These days, a lot of people are eyeing film, TV, and game placements as great resources for making money from their music. There are a number of creative and technical concerns that go into not only making your music suitable for film and TV placements, but making it stand out, and more likely to get placed. 

There are several ways music can be placed in film and TV, so it's also important to consider the differences between music for library and music for synch during the creative process. Continue reading to learn some tips and tricks for getting your music placed in film and TV.

Writing Music With Lyrics

Let's start with some of the creative considerations for your music. Start by being aware that music with vocals—especially those which follow a traditional song format—works best for synch placements, but not necessarily for library music. While there are no hard and fast rules, most companies will have guidelines and there are ways that these two kinds of music are typically used differently.

A song (something with a traditional verse chorus verse format) with a lead vocal is much more suited to a synch placement, where it might be part of a scene in a show or movie. For example, think of a party scene where people are dancing, a scene where the protagonist is missing someone and gazing out a window, or even a car chase or driving scene—anything that has pivotal plot points that are character related (rather than plot related).

Sometimes, this type of music may even be diegetic in the scene, and hence why a traditional song with a lead vocal is more of a synch placement in these use cases. Again there’s no hard and fast rule, just a general occurrence. There are certainly synch opportunities for instrumental music too, and we will get to those.

For bands or groups, think carefully about lyrical choices and the types of things that your song might be suited for. Swearing can sometimes stop a song from being used, so consider creating a clean version where needed. When you’re writing the song, if you can, or while looking through your catalog of songs you want to get placed, try to think of things like how and what the song could be used based on its lyrical content. (Think time periods, chase scenes, love scenes, montages, etc.)

Do your lyrics help tell a story that is universal? I often see pitch calls for songs with lyric references, say for example, “Lyrics are about sisterhood, sticking together, best friends.” Or I might see, “Lyrics have words mentioning, party, good time, hero, winning.”

Writing Instrumental Music

When creating instrumental music, keep in mind that virtuoso playing can be distracting from the picture. As someone once said, “The music was too good for placement.” If there is a very busy solo or lots of wild trills it could detract from the scene or the mood. 

In other words, ornate or busy playing might not work well for placements. This isn't to say don't have a solo or to not play well—just remember that the goal of the music is to help create the mood, tell the story, or inform the audience what to feel about what they are seeing on screen.

For library music, this is especially true. A good catchy melody, a tasteful line, or a well-crafted emotional crescendo in a piece of music goes a long way for placements. Pay attention to trends, and listen out for what is going on musically in film and TV—not necessarily popular music. Sometimes there’s an interplay, but there tend to be slightly different trends in these forms of media. 

That’s not to say you should try to create something in a style other than your own. Never try to be anyone other than yourself. You’ll create the best work in a style that is yours and identifiable as your own. However, it’s important to pay attention to what types of cures are needed at the moment. What types of shows are currently being written? Is it a lot of action and superhero shows? Is it reality TV? True Crime? 

This can also be influenced by the time of year. For example, the fall is usually full of spooky shows with things like true crime, sci-fi, thrillers, and horror genres. These shows typically look for music in the summer, or even earlier, so you’ll either need to plan ahead, or always be writing. 

Writing in a variety of moods and styles year-round can keep you well-positioned for seasonal opportunities. In some cases, this can be more important for those writing library music, but is very applicable to holiday music for music groups, or for the ever-elusive “song of the summer”.

Mirette Seireg, President of Mpath Music had this advice to share, “Making your music stand out often starts well before the artist begins to compose. It’s a concept, it’s about finding your own voice. What does the artist conceptualize, see clearer, and execute better than anyone else? If you think of music as storytelling, the artist speaks to the listener from a compelling point of view, takes the listener to a place they haven’t been before, and elicits emotional impact. At MPATH Music, we look for a non-clichéd concept and then we listen and feel how the track unfolds to elicit emotions. Production quality has to be uncompromisingly top-notch.”

Tips For Mixing

While mixing your music, be sure to check the mix in mono. There shouldn’t be a hole in the middle of your mix, nor should things be panned too wide. The mix should stand up just as well in mono. This is the hallmark of a good mix, but is even more crucial if your music ends up in a mono format. 

Consider that many TV sets around the world are still in mono, as are cell phones and tablets. You want your music to translate well across platforms, wherever it should end up, should that be the next popular game on everyone’s phones, or in a sitcom broadcast and dubbed elsewhere in the world.

Additionally, if you’re working as a group, production standards matter, so be sure to have your music professionally mixed and mastered. The more out-of-the-box audio elements you have, the more crucial this is. When doing so, it's common for non-instrumental music to have the following versions: Vocal Up, Vocal Down, and Instrumental. These mix versions specifically relate to bands/or group acts where vocals will be present.

Finally, do not over-compress. Trying to make your track ‘hit’ or cut through or be loud is not appropriate in these use cases. This is because the music will likely get compressed multiple times again before reaching an audience, causing your music to sound harsh or squashed. If your track is being used in a film, it will likely go through several rounds of mixing and mastering during post-production.

Don’t Forget The Technical Details

This brings us to our last point in creative considerations, which perhaps bridges the gap between creative and technical, and that is the production value. You must have high-quality production standards in your music. 

A good song can go to waste if it is not properly presented. This means there’s no excuse for a great melody to be communicated with generic MIDI sounds. This won't get your music placed. If you’re working in a band or group, be sure that the music is properly recorded mixed, and mastered—not tracked in your closet with a mastering plugin at the end! 

So what are the technical best practices? Well, they aren’t very different from properly produced and recorded music! Most music libraries and synch firms like to receive WAV or AIFF files exported at 24-bit/48 kHz resolution.

It’s also vital that everything is labeled properly. Many companies will have a specific format to adhere to, so be sure to have your metadata in place, and find out what naming criteria they prefer for files. This is especially true for library music. For example, one of my tracks might have been named LIBRARYNAME_0057_Memories_KM_v1_FullMix. 

For TV placements, especially library music, you’ll most often need to provide a Full Mix, an Instrumental Mix, and an Alt Mix (say the mix but minus the saxophone or minus some guitars). 

For TV and library music, the following edits are a common requirement: 60-second and 30-second cut-downs, (these cut-downs should have definitive endings, or even a thematic peak at 27/57 seconds, including time for sustained notes to ring out), and things like bubbles and stings, which may be 5, 10, or 15 seconds in duration. All should be labeled appropriately, as mentioned above, depending on the preferences of the team you are working with. 

Keep all of these things in mind and you should be off to a great start for making your (or your client’s) music stand out for film and TV placements. All that’s left for you to do now, is write compelling, original music that helps tell a story. Just that simple, right?

Lisa LaFountaineIf you’re interested in purchasing new gear for your studio, contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.