Composer shares how to work our system to get your music licensed
Editor’s note: Kerry Muzzey is a film and TV composer who is also a long-time Getty Images Music/Pump Audio contributor. We asked him for some tips on how to maximize your chance at placements with Getty Images Music (pretty much how to work our system), and we’re thrilled he took the time out of his busy schedule to oblige. Read more… and follow him on Twitter @kerrymuzzey.
1. The more the better!
Writing production music is often a numbers game. Look at the process from an editor’s or producer’s point of view: They have a hard drive on the desk with thousands and thousands of Getty-repped compositions in it. As they select their criteria in the search engine, massive chunks of compositions that don’t match that criteria get chopped out of the search. If you only have 10 compositions in the Getty library, your chances of having a track selected are slim. Those 10 tracks have to survive a lot of filtering to wind up in a TV show. On the other hand, if you have 100, 200 or even 300 tracks in the library, your chances to land a placement grow exponentially. And believe me when I say that once an editor finds a cue that really works, they do search for more cues by that same composer/songwriter. In a moment like that, they’re not only searching for the same quality, but also for consistency of sound and vibe.
2. Give editors what they want.
I have a handful of editor friends that work in TV. Every now and then I ask them, “What are you needing these days that you’re not finding enough of?” The last couple years I’ve heard consistently that they needed more “motion cues” — stuff that has depth and sonic complexity, music that has forward motion but doesn’t get in the way. They needed more textural stuff and less orchestral stuff, less singer-songwriter acoustic stuff. They also wanted hard, driving music that mixed some orchestral elements with percussion and sound design — a more hybrid type of cue.
So when I had downtime between projects and I had a couple weeks to devote to adding more music to my Getty catalog, I focused specifically on this type of music. It has a better chance of finding placement if you know that that’s what the trend is right now. If you’re at a Christmas party or networking event, ask editors and TV producers what kind of music they’re using these days. If they’re an indie production house that’s creating programming for a Discovery or a History Channel, they’ll tell you “Discovery is really tending towards ____ direction now so they want things to sound like ____.”
3. Know thyself? Uh-huh. Know thy audience.
Once you have a few Getty royalty statements under your belt, you have some incredibly important knowledge at your fingertips: You can see who is using your music and in what context. THIS IS GOLD. Do you see your tension cues turning up in reality shows a lot? Or maybe your dark hybrid cues are turning up in History Channel shows all the time? WRITE MORE OF THAT.
A few years ago I noticed that a certain A&E reality show was using a ton of my music. In fact, a good 2/3 of each episode was my stuff… clearly an editor or producer on that show liked the vibe of those cues and turned them into recurring “themes” in the show, and then looked for more as the show went on to the next season and the next season. So I watched a few episode of it, then got to work at writing even more material that would work for that show. And eventually it found its way into that show. Magic, right? Nope: I counted on the fact that an editor was probably searching for my name to pull up similar cues every time that Pump Drive got updated.
4. Focus, focus, focus. Be good at what you do.
Everybody has one or two styles that they’re really good at: It’s the style that you default to automatically, that you love to write in, that you’re passionate about. So I’m mostly an orchestral and hybrid orchestral guy. But if I tried to write a pop song? WOW that would probably be a really awful pop song. I’m not good at that. I experiment with other styles now and then and I try to make those pieces sound as organic as possible, but if they don’t sound at least as good as other compositions in the same genre (by people who are actually GOOD at that genre) then I won’t submit them for anything, they just go into that “Miscellaneous” folder on my storage hard drive. The great thing about a non-exclusive library like Getty is that you don’t give anything up by submitting your best stuff to them, so be your best musical self. Write what you’re good at. Be great at what you do, and remember that no one needs you to be a jack-of-all-trades.
5. Quality counts.
I have a music supervisor friend who once said to me, “You have no idea how many instrumental cues meet my axe the minute I hear their strings. Technology is too good these days to have strings that suck.” And he made a great point: technology is good enough now that your work is going to be up against a lot of other really good work, and it has to sound good. It has to sound as-good-as or better than the best stuff it’s up against. Submit something that’s finished and that you feel good about. Don’t ever, ever, ever submit something that says “work-in-progress.” If you’re not sure if the piece feels finished or not, then wait a day or two and revisit your mix. Then revisit it again. Don’t submit something that sucks: Once you’re proud of it, then submit it.
6. Keep your house clean!
And by this I mean, take care of business: Make sure your PRO info is updated. Have your music and your contracts locateable on your hard drives. When you’re submitting new music to Getty, take the time to VERY CAREFULLY build your metadata for each track, because that data is what plugs in to Getty’s front-end search engine. That’s what editors and producers use to find music.
7. Have reasonable expectations & understand the business aspect of this business.
This one is really important. I’ve seen internet forums where people complain about music libraries, and one very (very, very) common complaint is, “I submitted my three best tracks 6 months ago and I still haven’t seen any money! (Insert library here) sucks.” Before you jump into this arena, understand the practical side of this business and how it works.
The Getty Music hard drives for all clients are updated periodically. Sure, they do custom searches for clients and can help out like that when needed, but the clients that are frequent users of music for TV are the clients who have a Pump Drive sitting in their edit bay, and it was updated probably a few months ago.
So realize that when you submit your music, it gets entered into the queue for the next update. Then that update rolls out to clients worldwide. Then, that music has to find its way into a show, and then the producers have to do a music cuesheet and report that usage, and then pay for it.
Then, that usage will turn up on one of your two statements each year. The performance royalties (ASCAP, BMI) will also turn up in your mailbox eventually, usually about 9 months after a show’s first broadcast. But if you’re a writer who’s outside the U.S. and your music lands in an American show, then your PRS/SACEM/GEMA check won’t be reflecting that broadcast for about two years, because that’s how long it takes international performance royalties to filter back through the system (and it’s the same for U.S. writers who have music used on a foreign network). There is a huge amount of administration in the process, so I always tell people that once you submit music, don’t expect to see a penny for about two years.
Don’t let that discourage you: Two years goes by fast, and two years from now you’ll be really glad you made this investment in your music. The payoff isn’t just in license fees from Getty, it’s in performance royalties from your PRO.
8. Less is more!
TV cues don’t need to be super-dense and exquisitely layered, and they don’t need to have a full orchestra or 300 tracks of textures and percussion. Listen to the music in network and cable TV shows: You’ll notice that there’s actually very little going on in those cues… there’s a backbone or a single element that stands out, and the rest is window dressing. Editors and producers like music that has a purpose and achieves a certain goal, but stays out of the way. If you have exquisite, soaring melodies and lots of stuff happening in your track, chances are it won’t make the cut because it’s going to interfere with onscreen dialog or narration. Be efficient with your instrumentation.
9. More is more better.
I have one word for you: stems. That great piece you just finished, that you love to death? Deconstruct it into its stems and submit those to Getty as well: percussion, strings, textures, just strings and textures — the variety is endless. If an editor finds that cue and likes it, he’s going to LOVE that you have variations on it as well. That gives an editor an insane amount of flexibility: he can take just the pulsing part or the building percussion, and then cut into the big full piece itself. One good piece of music can suddenly turn into 6 pieces if you have stems that are great standalone cues as well.
10. How do I write what’s selling right now?
First and foremost, WATCH TV. Watch a couple hours of MTV, Discovery, History, A&E, Travel Channel…. watch and pay attention to the music. There’s your starting point. And secondly, look at the PumpAudio.com website, where they always have listed “here’s what we really need right now.” Every now and then, one of those needs will match what you do, and you have a better shot at landing placements.