Country: Music to TV’s Ears

Once limited to setting the mood for honky-tonk scenes and car chases, country music can now be heard across a broad spectrum of network television programming. Its uses range from serving as background for spots to promote specific TV shows to earning country stars guest appearances on soap operas and sitcoms. Some examples:

Martina McBride’s pop-flavored “I Love You” was recently incorporated into a promo for the series One Life to Live, although neither McBride nor the song appear in the actual show.

SHeDAISY has just taped a General Hospital episode, for which the trio performed three songs. It airs October 27.

Faith Hill’s “This Kiss” and Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One” were both used on Dharma & Greg. And Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” has graced Sports Night.

Although it got almost no radio play, Steve Wariner’s instrumental album, No More Mister Nice Guy, was worked into several network promos and used as background music on General Hospital, Port Charles and other shows.

“I’m always trying to help country music,” says Greg Yantek, music supervisor for ABC Network in Los Angeles. “There’s so much great stuff. You work with people who have the wrong impressions. They think that Christian music is just so religious or that country music is about losing your horse at the truckstop. Actually it’s hard for me to find a song like that.”
The right music in a promo, Yantek says, will cause people to “look up at the TV” instead of run to the bathroom or turn to their newspaper when it comes on.

Yantek, who has been picking music for ABC for nine years, regularly visits Nashville to listen to country music at its source. “It seems like when I hear it in person, I hear the lyrics better than I do when it’s just playing softly in my office,” he explains. In addition to trekking to Music City for Country Music Week, Yantek has also attended Fan Fair and the Country Radio Seminar.

Besides the songs he discovers on his own, Yantek says he also listens to suggestions from record companies, music publishers and publicists. Network openness to country music is an “up and down” matter, he adds, depending on which producers he’s working with. “It seems like on both coasts, they always want to use what’s ’hip.’ And this is always ’alternative’ [music], which sometimes doesn’t even sound like music to me. So a lot of times, I’ll put an album in a blank jewel case so they won’t have any idea from the cover of what kind of music it is. And it works.”

To use a particular recording, Yantek has to have permission from both the record company and the music publisher. If a songwriter doesn’t want his or her song in a commercial, then the publisher will reject the request. Songs are generally leased for a set amount of time, ranging from a few days to a few months. In most cases, neither the singer nor the song is identified by name. “Once in a blue moon,” Yantek says, “we’ll credit the song and the artist on a promo like they do [on the music videos] on CMT or VH-1. But when we do that, we usually have [a promotion] going on with the record label.”

Yantek says ABC’s music library was established around 1948 and contains a vast amount of material to draw from. “Lyrically, you never know what you might want to use,” he notes. “One day we might be using the Screaming Lizards and the next day it might be Bing Crosby. It’s not like radio. We can use the oldest song known or the most obscure.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to