It’s no secret that music and picture together are a dream team. When music is perfectly paired with picture, it is capable of driving the emotion and setting the tone of a film or advertisement. It’s the thing that can make you cry at a commercial selling mops, or grab your armrest with nervous anticipation in the theater before a rocket blasts off. Think about what Jaws would be without John Williams’ simple yet terrifying shark theme. Or Psycho without Bernard Hermann’s suddenly screeching strings.
That being said, there are a few important things consider when making music for picture -- keeping in mind that there are exceptions to every rule. Of course, spectacular filmmakers have been creatively using music that doesn’t fit the “licensable” mold for as long as humans been pairing the two together. But here are a few basic guidelines that can help set you up for success when crafting music with licensing in mind.
1. Know your arc. The overall path, or trajectory of a song is so important that we trademarked the word for it. It’s called “arc,” and it describes, in simple terms, how a song gets from its start to its finish, plus where it travels along the way. “Arc” is usually described using words like “ascending,” “descending,” “multiple crescendos” or “steady.” Sometimes, we thinks of the arc as a way to describe "events" within a song -- is there one clearly defined peak, or multiple smaller peaks? An arc may meander on a journey… or start out low and calm, only to rise up in a swell of inspiration. Crafting a well-defined arc will help one understand the story, theme, or character involved in a song.
2. Know your energy. In our experience, another thing that’s always top of mind for filmmakers and creatives is energy. We think of energy as the intersection of tempo, pacing and performance as they relate to genre. If “arc” is the path of a song, “energy” is the driving force that moves it along the path. Producers, directors and editors often come to us with a rough idea of what they’re looking for -- they need music that has a specific speed, pulse or vibe to it. In music licensing, there are placements for all types energy -- anything from slow and ambient to high-energy. Often times, it’s these elements that help define the overall spirit and intensity of what’s happening onscreen. The trick is to know which one you are good at writing, which brings us to our next point...
3. Know your strengths. Make your art work with what you have and feel you’re good at, and then adapt. Clients are often looking for that “one special thing” for a piece. It’s better to understand where your talents lie and make them great. Filmmakers can always tell when something is phoned in. It’s also common for an artist to see placements and think that they need to build a library with one of everything, in every type of genre. But most have a hard time doing that, and even more importantly, they have a hard time doing it well. Instead, focus on doing that cool thing that makes you different, and doing it really well.
4. Know your files. This one is simple – stay organized and make sure you have stems and instrumental version for your song. A collaborator from any corner of the production industry might want to make some small changes within the mix to accommodate for things like sound design, voice-over, or broadcast specifications. Having stems available (read: individual audio files that contain each musical instrument of a song on its own) can make or break a placement opportunity -- which is why we built in a filter for it on our music licensing web platform. Additionally, having an instrumental version of your song -- without any vocals -- almost certainly increases your chances of landing a placement.
5. Most importantly -- know your audience. Watch for placements with cool music and know what’s trending -- great work doesn’t happen in isolation, and it helps to do your homework. Don’t be afraid to do the research and maybe even geek out a little.
For more insight into elements to look out for when creating a licensable song, check out Marmoset's “Browse” page on our website and have fun exploring all of the filters. Imagine how your songs might be tagged in a system like ours -- which energy levels and arcs work best for you? If a filmmaker wanted to find a track like yours, what terms might they use? We’ve worked with filmmakers and creatives to develop browse features that cater specifically to their needs -- so you can search by, arc, energy, etc., as well as stream lot of great examples by real indie artist from around the world. But most importantly, enjoy!
This is a guest post written by Marmoset Music. Marmoset is a creative agency specializing in perfectly pairing music with motion picture, video and film.