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Get into Composing for Film & TV

This column originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Canadian Musician magazine.

By Tamara Miller

Ever dreamed about placing your music on your favourite TV show? You have now entered the field of production music. Here are some ways you can start!

What is production music? Simply, it’s music written specifically for sync. These audio-visual productions can include film, television, advertising, and web content. A composer could write an instrumental piece of music for a TV show or a singer-songwriter might compose a piano ballad for a film. There are so many genres and styles of music used every day in the sync world.

My very first song placement landed on the hit teen drama series, Degrassi: The Next Generation. My song “60 Seconds” (produced by Ron Lopata) aired on the series and it was such a thrill to see it synced to picture! I figured there must be more to the placement world, so I kept going and learned that there are so many great opportunities for musicians to license their music. Now, especially with live music taking a major hit, many more musicians have been exploring production music and composing for music libraries.

Music libraries house catalogues of high-quality music in all genres that is available to be licensed for commercials, TV, and film. Some production music libraries might be a better  t for you than others. Check them out and ask around. It’s also a good idea to see what music you might be able to fill and what a library
might currently need in its catalogue.

When you are reaching out to these libraries, be personable, kind, and just let them know about the amazing work you are doing! Libraries are always looking for new music. Sending downloadable (not just streaming) links with your contact information is an excellent way to showcase your music. You might want to organize a playlist of three to five of your best tracks to showcase your work. Music libraries have really improved over the years, so be sure to bring your “A” game! Nine things to consider when writing production music:

  1. Know your strengths and work on your craft: The more you write, the more creative you will be! Your ideas will start brewing and you’ll get better at your craft. Try to do something every single day, even if it’s writing just a few bars of music.
  2. Really listen to what’s out there: Listen to TV shows, commercials, documentaries, and films. Do your homework and make notes! Close your eyes and just listen to the music on your favourite program. What is the duration of the tracks used per scene? Does the music and mood build and change throughout the scene? Try to score your own music with the episode muted and see what you come up with. How does your own piece of music compare or change the mood to what was already scored in the show? This fun exercise really trains your ears to see how production music is being used. Production music is music “not to be noticed,” but without background music, the scene would feel quite bare. Placing a great piece of music to a visual on screen is like peanut butter to jelly. They both need each other to work!
  3. Join music communities & organizations: Join Facebook groups, music forums, LinkedIn music groups — participate and learn from one another. It’s also a great way to meet other producers, composers, and maybe your next collaborator.
  4. Deadlines: Production music deadlines are quick. Write as much music as you can and make sure your files are properly labeled, organized, and easy to find. The more music you have in your catalogue, the more money you will make in your career.
  5. Royalties: Sign up with a performing rights organization (PRO) like SOCAN to collect your backend royalties. You will get paid each time your music airs on TV. You will likely see your backend royalties arrive anywhere from six months to two years later (depending on the territory where the production aired), but it will get there! You also might get a synchronization fee for upfront payment in addition to backend.
  6. Find your team: You will learn so much more working with other people. You might want to co-write the lyrics and produce the track yourself. Every project is different. Play to each other’s strengths. This will also help with accountability and you will be surprised at how quickly your song gets completed.
  7. Explore new sound libraries: There are so many good ones out there for composing production music. I love using Spitfire, Kontakt, and Spectrasonics. Finding new sounds will definitely inspire your creations!
  8. Make a schedule: It is so important to keep a routine. Keep a schedule, post it up on the wall, and set a daily/weekly/monthly goal list. Structure your day and you’ll find you get a lot more work done.
  9. Keep a journal: Write at least one or two pages every morning to get the juices  owing! You can even do “object writing” where you think of an object and write everything you can about it (i.e. a bird sitting by your window, a memorable photograph, etc.). You’d be surprised how many songs you can create from this object!

Join Tamara Miller along with Nagamo Publishing Creative Director Nigel Irwin and Canadian Musician Editor-in-Chief Michael Raine for a free webinar on June 24, 2021, at 3 pm ET on "Getting into the Business of Production Music." To register and for more information, go to NWCwebinars.com.

ENDS

Tamara Miller is a Canadian composer, producer, and singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles. Her music has been signed to various production music libraries in Los Angeles and New York and can be heard on shows and films worldwide, including Degrassi: The Next Generation, Saturday Night Live, Fox Sports, The Bachelor, and many others. Tamara specializes in composing introspective piano orchestral compositions, dark/horror sound design, atmospheric tension cues, and piano-driven acoustic pop ballads. Contact her at tamaramillermusic@gmail.com or go to www.tamaramillermusic.com.

[Graphic at top: Image by aldemetal from Pixabay]

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