Make It Happen 14 - Making music for brands

Here's some more tips for being as prepared as possible when working with brands.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 5 Dec 2011
  • min read
Here's some more tips for being as prepared as possible when working with brands.  This is taken from from the forthcoming book on music licensing by Eric Sheinkop, President and Founder of Music Dealers.

Non-specific songwriting

Don’t let anyone ever suggest limiting your creative freedom or muffling your artistic expression when writing a song.  However, you should be open to the fact that there are ways to word songs that can make them fit into broader situations and opportunities.

Let’s not focus on style.  All brands, TV shows, movies, video games, websites, etc. have different emotions, vibes and convey different personalities.  They all need different genres of music.  Even in one TV show, they might need 10 different styles of music to help enforce different characters in the program.  It's the vocabulary in songs that's important and not the subject matter.

I’m not against curse words in the slightest and many times, especially in a movie, they’re what make the song work well in a scene.  But do yourself a favour: if you’re going to use curse words in your song, just bounce down a version of your song with them bleeped out and/or edit a clean version as well.  There are more opportunities that need clean versions then require swear words.

The next thing to focus on is a matter of personality.  You don’t need to be so specific! This might go against everything your poetry teacher taught you, but you really don’t need to explain everything in so much detail.  Leave a little something to the imagination.  People want to relate to your songs so allow them the ability to interpret the meaning.

Here's an example.  Writing a song about your cat is fine.  There are plenty of scenes that focus on cats in TV shows and movies and even commercials i.e. cat food, litter, scratch resistant surfaces, etc. So in any of these cases a non-specific, general song about cats would be great.  Any style will do. Think about a song that can be used in a TV scene about a guy who wants to move in with his girl but her cat doesn’t like him, or an evil cat that’s possessed or a widowed woman who’s only kept company by her 30 cats.  All these will call for songs about cats.

A cat song that will not work in any of these situations is a song you write about your neighbours', sisters' friends' cat named Leon who knocks over the garbage at night.  That song will only find a home in sync when a scene actually has a cat knocking over the garbage at night and even then, the fact that you named the cat and identified whom he belonged to can only make the song not fit and a reason for the producers, supervisors or directors not pick your song over a more generic song about cats.

One thing worth remembering is that because there are so many songs in existence, clients do not have to settle for something close.  They have the ability to be choosy and take their time to find exactly what they want and the song that fits absolutely perfect.

Again, this is not to say that you should limit your creativity or restrict the vocabulary in your song writing but every song doesn’t have to be epic, detailed words of poetry.  Some songs just need to be fun and be enjoyed by the masses.

Mix your songs

Imagine it’s 11pm and you have the munchies and really need to get your hands on a chocolate peanut butter cookie.  You walk into a late night bakery; mouth watering and you know just what you’re looking for.  There they are, almost.  There’s chocolate chip peanut butter cookies in little balls of dough but not yet baked.

It’s so close to what you’re looking for but you can’t eat it right then and there.  You’d need to take it home and bake it, or come back in 45min when the baker has had a chance to bake it.  Close, but you’d most likely end up just taking the freshly baked chocolate chip cookie that just came out the oven rather then spending time and effort working with the exact cookie you wanted but that’s still in need of labor. Or depending on your city's access to late night bakers, you’d just go down the street to the next store.

99% of the time, a client isn’t going to take your song and say, “This is almost perfect.  We just need to lower the guitar, mix the drums better and bring up the vocals.”  They’re just going to say, “close” and move on to the next song in the pile.

Be just to your songs; mix them to the best of your ability.  If you don't know your way around a home studio then find someone out there who mixes.  There are countless aspiring studio engineers who will take on your project if your music is something they believe in and want to be attached to.  There are engineering university programs in most major cities in the world.  Find the nearby school and hunt down some students.

This is a critical step that many emerging musicians miss.  Your music can sound as good as anything on the radio and for your songs to compete with famous songs for syncs, yours must sounds as good in all aspects.  It’s easy to do.  Any semi-pro computer equipment can do it these days.  If you’re not capable, find someone who is. They’re out there and want to get involved.

Provide stems and alternate versions

The other key element in the studio process is to make sure you bounce down different elements in your song.  Every time you bounce down your final mix, take the extra 10 minutes to bounce down an instrumental version as well as an a capella at the least.

The saddest thing we deal with on a weekly basis is when a song is chosen by one of our clients but they need the instrumental and or the a capella and the artist can’t provide them in a timely manner.  Artists tell us they have to talk to the engineer, or can’t get into the studio for a week, or don’t know where the original session is and so on.  The client has to move on and pick a different song from a different artist.  It’s heartbreaking.  This could have been the artists’ big chance but they just weren’t prepared.

The reasons the clients need these track elements makes a lot of sense.  Think of a commercial, TV promo or TV show.  You might hear a song chorus begin, then the vocals get very low or disappear as the voice over begins.  Imagine a show about to start on TV, music starts playing, you’re hearing vocals in the song, then you hear “Coming up next on ….”  The song still is playing but they needed the instrumental and a capella to manipulate the structure to fit the programming.  The same holds true with commercials and video games.

Any time when voiceovers come in, they’re going to need to alter the song in the background, so be prepared to deliver. Sometimes clients will request full on stems from your sessions.  i.e. bass tracks separate from the drums, separate from guitar, etc. but this is far less common and the clients are much more patient in these requests as they understand it’s not the norm.  Don’t wait for the request from the client.  Anything you can do to be ready will only help you secure the deal when the time comes.

Eric Sheinkop is President and Founder of, a full-service global music licensing website that connects independent artists and music producers to big name clients and brands.