Online Master's Degree Course

Songwriting Sync Success: The Art and Craft of Licensing, Film/TV, Advertising, and Production Music

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Authored by Bleu McAuley

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Course Code: OSONG-564

Next Semester
Starts Sept 27

Level 5 - Degree Only

Level 5

What is “custom songwriting?” Well, you can’t have the word customer without custom! And a client or customer is at the heart of the course you are about to embark on. In some cases the client is obvious. It’s the person who hired you or the person you’re pitching to (or the person they’re pitching to), such as an advertising executive, creative agency, film/television director, or music supervisor. In other areas of this field, such as production music “libraries” or sync-houses (which we’ll explore in detail later), there may not necessarily be a specific customer for the song or songs. The goal however is the same, to write music that will primarily be used to support or “sell” another form of media. Even at its highest level—say writing the songs for a Disney animated feature—your primary function is to be in service of the director and the story. This is distinctly different from both “hit songwriting” and in particular “singer/songwriting,” in that someone else’s vision, story, visual, or product must be your primary creative guide. This may be a challenge for some songwriters whose initial drive was to express themselves, but custom songwriting can be an incredibly rewarding way to engage your talents and artistry.

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Custom songwriting includes many other creative avenues aside from just receiving a brief and pitching for a specific show or advertisement. These include:

  • working with writers, directors, and producers to make “work-for-hire” music on scripted films and music-oriented shows
  • writing artist-oriented songs directed at the film/TV sync market
  • writing songs 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
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors Request Info

Syllabus

Lesson 1: Custom Songwriting Overview

  • The Power of Analysis 
  • The ‘Villainess Song’ Brief 
  • Workshop: Analyze The ‘Villainess Song’ Brief 
  • Music for Advertising Overview 
  • More on Ad Briefs 
  • Production Music Libraries 
  • Artist-Oriented Sync 
  • Writing to Script 
  • Workshop: Diegetic vs. Non-diegetic 
  • 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 #1 
  • Conflicting Information in Briefs 
  • Example Advertising Brief #2 
  • Song Replacement 
  • The Needs of Advertisers 
  • Example Advertising Brief #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

  • A Discussion of Copyright Law
  • Recent Case Precedent
  • Analyzing Musical References
  • Analyzing Music Edited to Picture
  • Assignment 4: Write/Produce a ‘Song Replacement’

Lesson 5: Production Music

  • Terminology and General Rules
  • Genres, Themes, and Trends
  • Wordless Hooks
  • Production Music Business, Expectations, and Pitfalls
  • Assignment 5: Write an Individual Song for a Fictitious Production Music Album 

Lesson 6: Technical Aspects (Mixes, Cutdowns, Delivery)

  • Instrumentals, Acapellas, TV
  • Underscore Mixes
  • Stems
  • Edits/Cutdowns
  • Delivery and Mixing
  • Assignment 6: Create Mixes, Stems, and Cutdowns

Lesson 7: Writing to Script

  • Servicing the Story
  • Conveying Emotion through Music
  • Motifs/Themes
  • Collaboration is Everything
  • Assignment 7: Write/Produce a Short Piece

Lesson 8: Writing to Picture

  • Tempo Mapping
  • Analyzing Temp Music
  • Instrumentation/Arrangement
  • Working with Dialogue
  • Assignment 8: Write a Song to the Same Picture of an Advertisement

Lesson 9: Working with Clients

  • Talking Music with Non-Musicians
  • The Client is Always Right (even when they’re not)
  • Art Vs. Commerce
  • Developing Relationships
  • Assignment 9: Address Notes from a Previous Project

Lesson 10: Artist-Oriented Sync

  • Hedging Your Bets
  • Working Backwards to Move Forward
  • Rewriting
  • Quantity vs. Quality, the Pots Theory and Building a Catalog
  • Assignment 10: Lyrical Hooks for Potential Artist Oriented Sync Songs

Lesson 11: Artist-Oriented Sync: Exploring Popular and Lucrative Genres

  • Hip-Hop
  • Hip-Hop Hybrid
  • Pentatonic Riff Rock
  • Indie Pop
  • Dance/Hip-Hop ‘Genre’ Hybrids
  • Contemplative Singer/Songwriter
  • Trailer Music
  • Assignment 11: Write/Produce a Song for Yourself, or for Another Artist

Lesson 12: Exploring the Business of Custom Music

  • How Can You Break into Custom Songwriting
  • Revenue Streams
  • Upfront vs. Backend, Work-for-Hire, etc.
  • Deal Memos and Contracts
  • Final Reflection

Requirements

Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Students should have:

  • 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

Required Textbook(s)

  • None required

Software Requirements

  • Spotify subscription
  • Subscription to a video streaming service such as Netflix, Hulu, or Prime
  • Full-featured DAW such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Cubase Pro, Ableton, Studio One, Reason, FL Studio

Hardware Requirements

  • Audio interface
  • XLR microphone (preferably a large condenser microphone)

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 support@online.berklee.edu 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. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of  Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection

Instructors

Bleu McAuley

Author & Instructor

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.

Questions?

Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at advisors@online.berklee.edu.

We can also answer basic questions in the comments below. Please note that all comments are public.

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