One of the joys of rewatching Scrubs on Netflix is noticing how the series so cleverly uses music. In one such instance, I found myself singing along to “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, as it played throughout an episode of the show. It wasn’t until the episode finished that I noticed the name of the episode, “My Journey,” corresponded to its music. But it seems like the doctors from Sacred Heart Hospital won’t be saving any more lives to the tune of yesteryear’s pop hits on Netflix because Netflix did not renew its license for the popular show. After May, Scrubs will be gone from the Netflix catalogue. Scrubs has had a tumultuous relationship with the online streaming service. Brad McHargue, a user on twitter, tweeted to Zach Braff, who plays J.D. on Scrubs, “The Netflix version of Scrubs uses different songs in a # of the episodes. Why?” To which Mr. Braff replied, “The music license didn’t cover Netflix.”
This isn’t just a question of erasing the show’s original vision. As the “Golden Age of Television” continues, production companies are investing heavily in soundtracks by commissioning original music and licensing existing songs. Both original scores and already existing songs serve the same purpose: to capture the feelings in a show at any given moment. Further, a different soundtrack may alter the effectiveness or appeal of a show; a good soundtrack can retain viewers.
Netflix spends more on its original shows than most cable companies, e.g., Fox or Disney. Creators of shows have become more willing to spend large amounts of money on music supervisors and licensing rights to existing songs. Netflix is quickly becoming a dominant player in the new TV market, and is taking steps to beef up its music licensing division in 2017. According to Netflix, their investment in originals will slowly increase and come to replace some of the other content they currently spend money on licensing, which could explain Scrubs getting nixed. The value of Netflix’s original content jumped from $450 million in 2015 to about $5 billion in 2016. Netflix has exhibited an upward trend in its spending on original content in order to garner new customers. A sizeable percentage of this investment goes to the production of soundtracks for Netflix Originals. Because TV Soundtracks have become easier to access through digital streaming, they have garnered more attention as standalone pieces of art. This partly explains the hype for original soundtracks from Netflix Originals such as Stranger Things and Master of None.
The age of streaming TV shows on streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu has started to remove the old cable business model out of the equation. Audiences no longer feel a need to pay a lump sum for hundreds of channels, only a fraction of which they like. Instead, they pay a small monthly fee for a select few shows that they love. Both Netflix and Amazon Prime have invested heavily in original content, emphasizing a higher production value compared to many cable channels. Netflix and Amazon come in second and fifth place in how much networks spent on content in 2016. Another appeal is that these platforms allow audiences to binge watch seasons from beginning to end. Thus, these shows are treated more liked extended movies rather than one-off episodes. There is a greater pressure on production companies to create in-depth character development and plot to keep viewers interested in binge-watching the show. Because viewers binge-watch these shows as if they are watching an extended movie, TV shows needs to include more of a cinematic experience, and part of this requires a higher quality soundtrack on par with a movie. A soundtrack has the power to deepen the meaning of a show, but only if done correctly. This is where music supervisors come in handy along with the funds to back up their musical choices. It’s no surprise then, that Netflix is investing more in their music licensing department, hiring more staff and diverting more funds to Originals.
For Stranger Things, the creators sought out an original score from band members Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein from S U R V I V E. Dixon stated in an interview with Rolling Stone that in comparison to producing one of their own albums, in “dealing with a film or a TV show, there’s a broad[er] range of emotions that you have to touch on.” In an interview with Complex, Matt Duffer commented, “Because I think I was so frustrated that I’d watch television and the scores felt like an afterthought.“ The choice of an original score turned out to be quite successful, leading to an original soundtrack album release and a nomination for the 2017 Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for both Volume 1 and Volume 2. Netflix takes into account critical acclaim and awards when measuring its success for originals through the addition of new customers and retention of old customers paying for an annual membership.
Whether it is the uncanny music from Stranger Things that plays while in the Upside Down or when “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey during Scrubs, a well-planned soundtrack effortlessly matches the current feelings present in the show. Next time play closer attention to the music playing in the background of a favorite show. Someone chose it on purpose. It may come to your attention that Scrubs isn’t the only well liked show on Netflix with a modified soundtrack, Freaks and Geeks on Netflix also made some changes to its soundtrack. Netflix might want to find room in its budget to retain other content with original soundtracks. If spending on original content eclipses the preservation of old shows’ existing soundtracks, Netflix runs the risk of alienating the fanbase that gave them the power to create originals in the first place.