15 Musicians You Didn’t Know Got Their Break From TV


We all know about the artists who broke out from American Idol, The Voice and The X Factor. Most are forgotten a couple years later. And they’re forever branded as the tv show contest winner. And everyone by now knows Miley Cyrus started as Disney’s Hannah Montana (long before her spiritual potscapades with The Flaming Lips).

But there are other ways musicians in the past 10 years have broken out from TV in a serious way that’s oftentimes forgotten about.  Getting their songs placed in the shows.  Credit Alexandra Patsavas with what she did with The O.C. back in 2003.  She started the musical revolution in television by giving virtually unknown indie artists featured placements on the show.  The O.C. became known just as much for the soundtrack as the girl-on-girl action.  It paved the way for other music-heavy shows like Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill known for breaking artists in the early aughts.

Now, shows pride themselves on including the hottest, undiscovered talent.

The idea of “selling out” just doesn’t exist anymore.  It’s cool to get songs in ads.  It’s a career milestone.  And it brings hot new artists into the homes of millions who may have otherwise never heard them.  Many artists have in fact gotten their big breaks from being placed in commercials first.

Here are 15 artists you may not have known broke out from the TV:

Ingrid Michaelson

Justin Higuchi

She now has over 100 million plays on Spotify, 60 million on YouTube and has been certified platinum, but her initial mass exposure came from Grey’s Anatomy, which featured 16, count ’em, 16 songs over the course of the show.  But it wasn’t until Old Navy used her song “The Way I Am” in a commercial that she broke mainstream.  The song went on to be a top 40 hit (without a label).

Ingrid Michaelson is one of the few artists who have cracked mainstream success without a label of any kind.

+Ingrid Michaelson On Songwriting, Her Manager and Getting Stiffed By Sony

The Fray


It was once called “Fray’s Anatomy” because of how pivotal Grey’s Anatomy was to The Fray’s breakout success of their song “How To Save A Life.”  The band’s highest-charting song to date was placed on the show by Patsavas after seeing the band perform a small show at the Troubadour in LA.  The song was used in promos for the following season and was also notably placed on Scrubs during an emotional montage.

American Authors


I thought the song, “Best Day Of My Life” was an Imagine Dragons song when I first heard it.  I bet you did too (and maybe you still do).  But, from what I’ve been told, these are two different bands.  The song, which currently has 144 million plays on Spotify, 63 million plays on YouTube and has sold 3 million copies, broke out after being featured in commercials for Lowes (which aired during the Super Bowl), Hyundai, Telecom, and ESPN.

It was the theme song for the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs on NBC and was featured in trailers for Delivery Man, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and St. Vincent.  To name just a few.  Needless to say, these guys know how to write a song that fits well to picture.

Imagine Dragons

Ana Viotti

Which brings us to Imagine Dragons.  There was a point in time where I couldn’t escape “Radioactive.”  Neither could you.  It was everywhere.  Claustrophobia set in.  But this was after “It’s Time” was covered on Glee and The Voice.  Their songs have been used in over 20 commercials.

Ariana Grande

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 2.11.14 PM
Melissa Rose

Ariana Grande charted in over 30 countries with both her 2013 release Yours Truly and her 2014 release My Everything (which include the hits “Problem,” “Break Free,” and “Love Me Harder”).  She now headlines arenas around the world.  But most people over 20 don’t know that Ariana Grande was the star of the Nickelodeon shows Victorious and the spinoff Sam & Cat (with Jennette McCurdy).  Hell, the only reason I know this is because I was in an episode of Sam & Cat with Ariana.  She said I had cool hair.  Good story bro.  Thanks.

Christina Perri

Justin Higuchi

One day Christina Perri was a struggling singer/songwriter in NYC waiting tables.  The next day she’s at a party playing her songs for some friends.  The next day, turns out one of the people at the party was a choreographer on So You Think You Can Dance, and used her song, “Jar of Hearts” for a dance number.  The next day, she sold over 50,000 downloads on iTunes and 21 days later she signed with Atlantic Records.

