Songwriting for Film and TV
Authored by Brad Hatfield
Course Code: OSONG-380
The field of songwriting for film and television has grown exponentially over the past few years, providing a promotional launching pad (as well as a potentially lucrative income stream) for artist and songwriter careers. This course will explore the techniques of writing music that will appeal specifically to music supervisors, editors, directors, and producers across any number of different genres.
The course begins with an overview of the historical and current uses of songs in order to succeed as a songwriter for film and television. You'll then explore the elements of a visual-media-friendly song, including appropriate harmonic colors, rhythmic elements, and intros, vamps, and endings. Whether your material is background source music or a featured song, the course will teach you how to successfully write on demand and how to write for music libraries. You'll learn effective techniques for collaborating, both during the writing and production process. Your ability to collaborate with other writers and performers will expand your network and greatly improve your chances for successful placement of your songs in visual media. The course will also explore important business considerations, including negotiation, payment, and rights.
Throughout the course, you will write several short songs—each of which provide an opportunity to master specific techniques needed to succeed as a songwriter for visual media. You will also write and produce a full-length song for a featured use in a movie scene. You will have several opportunities to improve your songs through collaboration with your classmates and guided feedback from your instructor. The goal of the course is to give you the knowledge and tools you need to successfully place your songs in a hit movie or a popular television series. You'll start thinking more like a director and gain the skills to write songs that will enhance the overall production.
By the end of this course, you will be able to:
- Write or modify their songs to make them "media-friendly"
- Collaborate effectively with other writers and musicians
- Find opportunities for your music to be placed into visual media
- Exchange audio files for flawless collaborations
- Ask the right questions and listen effectively, when speaking to production staff regarding their needs for songs
- Negotiate effectively when entering into agreements with publishers and producers
- Understand the details needed for cue sheets to enable writer and publisher royalty income
- Understand key components in agreements between songwriters and third-party publishers specializing in song placement
- Write a song to work in sync with on-screen action (dancing)
- Write and orchestrate songs so the song effectively communicates time, location, and dramatic tone
Lesson 1: Historical and Current Use of Songs in Visual Media
- History of Songwriting for Films
- History of Songwriting for Television
- The Shift of Underscore to Songs
- History of Songwriting for Animated Film and Video
- Media Path of Song in Film/TV/Video Games
- Simple is Effective
- Assignment 1: Write a Short Song for a clip from Grey's Anatomy
Lesson 2: Songwriting "On Demand"
- Discipline of Writing on Assignment
- The Song Has to Have Bassoon and a Reggae Beat!
- "Temp Love"
- Remakes, Sound-Alikes, and Copyrights
- Assignment 2: Write a 2-minute Custom Song for a Scene
Lesson 3: Writing a Visual Media Friendly Song
- Is the Melody Distracting?
- Harmonic Colors
- Rhythmic Elements
- Intros, Vamps, and Endings
- Assignment 3: Revise Song in a Visual Media Friendly Format
Lesson 4: Writing for Music Libraries, Part 1
- Library Music, What Is It?
- What Do Music Libraries Want from Their Writers?
- Tell Me What You Are?
- How Do I Stack Up!
- Assignment 4: Research Music Libraries
Lesson 5: Writing for Music Libraries, Part 2
- How Much Is My Time Worth?
- What Year and Place Was the Song From?
- Alternate Mixes and Edits
- Accentuate the Positive
- Assignment 5: Write a Short Song in Your Chosen "Generic" Style
Lesson 6: Background Source Music Not Sync'd to Picture
- What Is Source Music?
- Why Can't I Hear My Song?
- "Fixed in the Mix"
- Special FX on Your Source Music Song
- Make Your Song "Editor-Friendly"
- Your "Best Bets" for Background Source
- Assignment 6: Write a Short Song for a Background Source Music Scene
Lesson 7: Music Front and Center on the Dance Floor
- How Do I Know When the Music Should Start and End?
- Fixed Click or Variable Click?
- Visual Continuity of Instruments and Sound
- Structure of the Song Based on the Scene
- Assignment 7: Determine a Suitable Pulse
Lesson 8: Collaboration, Part 1
- Why Collaborate?
