A lot of my blogs arise from conversations. I would guesstimate nearly all, bar the odd delinquent rant to vent some steam from the machine. On this occasion its another frequent convo that gives birth to this latest entry.
So how do we manage our time exactly? Specifically when it is related to our success rate? Our returns and batting average? This is the area i wanted to bring up this time round.
Writing for music libraries, is a fraught process of trying to supply the right music for the right situation. To ensure we have important things in our arsenal like “stock”, the ability to demonstrate the genres we can cater for, our production value, our efficiency, speed and willingness to turn over high quality work on a dime when asked 20 mins ago, and the track is needed an hour from now.
I want to break it into smaller chunks and start with a less generalized market. The last time i made a really big guide to writing for music libraries, i was lynched because i failed to separate all the various market places we lean to. So lets hone in on the area of writing for tv in general. Not for promo specifically, or advertising, just for tv shows that need the right cues. Lets say we cover all of the reality market, some drama, certainly documentary and other areas maybe like comedy etc.
The problem i think a lot of us face is how do we segment our creative time and allot this to the best opportunities and maximise our earnings. Now i didnt just say placements, and for a very good reason.
Having placements, has become a complete red herring and too many composers are in search of a record breaking personal win of achieving lots and lots of “placements”. For example, im good friends with a large number of people who write in this area. Their are some who have chalked up a huge amount of tv placement credits. Like obscene amounts and yet a proportion of those will often say, yeah i mean im getting tons of placements, but its sketchy, bitty, and the income isnt great.
You would be saying to yourself, well that doesn’t sound right does it? Thats not ideal.And no, it really isnt. Their are a lot of really good reasons this is happening and here are some of the things i have found over the years and things i then changed, altered to make it head down a road where my hours translated into good income and more besides.
One of the issues is this.
When you work for a music library/agency, it takes time to form a bit of a back and forth friendship. It takes more than just sending in music. On occasion, it can mean not leaving the house when you had plans cos library A is really in a hole and need a track by days end. They have tried to find a way out, made lots of promises and now its getting tight. For whatever reason, a clearance bounced, the producer hates the music they had at the 11th hour, whatever, if you go the extra mile, you are more likely to be seen as a goto guy.
Its human nature after all. If someone goes out of their way for you, you;re inclined to gravitate back them soon afterwards.
The other side of building bridges is that understanding. Learn each persons language, be flexible about your hours and what genres your willing to do, even if you hate writing Peruvian goa slash rock with bells on, go try anyway.
Over time, you will have a convo that starts more like, “hey Russ, hows life, whats going on your neck of the woods?” or someone wishes you a great weekend to which you say, thanks you too, got anything planned??
Its just humanising in a way you would naturally, just because an ocean or 2000 miles of man land separate you, doesnt mean you should be that distant in your presence. It makes little sense does it.
Writing for ALL the damn companies
Boy does this one come up a lot!!! So your talking shop and guy A says, “yeah so im hitting up like 12 companies right now”. Ok firstly, where does that leave you with my first point? You cant really build some nice bonds with anyone if you are spreading the love so thin on the ground, you never really know who you are speaking to.
The other aspect which is crucial, is getting to know that company and what music they need, what genres they favour in. Which seques neatly into, the kind of shows on their roster too.
Your all pumped up to write huge hybrid cues and cant get your head around the fact they need live sounding band cues, preppy pop and catchy vocals. Your hit rate will increase if you spend some quality time researching what kind of music their big on, what shows they have right now, and how you can adapt and generate music they need.
I tend to write for a limited collection of places for different needs. ie: a couple of companies that centre around big promo, teaser, sizzle reel cues, others that are all exclusive for cable shows, that kind of thing.
But having a dozen or more companies on your hit list isnt always such a bright idea.
Again, for reasons stated above and lots lots more.
Repeat work and rotation
This one foxes a lot of people but its all very simple logic when you think about it. So a 100 shows in and you have a couple 1000 bucks per quarter. You also have bragging rights that your resume is now heaving under the weight of all your one placement 20 second wonder moments. But the key to maximising that music is getting a relationship with the people who make the shows.
It doesn’t take a face to face lunch meet, it means listening to the feedback, researching the show your supplying for, and sending in music they really want. Even when your digging in your heels screaming at the monitor that you dont need notes on those cues, yup you do. Thats why you got them.
When you get into a groove with a show, your music gets placed a little more, you get asked for more like this. It benefits EVERYONE in the chain. If its easy to edit, great production value, hits all the key points it needs to, to work in the scene and perhaps others just like it, means you need to pay big attention to what your writing for and adapt, all the time adapt.
