Tips for tracks

Looking for just the right musical soundtrack to add to your show, but unsure of when to use library, composers or licensed music? Realscreen talked to two music house heads to find out what producers should know about giving their shows a musical boost.
May 25, 2011

PARTICIPANTS: Joel Beckerman, founder, Man Made Music; Jason Langley, seni0r vice president, Audio Network U.S.

1: Know what works best where

Both Beckerman and Langley agree that various points of your show can use different types of music supplied by a music house. If your budget forbids you from scoring entirely with original music, pick your spots.

“With dialogue sequences and themes, often those are the places where original music can make a huge difference,” says Beckerman. “The third thing would be the ‘franchise’ moments – in reality shows or very strictly formatted programs, those franchise moments that appear in every episode are very good things to own the music on.”

But for programs that span the globe – say, a travelog like Audio Network client Bizarre Foods from Tremendous! Entertainment – making the most out of a big library can be your best move. “The strongest libraries out there now are the ones that have diversity in their genres and repertoire,” says Langley. “When you’re shooting something like Bizarre Foods, you might be in a different country every week. You’re still going to have the highs and the lows of the drama of each episode’s structure and you’ll need music to drive that, but you’ll also need different regional sounds.”

2: Strike up the band…

With the music industry still smarting from its post-Napster freefall, artists, managers and publishers are more interested than ever in finding new avenues and revenue streams for their music. Thus, bands and solo artists – both established and indie – could give your show both a signature theme and a buzz boost.

“You can get a lot of buzz factor when it’s the right fit but you also can get panned terribly when it seems like it’s a pandering use or that it doesn’t fit the story,” says Beckerman, who has brought in hip acts such as The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and John Legend to work on factual shows. “So it’s a tool that needs to be used for good.”

3: …but do it wisely!

Producers should beware of “demo love” – having a sizzle reel cut to a commercial track that will be practically impossible to license (most likely, that Arcade Fire track you’ve cut your tape to will have to go). Beckerman speculates that a fair number of shows are still being sold with unattainable music. But if you want the feeling that a particular track provides for the scene, Langley says there are ways you can attain it.

“We have a number of tools – one of them is a beat calculator which is particularly relevant if you have an existing track that needs to be replaced,” he says. “Often the editors cut against that track so by using a beat calculator you can calculate the beats per minute of the existing track and then search the library for tracks that have the same count. You can search within a genre for beats per minute which means you’ll get tracks that are a really close match in terms of the existing edit. The second way is [by using] an acronym – MISS – mood, instrumentation, style and speed. With those four different variables you can get quite close to what you want.”

4. Use your imagination

Beckerman and Langley say that using a mix and match approach – combining composed, commercial and library music where applicable – pairs versatility with cost-effectiveness. But in today’s world, where bedroom composers can be found by the click of a mouse, there are myriad sources one can tap into. All the more reason to make music a priority early, says Langley. “It’s a consistent challenge to get input as early as possible from the team because they will tend to leave the library music needs towards the post-production point where they’ll need the music ‘right now,’” he says.

Beckerman advises producers to “take a little bit of time in pre-production to choose the right process – whether it’s a composer or combining that with the perfect library for the show, or reaching out to small independent labels and publishers or managers. Sometimes it can even be finding a really great local bar band. It’s about telling the story and having the music work hard for you.”

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.