Now Available on iTunes

How TV Is Reshaping the Music Industry

By Aimee Terravechia

During television's infancy, shows highlighting the music of popular artists were as common as reality shows are today. Television was seen as a natural extension of the music industry, one that record executives were all too eager to capitalize on. Late night shows featured bands and solo acts; variety shows featured niche artists; and original programing was even created in conjunction with pre-packaged pop musicians. From the Ed Sullivan Show to The Monkees, television played an important role in the promotion of music in the 1960s and 70s.

Although the acts never left the late night gigs, shows like The Monkees and The Partridge Family went out of style. But lately that sort of codependence of narrative and original music has gone from a dated concept to a current one again with shows like Nashville, Empire, and My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Last year Empire's soundtrack topped R&B charts. According to Billboard, that hasn't been done since a 1969 special featuring Diana Ross & the Supremes.

These drama-driven shows occupy a unique place in the music industry. Not only are they introducing original music to audiences, they're also driving sales.  Unlike the days of The Partridge Family, you don't have to wait for a record to hit stores. Now you can watch an episode and instantly download a track through iTunes.

Reality programs like American Idol and The Voice helped pave the way for this instant music gratification system, but with their fly-by-night contestants, it's hard to build a dedicated fan base to root for musicians in the same way that audiences root for their favorite characters on prime time. That's where these drama-based musical programs outshine the reality shows. Consumers get invested in more than just the songs -- they get invested in the stories and characters the songs are associated with.

Nashville alone has 321 songs available on iTunes. Empire rounds out its list with 145 songs. There's a numbers game at play. The music is just one of many pieces of merchandise associated with each show. But the songs can do something for the show that other forms of merchandise can't: they can increase viewership. The songs are played on the radio, streaming through Spotify and Pandora, and can pique the interest of music lovers who might not have otherwise watched the show. They can also draw on the connection that existing audience members feel to the narrative, ensuring that people already watching keep coming back.

The importance of music driving interest in a show has become increasingly apparent with My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The show's musical numbers have been written about in a variety of places, from the New York Times to Rolling Stone. The songs are funny, topical, and catchy as hell. Unlike Nashville and Empire, My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend isn't a show about the music industry, and it isn't drama-driven but comedy-driven. But the same rules apply, and music is a huge force behind the show's success thus far.

My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend presents musical scenes that when taken out of context turn into on-point music videos. In addition to the music driving people to check out the show, the videos are being talked about. The show has created a perfect marriage of media: buy the songs, watch the episodes, replay the music videos online. Like Nashville and Empire, it's designed to be watched, talked about, shared, and listened to. It isn't just television, it's an experience, and a damn good one.

Published February 25th, 2016

Aimee Terravechia is a writer, teacher, and grilled cheese connoisseur. She is currently working on her second novel Memes Anonymous . She has written for The Powder RoomScary Mommy, and The Cubic Lane. Her fiction has been published in Apocrypha and Abstractions. When not writing she can be found teaching college composition and creative writing, herding cats, or wrangling her toddler.