- Strictly Business?
- Collaboration "Tools of the Trade"
- Staying on the Same Page
- Assignment 8: Collaborate with Another Student
Lesson 9: Collaboration within the Production Phase
- Find the Finishing Touch
- Manipulate the Data!
- I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing
- Contributions Deserving of Wider Recognition
- Assignment 9: Collaborate with Another Student
Lesson 10: Featured Songs
- TV Theme Songs (Sitcoms/Talk Shows/Cartoons/Drama Series)
- The Montage
- Film Feature
- End Credits
- Assignment 10: Featured Song (Final Project Work)
Lesson 11: How Do I Get Paid for My Songs?
- Should I Give Up My Rights?
- Research the Music Library Company
- The New Publishing Model
- Paperwork Priorities
- Negotiating Tips
- Assignment 11: Final Project Work
Lesson 12: Final Projects and into the "Reel" World
- Mixing and Mastering Tips for Film/TV
- Joining the Workforce of Successful Songwriters for Visual Media
- Proofing your Song
- Assignment 12: Final Project
Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements
You should have the following musical and technical skills:
- Ability to read and create music
- Intermediate experience with MIDI sequencing and digital audio software
- Ability to import and export QuickTime video with the song's audio added to the movie
- Ability to record multiple tracks and ability to create MP3 files of the final mix
- Ability to create an offset start point in your digital audio workstation (DAW). This will be used to adjust the start time of the QT video scene
Completion of the following Berklee Online courses, or an equivalent skill set, is strongly recommended:
- Music Theory 101
- Getting Inside Harmony 1
- Songwriting: Writing Hit Songs
- Arranging 1
- Music Production 101
- Recording and Producing in the Home Studio
- None required
- A program that can combine the audio you furnish with the supplied QuickTime files (several DAWs can also do this).
- A DAW (Pro Tools, Logic Pro X, Digital Performer, Cubase, etc.). Students should possess an intermediate sequencing skill level with these programs
- MIDI keyboard
- Audio interface recommended
After enrolling, please check the Getting Started section of your course for potential deals on required materials. Our Student Deals page also features several discounts you can take advantage of as a current student. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions.
General Course Requirements
Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in live chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course.
- Latest version of Google Chrome
- Zoom meeting software (available in the course when joining your first chat)
- Speakers or headphones
- External or internal Microphone
- Broadband Internet connection
Author & Instructor
Brad Hatfield is a Boston-based Emmy award-winning composer, keyboardist, arranger, orchestrator, and award-winning educator. Writing and producing songs in a variety of genres, Brad's works have been heard internationally through repeated placements in film (Borat, Iron Man 2, Analyze This, The Break Up), and TV shows/promos (Friends, CSI, NCIS, Saturday Night Live, American Horror Story, The Sopranos, GLEE, The Good Wife), just to name a few. Brad served as co-composer for the FX series Rescue Me, and is currently composing for the CBS daytime drama The Young and the Restless, where he received Emmy nominations in 2015 and 2016.
As a keyboardist, Brad has performed and recorded regularly with the Grammy nominated Boston Pops since 1990 under John Williams and Keith Lockhart. He has accompanied artists including James Taylor, Bono, Martina McBride, Patti Austin, Guster, Audra McDonald, and Kenny Loggins. The Boston Pops has commissioned Brad to orchestrate for a variety of artists including Demi Lovato, Darlene Love, Kristin Chenoweth, and Susan Tedeschi.
Brad has also toured internationally with jazz artists performing at major festivals (North Sea, Montreal, Perugia) and well-known venues (The Blue Note, Birdland, Ronnie Scott's). Brad appears on dozens of recordings ranging from Jazz to Americana, and was the featured piano soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River soundtrack.
Brad received the 2012 UPCEA "Best Online Course" award for his Berklee Online Music Supervision course, and also won the 2014 UPCEA "Excellence in Teaching" award for his work at Berklee Online as a facilitator of his Music Supervision and Songwriting for Film and TV courses. Brad holds a graduate degree in Management from Cambridge College.
When taken for credit, Songwriting for Film and TV can be applied towards these associated programs: