Heard by Millions, Remembered by None

4 Mar

I was at a music/networking convention in November, where I attended seminars and workshops about the business aspects and the creative aspects of writing for film and T.V.. Many of these ‘workshops’ felt like a waste of time, as they pandered to total noobs who didn’t have a prayer of ever making a dime with their music, or were no more than dubious ruffians without the chops who wanted to tear down the biz. But some of the seminars were very worthwhile, and I learned quite a bit from them.

One of my favorites was conducted by a guy named Dave Trotter, who is the Music Supervisor for Harpo Productions (Oprah, Dr. Oz). He started the seminar off by uttering this great line:

“My music has been heard by millions of people, and remembered by none of them”

Which is actually a beautiful description of what library music is all about. When you write cues for T.V. libraries, you write with the primary goal of creating something that is spectacularly average and unoriginal. If you get too creative or innovative when writing T.V. cues, you put yourself into a box, and limit the ways in which that little piece of music can be used.

This was hard for me to wrap my head around at first, and I still struggle with it at times.

The paradox is that you want to have a ‘fresh’ sound, as my buddy and editor friend Chris Collins says. You want to have cues that don’t necessarily sound like everything else. But you don’t want them to have jagged edges that puncture the scene riding on top of them.

Here is an example:

I wrote this cue with MTV reality shows in mind: a nice Hip Hop track that would work well under a scene. I thought it was awesome with the electric guitar and piano doing those builds.

When I played it for Chris, the very part that I dug so much was the part he said didn’t work. He said that the guitar was too distracting and didn’t let the cue just ride out under a scene. He said he could picture this cue as a good bed for a scene where some dude was on a couch feeling really down, feeling defeated. But only on the slow, mellow parts. The very part I thought was cool was the part that didn’t work. I needed this cue to be heard by millions but remembered by none, and I was shooting for it to be remembered by some! So I took his suggestion and ran with it, mellowing other parts out, and retitling the cue from ‘Little Waldo’ to ‘Defeated’.

When I played this one for him, he simply said, ‘nice job’. Mission accomplished.

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