There are a lot of different niches within the niche of music licensing. There’s “stock” music, “production” music, artist music, trailer music, ad music, video game music and more. How do you know where to start? What kind of music should you be writing if you’re new to licensing?
When you’re first starting out, if you’re not writing music for a specific person or a specific project, you’ll most likely just be writing the kind of music you’re inspired to write and the styles of music you’re good at. That’s how I started. I wrote a batch of pop/rock songs and sent them to the person who ended up becoming my publisher. Of the initial batch of four songs I wrote, my publisher loved one of them. I signed one track, she pitched it to a TV Show and within about three weeks I landed my first placement.
Over time, as I figured out the needs of my publisher’s clients, I was able to write more and more music that worked for the places and projects my publisher pitched to. A lot of the songs I wrote were simply songs that I was inspired to write, that I intuitively felt would work. Other songs were songs that I wrote “on spec”. Meaning my publisher would give me specific assignments and specific music requests, based on what she needed and thought I would be a good fit for, that I would create music for specifically.
Over the years, I’ve written Goth Rock, Punk Rock, Singer/Songwriter, Christmas Music, Folk Music, Ad Music and more, all on spec. A lot of these tracks have gone on to be placed, and many of them are still being licensed frequently. By anticipating the needs of publishers and supervisors and creating music that you know they are specifically looking for, you increase the odds of your music being used substantially. If you just write a song you just feel like writing, and then pitch it after the fact, you may or may not find a home for it, depending on a wide range of factors, like the style of the song, the subject matter, the mood of the song and of course, the needs of those you’re pitching music to.
When you write music on spec, you’ll know that there’s an actual need for the kind of music you’re writing. Right off the bat, your likelihood of licensing your music goes up, because there’s an actual need and demand for the music you’re writing. You’re not just shooting in the dark. When you’re not writing for a specific project, it’s more of a crap-shoot in terms of if and when the music ends up being synced. You can of course anticipate the general types of situations and themes that tend to come up within the context of licensing, but how these songs end up being used is anyone’s guess.
These days, I write a lot of music. I write music almost every day. I write music that I feel like writing and I’m inspired to write, and I also write music for specific projects, specific publishers and so on, whenever I’m asked to write something that’s in my wheelhouse. I like the challenge of being given a specific theme, style or topic and then trying to get inspired around a specific idea. It’s different than they way my creative process tends to work by default.
Normally, when I sit down to write a song, I pick up my guitar and start strumming a few chords. Once I lock into a chord progression I like, normally I’ll start developing a melody to fit the chord progression I’ve come up with. Then, after I’ve established a chord progression and melody, if it’s a vocal song, the lyrics will be the last to come. Usually the lyric is the most challenging part for me. I’ll typically just write a few “dummy” lyrics that work rhythmically, and then once I figure out what the song is actually about, I’ll start crafting what hopefully, in the end is a poetic and impactful lyric.
When I’m given a specific topic and/or title for a song, it changes the creative process substantially. Instead of embarking on a journey of discovering what a song is about, and letting the idea and lyrics come to me, after the music is written, I’m starting with a theme and/or lyric suggestion and then writing music to fit that. It’s more or less turning the way I tend to write songs on its head. It’s not necessarily good or bad, it’s just different. The challenge is making sure these songs don’t sound forced or contrived.
Here’s an example of a song I just finished that I wrote on spec for my publisher. This song was written based on a conversation my publisher had with my producer and I regarding the types of songs I’ve been placing the most through her, and the types of songs she needs going forward. It’s a good idea to touch base with the publishers and libraries you write music for, every few months or so, and try to get a feel for their needs, what’s working, what’s not working and so on.
Here were the notes from the call, that we based the following song on:
"I'm looking for songs from Aaron that have to do with first love, first date, spark of romance, but not love yet."
"Something About You - that would be a good working title. Perfect first date song. Have him write a song called Something About You. People are still strangers wanting to get to know each other. First spark. Forward motion, earthy, acoustic, like Headed Home."
"Something good for Hallmark, Valentine's Day, any new romance or relationship."
So, based on this conversation, and the notes we had, I got to work writing a song called “Something About You”. This particular song took me a little longer to write than what’s usual for me. I spent a good week or so fleshing out the chords and lyrics. I felt a bit stumped at first, but it ended up being one of my favorite, recent songs of mine.
It’s a song I probably would have never written had I not been given the “assignment”. That’s the fun of writing music on spec, you end up with music in your catalog you never would have created had you been left to your own devices. Sometimes the results are less than spectacular and other times you end up surprising yourself, by writing a song you never knew you had in you.
Without further adieu, here’s my latest track, “Something About You”. We just finished this one a few days ago, so no word yet on where it will be used. This track, as usual, was produced and engineered by Gary Gray, and also features harmony vocals by Chicago based musician “MJ”.