How to write licensable music for Film/TV

Article by Sirsa

Bond. James Bond. You’re a well-dressed secret-service indie recording artist armed with a very powerful flash drive — which when injected into (the laptops of) music supervisors, film makers, creative directors and more, contains music that could literally earn you tens of thousands of dollars.
Welcome to the world of music licensing.
What does it mean to “license” your music? It means that you give a third-party entity the right to synchronize aka “sync” your music with visual media output such as movies, TV shows, ads, video games and more. Music licensing is an underpopulated market for recording artists for two main reasons — one it can be extremely lucrative, especially if you target making music for commercials, AND two it can bring incredible exposure to any artist —- whether just starting out or already a huge star.
But where to begin? How do you even start? This article offers five steps on how to prepare an amazing collection of pitch-ready music for sync.
Buckle up, here’s our:

5 tips on how to write licensable music for Film/TV and ads

  1. Start by noticing the music in your favorite TV shows, films, commercials, video games and more.
    Have fun and do your research (where else can you “research” while plopped on your comfy sofa binging Netflix with a bag of Doritos.) Every time you watch something, notice, how are they using music in this scene? Pay attention to the lyrics, the spacing of the words, the emotion the music adds. Music can make or break any scene —it’s so incredibly powerful! And this is key: if you’re watching any “hip” commercials for brands like Apple or Spotify etc, notice the kind of style of music that’s “in” right now. These are trend-setters and what is in high demand for many other brands as well.
  2. Give your lyric-writing a total SYNC makeover.
    Most songwriters and musicians understandably write lyrics about whatever they are feeling in the moment; after all it’s our “art,” right? When writing for sync however you may want to consider that usually you want to keep your lyrics universal, gender-neutral and based on feelings rather than actual events. For example if your break-up song mentions that your girlfriend left you all alone on the streets of Louisiana with a couple horses and a bucket full of hay (and you hate her for it), you can see that those lyrics would be way too random and specific to be used in a break-up scene. If you focus on how you feel after your girlfriend left you however, you’re going to touch on some very powerful universal emotions.
  3. Know which themes are most popular for SYNC.
    It’s VERY common for music supervisors or ad agencies to request songs with a certain lyrical theme. By knowing what themes are in high demand, you can empower yourself with a whole collection of sync-ready songs! Some of these most requested themes are: YOU CAN DO IT, LET’S GO, FEMALE EMPOWERMENT, TOGETHERNESS, FRIENDSHIP, HAVING FUN, PARTY TIME, COMING HOME and SECRETS/LIES. Keep in mind, if you’re targeting ads, your music has to be happy and in major keys (why would a brand want to use J.S. Bach’s Fugue in D Minor to sell their brand.)
    In Film/TV there is a much wider range of emotion.
  4. Make sure your production quality matches the highest standards of the industry you’re targeting.
    In most cases, your music is going to have sound like it sonically matches songs on the radio. In some rare cases a filmmaker or TV show may be fine with some lo-fi poor quality sounding recordings, BUT, especially for TV and ads, you’re going to have to have pro-level mixing and mastering, or your music may be prematurely judged and discarded. This may take a little bit of financial investment, or you’ll have to pull in a lot of favors from your engineering friend Justin. Why are so many engineers named Justin?
  5. Listen all the way through the instrumental and make sure it doesn’t bore you.
    In most cases, songs that get regularly synced have lots of moving parts, peaks and valleys, and different textures and layers. Usually every few seconds something new needs to come in or change. A great test of a song’s sync potential is listening all the way through the instrumental. Are you bored or does the song carry itself? Especially for brands, many ads want something totally new, fresh, unexpected and bold. Don’t be afraid to take risks in your production — go crazy! It may just buy you a new motorcycle, trip to Thailand, or best of all, help pay for your health insurance. May you all be licensed to kill.
    How will you utilize these tools and ideas in your music? I’d love to hear from you.
Article by Sirsa

Sirsa Shekim is an alternative pop recording artist who has licensed music to all the major networks including NBC, ABC, CBS, CW, SHOWTIME, HBO, MTV, DISNEY, and written the theme songs for several films.
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