*Disclaimer: I am the Senior Producer for the production music library VideoHelper Inc. This article is not a pitch for VideoHelper, nor is it endorsed by VideoHelper. This is merely a working man sharing his experiences with writing music professionally for the last 17 years. For those of you that already know me, I apologize in advance.
“Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” – Aristotle
OK, so you want to write music for a production music library? In many ways it resembles other jobs you’ve had. It has its ups and downs just like every other thing in your life. Some days you’ll love it and some days you’ll hate it. On other days you’ll hate it and it will hate you back.
Hopefully I can provide solid advice for both beginners and veterans in this article. I apologize in advance for how blunt I am.
This industry is a lot bigger than most of you realize and a lot smaller than some of us would like to admit. It requires a hell of a lot of talent, a shitload of hard work and a ton of luck. I think I can provide some insight for both of these types of writers. For those of you just getting started, I can provide some real tips to get you going and for those of you already working I can offer some realistic, and most likely cynical, advice to keep you working.
Production Music now is not what it was back in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. Most writers treat it as some sort of backup plan, as if it is a place to unload the tracks you don’t care about or the tracks that were rejected somewhere else.
That’s a big mistake. Get over yourself. This job is not a fallback position or a safety valve for when your album doesn’t get picked up. If you approach library work with the mentality that it is somehow lesser than your “real music”, I suggest you prepare yourself for a career at Guitar Center.
First and foremost, don’t ever front with your email submissions to a library. Don’t send an email saying things that are absolutely ridiculous. If your email says, “GRAMMY Winner” or “Emmy Winner” or “GRAMMY Emmy” than you are either lying or sending your email to the wrong person.
If you have a GRAMMY for producing the last Drake album then I’ll send you my fuckin’ tracks and ask you for a job, OK? We get it. You’re good at music. No shit. We’re all good at music. You went to Berklee? So did I and so did the guy in the studio next to me. There is an extraordinary amount of talent in the industry of library writing and it’s not made up of the “leftovers” that didn’t make it writing for big albums.
Do You Know What A Production Music Library Is?
At the top of the industry it is a group of immensely talented musicians with the ability to produce many different genres at a very high level every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Every track must be your best track. You can bet your ass that every track you put out will be competing with a few hundred thousand other tracks that are just as good.
There still seems to be a lot of confusion with musicians when it comes to library writing. Many of the email submissions I receive are shotguns with very few tracks specifically targeted at the library I work for. Do your homework before you send a playlist to a library.
There are a lot of musicians that have worked on a project, let’s say it’s a film score, and they feel the need to submit the entire 90-minute score as a playlist in their submission. Why? What am I supposed to do with it? It’s a playlist of tracks for a movie I’ve never seen, and the reality is that I’m not going to sit and listen to your 90-minute score to find out how great you are.
Are the tracks in that playlist professional and competent? Yes, they almost always are, but competent mixes and quality composition are merely the prerequisite for getting the attention of a library. Get your playlists together guys. Assemble a teaser with two kick ass minutes of music that showcases what you’re trying to sell. Make it special.
A four-minute drone is not something people will find interesting. We all do four-minute drones from time to time. They’re called “Fridays,” OK? Your submission needs to be interesting and unique. Hit us with the best shit you have from all of the styles you are able to produce. Think like Brian Eno and send tracks that you would never expect us to like.
If you send tracks that sound like everyone else then you will be put in the category of “everyone else.” You’d be surprised how similar all of the playlists we listen to actually are. Ignore the trends and showcase your abilities. We all have Action Strings fellas. Stop sending Action Strings. Just fuckin’ stop it and stay stop it.
“Look in the mirror, that’s your competition.” – Every Internet meme on competition.
Every single writer that submits music to a library has a unique voice by default, but that doesn’t mean they actually submit their unique voice to libraries. I have been listening to submissions and producing writers at VideoHelper since 2008 and I can tell this; all writers send their worst stuff:
- The Hans Batman minor second ripoff
- The slow-evolving drone that I ignore while checking my other emails
- The less-than-spectacular rock cut with guitars you shouldn’t be playing, and
- The obligatory Latin/Jazz thing that you had some peripheral involvement in.
Stop sending what you “think will impress us” and start sending tracks that play to your strengths. Send the tracks that you actually like. Don’t send tracks that you did “just because you can.” Send something that you really believe in.
This industry is filled with talented writers and producers. Figure out what type of writer you are. Are you the laser-focus style guy that only does one style exceptionally well? Are you the “god status swiss army knife” writer with the ability to produce every musical style at the drop of a hat?
I find that many of the emails I receive are from people that don’t truly understand the competition they are facing and, more importantly, don’t understand their own writing enough to compete with that competition.
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you put water in a cup it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle. Become like water my friend.” – Bruce Lee
A versatile professional musician adapts at all times without breaking a sweat. They have an extensive musical vocabulary that allows them to produce all styles at all times.Their production skills are top notch (because they have to be). They are machines when it comes to writing for a deadline and so must you be. Being capable of writing a great cut is useless unless you can produce it properly and mix it perfectly.
Be like water. Constantly learn new techniques. If you have been using the same folder of kick drums for the last five years than you have been slowly backing yourself into a corner, the corner of a circle. If you get comfortable with your writing setup, change it. If you get comfortable with your samples or DAW, switch it up. Never settle on the same sounds or techniques for too long. That just means you’re settling for what you are already capable of doing instead of pushing yourself further.