What Kind of Music
Gets Used in TV Shows?


By Michael Laskow
Sixteen years ago, people laughed at TAXI and said things like, "Oh, they hardly ever got anybody record deals. Most of the deals made through TAXI are for Film and TV placements."

Guess who got the last laugh?

Here we are in 2008, and everything in the music industry has been tuned upside down. It seems that nobody wants a major label deal (I think they'd all take one if one were offered ;-), and everybody is chasing Film and TV licensing opportunities for their music.

Ironically, most musicians, songwriters, and composers don't really don't know much about what kind of music is actually needed for TV placements!

It's my observation that many musicians think of big, orchestral scores when they think of Film and TV music. While that may be true to some extent in the movies music world, people are missing the bigger picture when it comes to television.

Nearly every kind of music is needed by someone for something, at some point in time. And there's a pretty good chance that you might already be sitting on music that's perfectly suited for a great TV licensing opportunity and you just don't know it.

Let's leave the big scores off the table for the moment and take a look at other forms of Instrumental music that gets used in TV shows.

I want you to do this little exercise. Sit in front of your TV with the sound turned way up. Keep a note pad on your lap. Every time you hear a piece of music that's not scored, make a note.

Something like this;
  • Home Depot commercial, solo acoustic guitar track

  • "CSI Miami," Latin instrumental track in background

  • "Sopranos," Italian solo accordion track in background

  • "That 70s Show," Classic Rock track playing from jukebox in background

  • Lipitor commercial, light, solo acoustic guitar, finger-picked under voice-over

  • "24," up-tempo, drums only, played in background during a chase scene
You get the idea. This isn't brain surgery. Try it for an hour on one network, and then try it for an hour on another network. Do this little exercise for a few nights, and I guarantee that you'll be floored by how much of the music that's used every day on TV, could have been done by you.

The really amazing part of this little experiment is that you'll quickly begin to realize how many of the tracks used on TV every day can be recorded on 4 tracks or less!

Just about anybody with a home recording studio can find at least one aspect of TV music that they could be doing with nothing more than the equipment they already have. You might find that you can do many types of music with what you've got.

The trick is to not over think it. Don't let your own misconceptions become the thing that prevents you from starting to make money with your music.

One of my closest friends is a top of the line re-mixer with more than a hundred gold and platinum records to his credit. He also writes and produces. On top of that, he's multi-instrumental, and has a great "home" studio.

But when I suggested that he look into doing film and TV music between working with the multi-platinum acts, he looked like a deer staring into headlights. Why? He just didn't know where to begin. He's not alone, and I'll bet you might be guilty of that same thing.

Hopefully, after listening to a few hours of TV programming, you and my friend will both come to the same conclusion. "I'm leaving money on the table!"

If you only own basic equipment, and only play one instrument, you can still make money with your music. It's kind of a no-brainer, but I don't want to mislead you into thinking that it's pathetically easy.

Even if you're doing solo acoustic guitar tracks, you still have to do them really, really well. By that, I mean that they have to be cleanly recorded, the melody has to be top notch, and most importantly, the music needs to set a mood.

The best way to learn what kind of tracks set a mood is to simply listen. Yep! Just listen and learn. Take notes. Look for commonality.

Are most of the solo acoustic guitar tracks that are used finger-picked or strummed? Are they up-tempo, mid-tempo, or slow and dreamy? Are they layered with a second guitar part? Are they dry, or do they have some reverb on them?

What kind of mood seems to get used time and time again? Light and happy open-chord strums for an anti-depression drug commercial? Minor 7ths, soaked in reverb, played with a slide for that scene where the bad guy is hiding in the warehouse? Country, up-tempo, finger-picked for the Home Depot spot that shows the dad happily trying out his new paint-spraying device?

You can do this! You just need to become obsessed about paying attention to every piece of music you hear on TV, and start taking notes.

Another aspect of simple solo instrument instrumentals is that they shouldn't be overly complicated. Create a melodic theme that's catchy, easy for the listener to grasp, won't step on dialog, and doesn't go through any dramatic, surprising, "Where did that come from," changes. If your track is all over the place while you attempt to display your virtuosity, the music supervisor will probably take a pass. Simple, catchy, and evocative of a certain kind of mood are the rule of the day.

I promised myself that I'd try to keep this article down to just one topic, so tune in next "episode" to learn how you can make money with the songs on that CD you produced.

You know the one I'm talking about... the one you labored over for nearly a year, pressed 1,000 copies at Disc Makers, put it on CDBaby, and still have 876 copies collecting dust in your garage as you read this.

Yep... THAT one!

You've probably missed a bunch of opportunities to make money from Film and TV placements with songs that are on that CD. I'll show you how to turn those 'duds' into dollars next time!

One last thing. Here's a little EASY homework for you. Watch the short videos on this page www.taxi.com/videos.html called 'Earning Your Living with Film & TV Placements' to learn more about getting your music licensed for Film and TV projects.

The guy featured (TAXI member, Matt Hirt) in the interview had no real experience (in the beginning) in the Film and TV music placement market. Now, he earns his entire income with Film and TV music. He works from home, has no commute, and NO boss. Watch these great videos to learn how he got started!

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