How To Get Your Music Placed on Film/TV: Cue Makeover #1
Have you been trying to get your music placed in TV shows, film, or commercials but you’re just not having any luck?
If you’re frustrated by your lack of success, you’re going to like this new series of articles.
As a veteran music composer, plus the owner of Audio Addiction Music Library, a a successful production music library with tens of thousands of placements over the years, I’ve had a first-hand look at hundreds of composer submissions.
Unfortunately, most submissions that get rejected have the same issues…
The 5 main issues that block a composer/songwriter’s success are:
- Unfocused writing
- Poor production quality/mix
- Poor composition structure
- Missing elements that successful music cues have in common
- Unprofessional presentation
How To Get Your Music Placed on Film/TV: Cue Makeover Series
So, in this series, I’m going to focus on fixing these 5 common issues and help composers and songwriters create the best music tracks they can.
Here’s how this makeover series works:
In each episode of this series, I’m going to review a composer’s music cue or song and help them correct anything that isn’t working.
I’ll listen to their demo and give my critique. I don’t hold back because I want them to learn to take criticism, something you have to do if you want to succeed in the music business.
I’ll then walk them through the whole process of how to revise their cue, give pointers on how to improve it, and then have them make the necessary changes.
It usually takes a few revisions before we end up with a final track that has an excellent chance of being able to be placed successfully.
If I really like the final results, I may publish it in my Audio Addiction Music Library!
Let’s get started with our first cue makeover!
Composer Profile: Kenechiii A.
Kenechiii is a composer from Kansas who has “been in love with music ever since I can remember.“ He is determined to one day leave his day job and make music his full-time gig.
He is self-taught keyboard player and composer, without ever taking music lessons.
Kenechiii currently works a night shift which leaves him time during the day to write and produce new tracks and to work on getting his music out to music libraries, producers, and music supervisors.
He’s joined organizations such as Taxi, but he has not had any tracks picked up yet by any publishers.
For his studio, Kenechiii uses Apple’s Logic and the basic plugins that come with it.
He uses his Mac’s USB port as his audio interface, records with an USB mic, and mixes on headphones.
Music Cue: The Meat Inside Your Body (version 2)
Let’s take a listen to this instrumental track with some choir samples…
An acoustic guitar opens the cue, but within 0:03 seconds what sound like a baby talking comes in.
That’s it. It’s over for this cue…
I would stop listening altogether at this point…
His demo would right then go into the rejection pile.
How Music Pros Think
It only took 3 seconds for me to make this decision.
That’s all you’ll usually get from busy professional music publishers, music editors, A&R staff, and music supervisors.
I can tell if someone knows what they are doing within 15 seconds. This track only took 0:03.
People make quick decisions, so you have to make sure that you always showcase your best work!
But for this cue makeover, I’m going to listen to the whole track and give some notes.
Right off the bat, the title doesn’t work.
Do I really want to listen to a cue called The Meat Inside Your Body? If anything, I’m expecting to hear a gnarly grungy track that’s kinda nasty sounding.
But after listening, that is not the case, so the title needs to be changed.
A good title should be catchy and reflect the music’s sound, tone, and character.
This title misses the mark.
Also, I don’t need to see that this is version 2 – that needs to go.
The baby voice and kids cheering sound effects have to be removed.
Not only do they not make sense in the context of the music, almost no TV show or movie is going to want those sounds on the music track. This immediately eliminates the track from getting placements, even if it was fantastic.
The acoustic guitar sounds a little like it’s been played on a keyboard, not by a real acoustic guitar player. That’s not ideal, but it’s not bad.
However, at 0:14 a delay comes in on the guitar that is too loud and has too many repeats, and this makes the guitar muddy and unfocused.
The delay needs to be toned down. The delay also needs to be on the guitar from the beginning, not suddenly coming in for no reason.
The first 0:28 of the tracks is basically an intro. That’s way too long.
The track finally starts to build at 0:28 with a Bon Jovi “Dead or Alive” vibe.
The cue has an interesting vibe now, so I keep listening.
But it doesn’t really do much again until 1:27 when the drums finally come in.
Once the drums come in the cue shows promise, but where’s the bass? The production is incomplete.
The drum programming is good, but I suspect Kenechiii is using drum loops, not playing or programming drums from scratch. Nothing wrong with that, though, but I always make a note of a production’s strengths and weaknesses.
The cue is in a minor key, but there’s some clashing with strings that are playing the major third. This needs to be addressed.
At 3:35, the cue breaks down to drums, strings, and vocal samples, but it goes on too long.
Then at 4:18, ocean waves appear! The cue ends with almost 2 minutes of ocean waves!
Total length is 6:55. That is way too long for a TV/Film cue!
I went through my notes with Kenechiii, and I had him work on the following:
- Change title
- Take out child’s voice in beginning
- Take out sound effects in beginning
- Make intro only 4 to 8 seconds
- Fix the digital delay on the guitar
- Set up template with delay and reverb busses to better manage effects
- Make track only 1:30-2:00 minutes long with is good length for instrumental cues
- Add bass to the band
- Remove ocean waves and give it a real ending
- Build in more excitement and interest: a B section, starts & stops, etc.
Kenechiii followed up with a revision a couple of days later.
The cue’s new title is Things Apart You Together.
The title doesn’t really make any sense.
And more importantly, it doesn’t give you any visual picture of the music track.
As I mentioned earlier, the track is reminiscent of Bon Jovi’s Dead Or Alive. That’s a good title – it’s catchy, descriptive, and memorable.
The title needs another rethink…
The delay is still too loud and distracting, muddying up the guitar.
Effects like delay, reverb, or chorus should add ambiance, excitement, depth, etc. to the sound. The delay isn’t adding anything but rather taking away from the vibe.
The strings are playing the major third that’s sometimes clashing with the guitar’s minor key notes. This was not addressed from my initial demo notes.
The intro is now only 0:07, so the cue gets right into the body quickly. That’s good!
The structure is:
Intro | A | A | A breakdown (no guitar) | A | Intro | Fill break | A
The track still needs a new section to add some variety and excitement.
The drum programming has been expanded and is pretty good – he’s got lots of different drum fills now that give the track excitement and drive. Kenechiii gets an A for drum programming!
Mix On Studio Monitors, Not Headphones
When I still I don’t hear any bass, I asked Kenechiii why he didn’t add any. He said he did, but when we talked further about it, he told me he mixes solely on headphones.
While checking a mix on headphones is smart as you’ll hear details that you might have missed listening on monitors, it’s virtually impossible to mix solely on headphones and get professional results.
So, it’s likely the bass was too loud on headphones, so he mixed it so far down that it wasn’t apparent on listening on studio monitors or consumer speakers.
Interestingly, he said he has a pair of studio monitors, but he hasn’t hooked them up in years.
He is now hooking them up for Revision 2 of this cue.
Always Check Your Mix Before Your Send It Out
Once the band enters the whole mix is a little distorted.
I think Kenechiii hit the output level too hot, or clipped the signal too much with a mastering plugin.
Kenechiii was not aware of the distortion because he did not listen carefully to the final mix.
Anything can go wrong with a final mix – frequently it’s not even your fault but some technical glitch – so always check everything.
Remember, you only get one chance with most professional listeners. Don’t lose them because you were careless.
Kenechiii added a new sound element – kinda like a pipe hit – that comes in a 0:02 on the left speaker, then at 0:05 on the right speaker. It is mixed too loud and needs to be addressed.
The two minutes of ocean waves are gone – that’s good – but now the track just stops at the end – there’s no ending! Definitely not good!
I went through my notes with Kenechiii, and he’s now working on Revision 2.