Sourcing music for your creative project can be very frustrating and challenging. You want the music to be just right.  When you don’t get it right or it doesn’t quite fit, it can leave you and/or your client less than satisfied, or even ruin the impact of your entire production. But when you get the music just right, you can make a powerful emotional connection with your audience.

Generally speaking, you have three options available to you for production music:

  • Use something from a stock music library

  • License existing music from a recording artist

  • Hire a composer to write something customized to your production

There are benefits and drawbacks to all forms of music licensing, and the criteria for determining your source to use is always dependent on the circumstances. Let’s look at some of the key scenarios in which hiring a composer makes the most sense.

1. You want exclusivity and/or total uniqueness
You might decide that your music must be completely unique to your production or brand identity. There could be many reasons for this, both business and artistic, but regardless, you will likely have to pay a hefty sum for any level of exclusivity with a known artist’s pre-existing work. Hiring a composer, on the other hand, can often be a cost-effective solution, and you have the advantage that nobody in your audience has ever associated your music with another  film, commercial, product, video game, life experience etc.  And you can also negotiate for exclusivity or copyright ownership.  

2. You need to modify an existing music track
While stock or licensed music is typically provided *as is*, it is still possible for a third party musician to modify some aspects of a stock music track, even without the master files or tapes. A composer can enhance the recording by adding additional instrumental parts (including vocals), extending or looping passages, adding beats, adjusting intros and endings etc. This is typically cheaper than having a composer create something from scratch. Be aware, you need to make sure your license to the material allows for this modification.

3. Your piece requires a succession of distinct musical cues
If your production goes through several different scenes, moods, plot developments etc, it can be tedious to audition stock music tracks to accompany each happening.  It can take hours just to find one good track, let alone five, ten or more. A composer can work with you to create music unique to your requirements - perhaps just filling in certain gaps, or scoring the entire work. A good composer can also ensure that recurring themes run throughout each track, as opposed to the music sounding like a random patchwork of stock material.

4. You want to emulate or re-record an existing piece of music
Is there a popular song with a groove or melody so catchy that you absolutely must use it for your production? A composer can create something very similar to it (a “sound-alike”), but not so similar that it violates any copyright. You can also negotiate with the copyright holder of the music for the right to re-record and use your own version of the tune rather than use the original artist recording of it - which is often much less expensive. A composer can help you arrange and produce this new version.

5. You just can’t find the right music track elsewhere
You’ve looked all over. You spent hours on stock music sites auditioning song files, you’ve combed iTunes and YouTube...yet still, you can’t find the one track that is just right for your production. It might be that a composer is what’s needed to help you create something completely customized for your situation.  Have you ever stopped to add the up the cost of all the non-billed time it took you and members of your team to comb through stock music files . . . and you’re still not quite satisfied with the result?

If there are other compelling reasons not covered above which have led you to hire a composer for one of your projects, please share your thoughts in the comments below. I would also like to hear what sort of challenges, if any, you may have encountered in working with a composer.