Talk to any musician, composer, or producer in the industry and you’ll discover there’s a lot more to it than just creating "a hit" or booking a show with an enviable lineup. Instead, embrace the fact there are thousands of directions one could take as a musician, the key being to find your strategy and run with it. In the world of Marmoset, we help artists of all genres get their work into the public eye by showcasing their music on our ever-growing roster — check it out here. But from the musician’s perspective, where do you start? How do you get your work licensed on the next viral ad or featured on your favorite television series?
Let's get one thing out of the way so no one is too heartbroken: there isn’t a secret formula for success (shocking, right?). Nonetheless, we broke things down into three main areas to be mindful of when creating new music:
If you’ve written a song before, lyrics are usually one of the first things that come to mind -- you want your audience engaged and amped to belt along. It can also be a great way to get your music stuck in people’s heads. But what about when creating music for commercial purposes? You’ll notice when perusing our online collection that artists release two separate versions of their music: instrumental and full (with lyrics).
When it comes to pitching advertisements, you don’t usually get more than 30 seconds; this means you have less than a minute to capture your audience’s attention while also getting them to fall in love with your product. Considering this time constraint, it’s not too shocking how an instrumental version of a song pairs best with any dialogue-driven content. When you think about it, this comes down to minimizing distraction — your music really shouldn’t be competing with the voice-over or dialogue unfolding on-screen. “By volume, most commercial clients want instrumental music because there's V/O that's conveying the marketing message,” Marmoset Music Producer, Tim Shrout notes. “Same with films, there's dialogue that the actors are engaging to drive the narrative along. The music's secondary to all that.”
Keeping this approach in mind, you’ll also be killing two birds with one stone by appealing to a wider market. Who wouldn’t want that? As an example of keeping things instrumental, let’s look to Gap’s "Justice League" spot which incorporates “Kenton” by Dr Crosby. Since the whole ad wraps up quickly (in 35 seconds to be exact), the song guides the mural creation by being fun and lively, all without competing for the audience’s attention:
Before you sit down to compose your next song, what do you clearly envision for your music? If you wanted to travel to Bangkok, you wouldn’t show up at the airport with no itinerary and just the clothes on your back (at least, we don’t recommend it). So save yourself your time, energy, and resources by having a roadmap in mind before hashing out your next move; this will not only help you navigate through the song's building process, it will also help you visualize a Plan B if you run into any creative roadblocks.
Whether it be scoring original music for a feature length film or for a 30 second ad, it’s helpful to identify the music’s purpose first. “Is it driving the narrative and taking an active role in guiding the viewer's feelings? Or is it more supportive, creating context and an environment for the story to unfold in?” Tim weighs in. “This is an important lens to view your composition through from the beginning, as it'll determine your approach to arrangement, sonic palette, and dynamics.”
A quick mental exercise, think back to a recent movie you saw and pinpoint a scene. Was the music responsible for perpetuating an emotional reaction? Did it clearly propel the scene forward or was it discreet? Ultimately, it should be clear exactly what purpose the music served. Take a look at the film, Drive (yeah, the one starring Ryan Gosling): the soundtrack was compiled of popular music like “Tick of the Clock” by The Chromatics along with an original score by Cliff Martinez. Despite this pairing, the electro-pop vibe still helped serve the film’s nostalgic vibe; the music was cohesive and viable to the storyline and it felt as key to the narrative as the film’s gritty but noire-themed art direction.
Once the purpose has been established, there are some other details to consider. Going back to the Gap “Justice League” spot, it’s worth noting that feature length projects aren’t the only ones that require a mindful rhythmic formula. If you take a look at 0:05 into the ad, the song shifts just as another layer is tossed into the mix, propelling the audience forward with a hook to keep everyone engaged. This very kind of texture and rhythmic quality is important to include in any project, big or small.
"Practice" might seem like an obvious one, but if your cog wheels are just not turning fast enough, this will help jumpstart your approach. So how does one practice composing music for ads, television, or film? Look to YouTube or any online streaming hub, choose a scene or advertisement, then simply mute it. Gauging just the visuals, you can then try your hand at creating your own score.
"It's true that a lot of music for advertisements is simple, but that doesn't mean it's easy to make if you've never done it before," Tim says. "There are conventions and best practices that if you ignore will lead to clients picking someone else's track over yours. By writing some 0:30 tracks to random ads, you'll start to get a feel for how to map out a tempo and how to build an arrangement in a short time frame."
This technique also can come in handy if you're just beginning to build your portfolio —don't let a lack of projects stop you from developing your technique! The beauty of this one is that you also get to cross-check your work with the final score incorporated in the end product. These are some of the questions our expert, insightful Producer, Tim, notes to look for when comparing the results:
1) Does your arrangement build in the same way as the final score?
2) Do you have too many chord changes?
3) Is there space in your track for the voice-over?
4) Does your track draw more or less attention to itself?
And last but not least, don't forget to stop and enjoy the process. Every step is toward something bigger. You got this!