There are many options when it comes to choosing music for a film or commercial. You can use generic tracks from stock music libraries, you can license music from bands, or you can have custom music created by a composer. Each comes with it’s benefits and drawbacks.
Library music is great if you have a lot of content that needs cheap generic backing tracks. A good example would be TV shows on HGTV…think House Hunters or Yard Crashers. These types of shows contain a lot of shorter scenes (i.e. scenes showing different rooms in a house) and don’t have as much dialogue, so they need a lot of short tracks to transition scenes and keep it interesting. There really wouldn’t be a real need to have a composer custom make 20 different 10 second clips in a variety of genres to accompany these episodes. So here, and really only here, library music would be the best fit.
Licensing music from a band can work great, but there are a few main drawbacks. First, this is definitely the most expensive option and is really only feasible for the deepest of pockets. Second, there are many different approvals that are needed which can stall production. Read my article on the different approval needed for more on this. Thirdly, and most overlooked, is the risk you run with being associated with a band or artist. Can you control what the artist may say on SNL, or be arrested for in the future? I think not, and this negative association can really hurt your production’s image.
For most productions, using a composer to create custom music is the best option Here are a few reasons why:
- Custom Fit – This is obvious and it’s power can’t be understated. The ability to have a piece of music seamlessly follow a moving image is extremely powerful, and only a composer can tailor a piece this way. Even if the music needed isn’t a “score” per se, having all the dramatic elements align perfectly is key.
- Distinct Identity – Unique custom music can help further shape the identity of the production and make it stand out. Think the James Bond theme song or the music from the Apple commercials. Music that’s unequivocally tied to the fundamental aspects of the production make the overall customer/viewer experience much more holistic and enjoyable. It provides an unique aspect that not everyone has and you can feel confident that the song they provide you with won’t be used in countless other productions.
- A Seasoned Ear – A quality composer will have developed an ear for what will work for certain scenes, even if you, the producer, don’t have any idea. They also have the ability to take your non-musical descriptions of what the music should sound like and translate that into music for your production. If you go to a music library, there most likely won’t be someone to guide you to the perfect track. You will essentially be trying to type in the right keywords into a search engine to wade through countless songs that don’t quite work.
- One Stop Clearance – The ability for a single individual to provide complete clearance of a song is very rare. Typically, the composition, the sound recording, and the publishing must all be cleared, with approvals coming from the author, the publisher(s), and the record company. A composer can provide all at once, saving you a lot of time and money in the process.
- Ability to Re-Edit – Composers for media not only own all the necessary gear to produce and re-arrange tracks, they have the technical expertise to re-mix a piece. If you use a song from a recording artist or music library, chances are that the final recording is what you get and they won’t be able to remix it to your needs. If you license a track from a composer, they will be able to do things like: remove a guitar solo that interferes with the voice over, or remove the drums and bass to better fit the mood of the piece.
Even if you think you can’t afford a composer or don’t have the time, you’d be surprised as to what they can accomplish within your budget. I once scored an entire short film on a Sunday afternoon and provided the final masters the same day. You owe it to your production to explore working with a composer.