Writing Songs for Film And Television

In writing songs for Film and TV, you don’t need to be a famous, successful recording artist – just write songs that will work. You can do it!

Plutonic Group Syncs :: Writing Songs for Film & Television

Each year, Advertisements, Film and TV shows, use thousands of songs. For every song that’s placed, many are auditioned – often hundreds – but only one is chosen. And you want that song to be yours.

The song that gets the job is one that enhances the emotion and memorability of the scene for the viewers. Is a character discovering real love for the first time? The song needs to evoke that feeling of innocence, yearning, and wonder for the audience. Is the film set in a small town in the 1950s? The song needs to make us feel that we’ve traveled back to another time and place. And the right song can bring the whole thing to life!

Crafting A Song For Film & TV

With that in mind, it may seem a little strange that most of the songs that are placed in film and TV are written and recorded first. Subsequently, they can then pitched by you, your publisher or sync agent to music supervisors of these projects. Most noteworthy, indie artists and bands release many of these songs without deals with mainstream record labels and publishers.

So, how can you craft a song to increase your chances for placement if you don’t know how your song will be used?  Well, let’s just say that some songs work better than others. Here are a few tips that will help you write a song that will work for dozens of scenes.

Keep Your Lyric Universal

Music supervisors in the film and TV market often say they’re looking for songs with “universal lyrics.” But just what does that mean?

A universal lyric is…

  • A lyric that a large number of people can identify with or relate to.
  • A lyric that will not conflict with the specific content of a scene.

A good lyric for film and TV is universal enough to allow the song to be used in a variety of scenes. But the lyrics must still maintain integrity, originality, and focus.

Of course, no song will work for every scene but some themes and situations occur more frequently than others – falling in love, breaking up, or overcoming adversity, for example. If you choose one of these, you’re more likely to be successful. With this in mind, watch a few TV episodes and look for common themes. Chances are you’re already using some of them in your songs.

Imagery, emotional detail, and a fresh approach to your theme add muscle to a universal lyric. Each of these make a song more appealing to film and TV. On the other hand, too many specific physical details, like place names, proper names, and dates, will limit the uses. That’s because they may conflict with the details in the scene itself. If your song is called “I Love You, Sheila” it could confuse viewers if there’s no character named Sheila.

Express Mood & Energy in Your Music

Filmmakers have always used instrumental music to communicate mood, energy, and atmosphere to the audience. We’re talking not only soaring love themes but also the high anxiety of a fast-paced action cue. Growing in popularity with viewers, songs are being used to replace some instrumental music. A song that works well for film and TV is one that, like an instrumental cue, uses melody, chords, pace, and rhythm to evoke a single mood or energy level.

If you’ve written an uptempo song about a wild party or a slow song about lost love, you’re already using tempo (pace) and rhythm to express energy or mood. Songwriters often do this instinctively, but you can hone that ability for the film and TV market. Make your music even more expressive and useable. Like a film composer, you can choose a tempo and groove that physically express the energy level you want, then back it up with chords melody, and lyrics.

Watch a few scenes with instrumental accompaniment. You’ll hear it under almost any emotional scene. Notice how the composer evokes feelings. Is it a slow pace with a  long smooth melody line? Or is it a fast, choppy piece? Minor or major? Try writing a song using some of those melodic tools to create an emotional feel.

Make an Instrumental Mix

While you’re arranging and recording your song, you’re creating something that can provide many additional pitching opportunities for you and earn extra income. A track-only mix, instrumental mix, or TV mix is also known as a “song bed”. Your instrumental version is a stand-alone piece of music that can be in scenes, commercials, promo spots, and trailers.

Television uses millions of pieces of instrumental background music, or “cues,” each year. Many television shows and networks rely on music libraries to fill their need for a variety of songs. Equally important, feature films have a music budget that allows music to be written expressly for a scene.

These music users need everything from powerhouse Rock instrumentals to intimate, solo piano pieces. Correspondingly, you can edit, rearrange, strip down, and remix the track to fill the needs of this market.

Consider creating instrumental cues of different lengths, once you have your song bed. Similarly, add or mute instruments to vary textures and dynamics. Likewise you can replace the lead vocal with an instrument.

Study the Market

Notice what works and what doesn’t by watching shows that use a lot of songs. For example, there’s Grey’s AnatomyKilling EveThis Is Us, The End of the F**kin’ World, ShamelessEuphoria, The Bold Type or Big Little Lies. Try playing one of your own songs under a scene or two. Does it add to the emotional depth or energy of the scene? If not, seems like a good idea to write a new song that you think would work.

You can submit your mastered track to Sync Agencies or Music Libraries to pitch songs to film and TV shows. As a matter of fact, they’re interested in songs that will work for these uses across all media platforms.  You don’t need to be an established artist or have lots of fans. They just want good songs that will work.

You don’t need to be a famous, successful recording artist – just write songs that will work.

You can do it!


These tips are based on Robin Frederick’s book Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV the ONLY book on the fastest growing market for songs. It’s available at Amazon.com. There are over one hundred more Film & TV songwriting ideas and exercises that will show you how to write and pitch your songs to today’s top TV series and movies.

Copyright 2013 Robin Frederick