Why You Should Hire a Composer to Write Your Commercial Music

With a plethora1 of stock music libraries available, there are seemingly endless and often inexpensive options from which advertising creators can choose music to accompany their productions.

So what would be the justification for creators and their clients to spend maybe 5-15% of their production budgets on a composer to write their commercial music?

The best advertisements create a narrative that resonates with the viewer on an emotional level. Just as the script, choice of shots, lighting, props, sets, actors and effects are all chosen to support this narrative, an original score is uniquely able to bring out emotional changes and subtexts that help tell the story at a level that picture and dialog can’t always reach on their own.

An original score will also unify the ad by matching the mood, style and timing in a way stock or pre-composed music can’t, giving the entire production a cohesive and professional sheen that enhances the credibility brought to the brand and product or service being advertised.

Just as importantly, if you contract for ownership of the music, you end up with a reusable brand asset.

So what are some of the limitations of stock music and how does a custom score overcome them:

1. Even the best stock music often has only one emotional tone

Many advertisements involve changes in tone. For example, first a problem is presented, then there is a transition to the solution provided by the product or service. While stock music might be able to support this kind of ad, it often requires cutting together two pieces of music, which can break the flow of the ad and lose the sense of cohesion.

2. Stock music is not written to work around the dialog

One of the hardest things to do as a composer is to provide effective music without interfering with dialog or other important audio components. A good composer is aware of many factors that affect a viewer’s ability to hear dialog clearly, including the frequency spectrum of the human voice and how it is received by the ears and the appropriate balance between ambience and activity.

3. Stock music is often repetitive

Stock music is often intentionally repetitive, making it flexible and easy to work with for video editors, but locking the piece into a certain rhythm and feel. A custom score allows for subtle changes that keep the viewer engaged and can follow an evolving emotional tone, creating a deeper connection to the material.

The ability to manage these changes without distracting or implying a wrong emotional turn is difficult, requiring a composer to go where the ad does, often against their initial impulses.

4. You’re not drawing on the knowledge of a skilled film composer

Most media creators have pretty solid instincts about the use of music in their creations. An experienced media composer listens and draws on those instincts, along with their own understanding of both the music’s affect on a scene and how music (and silence) can be used to shape an entire piece.

5. Stock music is not own-able

The best stock music tracks will be reused by multiple advertisers, which can lead to brand confusion. If you purchase (as opposed to license) the final composition, you can reuse the music for an entire, or even multiple campaigns. If there’s an effective hook or stinger, it could even become a longer term, brand defining asset.

A custom composed score fits like a glove. It captures all the right emotional tones, hits the right changes and ends appropriately while giving the feeling of a unified production.

I have heard filmmakers say that music is so important that it represents 50% of the production’s impact. That number may be a little high depending on the nature of the ad, but certainly the points made here illustrate that the value of the music is at least equal to the 5-15% of the budget that a custom score typically costs.

Now, read on if you’d like to discover how you can fit a composer into your post-production workflow without killing your timeline on the back end of the production!

1The Three Amigos!, dir. by John Landis (1986; L.A. Films, Home Box Office (HBO)).
(I feel uncomfortable using the word “plethora” without a footnote to The Three Amigos!.)
I hope you found this information to be helpful. I would love to hear about any experiences or thoughts you’ve had regarding working with a composer on visual media. Feel free to share them in the comments below.
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