Writing Music For Commercials

Posted by Aaron Davison on Saturday, April 12, 2014 Under: April 2014

The following is an interview with commercial music composer Doug Hall.  Doug has been in the business of writing music for commercials for 30 years and has scored music for a diverse range of clients, including Burger King, Calvin Klein, Chase, Citibank, Coca Cola, Compaq, Dell, Dodge, Fed Ex, Ford, Land Rover, Nabisco, The New York Times, Nike, Visa and many more.  His music has also been heard in feature films, prime time TV and major label recordings.

HereĀ“s the interview:

Hi Doug, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview.  Tell us a little bit about yourself and how and when you got started writing music for commercials

Hi Aaron, Thanks for having me here onhowtolicenseyourmusic.com. I'm a composer who's been writing music for commercials for nearly 30 years. I've been a musician all my life, having started on piano at an early age.  After moving to NYC with a band in the 1980s and doing a record, I answered an ad in The Village Voice for a studio assistant with classical training and synth programming ability.  It was a music company called Elias Associates (now EliasArts), which was fast becoming one of the most successful music production companies in New York.  The studio assistant position quickly segued into composing and arranging for high-level advertising agency clients.

You've written for a large range of clients in your career.  What is the process of finding new jobs like?

I've always either been a staff composer, freelance composer, or a creative director, so I've had the luxury of someone else doing the selling. But it seems to be true that it's all about relationships.

Can you give us an idea of the pay range for writing music for commercials?  How much does a typical job pay?

It varies widely.  As a freelance composer, you usually get a demo fee of $150 to $300.  If your demo is the winning track, you might get anything from $1000 up to $50,000 or more, depending on the budget, whether the ad is regional or national, and other factors.Usually, I'd estimate that a final commercial will pay $2,000 to $5,000 for a freelance composer.

Have you found throughout your career that work has been pretty steady or has it changed a lot from year to year?

It has changed dramatically depending on my situation and the state of the business.  I've had great years and not-so-great years.  Whereas I used to make all my money with music for commercials, it is now only part of what I do, although still the biggest part.

I know the industry has changed a lot over the last few years.  Can you talk about some of the changes you've experienced and how the industry has changed for better or worse.
One of the biggest changes has been the emergence and growing dominance of music licensing, as opposed to custom scoring.  Budgets are lower, many projects are non-union, and frankly music is often an afterthought rather than an integral part of the process.On the positive side, technology has made it possible for anyone with a laptop, some music software, talent and determination to become a player in the game.

What is a typical work day like for you?

It really varies, depending mostly on whether there's a project I'm working on, which usually comes with a deadline!  If so, I'll focus entirely on the music I'm creating for the project at hand.  If not, there's plenty of other stuff to do, like networking, bookkeeping, organizing, etc.

What advice do you have for songwriters interested in pursuing a career writing music for commercials.  Where do you start?

First, get your skills together.  You must be able to create fully-produced tracks that sound just as good as records and other commercials on TV.  If you haven't had practice scoring to picture, grab some commercials from somewhere, pull them into your DAW as Quicktimes, and create your own scores, paying close attention to how music and picture work together.  Look for key moments where music can accent the action or make a dramatic turn. Second, learn as much about all different genres of music as you can, especially (but not limited to) whatever styles are currently popular.

Thanks so much for doing this interview Doug. Any closing thoughts or advice?

Scoring to picture is great fun and obviously an essential skill to have not only if you want to write music for commercials, but also for films and other media.  The way music, picture and voiceover or dialogue work together can be really interesting and creatively satisfying--and you might even be able to make a living at it!

Learn more about Doug Hall here: http://www.propellermusic.com/site/
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In : April 2014 

Tags: advertising music  commercial music 
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