She currently has over 250 million plays on Spotify, 800 million plays on YouTube and has sold over 10 million albums worldwide.

Alexi Murdoch


One of many artists who got their break from The O.C.  The song “Orange Sky” also was placed on Dawson’s Creek, Prison Break, House, Brother’s & Sisters and in commercials for Honda and Hallmark.

Joshua Radin

Justin Higuchi

One of the artists who put the intimate LA listening room, the Hotel Cafe (neither a hotel nor a cafe) on the map (along with Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson and Meiko).  Radin was one of the first artists to play the room – back when it was just a tiny entranceway.  Music supervisors used to hang out at the club to find new music for their shows.  Joshua Radin has had over 100 placements on TV shows.  The first song he ever wrote was featured in (his college friend) Zach Braff’s Scrubs which led to Radin’s record deal with Columbia.

Fitz and The Tantrums


Their breakout single “Moneygrabber” was first used in a New Amsterdam Vodka commercial.  And their 2013 song “The Walker” was used in commercials for Sprite, Reebok, Supercuts and in promos for the Oscars and MLB post season,

+18 Musicians Who Made It Later In Life

The Lumineers

Nan Polmero

Like Imagine Dragons, The Lumineers have been blessed (and cursed) with a song (“Ho Hey”) so infectious that it was something you loved, until you hated it because it was played everywhere.  Incessantly.  However, it first started as a placement on the season finale of Hart of Dixie which led to them signing with Atlantic.



Aside from co-writing one of the most popular songs of the past decade (Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball”) MoZella has had countless placements of her own songs in shows like Fringe, The Closer, One Tree Hill, American Idol, The Biggest Loser, Castle and The City, along with commercials for Mercedes Benz, Nivea, JC Penny, Carl’s Jr, Verizon, McDonalds, Chase Bank, Chrysler and Microsoft.  Just to name a few.

Snow Patrol


Like The Fray, Snow Patrol’s song “Chasing Cars” was first used in a pivotal scene in Grey’s Anatomy before becoming a top 10 single.

Tyler Hilton

Justin Higuchi

Here’s an artist who broke out on a huge scale because of his guest staring appearances in the show One Tree Hill. He played a musician (not himself) on the show and his songs were included on each of the three soundtrack albums.

Jennifer Hudson


Most know Jennifer Hudson as the Oscar winning actress for her role in Dreamgirls.  However, you probably forgot she was once on American Idol (she placed 7th).  Hudson is one of the few American Idol alumni who have built a sustainable career in the entertainment industry.  She has since performed at the Super Bowl, the Grammys and Oprah and has over 100 million plays on YouTube and Spotify.


Jason Persse

The Canadian singer/songwriter was selling 2,000 copies a week of her song “1234” prior to the inclusion in Apple’s iPod nano commercial.  The week following the commercial, the song sold 73,000 copies and went onto chart in 11 countries.


Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake

4 Responses

  1. Name2

    TV show placement, you say? Yeah, never heard about this phenomenon before. ::eyeroll::

  2. Rickshaw

    This isn’t new. What about Barry Manilow doing commercial jingles before he became a superstar?

  3. Chuck

    This article would have been better if it only included actors and actresses. Just about every known band first had a song on a tv show somewhere as most sign a publishing deal first before a record deal. You might as well list every band in existence here if you’re including soundtracks.

  4. Literati X

    I’m going to get my big break on television ! If you think I’m on zero-zero 0.00 accounts now , just wait until I get downtown Wall Street with my fully functional and loaded bush master and Uzi :: I’m going to drop so many motherfuckers on the sidewalk, the New York Times going to take a trip to the police station to do a write , front page article on the state of the digital music industry. And then you’ll really have justification to counter sue for wrongful death !


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