The downturn in the fortunes of film soundtracks is not mirrored in the TV industry.

The sector is capitalising on its musical muscle, particularly in the US where programmes such as Grey's Anatomy have tapped into a burgeoning indie music market for material and are reaping the rewards through sales of a species of soundtrack.

According to Mitchell Leib, president, music and soundtracks for Walt Disney Studios, which handles Grey's Anatomy soundtracks (Disney's Touchstone Television is one of the production companies and Disney's ABC is the US broadcaster), fledgling programmes turn to unknown artists because they do not have the budgets for established performers.

Even once Grey's Anatomy became a hit, music supervisor Alexandra Patsava continued with her scouting habits, including the regular patrolling of online sites such as MySpace.

The programme is credited with breaking the British band Snow Patrol in the US. Leib suggests the latest album, Grey's Anatomy Vol III, will help do the same for New York-based indie pop artist Ingrid Michaelson.

In the UK, Universal Music UK established its Universal Soundtrack Label (USL) this year to pair musicians signed to Universal's other labels with producers of independent UK films that might not otherwise land soundtrack deals.

USL's first release was the soundtrack for Shane Meadows' This Is England, a distinctly British tale about a young skinhead in the 1980s.

The second was Magicians, a comedy starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb of the popular UK television series Peep Show. While the film has only a few cuts of music, USL anchored the soundtrack with music inspired by the theme of magic. The label asked performers for cover versions of the magic-themed song of their choice; for example, band Mr Hudson and the Library chose Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.


From Broadway to itunes

When the musical version of Hairspray was turned into a film, a big-selling soundtrack was a prerequisite. New Line Cinema called in the experts.

When New Line Cinema decided to bankroll Hairspray, a film adaptation of the Broadway musical based on John Waters' original film, part of the rationale was the potential revenue from the music. 'The songs were strong, the arrangements were strong, a soundtrack album was a requirement for the project,' says Jason Linn, executive vice-president of music for New Line Cinema and co-producer of the soundtrack.

'Watching a film and listening to a CD on your personal device or on your home stereo are two very different experiences,' he says. 'You have to distinguish the film mix from the album mix to accentuate that.'

Linn brought in seasoned music mixers and producers, including Peter Mokrin, who works with such artists as Pussycat Dolls and Christina Aguilera, to build up the brass and create a strong, energetic mix. Multi-Grammy award-winning producer Ed Cherney, who has worked with the Rolling Stones and Bette Midler, was enlisted to add 'heart and soul' to the rock-oriented tracks.

'These songs had only existed in a Broadway cast recording. These expert mixers brought a whole new dimension to the album. That helped the record stand as an individual piece,' says Linn.

The Hairspray soundtrack has sold 450,000 units in the US and Canada and another 400,000 in 40 other territories, including gold record sales in the UK (100,000) and Australia (40,000). It is close to certifying gold in France and Italy. It was the first soundtrack to be offered for pre-order on Apple's iTunes download service. Linn says more than 20% of sales are via download.