Songwriting Sync Success: The Art and Craft of Licensing, Film/TV, Advertising, and Production Music
Authored by Bleu McAuley
Course Code: OSONG-664
Level 6 (Proof of a Bachelor's Degree Required)
When many people think of music being “synced,” they may think of the moment in their favorite film or television show when all the dialogue stops and the perfect song takes over, eliciting tears or massive smiles depending on the scene. Or maybe one of the iconic Apple commercials comes to mind—where the freshest beats perfectly match the excitement of the latest tech. As musicians, we may particularly notice these “big syncs” when they are not by “big artists,” and we may wonder how they came to be, and if it could happen to us. You may even be aware that some of those songs are custom-written specifically for that usage, but not know exactly how that happens. Those are all things that we will absolutely cover in this course. But in addition to those “known unknowns,” there are likely some “unknown unknowns” in the larger field of “sync.” There are a vast number of ways for a songwriter to be successful within the greater media industry. It is likely that some of those jobs are a complete mystery, if you are aware of their existence at all. We will pull back the curtain to demystify these arenas and teach how those songs are chosen, how they are written, and why.
The larger field of sync includes many creative avenues.
- writing a song “to brief” for a specific film/TV or ad-campaign
- working with writers, directors, and producers to make “work-for-hire” music on scripted films and music-oriented shows
- writing artist-oriented songs directed towards them being synced in film/TV/advertising market
- writing songs specifically for the lucrative world of advertisements
- making songs and albums for production music libraries, which can run the gamut of styles from throwback to cutting edge (including underground and hybrid-genres no major label would touch)
- interfacing with the expanding new-model sync houses that are essentially acting as indie labels/publishers with a focus on successful music placement
Once you have successfully completed this course, you will be able to identify the different types of custom songwriting and their uses in order to expand your paid music opportunities and create the right kinds of tracks for the right situations.
By the end of the course, you will be able to:
- successfully analyze a brief, as well as write and record a song that’s appropriate to pitch for it
- write an appropriate song “to script” for a TV show or film
- find a common language to help realize a creative executive’s vision (who is not likely to be a musician themselves!)
- interpret notes from an executive or team to create revisions that satisfy both the client as well as your own quality and creative concerns
- write a song to picture
- write songs that emphasize an instrumental or wordless hook
- analyze references, genres, and executive-producer notes to write and produce songs for production music libraries
- identify the various revenue streams for the different types of custom music to maximize your earning potential based on your skills and interests
- identify the numerous genres and hybrid-genres associated with custom music in order to write/record music that is more likely to get synched
- interpret copyright law and precedent in order to avoid infringement, especially for projects that are referencing temp music or asking for “sound-alikes”
- make appropriate mixes, cutdowns, and edits based on the needs of the particular client or usage
- assess a basic deal-memo for the various kinds of custom music, decipher whether it is appropriate for that circumstance, and negotiate more favorable terms if necessary
- build a demo reel or catalog that will showcase your creativity in this field
Lesson 1: Custom Songwriting Overview
- The Power of Analysis
- The 'Villainess Song' Brief
- Music for Advertising Overview
- More on Ad Briefs
- Production Music Libraries
- Artist-Oriented Sync
- Writing to Script
- Approaches to Writing Diegetic vs. Non-diegetic Songs
- Assignment 1: Sketch Out Your Lyrics to Script
Lesson 2: Production for Custom Songwriting
- Custom Music Production Philosophies
- Keeping It Simple
- Production Speed
- Tip 1: Save and Repeat
- Tip 2: Use Loops; I Do!
- Tip 3: Multi-Stage Compression
- Tip 4: Set Up Your Space
- Tip 5: Collaborate
- Mixing for Custom Songs
- Vocal Clarity Tips
- High-Pass Everything (and Low-Pass Some Things)
- Comparative Listening
- Bus Mastering
- Template Organization and Maintenance
- Assignment 2: Your Music Production Template
Lesson 3: Music for Advertising
- Interpreting a Brief
- Example Advertising Brief No. 1
- Conflicting Information in Briefs
- Example Advertising Brief No. 2
- Song Replacement
- The Needs of Advertisers
- Example Advertising Brief No. 3
- Example Advertising Briefs with Lyrics
- Specificity of Lyrics in Advertising Briefs
- How to Write Lyrics for Ads
- The Needs of Editors
- Assignment 3: Compete to Win a Brief!
Lesson 4: Copyright, References, Temp Music
- The Basics of Copyright Law
- Real-World Examples of Copyright Infringement Cases
- Royalty-Free Samples
- Analyzing Musical References
- Song Replacement Example
- The Gray Area
- Assignment 4: Song Replacement
Lesson 5: Production Music
- Production Music Overview
- Terminology and General Rules
- Wordless Vocals and Instrumental Hooks
- Instrumental Hooks
- PM Music with Lyrics and Full Vocals
- PM Themes, Trends, and Genres
- Emotion Genres
- Production Music Business, Expectations, and Pitfalls
- Assignment 5: Production Music Album
Lesson 6: Technical Aspects (Mixes, Cutdowns, Delivery)
- Alternate Mixes
- General Guidelines for Cutdowns
- Delivering Music (Also Known as Music Deliveries!)
