Songwriting for Film and TV

Author: 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

Brad Hatfield

Author & Instructor

Brad Hatfield is an Emmy Award-winning composer and one of Boston's most prolific and popular musicians. He was nominated and won an Emmy in 2006 and received a Primetime Emmy nomination in 2010. His musical compositions have been heard on movies such as Borat, Analyze This, The Break Up, and Iron Man 2, as well as the TV series The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, ER, CSI, Saturday Night Live, Friends, The Young and The Restless, and dozens more. Hatfield is currently the co-composer for the FX Television series Rescue Me, starring Denis Leary. You can also hear him playing solo piano for the opening scene and end credits of Clint Eastwood's film, Mystic River.

Hatfield currently teaches Music Supervision, Songwriting, and Music Industry courses at Northeastern University and Songwriting at Berklee College of Music.

For more information, visit:


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 application). 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:

Required Textbooks

None required

Software Requirements

  • QuickTime Pro (This enhanced version of the regular QuickTime player can be purchased through the Apple Web site for $29.99)
  • A digital audio workstation (DAW). Viable programs include Digital Performer, SONAR, Logic Pro, Cubase, or Pro Tools (Pro Tools LE + DV Toolkit 2, Pro Tools TDM/HD, or Pro Tools M-Powered). Students should possess an intermediate sequencing skill level with these programs

Mac Users

  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Windows Users

  • Windows 7 or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Hardware Requirements

  • MIDI keyboard/interface (minimum 25 keys)
  • USB audio interface recommended for low-latency performance
  • 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • 4 GB hard drive space
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Webcam
  • Internet connection with at least 4 Mbps download speed ( to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)


Got a question? Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at We can also answer basic questions in the comments below. Please note that all comments are public.

  • Level
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    12 weeks
  • 3-Credit Tuition
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