Titling your song may seem like a no brainer, BUT for a Music Supervisor scanning through songs, the title is everything.
In and instant the title will tell the Music Supervisor what the song is about and if it will fit the scene. Titling your songs is important to capture the mood and vibe of the song. That sometimes means that the title is NOT the hook , sometimes it is.
Titles like: Love on the Rocks, Am I Invisible?, Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, I’m Gonna Let You Go Now, Strong Enough, Everybody Smile, Haunted Moon, This is the End, Stuck on You
Instantly give the Music Supervisor an idea of what the song is about and if it will match the scene or commercial.
Titles like: Cue no#1, Yes, Paper, Gold, Piano Tune #7, Together, Glue, are not as good or meaningful. (ok, so those are a bit extreme)
Seems like a no brainer? Maybe, but you can always fine-tune your title to be more meaningful and stand out. Like the title “Together” may stand out more re-titled as “We Belong Together” Glue might be better as “You are the Glue” or “Stuck on You”
For Instance my song “Mama’s Eyes” has been used in a few shows where the mother was getting married or something related to mothers. “Everybody Smile” has been licensed in everything from Web commercials, weddings, B2B corporate videos, to someone’s YouTube video of their kid’s birthday. No doubt the title caught the attention first before they heard the song… “You’re My Sweet Sweet Home” was used in ABC family show where the family was all together happy , eating breakfast. You get the idea.. It’s not rocket science, but just thought I would hammer the point home.
Titles are also a great way to come up with song ideas. An exercise to try is to set a timer for 2 minutes and come up with as many titles as you can.
Come up with titles that are about people, situations and emotions. Flip to a page in a book and see if some ideas are sparked there. Google a word and see what comes up. Put these in a notebook and when you are running low on ideas go to your title list and pick one to start working on. The title may change in the end, but at least it will get you started.
Ok moving on to Ala songs.
Often times you will see music supervisor/publisher listings (i.e., descriptions of what they want) referring to Ala songs aka “In the style of” . Most of the time, the actual song they want by a famous or well-known artist does not fit their budget. So they want songs that give a similar feel to the ala song. They DO NOT want you to rip off the song.. meaning they do not want a sound alike. You can come close to infringing if the song is too close in sound, lyric and style of that particular artist. So you need to study how the song is constructed and use those elements in your song, but put your own unique style to it. This is sometimes a hard thing to learn. A few times a song of mine has been rejected because it was too close to the ala. But it is all a learning experience.
So when you see a listing that mentions and ala song, study those songs and artists. Does the song have a dynamic build? What instruments are used? What effects are in the song? Do the vocals sit back in a bed of reverb or are they up front and dry? What kinds of characteristics are in the vocal? How is the percussion being used? What is the emotion of the song? What is the song structure? What is the melody doing? All of this should help you to incorporate those elements into a song that could replace the actual song /artist/style they are looking for .
In almost everything I read , you must have a broadcast quality song. This is sometimes a confusing thing to understand. It does not have to be the over compressed expensively produced songs you hear on the radio. You can make simple guitar or piano vocal songs in your home studio and it can be broadcast quality. This definition is from Robin Frederick’s book Shortcuts to songwriting for Film and TV… Shortcut 65
“A broadcast quality recording is the result of several things, all working together and working well:
-Instrumental arrangement and performance
-Vocal arrangement and performance
-Recording and mixing quality “
Basically your song has to be as good as other songs used in Film and TV. Go to TuneFind.com and pick some shows and listen to those songs. While they may not be hit songs on the radio, they are good enough in overall style, performance and production to be used in film and TV. Even unplugged versions of songs, that you can do at home, will be fine if they are constructed well, sung well, instrumentally performed well, have universal lyrics a good melody and a basically clean recording. If you are not good at playing or singing, then hire someone who is, and you don’t have to spend a lot of dough to get this done. When I first started this I was spending a lot of money at a studio getting these great productions done. Then I started to collaborate and co-writing with people that had home studios and through these partnerships I was able to get really good sounding songs for less money. And now I am starting to produce my own songs at home with basic piano or guitars with vocals. These songs are getting some traction and I am so excited! Down the road I will talk more about collaborating and networking, getting more bang for your buck, being your own producer etc.
Ok, so if you have read this far, and I hope you have here are your exercises for this week:
10 titles in 2 minutes
set a timer for 2 minutes, come up with as many titles as you can and write them down in a notebook for future ideas
Re-title a song
If you have any songs with vague titles, what title might make them more noticeable by Music Supervisors?
Here something typical you might see in a listing.
Music supervisor needs Female Singer Songwriter songs for a new TV show. Slow to mid tempo songs, ala Gabrielle Alpine, Cat Powers, Priscilla Ahn. Songs about love, heartache, moving on. No sound alikes ! Universal lyrics, broadcast quality songs needed. Basic piano or guitar with vocal songs Ok for this pitch.
Look up those artists and start listening to some of their songs. Write a song similar, but not copycatting the artists
The only way to learn this is to start listening to songs used in Film and TV
Make a playlist on Pandora or other service, like Spotify and just listen for the items I mentioned above about Broadcast Quality.
Instrumental arrangement and performance
-Vocal arrangement and performance
-Recording and mixing quality “
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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