Glee’s Music Man

(Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
MoD Digital

Adam Anders no longer sleeps. You might think that’s an exaggeration, but we’re almost inclined to believe it. As the executive music producer for “Glee,” Anders finds and arranges every song on the show, coaches and records the young cast, masters the music that rockets to the top of iTunes every week...all while making sure he does right by the music and doesn’t piss off his friends -- or worse, Madonna.

We talked to Anders about song selection, themed episodes, working with several untested voices, and that iconic Journey song, which almost wasn’t in the show at all.

Did you know from the beginning what a phenomenon “Glee” would be?
I didn’t think it was going to be successful -- how are you going to do a primetime musical in the U.S? I thought, ‘I’ll do the pilot and then I’ll move on.’

Oops. And now?
Every day there’s a new surprise for me. It’s a nightmare and dream job. I don’t sleep, I have no life, but it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I’ll probably never be part of anything like this again -- it’s a cultural worldwide phenomenon. It doesn’t matter that I’m tired.


Was it a challenge to work with such a diverse group of young singers when the show started? How have things changed over the past year?
I was nervous at first. I thought, ‘They’re actors, they’re going to suck, what am I going to do?’ But I’ve always been impressed. I was impressed day one with Corey. There was a guy who had never sung in his life, and the first thing he sings is “Don’t Stop Believing.” He has to do Steve Perry and he doesn’t know how to breathe and sing at the same time. He almost passed out -- he was literally turning blue in the studio.

And Lea Michelle had never sung [anything except] Broadway. You sing pop totally differently than you sing a Broadway song. When you do Streisand, it’s completely different than when you sing and record a Britney song. It’s like night and day, and she’d never experienced that.

Now the kids have done over 100 songs, all different styles. They never say ‘I can’t do that’ anymore.

What do you say to fans of the show who aren’t happy about a Britney Spears episode?
I’m Swedish, so I’m very intimately in tune with those songs. I know everyone who has written them. Also, Britney is the biggest selling female artist after Madonna, she’s huge, so there definitely are going to be people who don’t say ‘What the hell?’ They’re going to say ‘Yay! We were waiting for that!’


Were there challenges in arranging the music for this episode? What can we expect?
All my friends wrote these songs. So you can imagine if I screw it up... there’s so much extra pressure.

We’re going to reinvent some things, and then there are going to be songs that are purposefully as close to the originals as possible. We’re going to twist a couple of the songs, so you’re saying ‘why is that person singing that?’, which we did with Madonna.

Speaking of Madonna, what was that episode like for you?
The Madonna episode was the hardest for me to do last year because when you do that many songs from one artist, you’re under the microscope in a different way. They’re really psychoanalyzing everything. And I’m afraid of Madonna -- if I screwed that up she’d come and kill me. Britney, I’m not afraid of.

Are there other artists you fear?
We did the Beatles -- it was just like, “What do I do? I’m such a fan!” That’s the biggest pressure for me. When you’re a fan of somebody or grew up with somebody or you know them or worked with them, there’s so much added pressure on me to make sure I do them justice and serve the song and still serve the story.


What’s on your musical wish list?
Everything. Right now my favorite band is Coldplay. If I could find a classic I’d like to work some Toto in -- “Africa” would be incredible to do. And I’ve got to do an ABBA episode, come on.

One of the reasons I am uniquely suited to this gig is I have such a diverse musical background. My parents are classical musicians, I studied jazz, but I’m from Sweden so pop is in my blood. But at the end of the day, I love to rock. I love doing The Doors, I love doing the stuff with Corey where we just rock out. “Jesse’s Girl” was hilarious to me because my sister had a poster of [Rick Springfield] in her closet when I was a little boy.

What about music you don’t like -- are there any songs that you won’t do?
You can’t do that on this show. I mean, “Run, Joey, Run,” really? I was like, what in the world... But I know there’s a purpose to it, and when you read the script, it’s hilarious. But even then, you have to respect the song. Now, there’s comic relief in us doing it, but then it was a legit, serious song. You have to respect that. I’ve found I don’t have to ham it up. The story is so good that if it needs to be funny, it will be funny without dissing the song. I think that’s one of the things we do really well -- we always try to make a really great version, no matter what it is, even if it’s supposed to be funny.

Have you gotten turned down for music you really wanted?
There was a Bryan Adams song - “Everything I Do, I Do For You.” It’s a fantastic song. I don’t think it was a knock on the show [that we couldn’t use it] -- it just didn’t work.


Coldplay turned us down originally for “Viva la Vida” -- it was supposed to be the “Don’t Stop Believing” [number]. I understand that -- they don’t need it. They’re the biggest thing ever right now, so why would they need a song on a pilot that who knows if it’s going to do anything?

Really? “Don’t Stop Believing” is such a big part of the show. Do you think it would have been the same if you had gotten the rights to “Viva la Vida”?
I think it was meant to be. [“Don’t Stop Believing”] became the show. Iit was so inspirational and it resonated with so many people. I don’t think it would have been close to as good.