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Advice Regarding Music - For a Composer

Ethan White

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Hey folks,

Newbie, and enjoying the wealth of info here.


I'm wondering if you can tell me what you look for when you're licensing music for your projects.


I'm a professional music producer now for about 15 years, but only recently getting into music for film/tv/ads. I have 2 separate projects going at the moment.


I am working on a portfolio of music for license, and/or to represent my abilities for bespoke projects over here: https://soundcloud.com/whitesploits


I am also uploading corporate motivational type stuff for the Royalty Free site AudioJungle over here: http://tinyurl.com/secretpony (decided to use a pseudonym to avoid confusion between the 2 projects)


Both projects are only about a month old, but so far so good. The SoundCloud (more varied and in depth music) has gotten good response but I haven't felt ready to pitch it to libraries and production houses quite yet. The Royalty Free site is seeing a few sales per upload, which is good for a young account.


I want to find out what sort of attributes you look for so I can take this into account as I compose for these 2 projects. I'm sure there are a million different approaches and types of usage that video producers work with, but I'm also sure there are many things I can think about at this stage.


I want to develop my skills in a valuable way...


Thanks so much for your input,


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I'm not a music person at all, but when I use music in a project, I normally like to use very subtle subdued music. I really don't like the music overpowering the visuals or the content on the screen. A lot of the time I use public domain piano pieces.


In a lot of the music libraries that I use there are lots of tracks that would be great for a hollywood epic or horror film, but not so much for a social issue documenary or low-budget short film.


"Music. It isolates your film from the life of your film (musical delectation). It is a powerful modifier and even destroyer of the real, like alcohol or dope." – Robert Bresson

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Are your tracks absolutely royalty-free, or are you (and the tracks in question) registered with a collection society?


I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with the immense complication and time-consuming admin associated with any music that uses a collection society, and often for quite trivial amounts of money.



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Are your tracks absolutely royalty-free, or are you (and the tracks in question) registered with a collection society?


I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with the immense complication and time-consuming admin associated with any music that uses a collection society, and often for quite trivial amounts of money.




Hey Phil,

The second profile I have posted are corporate type tracks, and those are completely royalty free as per my agreement with that retailer. They aren't allowed to be registered with any PROs. I also don't work with adrev or any of those DCMA type orgs that grab YouTube revenue based on copyright (I've noticed several royalty free authors using this loophole to get backend). That just seems a bit dirty.


The SoundCloud profile tracks, on the other hand, will depend on which libraries I end up working with and their policies. I believe those companies re-register the works under new titles, and walk licensors through the process of cue sheets, etc. But since I haven't worked with them yet, I can't tell you for sure. I'm sort of holding off registering any of that stuff until I see what's going on out there.


For bespoke stuff, it will be a case by case basis... I also do some work with commercial audio houses and they generally take care of the publishing like the boutique libraries, but sometimes it's a buy out.


It does appear that royalty free has become a lot more popular these days for the reasons you're mentioning... I can imagine this is a major time sink for indie productions.

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The musical score for a film augments and can even highly modify the emotional quality of the scene in question. A great example of this was shown in a doc on Carpenter's "Halloween" where a scene in which Laurie Stoude is sitting in class at her high school and looks out the window casually only to see a car with the Smith's Grove Mental Hospital emblem on it's door. After she look away then looks back it is gone. The scene was done without Carpenter's iconic theme music first and the scene laid flat with little more than a minimal bit of curiosity then it was played again WITH the unsettling 5-4 rhythm piece that we have come to know and love. The impact is astounding. The music when included completely alters the perception of the scene giving it not only a eerie darkness but a weight subtly letting the audience know this moment is important. The theme from Jaws, equity iconic and unsettling, is used magnificently as a foreshadowing element that builds in emotional power with each gristly attack to the point that the mere sound as it plays sets an audience on edge as they scream out when something does happen much the same way The Exorcist uses the increasing distance from Regan's bedroom door to create a dread of what's behind it when it's opened. The theme from The Magnificent Seven washing the audience into the old west and the code of the hard, honorable men that held principal above wealth in the story. You can feel the horse beneath you as you watch the screen. Most films have multiple themes, Star Wars is a good example (I know I keep going back to Williams, but he is probably the greatest film composer of all time so why not look at the best) The diverse but symbiotic musical themes of each major character make statements about the individuals they are. Darth Vader quasi-miltaristic march theme trumpets Vader's dark power, Leia's theme is romantic, warm and nurturing the ideal of a strong woman, Luke's musical theme is adventurous and heroic with elements of longing at times, Han's music is epic, sweeping the high energy of a rakish rouge one step ahead of disaster, Yoda's is the calm in the eye of the storm. the Jawa theme is light, upbeat with a feel of innocence. These are the things I look for in a score, musical statements symbiotic with the visual, plot and character elements within the individual sequences and overall emotional quality of the film. I look for music that tells the story the way I see it and adds up to far more than the simple mating of music to image. I know that a bit vague but it comes down to writing music that best builds emotion in the scene for the audience.

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Hey James,

That's actually not vague at all. Great references.


I've done some work to picture with the commercial stuff, but unfortunately that usually not very rewarding. The direction can be overly confined stylistically, and so much has to happen in 30 seconds with it always being about some product looking awesome. In film (and television recently), there's so much more room for development and genre bending. That's what's drawing me to it. Actually the very things you're talking about.


Right now I'm focused on production music (library stock type stuff), since that's a door that is at least cracked for newcomers. The problem there is having to anticipate client needs in this general way. So one day you might compose something for a Darth Vader-type character, but of course you're just imagining this character and hoping it hits someone's needs exactly right. Right time and place sort of thing.


So what I pull from your thoughts (in reference to what I'm up to), is to create really special moments with the music for specific moments... something that inspires the filmmaker when they hear it as they're searching through these vollumnous libraries.


Hopefully I'll come across some opportunities to actually collaborate down the road, which seems much more rewarding...


Thank you very much for your input.

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Well, here's the thing, I have seen some AMAZING things done with commercials with regards to music. The one that jumps, nay LEAPS GLORIOUSLY to mind, is a little regional California bank commercial.BTW, it may sound familiar:



It's only stifling if you let it stifle you.


Edited by James Steven Beverly
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Yo James,

No doubt, I've definitely had some great experiences with the commercial stuff. Unfortunately it seems like a lot of times you're copying a temp or doing something kind of outrageous, plus you often don't have much connection to the creative directors (several times removed). I don't want to go into specific examples because the world is small!


I'm not doing enough of it for it to really ruin my life or anything (I spend most of my time touring playing live). I'm just looking for some other outlets.


Anyways, I'm not here to go into the ins and outs of all of that. I'm honestly just looking for folks' 2 cents on their approaches since this is a new thing for me.


Thanks so much.

Edited by Ethan White
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