When it comes to making music that not only fulfills an artist’s creative mission while dually serving as a licensable asset, there’s a lot to navigate. Speaking on this topic at the annual Hawai’i Songwriting Festival, Marmoset’s founder Ryan Wines, Dear Nora’s Katy Davidson and music composer Jeff Brodsky challenged a crowded room, asking songwriters what they think it takes to write a song for a Super Bowl commercial.
Respecting the art of creating original music, let’s start with this disclaimer: it’s not possible to force one’s music into a Super Bowl ad campaign — or any type of commercial for that matter. This isn’t clickbait, there isn’t an quick one trick solution to jumpstarting one’s success in sync licensing. But look close enough and there’s a pattern for music successfully landing big creative campaigns.
An Energy Kick
Think back to some Super Bowl ad campaigns from past years, the ratio of upbeat to music of lesser enthusiasm couldn’t be greater. There’s a reason for this — according to a study by Microsoft, the average person has an attention span of roughly eight seconds; so if Nike wants viewers to stay invested their creative campaign in just doing it, it’ll take more than just compelling visuals.
Considering the average commercial is around the 15 second mark, it doesn’t hurt to feature music that delivers momentum, the fuel to help move along the picture. Look to these songs as examples for a pumped up pulse:
“In most cases, our clients want a song that features some kind of ascending arch, meaning you come out of the gate with more energy but there’s still room to grow and layer instruments,” says Katy. “Then typically by the end of the ad, video or whatever video project it is, you’ll be at peak energy level.”
Not exclusive to the music industry, the golden grail is that special something setting apart one’s work from the rest. It’s the head-turning (or ear-opening) quality that makes a song leap out, grabs and engages
“By definition, it’s hard to define,” says Katy. “But I think it has something to do with letting your voice come through the recording. To not just sort of write the lowest common denominator type of song that technically checks all the boxes, but also has its own unique personality.”
It’s a common mistake music supervisors and music producers see musicians fall into at times, writing music with a sellable intentionality — rather than making music that speaks at a deeper level. The mistake in this is most creative agencies want music that amplifies their message in a unique and genuine way. Meaning, they’re going to pass on something that feels a dime a dozen.
Stuck on what to make of this defining set-you-apart characteristic? Look to strengthening a song’s emotional tone. It’s a tried and true method for creating content that feels relatable and human. To answer if the song meets this criteria, it’s a matter of stepping back to ask if the music is supporting or driving the video’s emotive purpose.
Exemplifying this sentiment, look to Bumble’s Serena William’s campaign featuring “Soul Survivor” by Rita Ora.
To be Technical
There’s no beating around the bush, there are some distinguishing technical factors between a song made for leisurely Spotify listening and one that lands a spot during Super Bowl airtime. Elements like a slow dragging tempo can eliminate a song from being used for commercial use.
“Somewhere like 95% of the time, if a song is mid tempo or slower, it’s almost always not going to work,” says Katy. “There’s always exceptions to every rule but most of the time, the song needs to be pretty upbeat. The dynamics are crucial. If it’s just wall to wall sound the entire time, it doesn’t leave anything fun for the video editors to edit to, the song is probably not going to do so well.”
This leads into how a song delivers rhythmically and melodically. Creating a song featuring thoughtful percussions can also increase a song’s licensability.
“As long as it's not too cluttered, anything rhythmic — even if it's a melodic instrument played in a rhythmic way — tends to help music license,” says Katy. “A guitar for example, but like with really staccato notes being played, so it sounds like a rhythm instrument.”
Lastly, a golden rule to follow when creating licensable music: be sure to present the music licensing platform with an instrumental version of your work.
“Especially when it comes to broadcast TV, there’s a lot of union rules,” says Katy. “A lot of agencies need to follow those rules and so vocals can sometimes make the spot more expensive. Sometimes they can pay for it, great, but if can’t, they’re often going to ask for they instrumental version.”
Marmoset is officially a Certified B Corporation company — here’s why it matters.
There’s an important, higher level question emerging in today’s business world that one would hope every company will someday choose to wrestle with: “Is it possible to go beyond products and services, profit and loss, and the business of managing the bottom line, to find a deeper meaning and a higher calling in everything a business does?”
We’re all aware of a few bright examples, like Patagonia, Toms, and Everlane, who’ve successfully dovetailed a higher calling to their “for profit” business models. At Marmoset, we’ve wrestled with this too, and now in our ninth year of existence, we’ve committed to taking things to the next level and make the greater good part of our purpose and everyday mission. We’re honored to announce Marmoset is a certified B Corp, effective February 18th, 2019.
Being the first certified B Corporation in music licensing isn’t just a status symbol, it’s a signifier of the real connections we’re building with our clients, artists and partners; guiding us in how we do our work and how we choose not to do it.
B Corps are businesses meeting the highest verified standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. From how we recycle our La Croix cans to how we uphold public transparency, it’s just as important as what we’re doing within our walls as what we’re doing outside them.
And while we’ve always partnered up with nonprofits to donate 10% of our profits — from our slice of the pie, never from the artist’s share — we’ll be even more active in providing resources and finding opportunities to connect, collaborate and support our community.
So while we’ve officially achieved B Corp status now, we know it’s a continuous effort to go the extra mile. And nothing brings us more drive than setting our sights on the next big opportunity to do more. Sometimes work feels a little less like work when there’s a higher meaning behind it.
