The 'Empire' Soundtrack vs. Other Musical TV Series: How Does It Stack Up So Far?
Streaming music might be hurting the industry, but luckily that didn't stop the Empire soundtrack from being available on iTunes and Spotify. How does the Empire soundtrack compare to other shows? Soundtracks aren't always the first thing we think about when we think about television. Sure, sometimes, shows have musical episodes. The "Once More With Feeling" album was my first introduction to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and boy was I confused. However, since the very introduction of iTunes, television has figured out a way to use their music choices as a marketing tool. Remember when the Gossip Girl soundtrack was a big thing? The OC and Grey's Anatomy soundtracks were almost as integral as the series' many twists and turns. Granted, now people can just use an app like Shazam to figure out what song is playing during their favorite scene, but it's also popular for a series to advertise the songs at the end of an episode.
Don't count out American Idol, The X Factor, and The Voice, which depend on iTunes sales as well. It's an easy, innocent way for a show to increase its profit. Empire has latched onto this, and I'm sure it helps explain how successful the show has been after only a few weeks. Who is responsible for these soundtracks? How many Empire albums can we expect? For the sake of comparison, let's look at Empire with four other current or recent series that use music in a similar way.
Genre: Musical Theatre, Pop
Albums: The Music of SMASH Season One, The Music of SMASH Season Two, Bombshell
The NBC series first season had original music by musical theatre composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and the second season added composers Joe Iconis, Pasek and Paul, Andrew McMahon, and Drew Gasparini. The other songs covered ranged from artists like Bruno Mars to Robyn, Billy Joel and Frank Sinatra. The soundtrack was produced by Columbia Records.
Genres: Country, Christmas
Albums: The Music of Nashville: Season 1 Vol. 1-2, The Music of Nashville: Season 2, Vol. 1-2, Christmas with Nashville, The Music of Nashville: Season 3, Vol. 1, Nashville: On The Record, Individual Artist Albums
T-Bone Burnett produced the first season of Nashville, music-wise. Buddy Miller has had the job since then. The albums are made by Big Machine Records and use a variety of country music songwriters. In addition to the singles released as each episode airs and the albums at the end of the season, you can also buy albums of just Hayden Panettiere's music on the show or just Clare Bowen's music as Juliette and Scarlett, respectfully. That way, you can live in the Nashville world with the characters for a spell.
Genres: All covers, all genres, occasional original songs we don't like to think about.
Albums: Glee: The Music Vol. 1-7, The Christmas Album Vol. 1-3, The Warblers, The Graduation Album, Sings The Beatles, The 3D Concert Movie
You could say that Glee started this trend, however it owes much of its success to American Idol and High School Musical. Still, just like Empire and Nashville, Glee's tunes are released before the episode airs and give fans who crave spoilers a taste of what's to come. Glee is also produced by Columbia Records, and their singles are released before the episode airs, just like Empire.
Not only have they released the albums above, but there are at least 20 EPs compiling different genres and artists on the show. Suffice to say, I gave up buying Glee music way before I gave up on Glee. It's overwhelming!
Genre: Rock, Pop, Indie
Albums: Songs From Instant Star 1, 2, 3, and 4; The N Soundtrack, Instant Star: Greatest Hits
This is an older Canadian show that used to air on TeenNick when it was still called The N. It followed Jude Harrison, an "alternative" singer songwriter whose surprise win on an Idol-esque singing competition dropped her in the middle of the corporate record industry. Instant Star aired in the mid-2000s, and it shows by the way the soundtracks were handled. Each season's album was released after the season was over, and the Season 3 soundtrack does not even use the songs as they appeared on the series. Instead of the show's star, Alexz Johnson, different artists from the show covered her songs. It's very different from the iTunes charts producing machines we see today.
Genre: Hip Hop, R&B
Now that we've explored some options, let's look back at Empire. The freshman series releases single prior to the episodes, with EPs available for each episode as well. The tracks are produced by Timbaland. You can also find Empire character playlists on Spotify, which adds a fun bit of transmedia to the series. It's not as overwhelming as Glee just yet, which is a very good sign.
I would expect a full album by the end of the season, and I wouldn't be surprised if they also followed the Nashville model and released separate albums for Jamal, Hakeem, and Tiana as well. So much of the show centers on competing artists, and this would give audiences a way to participate.
Image: Chuck Hodes/FOX