It's only four days until Glee starts its second season, and our feet are tapping in anticipation...and in precise, upbeat rhythm. So as long as we're getting in tune, what better time to check in with the man who makes all the music on the show happen: Whether it’s a Mercedes solo or a group harmony, it all starts with executive music producer Adam Anders, a 34-year-old Swedish-born writer and producer, whose prior credits include High School Musical 3 and composing with Sheryl Crow, the Jonas Brothers, and Miley Cyrus. Every eight days he turns out another episode’s worth of arrangements, mapping out straight covers or dreaming up vastly different incarnations, and then bringing in the cast, who each only have an hour to nail their parts. We spoke to Anders about the process of getting that perfect Glee song to our ears, and about why one of Britney Spears's original hit writers was so excited to get his music in her upcoming theme show.
Take us through the steps in song selection, from conceptualizing to the final version we hear.
It all starts with a story and the scripts. [Executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk] need songs to move the story forward. I’ve suggested songs, other people have suggested songs, and they keep them in a pool that they try to slot in when it makes sense. The other day, Ryan called me and said, “I need a song for this that needs to be like this, help!” It’s pretty organic, but at the end of the day, Ryan Murphy picks all the songs; he decides what goes in there. After it’s selected, then I start working on the arrangements. And nowadays, most people want to be a part of Glee, so we don’t have that many legal issues. I’ll do a demo of a track usually in a day, but then I’ll have to do the vocal arrangements on that track with the "stunt doubles" as they call them — the session singers. The cast doesn’t have time to sit there while I figure out a good vocal arrangement. Everything has to be completely mapped out. Then I send a rough demo mix to Ryan and once he approves that, then I schedule the cast. I’m usually an episode ahead of everybody because they have to be singing the songs before they shoot the songs.
Does Murphy ever call you and say, “Look, we’re doing this,” but you think that’s too hard a song for you to do?
No, there’s never a song that’s too hard to arrange. It’s not an arrogant thing, it’s just everything can be done. Whether everyone is going to like it — that’s a different story. I can always do an arrangement. I’m so far ahead of it, I don’t have the final script — and when I see it shot, I finally see why the song was chosen.
It sounds like you have freedom to explore different ways to approach songs.
I do, for sure. A lot of times Ryan will say, “I want it to sound like the original.” And when he says that, he wants the track or background music to sound like the original. But they never sound like the original, because as soon as you put our vocal arrangement on it, it’s not the original anymore. But it’s a jumping-off point. He gives me a pretty long leash, creatively. I mean, he’ll tell me if he doesn’t like something. We’re doing a Britney episode now, and one of the songs has nothing to do with any version that anyone has ever heard. He has his vision for the overall show, but he doesn’t micromanage.
When you sit down and figure out something — for example, the Britney Spears songs — how does that work?
Once I get my list, I stay up at night and think about how I’m going to do another arrangement and have it be good again. We’re already at something like 180. That’s a lot of vocal arrangements. But you feed off the show itself now. The writing is so good that it’s just never boring. That keeps me fresh and excited and it’s totally different from what we did last week. These mash-ups that we do — I have no idea what we’re going to start with, and a lot of it is just instinct. And on average, I have about an hour with each kid to do vocals. With a regular artist, it usually takes me an hour to get them to open their mouths. The beauty of the system is that it’s all mapped out so there’s no guessing. This is what we’re doing: sing this, next line you pop through it. They don’t have that kind of time; the van is literally waiting outside with the engine running. We had eight days per episode, but sometimes we don’t even get that.
What’s the selection process like for the theme shows?
I don’t know what’s in Ryan’s head when he picks an artist to do a theme with — I think he definitely spends time with that artist’s catalogue to see if he can weave a theme through. They’re difficult for me, in a different way. We talk about variety and you don’t get that when you’re doing a theme episode. Like, how do I get a fresh spin on six Britney songs? And honestly, you feel more of a pressure on those episodes; there’s more of a microscope. I don’t want to butcher an entire catalogue.
A lot of the artists that you work with are massive — do you have an open-ended budget to license whomever?
Not at all. We have a very tight budget and [artists] work with our budgets. They see a resurgence of sales when we do their songs, especially for classic artists, who see their songs get a whole new life. I was talking to Max Martin, who’s written, like, every Britney song ever. He’s all about it because he wants people to hear his old music, not just what he’s doing now. He has “California Gurls” now — he wrote that, but he has all these great songs from ten years ago that he’s excited for this generation to hear. But the budgets aren’t open-ended at all.
Do you get songs cheaper than for, say, a soap commercial?
We definitely do. To get a Journey song licensed for a soap commercial it’s going to cost $1 million. So if they want to be a part of us, they have to work with us.
For season two, are you going to be exploring new styles or genres?
As we move on, I think we’re going to be hearing more reinvention than in the past. That’s what I’d like to see happen. Obviously we’re doing the Britney episode and around Christmas, I think we’re going to do Susan Boyle, where she comes on the show. We’re going to do something really cool for Halloween with the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s a really good variety.