On being a professional songwriter-producer for the Film, TV, Ad and Music industries…

1. Define your audience

Is your audience a fan, a recording artist, a TV-Film director or producer, a VP of A&R for a label or a Creative Ad agency person?

You better know the answer to that question before you start writing lyrics or laying down tracks… or you will be wasting everybody’s time and energy… especially your own.

Story: The first time I wrote for TV and failed to identify the ‘real’ audience… the novice director

2. Become friends with your audience…

… and learn how to speak on their behalf.

It may be their story you are attempting to tell…  rather than your own.

And so consider this… It’s not what you think you say or attempt to convey through the song or the music… but rather what is heard by your client or audience. Your job is to first hear them… interpret or translate their story or message and share it with the world. Learn the language of your audience and you make a friend for life.

Story: Writing and producing a song for the Avon Breast Cancer Campaign

3. Write a song for one person and you’ll reach a crowd.

Define the need, the hurt, the longing, the fears, the story and or the point of view of one single person and write the song/music just for them… and if you get this right… the song will garner the trust and acceptance of the larger targeted audience

Story: Writing a ‘The Reason Why’ for an episode of “Without a Trace”

4. Only tell the story once

Everything in a film, the dialog, the action, the lighting, VFX, sound design and the music must help advance the story. But each element must serve the other, not drown the others out by ‘saying the same thing over and over again’.

Try to a) say what is not being said or b) tell us more about the people in the story or c) lead the audience on a journey of its own.

Note: A beautifully shot ‘sad scene’ does not always require sombre music.. neither does a slap stick motif necessarily compliment a comedic moment…  discuss.

Story: Writing for Reality TV (Make up-Break Up Songs)

Story: Writing for Win a Date with Tad Hamilton

5. Mediocrity is never ‘good enough’

A small budget or opportunity should never limit your zeal for the project. Everything you write and or produce reflects your creativity and passion. Be generous with everyone.

Compare your work with the very best in your field… not your local peers.

Whenever possible, collaborate with artists (in all forms) that are better than you.

Better to share the spoils and collaborate with other writers/producers so that both your music and your client’s project shine. It is a poverty minded producer who works within his/her own limited skills, experience and or production resources… trying to save a few pennies only to deliver a second rate product.

Story 1: The Rhythm Gospel and Blues Budget Multiplied
Story 2: Collaborating on the Score, Sound Design 5.1 Mix for a feature trailer

6. Under promise and over perform.

In Los Angeles… the rule of thumb is this:

No matter how good I was on the last project… there are quality musicians, songwriters, composers and producers lining up to take my job. I love it… this kind of competition requires me to grow as an artist, a writer and musician. There is only ever room for my ‘A’ game.

This also applies to the way I communicate and interact with my client, whether he/she be a director, producer and so on. Honesty up front works the best. If I am the perfect fit for the job… and if I can bring the project in on time within the budget… then my ‘yes’ must be sure and true. If I see some problems during the process its most important that I voice them when they occur… rather than make excuses at the end of the project.

But be warned… if I deliver the files, even a few hours later than promised, I may never work with that Client again.

No pressure.

Story: Writing and producing music for a Startrek Enterprise episode

7. Leverage: Building equity in production relationships

To open the iron gates of Hollywood (or your preferred city on a hill) you need leverage. The best thing you have to offer is You!  A nurtured trusting relationship cannot be beaten and or undervalued.

e.g. The Steven Spielberg and John Williams collaboration… 30 years and counting.

You have to learn to take risks… and invest yourself in others.

Sometimes writing on spec fails to deliver…

Story: Disney

Sometimes the risk pays off

Story: The Netflix Original Series

8. Playing the odds

Know when to License and when to Work for Hire. Sometimes you don’t get to choose and sometimes what seems like a good deal… is a really really bad deal… other times you may well be surprised. But you must learn how to get your songs and music out there in the market place… and even a 50/50 deal will pay a nice royalty if and when the songs are placed.

Story: My first publishing deal: The highs and lows