) (Singing) A million moments full of sweet relief when the right one comes along...

PINE: To us, obviously, in television, what makes a great song is how it's used within the program. And I think that's the one thing that the show has done so successfully, is allowing those songs - and the lyrics of those songs - to be another part of the story rather than just the writers of the scripts, per se. And finding a hit song, that's great. But what makes, you know, a hit song in television is when it's used so incredibly well.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NASHVILLE")

BOWEN, PALLADIO: (As Scarlett and Gunnar) (Singing) When the right one comes along...

CORNISH: What has it meant to these songwriters, for the song to appear on the show? I mean, has this opened up new avenues, in a way?

PINE: I think it has. I mean, I think - you know, there has been a struggle for years, for Nashville to somehow get heard within the film and TV community. And, you know, here is the perfect show to make that happen for them. And everybody's been really giving, and they want to see it happen. And I think the other thing that "Nashville" would like to see is that we are representing that music and those songwriters in the right way. And I think that our show has done that.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NASHVILLE")

CORNISH: Frankie Pine is music supervisor for the show "Nashville." Frankie, thank you so much for speaking with us.

PINE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NASHVILLE")

PANETTIERE: (As Juliette) (Singing) You can't hide from me. There ain't no tricks that you can try on me. I know your every move before you even breathe, baby...

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related program: