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Finding the Music You Need

October 13, 2011



Once the need for music in a campaign has been established, you will need to choose whether to commission a composer to write music for your specific purpose, or to choose music that already exists as production or library music, or as music already released by an artist or band.


Using music that already exists will be dealt with later in this article.


a.     How Do I find A Composer?

If you choose to use a composer, what is the best way to commission original music?

Commissioning music means paying a composer to write a composition for a specific purpose. Anyone can commission a composer, and any type of music can be commissioned.


There are many ways to find composers:

  1. Word Of Mouth – If you are commissioning a composer for the first time, this is probably the best way to choose a composer. Ask around, and if your contemporaries have had a good experience with a composer, the chances are good that you will too.

  2.  References – You can check for references on LinkedIn, for example, to see who recommends that you work with a particular composer. Or screen credits can be verified on IMDB.com (the Internet Movie Database, which includes some TV credits). This will help you establish the credentials of the composers recommended to you.

  3. Professional Bodies – Organisations such as PCAM and BASCA have lists of professional composers, with some biographical information, credits and contact information. These can be used as starting points.

  4. Online Directories – Companies such as Kemps or Mandy.com also have lists of composers. Bear in mind that these lists are not necessarily of professional composers who are affiliated with any major organizations. You probably would think twice before using a gas engineer who was not CORGI registered, so the same way of thinking should apply here.

  5. Composer Websites – Google will of course return plenty of results if you search for a film, TV or advertising composers. You should be able to find showreels and examples of music written for marketing on the composer’s website.

Once you have a shortlist of composers you might like to work with, you should get in touch with them, perhaps to ask for more information or samples of work that may be relevant to the style you have in mind.


Your final choice of composer will be based on several factors:


=Trust – You will need complete confidence that the composer will be able to fulfill your brief, on time and on budget, and that the music will be of the highest quality. Recommendations and references will help you make this decision


=Budget – Obviously, there is no point in hoping to secure the services of John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra if you are working on a modest budget. That does not mean that your ambitions for the music cannot be realised though. Check whether the composer is able to fulfill your brief for the budget you have available, and whether the scale of their ambition matches yours.


= Resources – One way to keep costs down are for the composer to complete the project entirely within their own studio. Check whether the composer has the skills and resources to perform, record and mix the music themselves using their own studio and experience. This will make any later changes needed to the music easier to implement, will keep costs down, and will almost always result in a quicker turnaround.


= Experience – What has the composer done in the past? Does their music move you? You need to be inspired and impressed by the music the composer has written for other clients. The best composers can write music across a large range of genres, always to the highest quality. And they have the ability to change course mid-stream should you (or your client) decide to change direction from that originally briefed. It is common for an experienced composer to be brought in at a later stage because either a brief has changed, or a less experienced (cheaper) composer has not been able to satisfy the brief. It has big implications on the budget if things go wrong, so it is important to make the right choice in the first place.


b.     How do I find existing music to fit my brief?
  1.  Soundalikes – A soundalike is when a song is written to sound as if it is another song. This might be necessary if a particular song is needed for a campaign, but it is too expensive to obtain a license from the original artist, record company or publisher. Unfortunately, it is not legal to do this, and the composer may be open to a charge of “passing off” from the original copyright holders. Although this is a bit of a grey area, it can have serious consequences, and it’s better to avoid. Another solution would be to commission an original piece of music that does not attempt to copy the arrangement or other song content of a song, but attempts to do the same job when synchronized to picture.

  2. Stylealikes – A stylealike is music created in the generic style of music made popular by particular artists. For example a Mersey Beat sound might be used to represent a generic early Beatles or Dave Clarke Five style. A contemporary pop dance sound might cover styles made popular by Lady Gaga or Katy Perry. This is perfectly acceptable as a brief, as it will result in original composed music.

  3. Relicensing a Commercial Recording – Clearing a commercial recording for use in a TV, online or radio campaign is a minefield. You will need permission from the owner of the recording (probably the record company) and the publisher of the song before you can use the recording. This is likely to be quite expensive and time-consuming. The information needed should be available from the PRS, or you could use a clearance company to clear the music for you.

  4. Arrangements – Making a new arrangement of an existing song (or recording a straight cover version) usually requires the permission of the song’s publisher. This can again be time consuming, but will be less costly than using the original recording. It is worth approaching a composer with production credentials if you wish to go down this route.

  5. Library/Production Music – Using a music library company is one way of keeping production costs down. Music production libraries usually own all of the copyrights of their music, meaning that it can be licensed without seeking the composer’s permission.


Production music is therefore sometimes a convenient solution for media producers—they can be assured that they will be able to license any piece of music in the library at a fixed rate, whereas a specially commissioned work could be too expensive. A license for use of this type of music may be obtained from the PRS, with the rates as listed here. It is worth noting that this music will be non-exclusive, so the music may be used by anyone else who pays the same fee. If the available budget is low, it is worth approaching composers directly to see if they are willing to provide any of their existing music on a non-exclusive library basis – most composers are likely to have something available that may be suitable.


Finding out who owns the rights to existing music


The first point of contact should be PRS For Music. This organisation looks after titles on behalf of many artists. If you contact them with a list of the music that you would like to use, they will often be able to tell you who owns it.


Alternatively, you may be able to find the record company and publisher contact details from music directories such as Music Week – www.musicweekdirectory.com

When you contact the PRS or record company/publisher, supply them with the following details:

◦                     The name of the company or individual applying for the licence;

◦                     Main contact name, address, contact number and email details;

Song title, date of recording (if known) and the sound recording owner (eg record company):

◦                     Project title and brief synopsis;

◦                     Duration of film;

◦                     Overall budget;

◦                     Context of music used (scene description);

◦                     Duration of music use (clip or full version);

◦                     Territory of exploitation required e.g. worldwide;

◦                     Rights required e.g. broadcast rights, online right;

◦                     Length of licence required e.g. 2 years.


When you have a contract drawn up you’ll need to check that the terms allow you to use the music everywhere you want to broadcast your campaign. The main elements you need to look out for are:


Geographical/Territory: “all world rights” is the ideal, which means that you can show your film anywhere in the world. This often costs more though so it is maybe more cost effective, if you want to use a well-known piece, to specify ‘within Europe’, or an individual country (e.g. ‘in the UK’). Note – if you are considering showing your film online it is best to get ‘all world rights’ because online in its nature is worldwide.


Time/ Duration: in perpetuity (which means indefinitely) is the ideal, but again if you’re dealing with well-known musicians or bands then you’ll probably get between one to five years.


Media/ Platform: Ideally you want ‘All Media’. To show your film on websites you need to acquire ‘online rights’ (Note – online rights could mean streaming or download rights or both).


Exclusivity: Exclusive music deals would be prohibitively expensive so often best to opt for non-exclusive use.


Promotional use for press and publicity use: ideally you’ll want these rights so that you can use clips/trailers with music to promote your campaign.


Author Gareth Cousins – www.garethcousins.com – has 25 years experience in working on music for picture. Originally trained as an engineer/producer at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios, he has since become a busy producer and composer of music for film, television and advertising. Recent commercial work includes FIFA (2014 World Cup), Rolls-Royce, MIG, Motorola and Cadbury.

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