Each year, thousands of songs are used in film and TV projects. These songs earn licensing fees, performance royalties, and income from sales on iTunes. This is a market worth aiming for and it’s wide open to independent artists, bands, and songwriters like you!
For every song that’s placed in a film, TV show, or commercial, many are auditioned – often hundreds – but only one is chosen. The song that will get the job is the one that most effectively heightens the impact and memorability of a scene for viewers.
Is a character discovering real love for the first time? A song can be used to underscore and enhance that feeling for the audience. Is the film set in a small town in the 1950s? A song can vividly recall the era. Is a car commercial targeting a new audience? A song can add an edgy, hip feel to the brand. Always remember: the song serves the needs of the scene or project.
With that in mind, it may seem a little strange that the vast majority of songs placed in film and TV are written and recorded first, before they’re ever pitched to these projects. Often, the songs are part of an artist or band’s CD. While the song is being written and recorded, there’s no way to know if, or how, it will eventually be used in a film or TV show BUT you can craft your songs to increase your chances for a placement in this market.
WHAT MAKES A SONG EFFECTIVE FOR FILM & TV?
LYRICS: A good lyric for film and TV is universal enough to allow the song to be used in a variety of scenes while still maintaining integrity, originality, and focus. Of course, no song will work for every scene but some themes and situations occur more frequently in film and TV shows, such as falling in love, overcoming adversity, becoming an individual, plus conflicts of all kinds as well as celebrations. If you choose one of these as a general theme for your song and you focus on the emotions that come up, you’ll be more likely to get a placement. Watch a few TV episodes and look for common themes. Chances are you’re already using some of them in your songs.
Imagery, emotional detail, and a fresh approach to your theme will add muscle to a universal lyric, making it more appealing to film and TV. On the other hand, too many details, like place names, proper names, dates, or a story that’s too specific to your own circumstances, will limit the uses.
MUSIC: Filmmakers have always used instrumental music to communicate mood, energy, and atmosphere to the audience, from soaring love themes to the high anxiety of a fast-paced action cue. As songs have grown in popularity with viewers, they’re being used to replace some of that instrumental music. A song that works well for film and TV is one that, like an instrumental cue, uses melody, chords, tempo, and rhythm to evoke a single mood or energy level.
If you’ve written an uptempo song about a wild party or a slow song about lost love, you’re already using tempo and rhythm to express energy. Songwriters often do this instinctively. You can hone that ability for the film and TV market by making a conscious effort to make your music even more expressive. Like a film composer, choose a pace (tempo) and groove that physically express the energy level you want, then back it up with melody and lyrics to support that energy. Got an upbeat, bouncy groove? Add a syncopated melody with plenty of unexpected leaps between notes and a lyric that’s filled with fresh, fun images. If your song’s theme is young love, it could be used in hundreds of scenes in which a couple of teens or twenty-somethings meet and fall in love.
WATCH, LISTEN, AND LEARN
Like an actor, a song in a film, TV episode, or commercial has a role to play. The theme, lyric language, musical arrangement, and singer’s voice must work together to create an emotional moment for the audience. Watch films and TV shows that use songs. Here are just a few primetime TV dramas that use between two and ten songs per episode: The Vampire Diaries, Grey’s Anatomy, Friday Night Lights, One Tree Hill, 90210, Life Unexpected, Gossip Girl, and there are many more. You can find a complete, up-to-date list at TuneFind.com.
As you watch these shows, notice how the songs underscore, reinforce, or deepen the viewer’s experience of the characters or situation. These are often strong songs that can stand alone as songs, expressing the artist’s creativity and message, yet they offer the film and TV industry what it needs. This is the sweet spot where you want to be. You’ve got good songs; now make them good film and television songs!
TRY IT NOW!
Start studying the market by listening for songs in TV commercials, films, and prime time TV drama series. Could you write a song like that? Download a TV episode with a song in it – iTunes offers episodes of most popular TV series. Choose a scene and watch it a few times, then write a song of your own that coul enhance the mood, atmosphere, or energy.
Article used with permission. Copyright 2011 Robin Frederick http://www.RobinFrederick.com
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This article is based on the book “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” available at Amazon.com