In this video I discuss something that is soooo often overlooked when it comes to becoming a professional composer for media – correctly responding to the brief.
It doesn’t really matter how talented you are, if you cannot write on brief, your tracks will not be chosen. Simple.
So I give you a little bit of advice as to how to write on brief and make sure you get your tracks picked for production.
Welcome to the trailer music composer’s podcast. Hit it.
One with one microphone. Who once performed on stage with Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jeff. Welcome to the trailer music composer’s podcast.
Hey guys, welcome to another episode of the trailer music composer’s podcast. In today’s episode I’m going to be talking about a question that I got asked by one of my students in the trailer music school, which was how, have you got any advice to help us stay on brief? Now this kind of stems from the fact that each month the trailer music school, for my members I do a brief and I send them a brief essentially like an industry brief, trying to get them to produce tracks to submit to me so that I can get them to produce feedback, and we can essentially improve their writing skills and also improve their skills working to brief, because that’s a huge, huge thing.
Now before I answer that question I kind of want to talk about that a little bit because as a trailer composer, you’re not just a composer, you’re not just writing music that you like and then sending it off and it gets placed. What you are doing is you are working with other people as a composer, you’re working with your publisher, you’re working with your agent, whatever it is you’re working with. So you’re working with other people to their brief, so the ability to work to a brief is so enormously important. I have worked with a quite a few people and obviously quite a few students who are obviously incredibly talented composers, who when set to their own devices can produce the most amazing work, but then when you set them a brief, or even you give them feedback that they respond to they are unable to respond to the feedback correctly.
Obviously when I say correctly we’re all dealing with subjective changes, but they’re important subjective changes. So for instance if I were to submit my tracks, usually sketches to Vic at Elephant Music, I would send them to him, he would send me feedback based on what I have submitted. Now if I was not able to respond to that feedback correctly in the manner that I do he would probably stop working with me as much. And this is the thing, because when I’ve had students and I’ve submitted a brief and I’ve told them this needs to be changed in a track they haven’t done those changes or haven’t tried to do those changes, it’s been very frustrating for me, and I’m sure it’s very frustrating for all publishers, editors , whoever you are who ask a composer to make some changes and they don’t, I feel your pain, I understand. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially when you give very prescriptive changes like ‘at 30 seconds take that drop out, it doesn’t work’ and they leave the drop in. it’s very frustrating. I’m putting my composer hat back on, I completely understand it, because when I first started getting feedback and people would suggest to me changes to my track, I had this huge ego, I’d be like I think I know my track better than you, and you know whose the one who studied music. I mean I must have been a right little arrogant twerp to work with sometimes. Because obviously I didn’t say this to them, but I obviously think it when they would suggest changes. But over the years, well I suppose over a decade of experience in the industry I’ve come to realise actually the ability to respond to feedback is as, if not more important than your ability as a composer to produce a track outright.
Now let me further that point. Say for instance there’s two composers, composer A, and composer B. We’ll call composer A Richard and we’ll call composer B Edward. Now Richard submits a track, he is an incredibly talented composer, he has produced an incredible piece of work. Edward, he’s an aspiring composer, he’s produced a track that some would say is more along the lines of a sketch. But there are some good ideas in there.
Now both Richard and Edward submit their demos to a composer, let’s call it the Awesome Music Publisher. Well I did air quotes when I said that. So the Awesome Music Publisher receives those two tracks, and on the rare occasions that they have the time to listen to them these unsolicited demos they send an email back to both of them. To Richard they say, love this cue, I do have some notes, if we can make these notes then maybe I can fit it onto an album we’re putting out in the next month, these are the notes. Your back end just needs a little bit more wellie, British term there, a bit more oomph there that means. And your percussion is a bit bright, so maybe take the snare out in the back end. And also I don’t think the drop from act two to act three is necessary, take that out. Ok so he sends that email to Richard reads the email and goes well I’m going to leave the drop because it makes musical sense, musical punctuation, I’ll leave that in there. I’ll address the, I’ll put some more drums in there. But actually you know what I like the snares and I like the high end of the percussion. So I’m going to leave that in there, or Richard doesn’t respond to all the elements of the feedback that were given, because he believes he knows better, he sends the demo off.
