That Ever-Elusive “Wow” Track

There really is no substitute for musical excellence when you get down to it. In the music business, we have three choices: lower the bar, meet the bar, or exceed the bar. A common lament I hear today is that the production music libraries are saturated with music. I especially hear this about the royalty-free libraries.

I’ll admit that the internet age and proliferation of music apps and software have opened the doors wide for composers of all stripes to bring their music to the market. Yes, the market is saturated. But, is the market saturated with excellence? I don’t think so. That’s not to say the music isn’t good. It often is. I can listen to a hundred tracks and agree that they are all good. Some are very good. But rarely do I hear one and go ”Wow!” When it happens, it’s a notable experience because it’s so uncommon.

So that brings us to ourselves and the music we’re churning out on a daily basis. Every time I ask myself what my ultimate goal is, the answer is the same. I want to take what I love to do and use it to make what it touches better. In the process, I wish to earn a decent living for my efforts and contribution. None of this happens without striving for the absolute best and then reaching even beyond that. The market is saturated with ”very good.” Is it saturated with ”Wow?” Despite the ocean of obviously great talent out there, I don’t think it is. That’s why in an earlier blog entry I wrote about the importance of constantly improving our craft and making it a point to learn something new every day. Even something as little as taking a stock plugin or virtual instrument and tweaking it to make it our own makes a difference over using it out of the box to create another track out of the tens of thousands of them with the exact same sound.

We owe it to ourselves, our colleagues, and the music industry to constantly push the boundaries in our musical pursuits. To capture and create that elusive ”Wow!” track. Anything less, and we’re settling in to that ever-beckoning comfort zone where little happens and not much is noticed.

Attempting to reach a goal is the fun part. Enjoy the pursuit. I know I am!

Single Tracks Or Albums?

I know we live in the era of playlists and individual tracks, but is there still something to be said of the album or collection? I think so.

In the past, I would write single tracks at a time. Then when I had enough of them to pitch, I would submit them to a music library (after doing my homework and research on the library of course). While this worked and gave moderately decent results, lately I’ve changed course. I’m now working on two 10-track themed compilations that I’ll be sending to music libraries and music supervisors. Many library sites offer albums, so it seems logical to pitch an idea for an album to them, especially if the theme is fresh and in alignment with the album themes they currently offer.

So far I’m liking this approach and I feel it gives two distinct advantages. First, it causes me to focus on what I’m writing. Creating ten usable, versatile, and easily-editable tracks in a theme while keeping each track sounding fresh really requires cranking up the creative juices. Second, and this is equally important, I think it will give the library a product that will be of good use to its clients. A cohesive whole as opposed to a bunch of single tracks scattered all over the place.

Since I’m currently in the process, all I have is my theory about this. Time will tell if my hunch pays off, but in the meantime, it sure is fun coming up with themes, producing usable tracks, designing cover art, and researching libraries to submit to when the projects are finished.

What do you think? If you’re a composer, music library, or music supervisor, I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts.

Growing By Learning

How long have you been composing for production music? I started writing music as a young child, but started pursuing a career in production music in 2015. The most important thing I’ve learned over the past six years is that there is always something to learn. I really believe that not learning something new about our craft every day does a disservice to those we serve and to ourselves.

Music libraries depend on us to help them supply their clients with fresh, high-quality tracks. Learning something every day helps us deliver that music to them. I’ve always found it very easy to get comfortable in a style and write things that come easily to me, but that soon gets boring and uninspiring and puts me in a rut. But let me watch a video or read a music library blog and take away a small morsel of knowledge that I didn’t know or think of before, and I soon find myself excitedly reaching for musical elements I never thought of.

I now make it a point to learn something about music production and licensing every day. That knowledge comes in the form of networking with other composers, keeping up with industry trends, and studying what other successful composers are doing.

What an exciting time to be in the business we’re in with so much information so readily available. If you’ve recently learned something that changed the way you approach and create production music, I’d like to hear about it in the comments.

Till next time…

Different DAWs For Different Music

The digital audio workstation I use on a given day directly affects how I write.

On my desktop, I use three different DAWs: Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, and Native Instruments Maschine. I love all three, but I find myself choosing one over the other depending on what I’m writing/recording.

Piano is my main instrument. When I’m doing a piano solo or something that is piano-based and very expressive, I use Logic Pro. Its straightforward timeline and ease of use (Logic remote on the iPad, anyone?) make it my DAW of choice when I just want to lay down an improv track or play a piano piece from start to finish.

Ableton Live, to me, is more suited for pattern/loop-based writing. When I’m writing music that depends on separate sections repeating or being dropped in to different places of the track as needed, Live is what I use. I love creating different sections of the song (intro, verse, chorus, bridge, etc.) and then being able to jam along in real time with them as I’m recording in real time over them. I use a Novation Launchpad to trigger the various sections. It’s so much fun to play along while calling up different parts of the song, and really breaks the tedium of long hours of studio work. The enjoyment inevitably shows in the finished track.

