Thinking About Creating Custom Compositions for Your Project? A Breakdown of the Options

Custom compositions at work.
  • Save

Finding the right piece of music to accompany a visual is an essential part of any filmmaking process.

The following was created in collaboration with Songtradr, part of a broader partnership focused on the sync licensing space.  Be sure to check our ongoing coverage of this fast-growing sector here.

It’s why music supervisors — as subject matter experts — play a crucial role in the advertising and motion picture industries. Because interpreting a music brief takes experience and skill. And while there are numerous considerations, one of the first is whether to license an existing song or follow other film producers and creative agencies and engage a composer to create something custom.

If you choose this route, understanding how custom compositions work will help immensely.

We have access to the most extensive catalog of pre-cleared, authentic music from artists, but this doesn’t cover every soundtracking need. That’s why we also work with a network of 200+ talented composers who can nail the right sound for your project.

Here are some custom compositions that yielded great results

Tanqueray Gin’s “Since 1830” campaign, which the team at Big Sync Music created with WMP Studios in the UK, is an excellent example of how a custom composition process can work. In the episode, Songtradr SyncTalk with Music Supervisor Lisa James, we learn how the project took shape, the unique ‘Droste effect’ technique used in the production, and how the music was subsequently matched with the visual approach.

This creatively-inspired commercial for SheaMoisture’s “It Comes Naturally” campaign needed music that aligned with the brand’s vision, which had been carefully laid out in previous campaign spots. The commercial celebrated Black identity, inspiring our composers to deliver a fresh piece that tip-toed between jazz and soul music.

And this commercial for Radox Mineral Therapy shows how music can magnify other visual elements. The spot features a woman relaxing in a steam-filled bubble bath, where the composer has made great use of natural hot spring sounds and ambient textures to deliver a soft and cinematic arrangement.

Now let’s delve a little deeper and explore how a custom composition can benefit your project.

Why might you choose a custom composition, instead of a pre-existing song?

Many of the top movies, TV shows, and commercials use music as a narration tool to set the tone and mood of the visual. There are multiple ways to approach this — it can be inspired by preexisting music or a completely new composition designed to mimic the contours of your content – but best of all, it will:

    • weave between and stay out of the way of your dialog,
    • match and enhance the emotion in each scene, and
    • set the mood and style for your visual.

Here are some things to consider when going down the custom compositions route

Music isn’t always the star in every spot; it will often play a supportive but crucial role in defining your message. Sharing specific information on the music’s role from the outset will determine how composers approach your brief. Delivery deadlines, budget, and where the final content will live are all important considerations as well. Is this an ad designed for online platforms or social media only, or will it be broadcast on networks and across multiple territories?

Get to know the brand intimately

If you’re licensing music for a commercial, it’s crucial to align with your brand’s messaging early on so you can accurately communicate this to the composer. Answering these three questions will help you get the best results:

    • What are your brand’s core values?
      • If sustainability is key to your brand, you might want to use ‘earthy’ instrumental music in your ad.
    • Who is your target audience?
      • Are you selling sneakers? Hip-hop or beat-driven music might enhance the energetic, upbeat nature of the product.
    • Where is the campaign going to be placed, and how will this impact the music?
      • If the ad will live on Instagram, a track that would work as a quick 30-second pop track might be all you need.

You might also gain valuable insight from researching music from any past, especially successful, campaign spots. This will avoid repetition and help ensure you don’t receive off-brand or off-brief compositions.

Gather references that communicate your vision

Technology can be your best friend if you let it. Put together audio and visual ‘mood boards’ — whether it be a playlist, links to sites, or content with sounds and tracks you like. The composer will do their best to translate any verbal cues you give, but Spotify or YouTube links, MP3s, and video clips might communicate your vision more effectively.

Get the right music for your project

Learn More

Top image courtesy of Songtradr.