Glee's Fans Drive Interest in the Show's Music

Liam Doyle is feeling the full wrath of AP U.S. history right about now. He's lagging in behind-the-wheel practice for his driver's license; he's swamped with practice for the school band, in which he mans the percussion section. And in the southeastern Minnesota suburbs, where he lives, there's already snow to shovel.

But online, he's not just another oversubscribed teen; he's tribune of the Gleeks, the diffuse online fan universe dedicated to Fox's musical comedy Glee. The show is about angsty teens in a suburban Midwestern high school—the story line of Doyle's own 15-year-old life—and yet he connects most with Glee's songs. The "powerful" choral arrangements gave him "goosebumps" the first time he heard them, so he created a YouTube tribute channel, uploading tracks he'd purchased from iTunes so fans could stream them for free (albeit illegally). When new tracks are released, he immediately updates his page: "I'm pretty tight with schoolwork, but I fit it in." It's important, he says, to share a love of music. In textboxes around his YouTube channel, he's asked visitors to "Leave the comment Glee Goosebumps if this song gave them to you =)."

And people did, and do. The phrase fills the feverish comments on his page and others, and has ricocheted around the usual viral haunts (Twitter, Tumblr, blogs). It's become the unofficial mantra for gleeking out to the rich vocal arrangements of such disparate pop hits as Queen's "Somebody to Love" and Cabaret's "Maybe This Time." The hits on Doyle's channel page surged with the term's use; a couple of the "goosebumps"-tagged tracks verge on 2 million plays. His 7,000-strong subscriber base grows daily by the hundreds. and using a tracking program on his channel, he's also able to see the kinds of people listening to the music. "It's usually 70 percent girls from 10 to 20, and the rest are guys from 10 to 20," he says. "It's always, like, teenagers, then nobody between 30 and 50, and then there'll be some 60-year-olds."

If you want to get technical, you could call the sheriff on Doyle. (Indeed, a few days ago, 20th Century Fox filed a copyright claim and asked Doyle to delete Glee's songs from his YouTube channel, which he did. He posted a video slideshow in response, asking fans to still visit and post "Glee-goosebumps" comments about the show.) But his goal with the channel, almost comically, was to stream free music in order to persuade people to purchase it—"Buy the songs at iTunes!" he's written in text boxes all over his channel page, plastering the show's official logo (rather than his own art) over any empty space. Meanwhile, Glee's online popularity is surging: according to Columbia Records, the show's iTunes downloads hit 1.5 million this week, not yet a third of the way through the freshman season. Every one of the show's songs has made the iTunes Top 200, a trend likely buoyed by fan sites like Doyle's that crow specifically about the music. "There's a tremendous amount of coordination that's gone into trying to keep this incredibly rabid audience satisfied from a marketing perspective, while also protecting the flagship, which is the show itself," says Dana Walden, chairwoman of 20th Century Fox Television, the studio behind Glee. She says the studio is trying to keep the online salesnumbers climbing by releasing deleted songs and other tidbits to "whet peoples' appetite" online, and to reward diehard fans for their continued loyalty to the show.

It's a complex process that reflects Glee's complicated parentage: the show sits atop a multiplatform business partnership between Fox and Sony's Columbia Records, and it also ropes in Apple's iTunes and the joint venture Hulu. Columbia releases the songs on iTunes before the show airs, a move to build hype for the upcoming episodes on Fox; meanwhile, up to five already-aired episodes at a time are available on Hulu, as are at least 22 mini-clips of behind-the-scenes interviews and show-related content. But as Glee's music "takes on a little bit of a life of its own" online, says Walden, the goal is to also "guide [fans] back to the series on air." And to Rob Stringer, chairman of the Columbia/Epic Label Group, the show's goal now is to "capture the physical world" with its two upcoming CD soundtracks, now that it's conquered the digital world by playing to the "intense buyer who is superkeen on music every day."

That's a lot of ducks to keep in a row. But ultimately, everything comes back to the doctrine of fans like Doyle. "The love of music is inherent in the show. It's not grafted on … everybody can't believe how evangelical I am about it," Stringer says, and pauses. "It's goosebumps. That's what it is."