That brings us to Maschine, the hardware-based groove machine by Native Instruments. I’ve had the Mikro for a couple of years now and like it so much that I wish I would have bought the full version. I use Maschine much in the same way I use Ableton Live, but Maschine takes it a step further by giving me a hands-on-hardware tactile approach. There’s nothing like reaching up and tweaking a control knob. Assigning sounds and/or samples to the pads and playing or finger drumming them strikes me as learning a new musical instrument for a new century. I often fire up Maschine if I’m looking for inspiration for a track. Once I loaded an old piano piece of mine, sliced it up among the pads, and, along with a sample of my door chimes, ended up creating an uptempo synth rock version of Joy To The World (I’ve embedded the video below).

I’m interested in hearing what DAWs you use and how you use them. Do they affect the way you write? Do you prefer one over the other, or does it depend on the application?

Till next time…

Dry Spell? What Dry Spell?

We’ve all experienced it. Writer’s block, dry spell, whatever you care to call it. That frustrating and productivity-robbing gremlin that shows up from time to time. I’ve had it last for days, weeks, and even months. It’s not fun when it happens, as I’m sure you will agree.

How do I deal with it? Simple. I DON’T. That’s right; I ignore it. I look it right in the face and laugh. Well not really, but this is a blog entry and I’ve been told that using figurative expressions often helps engage the reader more. Nevertheless, I do ignore writer’s block and pretend it’s not there trying to rob me of a productive day of writing and producing music.

You see, even though I work independently as a production music composer, I work according to a strict schedule. I just work better that way. I have set hours when I am to show up in my neatly tucked-away home studio and start composing, and I show up regardless of whether I feel like I’m able to write or not. I turn on all the gear (more on what gear I use in a later entry), watch the pretty lights as it all comes to life, slip on the headphones, and start writing.

Sometimes inspiration follows, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve created enough intros, endings, musical phrases, dead-end verses, and half-choruses to fill a portion of an SSD drive, BUT I CREATED. And the flip side of this is that many times at a later date, I’ve revisited these bits and pieces of unfinished material and have suddenly become inspired to finish them. Sometimes I’ve been able to complete what they started out to be, while other times I’ve chopped them up and used them for samples in something else. The point is that I truly believe that any time we sit down and put effort into creating music is never wasted.

So there you have it. Do I still experience dry spells in my music creation? Yes, absolutely. But I refuse to acknowledge them when they show up. I ignore them and create music anyway, even if it doesn’t immediately lead to a complete track. So far it’s managed to work for me.

How about you? How do you deal (or not) with dry spells?

How I Price My Tracks

There are different philosophies on how to price audio tracks when it comes to music licensing. I know of some composers that price their tracks on the high end, feeling the higher price increases the perceived value.

I take a different approach. While I certainly don’t sell myself short, I’m looking at the long term game. I feel it’s best to provide good quality tracks at a reasonable price so they will be sold and used. Then over the coming years, I will be earning money on the royalties they generate. The more tracks out there generating royalties, the better my income will be. More importantly, the more tracks out there, the more my music is enhancing and supporting the films, TV shows, commercials, and podcasts/videos they’re synced with. This benefits both the producers of that material as well as me.

I choose to sacrifice a bit on the original selling price and instead focus on what those tracks can do on a long-term basis. Feel free to leave your thoughts and comments.

Goal Oriented Writing

For years, any time I sat down to write music, I did so without any real goal for the music in mind. I may have known that I was going to write a piece for a music production library and that I was starting with a basic piano track as the bed, but often I didn’t have any set goal or roadmap of where the song would go. Instead, I would start and just see where inspiration took me and where the song ended up.

One day it hit me that what I was doing was akin to pushing a kayak into a lake and letting it go wherever the waves take it. Sure, it’ll definitely end up somewhere, but that’s not saying much. A much better way, I decided, is to lay out the parameters for the song beforehand and stick with them.

For instance:

  1. This track is to be 2:00 in length.
  2. The feel should be light and happy.
  3. Instrumentation will be piano, light strings, and light percussion.

Once I get those parameters defined, I start writing. I don’t deviate from the parameters I’ve established. Right away, I’m guided by these limits, which are good. I can’t tell you the many times when I was creating tracks the old way how often I would get to the middle of it and realize that I had veered completely off course and the track was now something much different than the one I started. Or a track that was intended to be light and airy ended up being an over the top wall of sound production.

With those three parameters for the track set, I get to work composing and producing the track within them. You’d be surprised how creative you can be when you’re forced to work within boundaries. I find it makes creating tracks a much more efficient and concise process. And so far I’ve been liking the results.

Have you done anything similar? Feel free to comment.

Till next time…