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Artist Advice Column: How To Write Music For Commercials

Writing for commercials doesn't have to seem impossible. Let's demystify the process.
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We have talked at length about the process of getting your music in commercials, tv, movies and even games. Through that, we started to scratch the surface on how you write music for that, but it is time to really drill down in how you write music for commercials. A lot of this will depend on how much time you have to spend on writing music for commercials. If you are willing to commit to writing a lot for commercials, then you will be able to write for a broad range of potential ads. However, if you are an artist focusing on your regular career as a musician putting out artist material and touring, but would like to do this as a side gig, then we will help you focus on what and how to write with your limited time.

Just to be certain, we aren’t covering scoring or projects where a certain company outright explicitly hires you before you write the song. This will be where you are writing the music and then it fits into what the brand wants. This could work for jingles as well, but that is tougher.

The most important thing is to write good music. That may seem obvious, but it is vital. Hoping a crappy song that fits a mood or sound because you heard something like it is a bad idea. Write the best music you can. When you are working with a publishing company or sync house that helps to place your music, you can write a variety of music that might work in different commercials and they will help to get it synced. They will choose the best music they have that fits what the brand is looking for, so always write good music.

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One way to write is to look at the current trends in commercials and popular music in general. What does top 40 sound like? How is that translating to commercials? Many supervisors lament the period after Coldplay “Clocks” came out where it seemed like there were years of songs that sounded like almost exact copycats.

Brands can be creative with their pitches to customers, but not always with music selection, so picking a familiar song helps their brand feel familiar to the consumer. Don’t copy those songs because you could get sued and artistically, you aren’t likely to get picked making an exact replica. However you can emulate the song using similar chords, recording techniques and presets. Set a similar mood.

Don’t just look at the music in popular culture, but also the moods of commercials. Look at the trends. There will always be a wide swath of commercials, but look at the ones that feel like your music -- are they happy, sad, political, upbeat or something else. Pinpoint the mood and write songs for that.

Don’t think you have to only write instrumental songs. Writing songs with lyrics is good because while they may be taken out or used in part, they can add another element to the song delivery. Think of many car commercials that have "Go" or some sort of movement in the vocals. However you should always have the instrumental version ready in case a brand just wants that. Writing a long song for a commercial doesn’t make much sense since commercial lengths can be from 15 seconds to one minute, generally. Writing your 15-minute opus in hope for a commercial deal is generally a bad idea. Save that for the concept album to be released on cassette.

When music is taken from established artists seemingly out of nowhere for commercials it can feel daunting to get started. However, read over some of our past guides on how agencies pick songs and how you might maximize your chances of getting a song chosen and understand a little better how to write music -- your song may just get into a new campaign.

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