- Dos and Don’ts
- Assignment 6: Song Cutdowns
Lesson 7: Writing to Script
- Assignment Preview
- Conveying Emotion in Music
- Music: Chords, Melody, Mode, Harmonic and Melodic Rhythms, etc.
- Types of Character Songs
- ‘New Songs’
- Writing Songs in the Context of a Narrative
- Assignment 7: Write a Song to Script
Lesson 8: Writing To Picture
- Interview with Danny Dunlap
- Tempo Mapping
- Tempo Map and Song Form
- Working with Preexisting Sound—Dialogue, Voice Over, Sound Effects, etc.
- Temp Music
- Music Integration with Preexisting Sound
- Assignment 8: Write a Song to Picture
Lesson 9: Working With Clients
- Assignment 9 Pair Up
- More Thoughts from Danny Dunlap
- Art vs. Commerce
- Appreciate the Little Things
- Talking Music with Non-Musicians
- Assignment 9: Role Play both Executive and Musician
Lesson 10: Artist Oriented Sync
- Approaching The Market
- Hedging Your Sync Bets
- Writing Backwards To Move Your Songs Forward
- Writing Backwards Next Steps
- Quantity vs. Quality and Writing A “Great Song”
- Assignment 10: Start Some Sync Songs!
Lesson 11: Artist Oriented Sync - Exploring Styles and Genres
- Specific Lyrical Content
- Non-specific Lyrical Content or Vocals
- Editor Friendly Arrangements
- Pentatonic Riff Songs
- Hip-Hop Hybrids
- Trailerized Songs
- Singer Songwriter Ballads
- Thoughts On Some Other Styles
- Assignment 11: Write and Produce an Artist Oriented Sync Song
Lesson 12: Exploring the Business of Custom Music
- How Can You Break into Custom-Songwriting?
- Revenue Streams
- Upfront versus Backend, Work-for-hire, etc.
- Deal Memos and Contracts
- Final Reflection
Proof of a Bachelor's Degree
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Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements
Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Songwriting Tools and Techniques, and Music Demo Production for Songwriters or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.
In addition, students should have:
- A comprehensive understanding of song form and structure
- Knowledge of the common terminology used by professional songwriters and producers
- The ability to create fully realized productions, completely by yourself at home, using a professional DAW of your choice
- This includes:
- Familiarity with the full pro version of your DAW and not the consumer level version
- Must be familiar with the use of loops/samples
- Must be able to use virtual instruments/MIDI
- Must be able to record live vocals/instruments through a microphone, including but not limited to the recording of vocals, guitars, piano, percussion, etc.
- Students must be able to produce all of these skills completely by themselves, not just be able to advise or consult.
- A minimum of 12 FULL song productions created entirely by yourself
- No textbooks required
Media and Subscriptions
- Spotify subscription
- Subscription to a video streaming service, such as Netflix, Hulu, etc.
- Subscription to electronic music sound library, such as Splice, Arcade, etc.
- Students are required to produce multitrack recordings of their songs, including vocals and instrumental accompaniment (live instruments and/or MIDI sequencing).
- Full-featured DAW, such as Pro Tools (Studio or Ultimate), Logic Pro, Cubase Pro, Ableton Live (Suite or Standard), Reaper, Reason, or FL Studio (Producer or Signature). Note that GarageBand is not acceptable.
- Word processing software, such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs (free), Apple Pages, Apache Open Office (free), etc.
- Software to record computer screen and audio, such as OBS
- Audio interface
- XLR microphone (large diaphragm condenser recommended) and cable
- One of the following studio monitoring options (both recommended):
- Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as necessary cables
- Over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, Sony MDR-7506, Philips SHP9500, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, etc.
- Recommended: MIDI keyboard controller
- Pop filter
- Microphone stand
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
- Speakers or headphones
- External or internal microphone
- Broadband Internet connection
Bleu is an award-winning songwriter, producer, composer, and recording artist. He has had songs released with Gold- and Platinum-selling acts such as Demi Lovato, Big Freedia, the Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez, and K-Pop idols, amongst many other celebrated artists. Once signed to Columbia Records, Bleu has released six studio albums, various cult side projects, and now often works directly with some of the biggest labels, film/TV studios, and show runners in the industry. His music has been featured by networks and brands all over the world including eBay, Swarovski, Bose, and hit shows like Shameless, The Good Place, and Insecure. Bleu wrote and/or produced all the songs for Disney’s Legend of the Neverbeast including a duet with Grammy-nominated KT Tunstall, and he recently signed on to co-score his first HBO docuseries. Bleu has songs coming out with Island Records artist OWENN, the legendary Kate Pierson of the B-52s, indie phenoms Lola Blanc, Gothic Tropic, and Mike Taylor, as well as the release of a new solo record.
Music has been a lifelong journey. Nick graduated from Berklee College of Music where he earned a double major in songwriting and music business with a minor in acoustics and electronics. Nick lives in Los Angeles, California where he writes and produces music full time. He works out of his home studio as well as several other LA studios. Nick has produced songs on Grammy Nominated albums, People's Choice Awards nominated films, won several international songwriting competitions, had Billboard charting songs, composed scores for films, as well as placed music in major motion pictures and national commercials.
When taken for credit, Songwriting Sync Success: The Art and Craft of Licensing, Film/TV, Advertising, and Production Music can be applied towards these associated programs: