Writing music for TV can be a great way to make steady money in the music industry, all the while exercising your creativity and getting your music heard. Here we look at four important things to know for starting out that will make the process smoother and more likely to be successful.
Have you ever wondered how to get your music on TV? Before I became a film and TV composer, I had no idea where to start. First of all, I didn’t watch TV that much, which didn’t help at all. I didn’t know the jobs and roles related to the industry and I didn’t know what kind of music these people ‘behind the veil’ were even searching for.
There are a few things you need to know and understand before you embark on your new adventure. Once you have a clearer picture of all the mechanics of this massive engine, things will begin to make more sense.
1. Turn on the TV
One of my favorite shows was Hell’s Kitchen. The way Gordon Ramsey yelled and made fun of the competitors wouldn’t be as intense without the dramatic and sometimes quirky background music.
Did you get that part? Dramatic and quirky. To be exact, there are specific genres of music called Orchestral Tension and Dramedy. Next time when you watch reality TV, critically listen to the different genres, and as a music producer and composer focus in on the instrumentation.
What kind of strings are being used? What kind of drums do you hear most often? What types of chords are being used? Is it more than one type of drum or different types? Are there synths or is it mostly acoustic instruments?
2. Wall to Wall
Here’s an industry term you should get to know: “wall to wall.” Think about how many reality TV shows there are currently airing, and now, try to comprehend the amount of new shows being developed in Hollywood month after month.
The TV industry is a non-stop machine, and every episode, season after season is going to require copious amounts of music. There is no possible way one composer can conjure up all those cues for one episode within those tight production schedules and deadlines. On the bright side — there is always room for more composers.
3. Chain of Command
Gain a better understanding of how the TV industry works. There’s a chain of command – like most big productions.
Let’s use Keeping Up With the Kardashians as an example. Ryan Seacrest is the executive producer of the show. He’s the one with all the money. Then you have a music supervisor. A music supervisor is the one in charge of selecting the music for the shows.
What kind of music will fit the episode? Is Kim Kardashian at the newest club in Las Vegas, or is she hanging out in Havana for the weekend with her family? Each show requires the right background music to fit the content of that episode.
The music supervisor isn’t the one coming up with the music. He needs to reach out to music licensing/publishing companies to get the goods. The music publisher could very well be a composer themselves, but it would be an impossible task to meet the demands of all the music required for one episode.
Lastly, there’s you – the composer at the bottom of the chain. Your job is to compose as much music as possible at the highest quality, then submit it to your publisher, so that they can pitch it to the supervisor.
So how do you stand out?
You need to be a one-stop-shop. The thing about music licensing is that anyone can play. That means you’ll be going up against the best and the worst. If you do a little research, there are big names like Hans Zimmer, Fergie and Questlove making good income from producing music for TV.
In my humble opinion, I think you need a bit more skill than the average bedroom producer because it requires a bit more technique and music theory to compete. You must know how to write in myriad of genres. You can’t be the hip hop producer that thinks hip hop is the greatest genre in the world an not be willing to branch out.
If you watch a couple different shows on various networks, you’re going to realize that not all shows have the same style of music. There’s Orchestral Tension, Dramedy, Progressive Dance, Future Bass, Dubstep, and Synthwave, just to name a few. The more genres you can compose in, the better chances you have of being successful working with music licensing companies.
That’s not all. You must be able to mix and master your tracks from start to finish at a very high level. Sure, you can pay someone to polish your tracks, but the deadlines are unforgiving for requests so you must submit your music as quickly as possible. Deadlines average about a week if they’re generous. Some have same day turnarounds!
Mixing and mastering isn’t cheap either. This is exactly why composers who can do it all are best fit for this kind of work. If you think you have what it takes — give it your best shot!
Now that you know just some of the basics of what you’re getting yourself into, you should have some kind of an idea of where you stand. Composing music for TV is fun! It can also be stressful with trying to meet deadlines while working a full-time job. It can also be frustrating as a creative to work within the confines of limitations and specific guidelines.
However, hearing your creation on TV for the masses can be one of the most satisfying and validating feelings in the world as a music producer.