Compelling characters, inspired performances, engaging story lines and irreverent dialogue are just a few of the magical elements that make up Fox’ hit series “Glee”. But what sets the show apart is its cast recordings of some of the most evocative, iconic pop songs around, driving millions of downloads and two forthcoming soundtracks. The show’s music producer Adam Anders—also a songwriter whose credits include Disney’s “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical” franchises—chatted with Billboard shortly after he joined cast member Lea Michele and the team behind “Glee” in a panel discussion at The Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference on Oct. 30.


How is working on “Glee” different from working on “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical”?

The time. We have so little time…we have a year to do “High School Musical” and have six days to do anywhere from six to eleven songs [for “Glee”]. “High School Musical” only has twelve songs in it, so as you can imagine, it’s pretty intense. They’ve all been covers so far in “Glee.” I’ve always written songs, so it’s a very new thing for me to do covers. But I love picking apart all these great songs I’ve loved for years, or new songs I’ve loved. It’s a whole new experience for me.

Do you find that there is any awkwardness as far as adapting a song that’s normally heard on the radio and expressing it in a totally different way, giving it a bit of a jazz-hands treatment?

It’s hard to do the jazz-hands thing and still make it cool. Before I was hired, they had a lot of failures because of that. It sounded like a bunch of church singers or whatever. It just got really cheesy. To be able to do a glee-club version of a song and make it have mass appeal is really the trick. I don’t know what the secret is, but we seemed to have tapped into something that works. There were other people that tried to produce the music for the pilot. I wasn’t involved at that point, and [co-creator/director] Ryan [Murphy] just wasn’t happy. He was like, “this is not my vision, this is not it, this is not it.” Then I did a version of “Rehab” and he was like, “That’s the sound! That’s what I need!”

It’s such a fine line between cheesy and cool.

It’s a really fine line. And a lot of time I re-do stuff because it turns out cheesy so I toss stuff and start over.

What’s the hardest adaptation of a song you’ve had to produce for a show?

The mashups were the first really huge challenge for me. There are a couple you haven’t seen yet that are even more difficult than the ones that have been released. They’re the most fun, but they’re the most challenging for sure.

Can you think of a time when you had to do a lot of hand-holding with a cast member as far as getting them to sing these pop songs on TV?

Like Lea [Michele] was saying, she has her comfort zone. She’s always sung Broadway. She’s incredible. And all of a sudden she’s thrown into a studio singing an R&B song. It was me convincing her, “you can do this.” There wasn’t a question in my mind that she could do it phenomenally well, but in her mind, [it was] “I’ve never done this before. So why am I doing this?” As we went on, and [did] all these different styles, the cast gained more confidence and now they’re just amazing. They’re machines. It was getting them over that hurdle, out of their comfort zone into a new thing they’re not used to and making them comfortable with that and knowing they can do it.

So it wasn’t so much about training them to sing a certain way as it was about convincing them they could do it.

Exactly. With some, it’s more training. Cory [Monteith] had never sung in his life before he stepped in the studio and did “Don’t Stop Believin’” and it went No. 1. He had never been in a recording studio. He just has a good voice. So there is some training there. I’m a singer, so I can [say], “No, sing it like this.” He’s like a sponge and keeps getting better and better and has the talent. But the others, like Lea and Amber [Riley] and [Jenna Ushkowitz] Tina, they’re real singers. It’s like, you can do this, it’s not even a question. So really just giving them confidence.

How did Cory get cast if he wasn’t a singer?

He has a good voice. He sang for them, and he’s like, “Oh. I can sing!” But he’s never been a singer, he’s never been on Broadway. He’s an actor. And he’s a drummer, so he’s musical, and that’s huge. I noticed that right away when I first recorded him. He hears the harmonies, he hears the melody, he’s on pitch, he’s really good.

Do you have any input as far as song choice?

I suggest songs in our creative meetings or I’ll send [Ryan Murphy] an email and say “hey, what about this song?” And then he’s like, “oh, I love that song!” and it’ll show up three scripts later. The first song I suggested was denied. It was a Bryan Adams song, and I was like, “ah, crap.” But Ryan is very open. With the people he trusts, his creative team, it’s an open door.

Do fans get any input into song choice? I can imagine that they make lots of requests.

We see all of it. We see the bloggers and people who want to change things and do it differently. All of it is done with the right intentions, but we have a vision and we’ve stuck to it and it’s very successful. Who do you listen to? You’ve got everybody saying different things so we’ve just got to stay focused and do our thing.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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