I wanted to break into this subject and i have been scratching my head for colourful analogies, simplified methods and means to write at high volume.
And then it dawns on you, no one is exactly the same and the work we undertake is just as diverse. So this is a specific attack on sync music/ placement audio. Id love to be able to be the guy who tells you how to score 10 minutes per day, buy i am not that guy i will say by my own admission.
But writing say 3-4 cues per day for music libraries?? yes i can help and maybe give you a new plan of attack to build the stock you need to cover your immediate bases, and also give you the means to invest your time better for a continuous top up of new material.
So without further ado. If we assume for one moment that writing for music libraries is something you dont already do, this could perhaps motivate and help you more as we arent trying to break old habits for starters.
The biggest obstacle, and i say this due to a high volume of emails that seem to point to one specific area, is simply “motivation and ideas”.How do i begin to write lots of music when i havent got a ton of fresh ideas and what chance do i stand of writing say 10 in one week in this sorry state??
The main piece of advice i would give, as it has served me very well, is to try and watch as many of the likely show types you will be competing for. Now im not suggesting you get all up in your TiVo and start recording En masse episodes of here comes honey boo boo or a whole season of toddlers in tiaras. Nor would i say its an easy prospect to endure a whole cycle of Americas next top model if this isnt the kind of tv you would normally watch
But certainly program your head around a bit of each. Whether this be competition type shows, news based, comedic, shows with more a trend base to them ie:hip hop cues or the classic safe groove based cues that prop up many an episode of cake boss etc.
Get yourself a nice broad range of typical types you will need to write in. Research is everything as it teaches you the art of a simple but utterly effective cue that is respectful of a dubbing track ,is useful for editors and has some colour about it, an energy if you will.
Now the format for most placement tv cues falls into this. They tend to be as short as 1 minute flat. They can range up to 3 times that duration but a overwhelming majority serve their purpose up to a minute 30.
Why???? well its basic math for everyone here. A minute 30 is enough time to establish an intro, a 8+ bar main theme, some variation and build, a break down section, a reprise of main theme with a nice solid ending that can be cut to sting if need be.If you write long form, then you wont capture the in/out nature of the cue.Remember at all times the likelihood of airtime for your music is approx. 3-5 seconds and if you are very lucky and the scene calls for it, it can run over that minute, Drop back in later over and over as recurring motif of sorts for that episode.
But placement cues rarely run up to a minute.They just dont. Most shows can pack in well over a 100 placements and longer shows double this easily.So don’t be thinking a 3 minute cue gives you the glory.
The key thing in any cue is it has some variation, it does something. It can edit relatively easily and provide options for the editorial team.
Ok so you have swotted up on genre cue types and a working format. So whats next??
How do we go from being familiar with our market to writing huge swathes of music week in week out??? Well composing in any scenario is about building muscles.Its just as relevant to sit down and practice composing as it is to sit and devote time to an instrument. Learn its unique timbre and response to technique and dynamic.
The same applies to writing lots of music. You need to flex your musical muscles and then comes your ability to trust music a little more. You discover so many new tricks and techniques for moving a theme dynamically and creating something of “use”.
Now lets just eradicate the elephant in the room when it comes to all things “music for hire”.I get really annoyed when composers who excel at this market are criticized heavily for not being a real composer because there not scoring and therefore story telling. But this is just incredible bullshit. Its insulting and the proof in the pudding to this lifelong gripe is when good composers who haven’t written for this market come into it to “make a little side cash” and quickly realise its a lot harder than they thought. Ok so its not all going to get you an Emmy and the biggest networks and studios wont all start banging down your door, but its hard honest work and their is an art to it.
Skipping hint number one:not researching at all = A much more painful process of understanding your role. So ..well..don’t skip it!
What i find as the key to writing high volumes of this music, having understood my target genres, is to center at first on the ones i feel most charged and excited about.
So lets begin here and by all means nominate your personal strong suit and follow me here. So my choice will be action cues. Modern high tension, in your face action cues.
I want to end up with say, 20 of those. But that number in a row will bore me to tears plus im gonna run out of big ideas pretty soon. So its just kidology for the cure.
Divide this into sub genres and instruments. Write one at a mid paced tempo, grab your main instruments whether they include orchestral accents, string or horn beds and modern percussion etc. Take a look at the next cue 20-30 bpm higher, change key and start thinking about exploring all those libs you keep buying. You know those big sample sound sets you think will be useful and end up in the bottom shelf of the HDD for months on end. Start ignoring a huge template and start thinking immediate instinct.
You now have a couple of cues so lets try some more lighter tension. Break it down a little.Use some more sympathetic mid range instrumentation and create something less frenetic but just as meaty in substance. Work your way down the scale till you have some quite simple but effective tension cues. Maybe just some custom pulses, piano and accents. Light percussion and atmospheric beds. Now by the time you worked from ball breaking “look at me” high action cues and cruised into light emotive ones, you already have the best part of 10 tracks already.
Then grab the elusive and so misunderstood comedy genre. Now this ranges from bittersweet sickly Tom Newman dramedy to flat out Desperate housewives, very colourful and dare i say “twee” sign posted comedy, complete with plenty of comedic stops and pauses.
writing 10 cues in this style is not as hard as you would think. Is comedy easy?? not remotely, again do our research and practice those muscle building phrases and short ideas, but when you click and start to understand this genre, working from the very trendy sickly comedic style right across to blatant cartoon like styles, will give you an enjoyable ride and then , you look back and you have a set of 10 before you know it.
This is what i would suggest for a good 5-6 main genre types. Break it down into as many sub groups as you possibly can. identify at least 4-5 cuts into these sub groups and this gives you new ideas, new places to go.
Go compare!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! lol ok next part. There is no law, no ethic, or no precedent that states you cant learn a thing or two by listening in to your peers. If you know half a dozen guys who place well into this market, do the sensible thing and go listen to their work.
Not only will it give you new angles to apply to your thinking, it will show you just how far you can go. I mean its really limitless but seeing a few other guys doing this can give you a palette booster. It can kick start parts of your brain and make you that bit more adventurous with arrangement and instrumentation.
If you become bored with the genre you are on, you never have anything to fear. You go back to your big list of main genres, look at all the many sub splits and then run off 2 cues in that, head off to another do the same.
By fueling all those places constantly, you will be completely shocked at your output.
You combine all the tenets to this mission as follows.
you researched the market and endured the tv shows!. you researched and understood the format and needs of the cue in its duration. you listened to the cues that are placing and then you made it easy for yourself with a huge list of places you love to go musically, but will just constantly inflate your stock.
The cure for any overall familiarity for me, is to throw in a wild card once in a while. Hear something you are convinced you cannot do, and keep doing it till you can. Then you have another main genre to work with, its sub groups etc.bingo.
By the time you walk past a solid 12 months of this, its not unreasonable to suggest you have written anywhere between 200-500 cues. One years work alone. And this journey will hone the shit out of you, it will fast track teach you things you cant learn if you just take 2 weeks to write a couple of ideas down.
It makes it very easy to be under pressure when you write high volume. In fact your response rate is super sharp and refined. You have learned to trust your inner muse, you have all the tools in your head in place to overcome road bumps and musical problems.
You will become very well rounded and a much richer composer in mind if not yet in wallet! but having a good 500 cues, you are well on your way to a lot of success with placement.
The next thing will be understanding all the companies out there, the type of deal that will work for you, and making sure you get the maximum from all your work.
But that my comrades in arms, its another blog for another day!