Now Edward, obviously you remember he has a sketch that has potential. So the publisher says hi Edward thank you for submitting the demo, I think this is a very rough sketch from what I’ve heard, but I really like the ideas you’ve got here, specifically your signature sound in act one, and your interesting percussion in act two. Now if you can then take that signature sound and use that as your cues driving force and use that repeated throughout the whole cue, but what I want you to do is rather than just repeat it I want you to make it feel like this developed. So add some filters, add whatever it is to give it a bit more growth. I think the scenario trailer, you know I think that type of growth. And also the percussion is good, but you need to fan out, maybe chuck in some Hanz Zimmer drums.
So Edward gets that email and he responds to the feedback appropriately. What he does is he goes out and buys the spitfire and Zimmer percussion so he can add some taikos at the end and he makes that third act more impactful. And what he does is he creates the signature sound, he has the signature sound already but he develops it using filters, using different effects, so that actually the signature sound becomes almost the entire cue. But what it is he has responded to the feedback appropriately.
Now those two tracks are then sent over to the publisher. The publisher goes ah, ok, well Richard hasn’t actually done the stuff I asked him to do, that drops still there, and that tinny percussion is still there. Edward has responded to the feedback and the track is sounding a lot better. I’m going to send them both another email and Richard gets another email, sorry for the long drawn out story, I feel like I need to paint this picture because a lot of people I think misunderstand how important the ability to respond to feedback appropriately is, so Richard gets an email, like hey Richard thanks for this, if you could just take that drop out and sort this percussion out then we’ll be good to go with this track. And Edward gets an email that says this is sounding much, much better now, if we can just add some sort of huge brass buams in the third act then we’re good to go with this.
And obviously Richard gets the email and goes yeah ok, I’m going to make the drop a little bit shorter, so he believes he’s responded to the feedback obviously just ignoring it. And what he does is he goes ok well I’ll just leave those snares in there but I’ll just drop them down in the mix. He sends the cue off. Edward then gets his track and he goes ok well I’ll do everything, I’ll get some brass bwaams and I’ll chuck those in and maybe what I will do is I will just fatten it out a little bit more with layers and layers of bass, maybe I will chuck them through sounds toys, decapitated to give them extra grip. Fits in with the rest of the cue.
Anyway they send the tracks off and again the publisher gets Richard’s demo, gets Edward’s demo and he goes ok well Richard has not done what I’ve asked, Edward has, email Edward, Edward thanks this is great can you send over the stems and we’re good to go. And do you know what, maybe the publisher will just ignore Richard.
Now the moral of the story here, I love the long drawn out winded story is that you need to take your ego down a notch and step back emotionally from your own music.
Now this is a huge thing for responding to briefs correctly. And responding to feedback correctly when you’re writing music for somebody it is essentially a service you are providing. It’s kind of like imagine you’ve got a chippie around, a woodworker, and you’ve said look Mr Woodworker man, or lady, let’s call her Mrs. Woodworking lady, we’ll call her Tess. Tess the woodworker, I would like a desk that spans from this wall to this wall please. And Tess goes ok great, I’ll build it in my shop and then I will bring it back. Tess returns with a desk, but the desk is only half way between the two walls. And Tess turns to me and says hey I liked your idea about the desk spanning those two walls but I thought it would look better if I left it like that. Imagine the audacity of somebody providing a service to them second guess your request as the person who is essentially paying them to do it.
That’s exactly the same with music. Because some of you, and I’ve been guilty of this too, so don’t feel like I’m just accusing you, some of you still have this kind of like well you know what it’s my music, it’s very precious to me, I mean that’s great and it is, but you know what, if you’re supplying a service you must listen to what’s asked. And this is the same with responding to a brief, you must listen to what’s being asked. So in answer to that question, what tips do I have for responding to a brief?
