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Kate Erbland

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Kate is a freelance writer interested in all things cinematic and literary. She lives in New York City with two cats, two turtles, one boyfriend, and a frightening number of sensible canvas totes.

Mocking Jay-Z: Meet the Woman Behind the Surprisingly Great ‘Hunger Games’ & ‘Twilight’ Soundtracks

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The rise of the YA adaptation as its own mini genre – or at least a convenient way to demarcate between different, teen-centric movie outings – has come with plenty of strange side effects (sudden knowledge of who “Jackson Rathbone” is, an interest in imagined dystopia of all colors, a desire to practice archery), but few are as unexpected as the rise of soundtracks rounded out by classic artists, rising superstars, and worthy discoveries. The depth and breadth of talent present on the soundtracks for films like “The Twilight Saga” and this week’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” are the work of not just one outfit (that would be the prolific ChopShop), but of one woman – music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas.

Patsavas is the one to thank (or, alternately, blame, if you’re feeling touchy about liking anything associated with “Twilight”) for the high quality of many of the soundtracks to the current boom of YA adaptations. Patsavas’ resume is certainly an impressive one – she’s served as music supervisor on popular adaptations like all five “Twilight” films, the eighties-heavy “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” and “Warm Bodies” – and her hiring on to supervise the music picks for “Twilight” unquestionably changed the direction of her cinematic career, making her the go-to supervisor for films of its ilk.

She also has plenty of television under her belt, including “Roswell,” “Carnivale,” “Tru Calling,” “The O.C.,” “Life on Mars,” “Gossip Girl,” “The Carrie Diaries,” “Mad Men,” “Supernatural,” “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Hostages.” Even if you don’t necessarily know Patsavas by name, she may already sound familiar, considering she was heavily praised for her soundtrack work during this year’s celebration of the tenth anniversary of “The O.C.” (Patsavas is credited with introducing Death Cab for Cutie to the pop culture public through her work on the beloved Fox soap, and for that alone she should be honored.)

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Soundtracks are big business for film studios, and Patsavas’ albums have cleaned up quite tidily. The soundtrack for the first “Twilight” is certified double platinum and topped the Billboard chart at number one before the film opened in theaters. Even on the underperforming end of things, Patsavas’ albums put up very respectable numbers – “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” was the first of the “Twilight” soundtracks to not hit number one, but it still made it to number two on the Billboard chart and it is a certified gold album, and even “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1” soundtrack, which only hit number four on the Billboard chart, still sold almost half a million copies.

Of course, Patsavas can’t supervise the music for all the YA adaptations out there, but she’s certainly had a hand in creating the most popular ones. The first “Hunger Games” didn’t even have a traditional music supervisor on board, though its soundtrack was produced by T-Bone Burnett and Lionsgate executive Tracy McKnight, who peppered the album with original songs by Taylor Swift, The Low Anthem, The Decemberists, Arcade Fire, and many more. Patsavas’ picks for the next film in the franchise, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” are in line with those sorts of sensibilities, but her soundtrack still very much reflects her tastes and influences.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” soundtrack includes tracks from established talents like Coldplay, The National, and Christina Aguilera, but it also has songs from rising stars Lorde, Ellie Goulding, The Weeknd, The Lumineers, and Imagine Dragons. It even closes with a beautiful contribution from Antony Hegarty, whose elemental voice is sure to sound agreeably foreign to the millions of teens who buy the record. Patsavas’ fingerprints, however, are most present in the inclusion of former punk princess turned stateswoman of American rock – Patti Smith, who sings “Capitol Letter” for the album. It’s classic Patsavas, as she’s memorably peppered her soundtracks with a mix of Collective Soul and Muse, Thom Yorke and Sea Wolf,  The Black Keys and Band of Horses, Bruno Mars and Iron & Wine, and Green Day and Feist.

It’s not shocking that Patsavas has some clever insight into why new and emerging artists make it on to soundtracks and why they are so successful, as she told American Songwriter back in January of 2012 that she tends “to select a mix of established and respected alternative artists and performers that are less known but always the song that is selected is the best to tell the story. I do believe that is why these OST’s connect so strongly with the audience.”

“They are hearing the songs for the first time, certainly and often are experiencing the bands for the first time as they watch the film. Heady stuff.”

She spoke to Vice late last year about her process – and it’s one that’s not focused on picking the “newest” or “hottest” acts around (even if that’s what ends up happening), telling the outlet, “before we can even get into the lyrics, it’s about listening to how a song sounds. How it makes the audience feel. All these songs are paired to picture – they’re never listened to on their own until there’s a soundtrack. So the first time the audience experiences these songs are when there’s awesome dialogue being spoken, and beautiful visuals to watch, and story happening, and I think we are helping to tell the story. That’s what I look for.”

She continued, “I think that really we get exposed to so much music. Really excellent stuff is very self-evident. It really is, especially when you listen to so much…Great bands really stick out.”

Patsavas’ aim appears to be firmly rooted in making the best picks for the film and its creators’ various visions – if new work from new artists fits that, all the better (and it certainly seems to be working quite well so far).

There are plenty of other YA adaptations flooding theaters as of late – but not all of them are capable of churning out bestselling (and actually interesting) soundtracks, even the ones that feature songs by stalwarts like Bob Dylan (like the Mary Ramos-supervised “Beautiful Creatures”) or rising pop starlets like Jessie J and Demi Lovato (like “The Moral Instruments: City of Bones” soundtrack). Patsavas’ trademark mix of new and old, along with her ability to pluck new acts out of stacks of submissions, is what has made plenty of albums that could easily be a cheap means of pushing artists with solid connections and questionable merit into an accompaniment that even people who don’t like vampire romance want in their earbuds (even if they hide the album cover from random passerby).


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Tags: Alexandra Patsavas, Antony and the Johnsons, Arcade fire, Catching Fire, Coldplay, Jennifer Lawrence, Music supervisor, Soundtracks, The Hunger Games, Thom yorke, Twilight