Last week in Film Music, Part I: The Challenge, I talked about what I thought to be the biggest newbie mistake for musicians interested in film and television music: believing that it’s easy work to get and you don’t have to pay any dues. If you haven’t read that blog, you might want to, as it’s a good intro to what today’s topic is all about.
So…you’ve decided you really want to try to make some money in film and television placement. You’ve even devoted time to going through all your music and figuring out which recordings are good enough to be considered. Maybe you’ve even done some online research about the topic. Now what?
Like I said before, getting into film and television music isn’t easy. It requires work. And mostly – it requires some connections. Not those fleeting bar connections that so many of us are used to making where we get each others’ first names, brag about our biggest (sometimes not even bragging about) accomplishments, and then agree to “catch you later” at the next monthly gig. Those connections are great for…well…let’s just be honest – they aren’t great for anything. They aren’t connections. And someone certainly can’t help you if they don’t have a way to contact you, or have a really good idea of what it is you do. So, the first way in to any circle you are actually trying to be a part of is to take the networking aspect seriously.
This means you will need to do some prep work. You have no idea how many people I currently meet at casinos, bars, and events who routinely tell me when I ask them for their card that they don’t have one. And they say that as if that’s normal. So, let’s get this straight – it’s not. If you are trying to get anywhere in anything on planet EARTH (I can’t speak for Jupiter or Mars, and I won’t try to), you need a business card. No exceptions. No excuses. No – “I’m special and I just don’t think I need one” bullshit or just being too lazy to go down to the local print store and pay the $10 that it now costs to get a simple nicely done professional card with a little basic graphic on it. Though cell phones are obviously an awesome invention, I hate to tell you this, somewhat quirky person who’s half drunk that came up to me after the gig to tell me how cool you think I am, but I’m not going to give you my cell number on our first meeting, or put yours into my cell phone just because you don’t have a card. I’m going to hand you mine and expect you to do the work. After all, this is business, and if you can’t take care of the basic task of getting a simple card made when it might benefit you, something tells me our working relationship is not going to go well. So, if you want to make a good impression, in the words of Nike – just do it.
Your card should include your name, what it is you do, your email address, website, social networking site addresses, and your phone number (unless you are afraid of handing it out to strangers, in which case, you can always leave that off and write it in based on the connection, which is what I do). Since you are trying to get work in film and TV, you might want to include something that says this, like…”music for picture” or “music for stage and screen.” If you simply put “guitarist”, expect that many people will see you as just that – a player with no recordings, so be specific and make sure when someone looks at your card, they don’t immediately have to wonder what it is you do.
Websites are another no-brainer for musicians, and they are cheap to build now, but you’d again (or maybe not at this point, since I’ve now told you often how many things happen in the music world that you just can’t believe) be surprised how many people who are trying to get somewhere don’t have one. If you’re trying to get film and TV work, your website should include some of your recordings. They don’t have to be full songs, and you don’t have to make them available for download, but snippets of your work that show people what your music sounds like are very important. If you’ve done music that is diverse, be sure to showcase that – because working in film and TV is all about wide variances in what kind of music is needed for a project and you want to showcase that you have a wide range of music to chose from. If all you do is one style – that’s fine, too. Just try to showcase snippets of your work that convey different emotions – say a hard driving chorus in one snippet, and a low-key fluid ballad passage in another. We’ll talk about why you need to do this in a minute.
Okay – so those are the basics of representing yourself. This can obviously be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, but the materials that represent you and your music should, at the minimum, be clean, professional, and easy to read. If you have a complicated email address that is easily misunderstood, you might consider getting something simpler. Ditto for website URLs. People in the film industry do not have time to try to decipher things that aren’t clear. And if your mail gets bounced back to them because your address was too difficult to read, you may never hear from them again. Remember that these people work in an industry that moves at light speed (unlike music) and if you want to be a part of it, you need to make their work with you easy. They have a lot of other options other than you.
Another great piece of homework to have done before you work on networking is to catalog your music and label it for yourself. It’s a good idea to make yourself a little database that organizes your music by genre, feel or mood, and tempo. This doesn’t have to be complicated and can be as simple as keeping a notebook with your song list and columns that you can write in. Obviously, this gets more complicated as your catalog grows, so try to imagine that you need it to work quickly for you once you get to more that just a few songs. If you create this database in a Word or Excel file, it will even be something you can use as promo material once you meet folks in the industry. The people who actually handle music will be much more likely to use your music if they don’t have to go through 3 or 4 CDs track by track to find something. You can make a really good impression by being able to guide them towards the right piece of music or even the right section of a song using your database. This saves a lot of time, and increases your chances of getting something properly placed.
In the “feel/mood” category, you are looking to adequately describe what kind of emotion the piece conveys. Is it sad and reflective? Quirky? Happy? Childish? Mellow? Driving and powerful? Descriptions like these will what you will start to hear as you work in music that is used for picture because music’s primary purpose when it comes to picture is to support the underlying message and emotion being expressed in the scene. That is where this idea of representing a lot of different aspects of your music comes in.
You run a much greater chance of getting placed if your music is diverse and there are passages that can be used for different kinds of emotional scenes. After all, when you watch TV, every scene isn’t the same, right? You might be thinking, “Well…I’m only going to send a CD that has all my most powerful rocking songs on it, because that will represent me well.” That would be a huge mistake. Because that music will only be useful for a certain kind of scene. And if the person needing the music is trying to place a cue (short snippet of music) for a death scene or a breakup between the show’s lovers, your driving hard-core rock song probably won’t work.
Ultimately, there are really only a few reasons musicians want to get into film and TV music. The first is money. The second is exposure. And the third is bragging rights. But if you want to work in the field, you should add one more reason: you want to help production people achieve their goals. And usually, they have one singular goal in their job: turning out the best production they can based on the guidelines and budget they’ve been given. Believe me, they aren’t in it to make or break your music career. Nor are they interested in placing your music so it adequately features your incredible vocal or guitar work.
Music for film and TV has one primary purpose: to enhance the visual and emotional quality of the picture. Your music will be used this way, and you should be grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it. Very often, it may not be used in a way that you would have chosen. You may find on viewing the final product that the vocal section of your song never makes it into the scene, or that your instrumental is mixed so low into the dialoque that it is essentially background music. This is the nature of the work. It will help you as you traverse the film and TV tundra to start thinking about your music this way so you can adequately sell it to people. Are there great instrumental sections in your album that lend themselves to scenes that require no vocals? Great – showcase them. Very often, vocals get in the way when an editor drops music into a scene, so it will help you to stop viewing your work as “songs” and start viewing each song as having different sections that can be used for different purposes.
Okay…so you’ve done your homework. You’ve got some great recordings, a good business card, a basic website that showcases your work, some copies of your CDs, and a list of your recordings that you’ve thought about as support for different dramatic purposes. Now what?
Next week: Part III – The Production System