The first one is take your ego out of the equation, take your emotions out of the equation, and just look at it as a service you’re providing and this will help you through the whole feedback process. So if you’re lucky enough to have a publisher that you can pitch tracks to or have requested tracks, they’re obviously interested in your work so if you send over a lower quality demo, as long as your ability to respond to feedback is good, that doesn’t matter. I mean honestly the demos I submit to Vic at Elephant Music, sometimes they are barely a sketch. Sometimes it’s like, they’re rarely mixed, they’re always peaking, they’re based on just ideas. I’ve literally just thrown out some ideas, I send them to him and I go Vic, here’s an idea for that. And obviously he knows that my ability to respond to feedback is good, so he’s like ok, basically carry on or whatever, or this is rubbish, do this. And I respond to feedback and the track gets pushed and developed and released. So the first step is see it as a service you are providing.
Now the second one, and this is the trickiest one I think, this is do not get distracted by the beautiful references. You know the amount of times I have responded to a brief by accidently, and I don’t mean that sarcastically, I honestly didn’t mean to steal something from a track, but I’ve Written a track and I’ve gone oh no. I’ve just copied that cue. And I;ve had to chuck it out because obviously none of us are big fans of copyright infringement, even though it’s a grey murky world with more and more copyright being registered. Anyway I think that’s a whole podcast in itself.
So do not get distracted by the references, and I don’t mean don’t listen to them, obviously it’s incredibly important that you listen to them, but what’s important is that you listen to what the publisher or whoever it is that’s asking for your work, is what they’re asking for.
So for instance if your publisher is asking for like a slow burn album to be produced by you and a bunch of other composers and they’ve sent over a description of what they want and they’ve sent over some trailer references and some audio references, you don’t listen to the cues in detail, you listen to them as gestures, and you try and take out keywords from the brief so you know, obviously slow burn epic, is obviously going to be slow, it’s going to be emotional. You listen to the cues and you think well that core progression is ncie be careful, what you listen to is the space that the cure is creating. You listen to the impact that the cue is creating, you listen to the incrimination, the orchestration, because if you start listening to the details like melodies and harmonies, that’s when it gets a bit murky. But if you listen to those more general things, you know the seven aspects of music, silent, dyamcis, texture, taambre, maybe we won’t; listen to the other ones because that’s harmony and melodies and, what’s seven here we go. You listen to those things and how the picture is being painted and that’s how you respond to the brief. So you know slow burn.
The tracks are going to start with a lot of space and I mean space, not silence, they’re going to create a very big sonic landscape immediately with distant booms, and with distant harmonics and the faint whiff of a very slow but swelling core progression. And that you will noticed it develops, it develops like this very slow giant slowly standing up. So when you first hear the cue you’re going to get this impression that there’s a big beast in the room, in fact it’s not even in the room, that’s the toe of the beast in the room, the rest of the beast is lying outside. But you get this impression of something massive. And you’re not thinking well they’re obviously in the key of A minor and then they go from A minor to F and they just, and then they go to C major seven, you’re not thinking in those terms, because we all do them with the same major chord sequence, blah, blah, blah. What we;re trying to think is what picture are they painting?
And then the slow burn, there’s not going to be a huge amount of driving percussion, it’s more going to be sort of like the percussion is acting kind of like a tidal wave, whoosh, big waves crashing on the shore. And that’s what you’re trying to do, obviously I’m not giving you a brief for a slow burn, I’m just using it as an example. You know you could go into horror cues and say to yourself well what is it, what picture are they painting with this horror cue? Obviously all of these references they’ve sent me are very intimate, most of the instrumentation is string instrumentation, it’s very closely recorded, there’s not much reverb and space on the actual strings. And rhythmically tis very interesting. There’s all these things that you take general inspiration from the references, you don’t take specific intermountain, you take it like somebody is just quickly showing you a slide show and says create a mood board from what you’ve seen. That’s what you need to do,. You’re kind of essentially taking that as a mood board not as direct references.
