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The ABC’s of Commissioning Original Music

music notes puzzle piece

OK – you’ve searched and searched, and you STILL can’t find that “just perfect” piece of music for your new project. Sometimes close enough – just won’t cut it. You need a fresh, original piece of music. But how do you start?

Brand Context
First, examine the brand context of the entity that this music will represent. Make sure that you understand the brand fully before trying to express it in a musical signature or composition. Is it conservative? Progressive? Exciting? Traditional? A brand statement that is out of sync with the overall brand not only does not advance the brand, it can damage it. So do your research and write down your conclusions and reflections.

Musical Style
Next, look at the mood or emotional statement that you want your music to make. It could be beat-driven, or ethereal and thoughtful. Or it could be high-energy and uplifting, or sad and reflective. Make a list of as many adjectives as you can to describe the feeling that you want your eventual listener to experience – the longer the better.

Existing Examples
Are there existing songs representing the style of music that you would like? This is the best way for a composer to understand what sort of composition you are striving for. Make sure that they are consistent. Also, identify specific elements in each of these tracks that appeal to you, such as insistent drums, or a plaintive French horn, etc. Write down how these elements make you feel when you hear them.

Hire your Composer
Maybe you already have a musical vendor with whom you are comfortable. Or you may entertain 2-3 proposals from competitors. For large projects, it’s certainly customary to ask for a short demo from each vendor so that you can compare creative direction and pricing. Either way, your composer will appreciate you presenting them with your background research and descriptions that you gathered during the first three steps.

Agree on Deliverables
Work closely with your final vendor to list exactly what is expected upon delivery of the final project. Neither you nor the vendor want any surprises when the project is supposedly finished. Sometimes, larger jobs can result in “project creep,” where the client keeps seeing more opportunities for more mixes, variations, lengths, etc. Think of this as a contract with a builder. While some flexibility is to be expected, don’t ask to change the roofline or the plumbing while the job is in progress – and not expect to pay for it!

Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate!
Once you’ve chosen your partner, carefully collaborate with them as you develop the composition. They will supply you with multiple, short demos to help you focus your final direction. During the process, let them know when they’ve “knocked it out of the park,” or when you are even slightly uncomfortable with the direction or a particular element. It something bothers you now, it will REALLY bother you later. It’s best to address issues as they arise and give kudos when due.

Which Came First, the Picture or the Music?
This is a common quandary for clients. As composers, we feel it’s best to compose the music before the video is edited. That way, transitions and “hits” can be planned within the overall musical structure and tempo of the composition. Consequently, your subsequent editing process will flow more smoothly and easily conform to the track. However, many times this isn’t possible. Skilled composers can post-score to a previously edited video, but it’s a more lengthy and daunting task. If your video is mostly complete, try to supply your partner with a rough cut so both parties can adjust elements for perfect synchronization.

Once you have that perfect composition in hand, it’s time to complete your project – and break out the champagne! Producing great creative isn’t a science, but a carefully considered art. Hopefully, these tips will help you achieve dazzling and effective results when creating your next musical masterpiece.

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