By Maureen Lee Lenker
July 10, 2020 at 10:15 AM EDT
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Little Voice, Sara Bareilles
Credit: Greg Endries/Apple TV+; Inset: Noam Galai/Getty Images

After six albums and writing a Tony-nominated Broadway musical, you might assume that songwriting, for Sara Bareilles, could be as simple as baking a pie.

But for her new series Little Voicewhich premieres on AppleTV+ on July 10, Bareilles faced a new challenge: writing music for episodic television. "It actually is really different, and I'm still learning how it's different," she tells EW. "TV requires a little more reverse engineering because you're ultimately serving the picture, more than you're serving the song itself. That was a pretty steep learning curve, and I'm not sure I totally got it right, but I'm still learning what that looks like. I'm so used to just creating the song to be a stand-alone song."

Bareilles partnered with her Waitress book writer Jessie Nelson to co-create the series, and they all worked with a writer's room to craft the first season and the songs that would fit into it. She described the process, in a 92 Street Y talk, as the act of passing a creative baton back and forth.

Much of the show's musical material, including its titular theme song "Little Voice" came from Bareilles' pre-existing material, allowing her to tap into her songwriting when she was in a similar place to the show's aspiring singer-songwriter Bess (Brittany O'Grady). "It's actually a couple of songs that I had written at that time in my life that never ended up on a record," she says. "There's a nostalgia and sweetness about some of this material and it really represents that time in my life, even though the story of Bess is not my story."

Each episode is titled and built around a new song in Bess's repertoire. While episodes might revisit music as Bess plays it for new audiences, she's always pushing herself forward, writing music that speaks to the challenges she's facing in her life, from the struggle to achieve her dreams to a love triangle to looking out for her family, including her brother Louis (Kevin Valdez), who is on the autism spectrum.

For Bareilles, the key to finding and writing the right songs for Bess's journey was to return to her own personal experiences of processing her life through her songwriting. "We metabolize experiences through song -- you piece it apart and you put it back together inside the song," she says. "We were watching Bess go through these big experiences in her life, and then, how they would sort of live in a song."

As a songwriter and a performer, Bareilles is continually evolving, so naturally she feels she could push herself even further when it comes to writing for television. "If we were to get to a season 2, I would take that to the next level, because I started with a hand-full of songs that were pre-existing," she notes. "If I can do it again, I would go probably one step further towards just writing to the scene."

Little Voice premieres on AppleTV+ on Friday.

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