And then if you can take the general picture that’s being painted from the cues and then apply it to your own, so let’s go back to the slow burn, you go ok, so I don’t need huge amounts of percussion, I just need some big hits, some tams, tams. So you get your instrumentation, you set out your template, you think ok, it just needs to feel big and distant at the start. So then you slow a couple of reverb sends and then you just play in a couple of notes just to give you that idea. And if some of you are thinking ok well how do I avoid that kind of trap of copying the chord progression admittedly we all know that we are dealing with a limited number of chord progressions and to be honest most of us are using the same ones. So as long as you’re, you can just take whatever chord progression is appropriate, so obviously if it’s a slow burn you probably want to start in a minor chord progression, because the key there of a slow burn is often the emotion, and the emotion is usually angsty and sad. Very rarely is it happy. But obviously there are exceptions to the rule.
Anyway, so let me sum up what I’ve said so far. Its step one for responding to a brief is take your ego out, take your emotion out, just see it as a service you are providing ok. So when you go forward throughout the whole process you are providing a service. If they ask you to take that entire section out, just take it out, it’s like it’s that obvious. Sometimes they will say you know what this is great, just take this out, and if you don’t take it out you just drop it in the mix. You cheeky monkey you, you need to take it out because that’s what they want. Ok.
Next up is when youre reading the briefs, take a general mood from the references, what picture is each cue painting. What I’m thinking of here is specifically when they send audio references, when they send trailer references that’s kind of like a different interpretation because what you’re trying to see in the trailer references is how those tracks are used. So for instance long back to the slow burn, cues are often used start to finish because they essentially cover all the bases of act one, two and three. Or you’ve got act two and three because the thing with slow burn is you want the continuation of the idea from act two which is when the proverbial hits the fan, into act three which is when everything blows up in everyone’s faces. All the emotions, the tears, the deaths, the love making you name it. And then the drop down. The climax.
Then once you’ve got this picture and you’ve taken the instrumentation, and the mood from the cue if you combine that with your ability to respond to feedback, you are on a winding road. Ok.
Now the other aspect of it is punctuality. If you can get your tracks on time you are winning. So many composers are late in their submissions, and that has consequences for all other composers. And it’s very frustrating as a composer, if you get your tracks in on the deadline and then you get an email from the publisher that says ok the deadline has shifted because the other composers are late, you’re like oh man come on. Now my time scale has shifted because of other people’s inability to, because everyone has the ability to work on time, choices to not work on them. And that comes down to obviously one of my other episodes which is how to increase your writing speed and how to just let your inspiration flow and stop being so picky about the things you do as a composer because you’re essentially developing an idea with a publisher you know. I know some publishers are different, they’re not all the same, but I digress.
So there we have my tips to help you respond to a brief. I mean like I said it essentially comes down to taking your ego out and taking gestural ideas, do ideas from the references, what pictures are these tracks painting and with what instruments. Obviously some of you are probably thinking well there are harmonic and melodic specific tendencies within genres, and yes that is true, but that is not as important in my mind as your ability to pick out a specific mood and the space that has been painted by the cue.
Sometimes if you produce a wild card that can be amazing for you, so yes, I do hope you have enjoyed another rambling episode from me about helping you, or trying to help you respond to briefs. And any of my students who are listening take what I say on board., you know a publisher asks you to take something out of the track just take it out. If someone asks you to take the piano out, take the piano out, I think if you can respond to those briefs without an ego and with the right genre specific sensibilities then you’re pretty much there. The rest will be ironed out and if you want more sort of harmonic and melodic tips, I’m not sure the podcast is the best place to do it. You know let’s go through Mozart’s scores, Opus 435, it’s not going to be the greatest thing without any visual references, so probably we won’t be going into the deep details of that stuff on the podcast.
But anyway I do so very much appreciate you taking the them to listen to this as per usual, and if you are interested in trailer music and how to become a trailer music composer you can obviously subscribe to my YouTube channel, that’s Richard Schreiber or you can come on over to the trailer music school and you can buy one of my courses. You can join the community, join a membership and hopefully I can help you on our journey of a trailer music composer, thanks guys.