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Writing for Production Music Libraries


Writing royalty free background music that will be used for video productions, adverts or websites is very different from writing commercial music. It is important to realise that this is music designed to complement other elements, such as voiceover and visuals. Often too many composers get stuck in the commercial mindset, writing music that they think should be listened to and appreciated in its own right - this is a mistake. Your music is never the focus of a client's project - it is there to enhance the other elements, not the other way round. You should bear this in mind when putting together your arrangements.

Producing music with lead vocals, however brilliant they may be, is not generally desirable. This will vastly limit the potential number of situations in which your music can be used. Anything with a voiceover (90% of productions) will clash with it, and any country with a different language to yours will think twice about using it for fear of alienating their target audience. If you must use vocals, either use very short samples or make sure your vocals are not actually words (e.g. "Oooh, Aaaaah").

Another area where composers can let themselves down is in the structure of their arrangements. Traditionally, most commercial western music follows a strict verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure, sometimes extended intros and lead-outs are used as well. In production music, this is not suitable at all. Most situations where your music will be used consist of a very short time-frame (typically 60 seconds or less), leaving very little room for a piece of music to evolve. Generally speaking, production music is about getting straight to the point and delivering a feel or a vibe straight away. This is not to say your productions should just be static loops with no dynamics at all, it's just that they need to be tightly focused and deliver from the word go, without wasting any time.

Further to the above, durational edits of all your arrangements should be supplied as standard. What happens if a potential client loves your track and wants to use it in their 30-second advert, but your track is 2 and a half minutes long? Either they or the library they licensed it from would have to try and edit it down in order to fit. Most small video production companies don't have the expertise, and if the library has to do extra work to your track in order to license it, you can guarantee they will be taking a bigger cut. In either case, a version edited down from a full stereo mix will have the same organic flow as a 30-second version that you, the composer, have written especially. Most often though, a client will just go with another track that has the edit they need. When you submit your work to a library, you should ideally include a full length version, a 60-second version, a 30-second version and several loops and stings. This will give your music the best chance of being used in the widest variety of situations.

Once you have recorded and mixed your music, it will most likely need to be mastered. Mastering is what gives your music that professional sheen and polish that can make all the difference to a client. Mastering is a complex process, best carried out by professionals, although advances in software plug-ins have put the tools into the hands of anyone with a computer and a relatively modest budget. Our advice would be to have your music mastered professionally by a dedicated mastering house, but if that is outside of your budget and want to have a go yourself please see our article on mastering.

To submit your music for review to become a composer with our library, please click here.

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