Tips for music producers
Production music libraries have become the go-to music tool for many producers and music teams looking for the right music to match their picture. A great deal of production music work used to be custom work for hire, but that’s changing as projects face ever tighter timelines and budgets–and as more and more people and organizations are creating video and seeking out licensed music for it.
I’ve been working as a composer for much longer, but ten years ago, I started uploading cues to libraries like Audiomicro, which has become one of my favorites. It started out as a way to fill my time, to keep writing for fun between scoring gigs. Revenue from libraries now makes up 60% of my yearly revenue. I keep writing and it keep growing and to keep building my rep. Like many dedicated production composers, I write all the time, as much as I can.
Search is key to making the most of these platforms, and that means you need to understand how to communicate what your cue’s all about in a few short words, tags, and other features. A little thought and common sense can go a long way to getting your cues found and kept by producers.
Discovery is a numbers game
Production music is a numbers game. Full stop. You have to produce a lot of music. It is a biz for people who write well and efficiently without a lot of torment. You can’t spend three days on two minutes of music. Do that for your own compositions, but not for production library use. These catalogs are growing every day. You can’t write 20 pieces of music, submit it to Audiomicro, and then complain about your lack of revenue. You need to produce.
Figure out what it really sounds like
I think my experience in working with real producers and doing custom music has permeated my sense of how to describe things. If I’m writing a few sentences, I try to think about what my friends in video or film might be looking for. How can I give them a sense of what this is? No need for long description, no need to implant metadata. I want my reader to understand what to expect. Match the mood of the music.
Is it moderately paced or driving? Is it quirky or contemplative? Take up the space with the word. That list will be the descriptors that make someone go, “Yep, that’s what it is, thank you!” Then if you’re allowed, use reasonable synonyms to improve your chances of discovery. For example, optimistic and positive mean the same thing in tags. Don’t know exactly what people are looking for.
Give it a title
Titles are metadata, hints to what the piece is about. It needs to really sound like that title. It’s a mistake to give something an abstract or very specific or personal title. It may be important to you, but it won’t mean much to a producer.
When I start writing, I start with the title. If someone is browsing via genre, like say, folk or pop, my titles need to convey something. If they see “Warm Spring Morning,” and it sounds like a cold autumn night, they won’t listen to anything else you’ve put out there. But if it sounds like its title, you develop trust.
Often, I’ll come up with 10-15 titles before I write a note. I want to come up with the pictures and images, words the evoke a feeling or sound to me. I jot them down. I can write to that title. The music and title need to have a real connection.
Step away from the computer
Hear me out. It’s easy to get caught up in data and dropdowns, but sometimes you need to take a few moments away from the screen to sit and listen. Jot down a few adjectives or genres or other words that come to mind as you do. You’ll have a clearer, more honest reaction to your work, and you’ll save yourself the trouble when you need to add tags to your cues when you upload them to a library.
Resist the temptation to overtag
A cue with a ton of tags looks suspect. If you have dozens of different mood tags, you’re likely seeing diminishing returns. You’re likely stretching. You may win a battle by getting in search results, but you’ll lose the war.
Producers with limited time want tags to let them zero in on their options as quickly as possible. When they see the word “pretty” and the cue is not really “pretty”, they are going to get frustrated. If you’re overloading pieces with every possible tag, you’re out of bounds. That will make producers not want to go back.
One client I worked for always wanted three versions of cues: 60 seconds, 30 seconds, and “a thing.” (Don’t ask.) I’ve kept to that approach, as it helps with the numbers game. You’re submitting three pieces instead of one. You can legitimately fill up more data space and get bigger hits.
It also helps clients who have a wide range of needs. Lots of clients don’t want to do a lot of editing so 60- and 30-second cues are helpful.
That said, don’t take shortcuts. You have to do a good edit. Don’t fade out, anyone can do that. When you’re writing and you’re in your DAW, if you have a sequencer say, when you finish the full piece, make nice smaller pieces. Cut and paste and snip. Then add the final ending you imagine for the piece. Producers don’t want to hear a chop; they want to hear the last four seconds that would be the same as the end of the full track.
There is no perfect or right way to make music, of course, and there’s no single answer to how to get that music to come up in an interested producer’s search. However, if you take a few extra moments to think through your tags, titles, and cue lengths, you’ll expand your repertoire and make its essence instantly recognizable, building trust and radically improving your chances at a placement.Bruce Zimmerman
Bruce Zimmerman is the composer and owner of Sound Productions, a film scoring project studio located in Windsor, Connecticut. Zimmerman began his career over 20 years ago, after attaining a Doctorate of Music from the Hartt School of Music in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Zimmerman has scored over 500 programs for clients such as AT&T, IBM, PBS, History Channel, Connecticut Public Television, FOX Network, The Learning Channel, MasterCard, Pratt and Whitney, Random House, Sony Kids Music, Simon & Schuster, McGraw Hill and Warner Brothers. Zimmerman has won three Emmy Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Original Music Composition for his work in Public Television. He is a member of ASCAP and the International Documentary Association (IDA).