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How to... land bespoke compositions for sync

We spoke to Robin Buckley, Senior Creative at Ninja Tune, to learn how you can secure those coveted commissions and get your foot in the door of the world of bespoke composition.

Liam Konemann
  • By Liam Konemann
  • 16 Mar 2023
  • min read

Bespoke sync compositions are some of the most mysterious and coveted gigs in music. It’s a highly competitive area, and one that can be hugely rewarding once you get your foot in the door.

So, how do you get your foot in the door? Robin Buckley, Senior Creative at Ninja Tune, gave us his top tips for securing those coveted sync commissions and making sure your work stands out from the crowd.

Understand the brief 

While it might sound obvious it's very important to clearly understand the brief. If there are hit points where the music needs to change or accent what you are seeing, then to do your very best to hit these. It's no good submitting an absolutely killer track, even if it's in the style the client is looking for, if it's not really working to picture. 

For ad briefs you’ll more often than not be pitching against a few other composers and if their track is syncing better to picture than yours, then yours is more likely to be discounted early on. Jumping on a call with the client at briefing stage is always a good idea to fully understand what is being asked of you as things can easily get lost in an email.

Get your demo sounding as close to finished as possible

The word ‘demo’ is a bit misleading when it comes to working on bespoke composition pitches. It implies that you can submit something that sounds unfinished. However, in my experience if the ‘demo’ doesn’t sound like a finished track then a lot of clients will discount it straight away. This means giving the demo a proper mix down and some processing on the master to bring the track up to a production level similar to that of a commercial release.

Be willing to compromise

Rounds of revisions and amendments are all part of working to a brief. Sometimes what a client is asking for might not work ‘musically’, but when working to picture it’s all about finding work arounds and ways to make the track work, which an artist would not normally do when creating a piece of music. Changes in the middle of a bar, tempo changes half way through the track and so on are all pretty common, and being open to these sorts of things and not being precious about your track will all help massively. Saying that, you are the composer and this is your field of expertise so don’t be afraid to politely push back on certain things where you feel you know it's not going to work or sound right. 

Try to set out a fee structure before you start work

This isn’t always possible but when it is, it helps to make sure the composer is not working on endless revisions for nothing if the client ends up going with something else. Including a couple of rounds of amends within the initial demo fee and then agreeing to a certain fee for rounds of amends after this can also help the client to be more specific and careful with their feedback. 

Trying things out and seeing what works is part and parcel of working on bespoke briefs, but agreeing a fee structure for amends can help make sure the composer is fairly compensated in the long run.

Steer clear of sound-alike briefs

This is something we stay clear of: briefs with one reference track the client keeps trying to move you closer to are a bit of a red flag. Often, the client likes a track but its unaffordable, so they may have approached the original rights holders already. From a moral and creative standpoint, we don’t think ripping off another artist’s work is ever the way to go. If you do receive a brief with one reference track, sending back a couple of other tracks in the same sort of style that you think could be good references can help to avoid this. 

Remember the value of building good relationships

Lots of artists want to get into film or TV scoring, but it’s often a tough nut to crack with production companies unwilling to take a punt on someone who’s hasn’t worked on scores in the past. I would always suggest trying to build relationships with directors, going out and doing meetings and working on shorts for little to no money to build a portfolio, so that when a bigger opportunity comes along you have some experience to show. Once you get a couple of bigger projects under your belt, working on further scores becomes a lot easier as you will have built those relationships with directors, producers and editors, and they are more likely to want to work with you again on their next project.