'Glee:' Behind the Music

With the show up for two Grammys, music producer Adam Anders tells THR the actor who has impressed him the most vocally (it's not Lea Michele), answers those auto-tune rumors and reveals that "Viva La Vida" almost became the theme over "Don't Stop Believin'."

Glee is up for two golden gramophones at this Sunday’s Grammy Awards, best pop performance by a duo or group with vocals for "Don't Stop Believin'" and best compilation soundtrack album for Glee: The Music, Volume 1, and much of the credit is due to one person: Adam Anders, who produces all Glee-related songs for the show and albums as well as the music for the forthcoming tour.

It’s a full-time job times two, which is why Anders has a musical partner more than 10,000 miles away working during the overnight hours. It’s also a highly demanding one, when show creator Ryan Murphy is your boss.

Of course Anders, who got his big break writing for Backstreet Boys a decade ago, isn’t complaining. With over 56 million songs and nearly 10 million albums sold, and the promise by Columbia-Epic Label Group chairman Rob Stringer that Anders can work on the casts’ future solo albums, he’s looking at some very lucrative accolades. 

Read on for The Hollywood Reporter's recent sit-down with the Swedish-born Anders, as he readies for music’s biggest night.

THR: When you first started working on the music for Glee, what kind of direction did Ryan Murphy give you?

AA: He wanted it big. He was telling me, “This cannot be karaoke. This show has to have hit songs. It has to sound amazing and look good.” When we did "Rehab," that's when he finally said, "That's my vision." We've done a couple hundred songs together, and I can think of maybe three songs that didn't work.

THR: The mashups are especially impressive, tell us about how those come together.

AA: Ryan comes up with them. He's crazy. Crazy brilliant… A lot is story-driven, where he’ll call me and say, “These work lyrically, will it work musically?" And sometimes he gives me options. "This, this, this, or this?" He's just a jukebox really. And my job is just to get what he wants.

THR: You work on a 24-hour cycle. Can you explain?

AA: My production partner Peer Astrom lives in Sweden. When I go to sleep, he keeps working, and vice versa. So we get nine extra hours in there. So I'm asleep, he's mixing. And I wake up and check the mix and then I go change this or that, then it's done and we move on. It's amazing. Not many people can work when they sleep, but I can. He’s a great partner. 

THR: Give us a primer on the recording process...

AA: We get a script, then PJ Bloom, the music supervisor, will start clearing music. I can't start until the songs are clear, because I won't get paid if they don’t, and I don't want to take that risk. Usually I start the day at 7 am, I get on Skype with my partner, we talk it through. If it’s a mashup, we figure out which song is going to take the lead, and which one we’re trying to bend. Then, it's like a blur. We're working on eight or ten songs at all times

THR: How long does it typically take to nail a vocal by the Glee cast members?

AA: Not long enough. We used to spend a whole day on one song. Now we have 30 minutes. We finished a song in a day once, “The Living Years,” but I don't ever want to do that again. That was awful.

THR: Outside of Kings of Leon, do almost all songs clear these days?

AA: Yes. Even in the beginning they did. It's been pretty amazing. We wanted [Coldplay’s] "Viva la Vida" for the pilot, and didn't get that, but I'm thankful. Because I don’t think it would be the same. It’s one of my favorite songs ever, but "Don't Stop Believin'" has become the theme. So I think it was meant to be.


THR: Who from the cast has impressed you vocally? 

AA: I knew Lea [Michele] was going to impress me. I knew Amber [Riley] would blow me away. I think Cory [Monteith] impressed me the most, because he had never sung in his life. To do it not only took courage but talent. He really had something and seeing him discover, "Wait, I'm a singer," was really cool. The first thing he ever sang was a Journey cover, and that's hard. I was nervous and he stepped up. That really blew me away. Dude's never been in the studio and he's doing Steve Perry! It was awesome. "Don't Stop" is a special track. It’s still the best thing we've done.

THR: Glee is up for two Grammys at Sunday’s awards and has also sold more than nine million albums. As producer, are you a royalty-sharing participant?

AA: Yes, thankfully. We’ve also sold 56 million downloads, which is deceiving, because they haven't quite figured out digital royalties yet. They're going to have to, because of the sheer volume of this thing. But it's a hard thing to account – who pays what? It's not like it used to be. There are subscriptions and all this stuff now, and nobody knows how to pay.

THR: There is a very vocal contingent of Gleeks who complain that some of the songs sound auto-tuned, care to respond?

AA: We don't use auto-tune. It's complete BS. Do I edit the vocals? Of course. We comp it and take the best pieces of everything. When things are autotuned, it's on purpose -- to match the original song, like Lady Gaga’s "Telephone," the original is incredibly auto-tuned and we're matching that production style. But on "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" we didn't have auto-tune. Lea for example, she has this flip in her voice that's like her iconic thing in my opinion. People think that's auto-tuned, but that's how she sings. And it's killer. It makes her stick out. So I get really frustrated with that whole auto-tune comment. T-Pain is not allowed in the building unless it's a T-Pain song we're covering. 

THR: Auto-tune as a gimmick almost feels like an abuse of technology, but when is technology a good thing?

AA: Say Lea does an incredible performance. You’re not going to be able to capture that moment again, but there was one note that was off. Technology is great. It can fix that one thing. It doesn't take away from this performance.

THR: How is Lea to work with?

AA: She's a pro. Even when she's having a terrible day and wants to punch me in the face, she doesn't, she gets behind the mike and she turns it on. I've always appreciated that about her. The show is a grind, and you're allowed to have bad days. But even on her bad days, she never phones it in, which I appreciate, because a lot of people do.