Little Moving Pictures creates and produces everything from commercial advertisement to film & TV. And everything they make sounds great too.
From the disco-inspired studio captured in the one million viewed music video they produced for Toro y Moi to the melancholic comedy about a young dad reeling from a broken marriage (How It’s Goin’ ) — Little Moving Pictures is taking off visually and musically. To find out more about what they’re up to and their approach for using music in videos, we caught up with studios’ co-founder Jeremy Summer.
Marmoset: Hey Jeremy, can you tell us what drew you to produce How It's Goin'?
Summer: When people ask me why we make the music videos and short films we do at Little Moving Pictures, my simplest answer is that we do those things because we said we would.
Working at an agency, everyone always has these side hustle ideas but they rarely get executed—a pitch comes up or a big campaign or whatever—it’s hard to carve the time when you’re working for someone else, where as here we can come up with an idea and do it without asking anyone’s permission.
How It’s Goin’ actually started a few years ago on 4/20/2016—I asked one of our collaborators Noe Chavez to come to golden gate park on 4/20 and shoot some portraits—we made this thing and put it out the next day. I had an idea for setting a story inside of it, something we’d film guerrilla style with the built in production value of thousands of extras—my first idea was a catholic nun traveling from Europe who accidentally comes across the 4/20 gathering and has a transcendent experience.
But my friends 26 Aries (directors Irene Chin & Kurt Vincent) came back with the script for what eventually became How It’s Goin’ and had their friend Steve Talley (the lead actor) attached. It’s the first scripted narrative thing we’ve done—think of it as our student film. We just wanted to try to do something new and thought that the novelty of making a film inside an actual event could result in something unique.
M: At what point do you guys sit down to talk about music the films or videos you create?
Summer: Music is a big deal to us across all of our projects and over the years we’ve developed a lot of relationships both with music houses like Marmoset and with labels/licensing entities. Earlier cuts of How It’s Goin' had a lot of different things happening musically that are very different than the final cut.
On this one, it really all came together toward the end. We brought on our friend Anthony Ferraro to do the original score bits—he plays keys in Toro Y Moi, we had just done a music video together for their single “Ordinary Pleasure”—and he nailed it in three-four days between tours; we wanted some warm Fender Rhodes stuff that helped connect the scenes and carry the picture, we are so happy with what he did for us.
M: What are some of the bigger challenges for filmmakers when it comes to creating music for their film?
Summer: One of the biggest challenges was finding a great piece of authentic sounding reggae music. Our rough cut had a great dub track from Trojan Records and even though we have a connection to the folks that license for that label, our timeline and budget weren’t going to work.
We looked at some stock libraries and were extremely disappointed with the “reggae” options. We were so thrilled when looking through Marmoset’s roster to come across the Dwayne Ellis song—in addition to having the sound we were looking for, it also had lyrics that tied in nicely with what the character is going through in the film and it sounds authentically Jamaican/vintage which is what we were going for.
We were playing around with a bunch of ideas for the song that ends the film and runs over the credits and had been listening to a lot of SF bands—Girls, Kelley Stoltz and Sonny & The Sunsets and came across "Children of the Beehive” which has lyrics and a feeling that ties back to the film in such a special way it’s almost as though it was written into the script.
I think the music we ended up with is a huge part of the quality of the end product—without the score and especially the songs, I don’t think it would have gotten the attention that it’s getting (Vimeo Staff Pick!).
M: What's something that really sets Little Moving Pictures apart?
Summer: I think the volume and quality of stuff we’re doing outside of advertising is something that differentiates us — though of course we have lots of peers we admire who are doing something similar — and the kinds of teams we can spin up without having to have everyone on a “roster” or a contract.
We also have a focus on post-production that I think might be a bit unique even amongst full service production companies, the editor is essentially a creative director on our projects from the moment we get a brief, not just there when we edit.
Because we’re so small (three of us full-time) and our over head is so low as a result, we get to be selective about the projects we take on so most of the work we’re doing is stuff we’re genuinely happy to be doing whether its for brands or for fun—either the budget is there and we can treat our crews properly/pay promptly and put on a good show for our clients or the creative is something that we’re excited enough about that we can rally the troops and make it happen regardless of budget.
Our hope is that eventually the passion projects and branded content will start to intersect more- feature length documentaries for brands, music videos that are sponsored, that sort of thing.
Also, my dog Beatrix. No one else has a Beatrix.
M: Your studios create everything from music videos to ad campaigns — what's the type of creative project that you're always excited to dig into?
Summer: We’re so lucky to do a blend of work for brands and work for ourselves. Aside from paying the bills (thanks brands!), working on commercials and branded content has helped us develop relationships with the directors we collaborate with and also the crew community and folks who are instrumental post production partners—colorists, sound mixers, music houses etc.
We leverage those relationships when it comes time to do the music videos and short films— people are down to lend their craft for little to no money on those things because we keep them busy and treat them well when we’re working for brands. Doing the music videos and short films is almost a gift to ourselves. It becomes material we can use to market Little Moving Pictures but in a lot of ways, we do art simply for the sake of doing it—and to learn and grow from the experience.
We love making commercials (especially when the budgets/timelines are reasonable), but there’s nothing like getting all our friends together to make some art.