"Like a coin, I was tossed into a wishing fountain/I was only one of a thousand, looking for a little fortune," sang Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen) on a recent episode of ABC's "Nashville." The song, titled "Casino," is a love ballad Scarlett has written with her professional partner (and romantic interest) Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio) after they receive news that their demo tape has caught the ear of country super star Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton).
But it might as well described the music on the hit show itself, culled from thousands of original songs written by hundreds by Nashville musicians – real-life Scarletts and Gunnars.
"There's just incredible writers in Nashville," says "Nashville" music supervisor Frankie Pine. "Giving these writers a spotlight is what I think our show really does, more than it is about an artist per se. That's what I am most proud of on this show in particular."
From its very conception, the country music on "Nashville" was going to be a crucial element on the prime-time soap. "It just felt like there was an opportunity to highlight what I think has become really the popular music of the day that has a story to tell," Executive Producer Steve Buchanan says.
As the president of Grand Ole Opry Group, Buchanan has seen his fair share of a musical drama in the hallowed halls of the famous concert venue he oversees. (He insists none of the characters are based on real stars.) He has served as one of the show's connections to Nashville's music industry and his Grand Ole Opry has played a role in some of the episodes.
As "Nashville" depicts, the Scarlett and Gunnars of the world work for various publishing houses that pitch their music to artists – the Juliette Barneses and Rayna Jaymeses of the world – as well as to television and film.
"There are a lot of routes that music flows to us," says Callie Khouri, the show's creator and executive producer. The show's producers and screenwriters have met with Nashville's publishing houses, musicians and songwriters, and even hosted a mass screening of the show for the local music community so they could get a feel for the characters and the music they would write.
Khouri has the final say of what music goes on the show. She and her team dig through thousands of songs – "as I much as I can possibly listen to" – to pick the final few featured on each episode. "We hear a lot of good songs, but it has to be good for a very specific reason for our show. The music has to be part of the narrative," she says.
"It's not like, 'Now we are going to stop and do a musical number.' We have to be saying something about the character or moving the story forward."
Oftentimes, the music team seek out songs according to what a script calls for. Khouri holds onto other songs – like "Casino"' – and waits for the perfect place in the narrative to use it.
"I'll hear a song and I'll think, 'Oh my God. This would be such a great song for so-and-so. It would be great if this character wrote it, and then this character hears it and wants to record it,'" she explains. "A lot of times, getting to the song first helps guide the story."
In addition to scouting out the music, Pine helps out with many of the logistical details that come next – figuring out what instruments will be needed, casting musician for the shoot, negotiating the legal rights.
Meanwhile, T Bone Burnett, famed producer of the likes of Taylor Swift, The Civil Wars and The Counting Crows, oversees the recording of the final product. "He starts out with people who haven't performed or haven't really even sung that much, and gets it to the point that they feel completely confident and at peace doing that," says Khouri, who also happens to be Burnett's wife.
"I always know that because he is doing the music, the quality of the music is going to be unparalleled."
But the producers aren't limited to mainstream country music. "Something we set out to do with this show is to really explore all the facets of music in Nashville," says Dawn Soler, ABC's senior vice president of music. "Nashville is not just country music. It's everything. It's rock music, it's indie music, and that's something that we try to achieve as much as possible in every episode."
Indeed, Scarlett and Gunnar write in a folksy Americana style. Rayna sings the mainstream country that reigned in the 1990s and 2000s while her sometimes-guitarist, sometimes-lover Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten) gravitates toward a more traditional sound.
Young starlet and resident diva Juliette performs pop-y country hits. And Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson), Scarlett's rocker ex-boyfriend, is being involuntarily pushed to an electronic-dance direction by his hot shot producer (Wyclef Jean).
"You have people that are at various stages of their careers and you have people that also have different style," Buchanan says.
While playing an integral part of the plot, the music of "Nashville" has risen to stand on its own. Most of the original music goes up on iTunes and other music services the day after a new episode airs. "You get a report card every Thursday morning. If audiences like a song, they're buying it on iTunes," Soler says.
ABC.com also hosts the Music Lounge, where it posts videos called "On the Record" that showcase some of original songwriters alongside the producers who found the song and the actors who sing it. (Here is the "On the Record" video for "Casino").
Weighing the kind of feedback they get from iTunes and the Music Lounge, the ABC music team works with its label partner Big Machine Record (whose other artists include Swift, Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts) to pick out which songs make it to the final album – the first of which was released in December. A second is set to drop May 7.
There is also speculation of a "Nashville" tour that would feature Palladio, Bowen, Esten and Jackson, who were all professional musicians before the show, though ABC would not confirm the rumors.
Whether or not ABC brings "Nashville" on the road, it will always thank the Tennessee city for its success. "We are so immersed in it," Buchanan says, of filming and working directly within Nashville. "We can work in the studio where people work and we can put on screen musicians and songwriters who really create the music and create the sound. It permeates the essence of the show."
"Nashville" airs at 10 p.m. Wednesday nights on ABC.