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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 music scoring 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 content, production music becomes an increasingly attractive option.
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 income. 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 picked by producers.
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.
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 about a piece of music, 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 music is and what to expect? So, before the metadata and tag stage, I try to match the mood of the music with a really good description.
Is it moderately paced or driving? Is it quirky or contemplative? 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 just about the same thing in tags.
Titles are metadata, hints to what the piece is about. Your music needs to really sound like the title you assign it. It’s a mistake to give something a title that is either completely abstract, or on the other hand, too specific or personal. A title may be important to you, but it won’t mean much to a producer if it doesn’t convey the essence of the music.
When I start writing, I often start with the title. I want to come up with pictures and images, words that evoke a feeling or sound to me. I jot them down and then I write to that title. The music and title need to have a real connection.
If someone is browsing via genres, like say, folk or pop, my titles need to convey something unique. If they see “Warm Spring Morning,” and it sounds like a cold autumn night, they won’t listen to anything else I’ve put out there. But if it sounds like its title, you develop trust.
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 to your own music. Jot down a few adjectives or genres or other words that come to mind as you listen. 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.
A cue with a ton of tags might look suspect. Producers with limited time use tags to help 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 inappropriate tags, producers get the picture and may not want to go back to your cues. You may win a battle by getting in a search result, but you’ll eventually lose the war.
Many clients I work for want three versions of cues: full, 60 seconds, and 30 seconds. Many also want ALT versions with different mixes. I’ve kept to that approach, as it helps with the numbers game. You’re potentially submitting 6 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. 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 try to add the same ending as the full track.
Producers don’t want to hear an abrupt chopping off of the music. Make it musical!
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 is the composer and owner of Sound Productions LLC, 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 four Emmy Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Original Music Composition for his work in Public Television.
His production music can be heard on programs aired on PBS, CPTV, The History Channel, Discovery, TLC. Maine Public Television, Vermont Public Television, VH1 and MTV, and shows like Saturday Night Live, The Voice, American Idol, American Pickers, Dateline NBC and literally hundreds of reality shows, corporate and commercial projects and documentaries.
He is a member of ASCAP and a longtime contributor to AudioMicro.com.
*main photo courtesy of the Vancouver Film School, used under a Creative Commons license