Quick Tip: How To Create A Successful Production Music Track

Christian demonstrates how to create successful production music in our latest Quick Tip. Check out more tips from Christian below!

There are three main strands to writing music to picture; synchronised music, where someone will apply and pay for a ‘sync’ license (the right to use a work) from Coldplay, for example, to add to their film or TV show. The second is commissioned music. This is where you get someone like me to write something ‘bespoke’ and ‘to picture’ for your film or TV series. Finally, the third strand is library or production music. Imagine a photographic library but with just music, all organised into categories of use and style with keywords, tempos and descriptions. 

Without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest contributor to music to picture is now library, whether it be on factual entertainment TV shows, daytime enhanced reality or the 6 million YouTube channels that have sprung up over the last decade. But it has always been considered the poor cousin of the grander cloaked media composers and the hedonistic rock gods.

I am not the first composer to subsidise my existence on library income, and I wouldn’t be here today in the Spitfire journal had it not been for my parallel career as a ‘library guy’. This is because Spitfire wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the income Paul Thomson and I have forged from our extensive production catalogues.

Christian's top 5 tips

I have about 40 albums worth of material out there, and it still goes a long way to feed and clothe my family. Whilst there are many approaches to library composition, here are my top 5 tips for library track success:

1. Structure - It is good to follow a 3 act arc in 5-6 parts:

• PROLOGUE - Always come out of the gates with your pants down, exposing clearly where the track is going to end up. Imagine a library album for action music that all starts with brooding drones - well this will just sound like a brooding drone library and the editor will move on until she or he can hear some action music. My most successful library track by far starts bang in the middle of what you would call a chorus.

• INTRO - We love doing these. Why? Because they’re EASY. Don’t indulge them — your editor isn’t here for that. Keep it short!

• SUBJECT 1 - Imagine introducing a character, a motif, or theme.

• SUBJECT 2 - Break down the first subject and develop the theme.

• SUBJECT 3 - Return to Subject 1, but in a fuller, more developed sense, or modulated even.

• EPILOGUE - After the final cadence of the piece, offer an echo of your main theme or motif.

This structure is a familiar one to editors, and will also provide you with the opportunity to get it used on an ad or trailer, which is where the big bucks are.

2. Make It Editable! 

Your editors will struggle with tracks where the melody starts on the upbeat, or indeed where one part moulds into another. It is good to offer pockets of daylight so that the editor can slam in one section over another without an incriminating sustain, reverb or delay tail exposing itself.

If used on adverts, a 2 minute, 30 second and 10 second cutdown will be required — let your library company do this at your own peril. Make sure the composition has ended on your 30, and on your 10, a good two seconds before the end of the cut down, so you can make UK versions (UK adverts require 12 frames of silence at each end, so 30sec ads = 29secs, 10secs = 9 secs music max).

3. Stems! 

Don’t underestimate the importance of these, and don’t be proud! So what if an editor takes your stems and screws around with them, provided you get paid — this is the name of the game. So make sure you break your mix up into its constituent parts: bass, rhythm, pads, etc. You can never get too detailed here!  

4. Alt Versions

If your track has compositional legs or you can do an alt version that is minor to the major original, this is always worth it. If your track is say, heavily melodic, it is always worth recording and mixing an “underscore only” version. Even if your library company reject it or do not publish it, you should archive it. You’d be surprised at the number of times a library company calls me to say “They’re gonna use it on the next Star Wars movie trailer, do you have a version without the castanets?”.

5. Titling

All this is academic, without getting the title right. Describe what the track is, not what is the coolest name to come into your head. If it’s an ambient sci-fi bed, don’t call it Zendothium — call it Mystical Martian Bed, or something straightforward and evocative of the track. I know a hugely successful “library guy” whose most successful track is called ‘Low Subby Drone’.

#98 Production / Library Music - Rules Of Success

I have a vlog, and one of the episodes acts as a deeper diatribe into the dos and don’ts of library and production music. Watch it here.

Extreme Music

I’m also proud to announce a new partnership with Spitfire Audio and Extreme Music, arguably one of the most exciting and progressive music libraries out there. See how we prepare our library tracks for global consumption here.

One of the great joys of library music is, you never know when it is going to turn up. My biggest surprise was on the reality show “The Osbournes” where a somewhat sultry track I had co-written appeared over some footage of a dog performing an unspeakable act on a cat. May I wish you the best of luck in having such eye-opening surprises in the future.