Inside the mind of a library composer

A few clients have asked me about my process when I write new material for Instrumental Background Music, so I thought I’d give you an insight into the cogs, wheels, nuts and bolts churning away within this little boutique library!

For those of you that don’t know, InstrumentalBGM was set up as a way for a couple of composers and myself to distribute our music and earn a living by working directly with our clients instead of via a third party music library. Since then, I’ve gone solo with the project and been building up the business since the end of 2016 by expanding the catalogue and developing a larger customer base. If you want to know more, you can read a bit more about me and the library here.

How do you come up with new tracks?

Whenever I begin a track, the first thing I do is map out a few fundamentals. You need a blueprint when creating production music, otherwise, you end up writing music for yourself rather than your clients! And there’s no point heading out on a journey without a (Google) map. Here’s how I approach scoring new material:

Think of usage

Will this track have a home? Starting out with how the track will be placed is essential i.e. is it a happy-go-lucky folky track for a YouTube channel about food like those horrendously addictive Tasty videos? Or maybe a soft ambient piece that needs to sit underneath a technology startup promo such as for a blockchain service? By going quite specific, I’ve found I can focus the track on a particular usage and let the right people know about it more easily (as that’s half the battle, finding the right ears to listen to the piece!). Just saying I’ll write a ‘rock track’ means nothing as there are loads of sub-genres within that and people will be looking for specific usage.

Get a good structure

If people are going to place this track to picture, then it needs to have an editable structure and get to the point quickly in many cases. For that reason, I try to create clear beginnings, endings and easy-to-edit sections within my tracks so that tracks can be cut up and rearranged as needed. By having distinct sections that evolve over the course of the track and repetitive parts that are still interesting to listen to (by adding different elements on each repeat), it becomes easier for editors to work with the music and create tension / romantic / uplifting / -insert emotion- within their production.

What length and edits?

Almost all tracks here are 2-3 minutes long which gives filmmakers enough music to keep an emotion going in their film, however, shorter edits are also really useful when lots of different music is being used. While I’m still working through older tracks to bring them up to date, all new tracks have 60s, 30s and loop versions as these are the most common lengths in productions these days. It makes it easy for clients to literally place the track and be done with it in many cases and I’ve been told lots of times that the loop version is really useful in extending sections when necessary. However, interestingly, this is becoming less important as custom length ads appear on places like YouTube and Facebook, yet it’s still important in TV, radio and cinema.

Create a mood, energy and give it arc

Having build ups are useful for editors, so I tend to add them throughout tracks. If the energy needs to be maintained for a while, then the loop version usually covers this and can then be combined with the ending from another track. Much like when I’m thinking about the structure, I try to think about how a video will end (usually on a high note), so tracks tend to build at the end to have that feeling of ‘resolve’.

Avoid strong melody lines

This is a tough one as some people like to have music that leads, but most people are looking for background music to sit underneath a voice over and doesn’t compete for attention. I’ve decided to go for a mix of styles, although more and more I’m writing melody-less tracks as they are more useful.

That sounds like…

While I avoid writing soundalikes, I find it useful to try out a range of production techniques in my tracks to get the ‘flavour’ of an artist or genre across. For example, in Diamond Skies I’ve gone for a hard kick and pumping slightly distorted synth with a strong Dance feel to mimic the kind of thing David Guetta or Calvin Harris plays out to his crowds. This isn’t a soundalike as there’s no one song being followed here, but these are production techniques that give a feel and emotion to a track which is what most people are looking for when they can’t afford to license the original music.

Lyric-free

I avoid writing tracks with lyrics as, although they can be evocative sometimes, the vast majority don’t want another voice in there on top of an actor, voice over artist or other person speaking in their productions. When I do, it’s usually as a harmonic layer or peppered throughout like this or as part of the production like a robotized voice or “doo waps” in a quirky comedy track. Either way, the lyrics aren’t specific to anything particular (i.e. they are very general) and there’s always a lyric-free version in there.

Consistent instrumentation

Nothing worse than having a big old synth line destroy a soft piano piece right? Rather than trying to be too edgy and eclectic with the instrumentation, I tend to choose instruments that blend together nicely for a particular genre and mix them accordingly. If there is need for an instrument to stick out (like with a trailer track), then I’ll layer it in there but make it easy to edit out if need be.

Conclusion

So, there you have it, an overview of my process when scoring production music! Often I’ll also work with visuals to help get the feel right and record myself doing a voice over to make sure I’m not getting in the way of the spoken words, but this is the general approach I take. Are you a composer or editor? Let me know the kind of things you find useful when writing or editing production music in the comments below and I’ll update the article with your ideas (credited of course)!

Cato

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