© 2020 by Alec Stern for NARIP
While not always the case, ads tend to use music that leans in the upbeat direction.
Film and television have the luxury of longer run-times, and are therefore more conducive to telling stories. And in telling stories you rely more on drama, for which you need a bigger canvass of human emotion. This allows for a larger breadth of music that could work.
Time-frames are generally shorter in advertising, whose purpose is to sell a product or service, which the provider (brand) generally wants the viewer to feel good about. So for the most part, music associated with the ad should enhance the good feeling the brand wants associated with its product or service.
Now, luckily for everyone, we have moved toward a much more authentic version of “feel good” from where ad music seemed to live exclusively a number of years ago. Things were starting to feel pretty vanilla there for a minute. But now, particularly with the rise in streaming services, where the traditional cultural gatekeepers have been made obsolete, people look for something that feels real and authentic like never before. And at the present moment, that same attitude extends to ads.
So yes, upbeat music will usually win the day, but don’t pander to that notion. Make something upbeat that feels true to you.
The baseline for success is being raised and widened every single day
Two things are true right now in this industry that should to some extent both scare and excite all creators.
First, the stigma of putting music in an ad is largely gone, so you now compete with A-listers for music placements. This extends to both syncing existing tracks and composing. Huge name artists and composers now voluntarily throw their hats into the ring to work on ads. In the grand scheme of things, this is a new development.
Second, more people are making music than ever before and on VERY good equipment. People who are not traditional musicians have learned how to produce using programs like Garageband, Logic, and Ableton, and have found amazing success.
Not only has the playing field brought in some heavyweights, it’s also widened to previously unimaginable heights. So the question is, does that scare you? Or excite you?
Personally, I look to work with people who relish this kind of competition and see it as a chance to grow and create new things that nobody else is making. In order to succeed today, more than ever before, you’ve gotta make stuff that will catch ears against the backdrop of this an elevated and broader bullpen of talent.
How do you do that? See my next point.
If you make music, finish and release it, then promote it, there is a higher likelihood that it will get heard than if you don’t do any of these things.
While I love snagging big, iconic songs for ads, my favorite projects are always with indie artists. That’s for a few reasons.
First, as an artist myself, I know how much it means from a financial and exposure standpoint for an independent artist to get a placement.
But secondly, as a music fan, I love the element of discovery. We all want to be the one who tells our friends about a song or band they’ve never heard of, and then watch that band go on and get huge.
As a supervisor, I feel that I get the chance to do that on a massive scale when I get an independent artist in a spot. That feels way more exciting from a cultural standpoint than licensing a song everybody and their grandmother already knows.
So just know that many music supervisors are just like me and actively look for untapped music to work with. But we have to hear it in order to work with you. It won’t work any other way.
What does that mean for you? It means you’ve gotta make music. Preferably lots of it. And you have to finish songs. I know that’s the worst part, but it’s just as important, if not more so (somehow) than starting. And then you have to be brave enough to put it out into the world. And you have to invest in it, and in yourself. This takes time, money, energy, and creative thinking. And even if you knock all of these things out of the park, I still might not hear your song.
But you know how I definitively won’t hear it? If you don’t do a single one of those things.
Some songs are sent to me by a label or publisher or licensing rep company. Some are sent to me directly from artists or managers I know personally or have met somewhere along the way. Some I find on blogs. Some I find randomly going down Spotify wormholes, or pop up like miracles on shuffle. And sometimes, I’ll pitch a song I bought over a decade ago on Bandcamp before I even knew what Music Supervision was because I saw a friend of a friend share it on his Facebook page, and it’s just been sitting unlistened to in my iTunes library all this time until the exact moment I need it (this exact scenario has happened).
So you never know. But do yourself a favor and do whatever is in your power to slant the odds even slightly in your favor.
ABOUT ALEC STERN, Director of Music, DDB
As the Director of Music for the global agency DDB, Alec has the unique position to oversee music for some of the largest brands in the world, including McDonald’s, Miller Lite, Capital One, State Farm, Skittles, The U.S. Army, and many others. With a background in both music supervision and composition, Alec’s history of scoring and selecting music for ads runs deep. He has licensed some of the biggest songs in music history, working with the likes of Prince, Whitney Houston, John Williams, Elton John, Atticus Ross, Stevie Wonder, and The Beatles, co-produced a Broadway musical on Super Bowl Sunday, and is always looking for new and untapped talent to elevate the campaigns he works on. Outside of work, it’s still all about music. Alec is a prolific songwriter, guitarist, and producer, a DJ, and a published music essayist. https://www.alecjstern.com/