Howdy Folks! Hope you are doing well! As I type this I am listening to Philip Glass- Glassworks album. Someone recommended it because I am working on a haunting piano piece. So I figured I had better listen to something similar! A lot more than just piano in that album. Cool Stuff! Anyway I digress...
This week we will talk a bit about Song Forms and how they work for Film and TV followed by which Themes work best.
If you are currently writing, you know what a song form is: Verse, Chorus, and Bridge etc.
Here is a refresher on the most common song forms:
Verse 1- Chorus
Those are the most common basic forms and work well for hit songs and Film & TV songs.
The lyrics in the verse sections typically contain the basic information and set up the song. The Chorus is a summary of the song's theme and the bridge usually provides a twist or new information.
This section all provide an organization to the song and lets the listener know the song is going somewhere.
In Film & TV they often chop the songs to fit the scene, but we still should be crafting complete songs because the Music Supervisor will critique them as fully complete songs. We need to create the song appropriately to SELL the song. Typically when a song is screened, they want to hear something interesting right away, that captures the attention and has a hook that is memorable. Also each section should be defined in someway. Meaning that each section should have a contrast. Perhaps your verse is a bit lower in energy and melody and then the choruses lifts and soars, followed by a bridge that has some space, and then back into the high-energy chorus. Music supervisors look for this kind of variation so they can use it for certain sections of their scenes. Using a clearly defined structure with contrasting sections is key. Here are some other tips as far as song forms:
Intro- Use a short Intro, music supervisors will often want to get into the song right away and a long intro may cause them to lose interest. Sometimes they only listen for 30 seconds and if it doesn't capture their interest, then into the trash it may go.
Chorus- Get to the chorus within 1 minute. Getting to the chorus as quickly as you can, within a minute is ideas because screening times are often short. I have had live song listening sessions and they only listen a minute and a couple times the song was turned off before the chorus... kind of a bummer. Also if your chorus is short, you may want to do a double chorus after the second verse. Will make it stick in their heads ;)
Bridge- Film and TV likes space in a song, someplace where there are no words, just instrumentation or ooos and aahs. Often times these will be used under a scene where they don't want the dialogue to be interrupted, or maybe where there is a thoughtful moment and they don't want song lyrics interfering either. Having musical space in a song and crafting energy changes gives them edit points so they can cut and paste the songs as needed for their show.
End- Sometimes in Film and TV it is beneficial not to repeat the chorus at the end of the song but use tag lines or part of the chorus repeated with some different vocalizations. Not always... I have been doing this more in my songs, but usually I will come out of the bridge with a break down and then build back into the chorus.
Length: Make sure your song is at least 2 minutes long. 3 minutes seems to be the sweet spot.
There are also other song forms that are worth creating. One of which contains a refrain line at the end of each verse, contains a bridge and does not have a chorus.
I.e. Verse/refrain -Verse/refrain - Bridge - Verse/refrain.
In Robin Frederick's Book "Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV" Shortcut #24 says: "An ear catching chorus can draw the viewer's attention away from a scene, while a song form with subtler changes in dynamics can keep the focus on the dialogue and characters"1 This is not a hard and fast rule, but this song form is a very viable and marketable form.
These aren't hard and fast rules, but guidelines for making your song more marketable for Film& TV
Time to move onto the next topic:
A Theme is:
"a unifying or dominant idea, or motif"2 The theme is not the story, just the overall idea.
The Theme for your song can make a difference in the number of opportunities it will be appropriate for in Film&TV. Take a listen again to TV shows and commercials and see what kinds of Theme's you are hearing. Happy? Sad? Angry? Love? Robin says, "A Song lyric will often echo the theme of a scene"3 You want a theme that will work for a scene.
Here is an exercise that Robin's book provides which I think is very helpful. Take a look at this and try it before looking at the themes list below.
Watch a scene; write a one-sentence line summarizing the events that you saw on the show. 4
Write down your list then:
Look at the list below and see if yours is listed. There are others Themes besides what is in this list so feel free to add them.
Love (The good, bad or ugly)
Life is good/hard
Good vs. Evil
Coming of Age
Fun (i.e. you, me, we are gonna have some fun)
In most cases the happy fun themed song is most usable especially in commercials, but a lot of the shows do have songs with angst, sadness etc. So don't limit yourself. Write songs with a variety of Themes.
Hope this was helpful! As always, please feel free to comment or ask questions!
Have a great rest of the week! - Michelle
1-Robin Frederick- " Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film and TV”, Shortcut 24 page 68, Taxi Music Books, 2010
3,4-Robin Frederick- " Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film and TV” page 121, Taxi Music Books, 2010
Michelle Lockey is a multi-award winning singer-songwriter sharing the knowledge she has learned over the years writing for Film & TV.
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