Reflecting on the above once more like a broken record, build key relationships, dont try and give a big hug out to every single place you just googled or stole a lead for! Work with a smaller circle and refine this.
When cues land in shows you were asked to write for, when their so usable and amenable, they get used again and elsewhere. Repeat work is great. Its when the same crew heads right back to that library you write for, and ask for those cues and they list all the best examples, and guess what? they reference your music. Loads of other guys hear the temp cues that nailed last season, and its your music they have to follow.
Repeat work means season after season of solid income.
And rotation is when you have enough volume in seasons and these are show over and over again on the main network, its sibling channels and subsidiaries.
Cue Sheet – Statement Researching
When you do get a royalty statement, before you get all giddy and list it, grab a google pic and make your “im awesome” folder on facebook bigger, try and sift through this and work out whats landing and where. The genres you were strong in, what music library you were hitting well with versus ones you aren’t, and perhaps had invested lots of time with no payback.
This leg of your homework is pretty basic really but just as essential as watching the shows you write for. If you can break down those minutes and then scan them for the pay versus time it takes you to get these cues in, you can get quite sharp at this.
Its all well and good saying ive hit up a show on ABC, look at me im awesome, but when it nets you 20 bucks, doesn seem like a show thats in rotation, and your just basking in the credit?
Who are you trying to convince?? Its either yourself or your bank balance, thats it.
Never Write Cold
This may seem obvious to some, but if your time is so damn precious for you, you work fulltime and have to manage a lot of other things in life aside, do you really want to be writing endless cues that arent being called for?
I went through a period doing just that years ago. It seemed like a hot idea at the time. I mean whether you write for non or fully exclusive, its a personal choice just for you. For me its about quality exclusive music. I just plain stopped writing non ex for various reasons but mainly due to overwhelming feedback from many music supervisors, editors and producers who were just sick to the back teeth hearing the exact same crap every other show.
Others will tell you its good to have a huge amount of stock. Well it is and it isnt.
If you have a hundred tracks in the bank ready to go, chances are your touting them to a dozen places and your not talking to anyone, building any bridges and your wondering why some lands and some doesnt. Well if you throw enough crap at the wall, at some point, some will stick. Thats not really the quality image you want to present to anyone.
I sometimes get random calls for stock and i say, look i write exclusively for people. If you need me to try and work on something, lets talk. But for non exclusive work, im kinda out of that region now.
If i write a cue, its 99 times out of a hundred because someone needs it. And if for any reason a cue isnt right? I have a personal policy that a lot know me by! and thats, no cue is ever wasted.
Eventually its got a place somewhere else, it made need some fresh tweaks, but never ever waste good music. I mean dont spend all day trying to sell it on a royalty free site, but if you have stock made up of stuff not quite right, its still useful and can be brought into play.
If anyone wants to hear you in action, by all means thats the time to name drop the credits and show them your best work. But sitting their all day and night writing with not a single cue?? Thats a waste.
Even if you can market this somewhere as a project, at least write for that purpose itself. If you are responding to a market need for rock blues cues, then by all means make an albums worth of them to the best of your ability, but just remember what ever it is,your time is very precious.
We wait over 9 months for that aired cue to come around in a form of a few bucks, so dont leave huge vast writing gaps and then wonder in a few months why it all slowed down. If you arent consistent with the few companies you work for, you tend to lose touch, just like real world friendships. You need to touch base and stay in the zone.
Not forgetting, big pauses in writing and aired music, means big pauses in pay too, as all snowballs rolling down the hill, still need snow to top up.
Anyway, to sum up a little. What im trying to say in my own haphazard fashion is, take down all that info your getting. Its coming at you from a lot of places and its quite easy to break down.
If you are having trouble getting a bond with companies, cut back a few.
If the cues never sound right, try listening for music they have used and ask them for some example cues if needs be.
Spend time working with people who ARE responding to you. See if you can get more to them, ask for other things you can do too, what edit, sound design, anything.
Get reading your payments and see whats maximising and then hit it twice as hard next time round.
Their is like hours more i want to say on this is greater detail but im not the journalist i need to be to achieve this! and i am horrible to sit and watch on you tube, so i hope i have hit a few areas. Contentious and debatable as they are, im sure a lot of guys will be throwing darts at me sometime soon, but these are the realities we face, and only by stripping a few elements back, do we stand a chance of making that precious creative time count for more than bragging rights and a new mic stand.