At ABC Family, there’s always music in the air or, perhaps more specifically, on the air. The Disney-owned network strives to incorporate popular songs within each series and throughout its show promos.
“As a network, one of our main goals is to establish ABC Family as a destination for millennials to discover new music,” says Jenna Stein, senior manager of content and programming for ABC Family. Millennials is the sweeping term used to describe the generation born between 1980 and 1995.
“We’re really utilizing music in all of our series,” she continues. “Each show has its own particular sound.” For example, “Greek,” a dramedy about sorority and fraternity life, boasts an indie sound, while another drama, “Lincoln Heights,” relies more on R&B: Trey Songz will appear in a forthcoming episode. Teen-oriented “10 Things I Hate About You” and “Make It or Break It” both feature music from rising singer/songwriters like Samantha Newark, Paul Freeman and Max Morgan.
No series is more music-centric than “Ruby and the Rockits,” a half-hour comedy that debuted in July about a teenager (played by Alexa Vega) who surprises her former rock star dad (played by former pop heartthrob David Cassidy), who was previously unaware of her existence. He’s living out his past glory playing casinos, so his more stable brother and former bandmate in the Rockits takes in Ruby to live with his family.
For Shaun Cassidy, who created “Ruby” (which also stars Shaun’s other brother Patrick Cassidy), music is a character that drives the story but never interrupts it. “It’s not a musical; it’s a comedy first about musical people,” he says. “We don’t ever want to stop the show and break into song, with all due respect to ‘The Monkees’ or ‘The Partridge Family.'”
Indeed, Ruby’s songs, which are scattered throughout the episodes, serve as her “diary,” Cassidy says, and usually give insight into the thoughts she won’t express to her makeshift family. “It’s the quiet reveal of who she is,” Cassidy says, noting that Vega sings everything live instead of prerecording her vocals for a more authentic feel.
While Ruby’s songs tend toward folk pop, budding teen heartthrob Austin Butler, who plays her cousin Jordan, leans toward the emotional. “We want songs specific to their personalities,” says Cassidy, who has a team of songwriters to pen the show’s music. He and co-exec producer Marsh McCall often write the intentionally bad New Wave-oriented songs for the flashback scenes from the Rockits’ ’80s heyday.
While there would seem to be a ready-made soundtrack for “Ruby,” Stein says no one’s looking that far ahead: “Our goal is to create a hit show, not a hit record,” she says.
However, early indications are that fans want their Ruby. The week after the show bowed, sales of “Lost in Your Own Life,” a song that figured prominently in the series debut, soared from sales of 1,700 to 9,000 downloads on iTunes. Two other songs featured on the show are also available for purchase via the digital download site.
While ABC Family often licenses music from artists on sister labels Hollywood Records and Walt Disney Records, such as the Plain White Ts, KSM and Jesse McCartney (who also stars on “Greek”), Stein says there is no exclusive agreement between the channel and the record companies. “We obviously consider working with our sister labels,” she says, “but always look at the broad spectrum.”
The channel also turns to its own talent when it comes to other network programs. For inclusion in the upcoming holiday movie “Santa Baby 2,” featuring Jenny McCarthy, Vega recorded “Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You,” while “Greek’s” Amber Stevens performs “Santa Baby.”
To aid its audience in its quest to discover new artists, ABC Family has music guides on its site and builds features around the artists used on the shows and promos as well as streams the songs.