Sonic Branding: How Can I Write Music For Commercials?
June 28, 2016
Sparkplug in Branding, Branding, commercials, composition, sync license, video, writing

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Let’s start with a little experiment - think about NBC.

Did you visualize the rainbow peacock logo?

More importantly: did you did you hear the NBC chimes?

The chimes associated with the NBC Network are an example of sonic branding. Just as brands rely on a certain color palette, typography, or a particular image, brands may also establish a connection to a particular song, jingle, or series of notes (as NBC does with the G3, E4, and C5, for you music theory folks out there).

There is a major market for creating these brand-identifying sounds, and there are ways you can make money doing this.

Given the range of ways that the modern consumer is connected, even if we limit this connection to only wireless devices, there are opportunities for auditory advertising everywhere! Companies advertise on Vine (6 seconds at a time, with music), on Instagram (15 seconds at a time, with music), and even in between rounds of Angry Birds 2 and Candy Crush (up to 30 seconds at a time, with music)! These companies need music and content for each of these placements.

Of course, placing music in ads costs money. It can cost hundreds of thousands (even millions, in some cases) to license a particular song from a major recording artist in a commercial placement.

The other option, and this is where you come in, is that companies can commission or license music that sounds similar to those major recording artists without the big price tag…your music!

But how do you write/record music for these opportunities? Though it can be tough to get your music in the hands of a brand director or someone at an advertising agency, writing music for these opportunities is pretty straightforward.

Do Your Homework/Know The Landscape

Keeping up with trends is important. This holds true when you’re creating music for potential commercial use, just as it does when you’re trying to hold down a conversation at the water cooler. Have you noticed how so many commercials have music that has an acoustic, folk rock vibe - with some tambourine, mandolin, maybe even ukelele? That might have been as a result of the popularity of The Lumineers’ hit “Ho Hey.” Before that, you may have noticed that many commercials featured music that sounded like Coldplay’s “Clocks.” If it’s a hit, you can bet that companies are looking to feature similar music in their commercials. Knowing what music styles are trending and being able to write in a similar style puts you at an advantage.

Have Your Splits/Have Your Cutdowns

So you’ve written a great tune - the melody is catchy, the hook is an earworm, and the lyrics align perfectly with that fast food chain’s new value meal. But is it ready to be pitched to the ad agency?

While radio-ready hits are around three minutes long, the average TV or radio commercial is not. Advertising time is not cheap, so commercials are usually 15 to 30 seconds long (sometimes companies will keep a 60 second cut, too). How can you turn that three minute monster into a :15 cut that can run before Fallon returns from commercial break? While there is no exact rule to follow, be ready to abandon general music theory conventions to make the best parts of your music fit into the given commercial time.  For example, play around with using incomplete measures, mini choruses, and mixed time signatures.

Next: Have your stems ready! Producers, music directors, and brand managers may dig the mix you did on a commercial, but they almost always want individual tracks or stems in case they want to fix something in post-production.

Keep On Writing

Just as you should stay current with musical trends (and commercial trends - watch more TV!), you should practice writing along those trends, too. For example, WALK THE MOON’s hit “Shut Up and Dance” set a record topping Billboard’s Hot Rock chart for 27 weeks; so it’s likely that brands and agencies may be interested in music that sounds like that song. This is not to say, however, that this is the only type of music that you should be writing/recording. Maybe you have a cool surf rock tune (much like Dick Dale’s “Miserlou”) in the works that could be good for a summer 2016 commercial…. whatever it may be, lay it down and have it ready to go in your library. You never know when opportunity may come knocking.


Author: Rich Fuchs

Article originally appeared on Music Think Tank (
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