Writing for Libraries: Music Composition Tips from Mark Cross | ASCAP | Music for Film
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Writing for Libraries: Music Composition Tips from Mark Cross | ASCAP | Music for Film

October 18, 2019

[MUSIC PLAYING] My name is Mark Cross, and I teach
several of the online classes. I also went to Berklee back in 1986. [LAUGHTER] And I’ve been working in the
industry for over 25 years now, hence the highlights that
I have paid dearly for. I’ve moved out here in the early ’90s
to work in the entertainment industry. I think my first big
break was co-producing the score and the soundtrack to a movie
called Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. [LAUGHTER] And to our shock and awe,
it was quite successful. And so since then, I’ve had
a pretty good career working in music production, in TV and film,
working a lot in film, in comedy, like Meet the Parents, Meet
the Fockers, more drama, like Seabiscuit and Alien Resurrection,
also more feature animation, like Pixar’s Cars. I also mixed the music for the
show ER for the last 10 years it was on TV, as well
as dozens of others. And for the last 10 years, I’ve
been working as a composer, writing primarily for television. And throughout that time, especially
in the last 10, 15, years, I’ve been writing for music
libraries, which is what I’m going to talk to you about today. And if you do have questions, I’d
ask you to just hold onto them. And then at the end, maybe we
could do a little Q&A at that time. So first of all, what
are music libraries? Music libraries are businesses that
supply music for music supervisors, for TV shows, for films, primarily
when they show the project does not have a big budget for a
composer, or maybe even the musical scope of
the show is so vast, that they don’t feel that a single
composer can cover all the ground as effectively as they would hope. And so, in that instance, you
have television shows, films, occasionally reaching out
to these music libraries to provide different
genres of music to them, so that they can fulfill those areas
of the shows that do need them. And basically how they work is
that a music library, per se, will have a roster of composers. And they will reach
out to those composers to supply a variety of different styles
of music to broaden their music base. And so that said, a lot
of times, if you look to– if you’re interested
in this sort of thing, you could actually go on Google
and look up music libraries, and you can find some of the big ones. And you can see, when
you go to their websites, that they have different
styles that they try to offer. Some of the ones, like emotional,
suspense, rock, blues– any sort of category
that you can imagine is covered in a music library,
even seasonal music, holiday music, that sort of thing, polka, Klezmer. Anything is fair game. It’s interesting. My wife is a producer also. It’s kind of the family
business, I guess you would say. And she worked on the show. She was a producer on the
show Curb Your Enthusiasm. And the main title to that
show was from a music library. It was written in the ’70s by some guy
who just put it in a music library. And one day, Larry David
heard it, and licensed it, and said, someday,
when I do my own show, I’m going to use this as my main title. So it’s fascinating where this stuff is. When I first got involved
in music libraries, I was trying to write hipper
music, and that sort of things that I was interested in. And then I realized the more vast
you could be or the more diverse you could be, the more success
you could possibly have. And so basically, when a music
library works with a TV show, there’s a couple of ways in which
they operate, as far as business-wise. If a music library was to
license your music for a TV show or to use your music through them,
they would usually have some sort of– sometimes they’ll have an upfront
licensing fee, so X amount of dollars. Let’s say, for example, they
give you $100 as a licensing fee to put 10 seconds of one of your
tracks in America’s Next Top Model. And so sometimes the deal
would be that you would split that fee with the music library. So they get $50, and you
get 100– or you get $50. That would be an interesting deal. You get 50. I get 100. [LAUGHTER] I haven’t gone into that situation yet. But it’s nice to have a dream, I guess. Anyway, in addition to that, which
really ties into why we’re all here, is you have what are called the PROs,
the performance rights organizations. And they deal with royalties,
performance royalties, when your music is
broadcast on television. And that is what is sometimes
termed as the backend money. And when that happens, you
have two different people that will split the money. 50% of the royalties
will go to the publisher. 50% will go to the writer. And usually, with most music
libraries, their business model is based on the fact that
they’ll take the publishing, and the writer will take
the writer’s royalties. And that’s a standard kind of
deal that most music libraries do. There are other music libraries
that actually take the publishing and actually want a piece
of the writer’s share, too. And so each business
model works differently, but that’s basically
what it’s all about. And so I know that, when
I first got involved, I was looking more towards the backend. Getting $50 and $100 here and
there, of course, is great. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it was really the backend money
that was the most appealing to me. And so that’s really
how those models work. I heard a few of you talking
earlier about exclusivity and that sort of thing. And when you work with a music
library to provide music for them, you are going to enter into a contact– contractual– contractual agreement. Did I say that right? Does that word work? If not, it’s a word now. Anyway, within your contract
with the music library, it is going to specify whether your
music is exclusive or non-exclusive. And it’s always good to
specify that upfront, so that you don’t get into
any issues along the way. And then, of course,
in that contract, you will understand the
business model of that music library, how the splits work. Do you get to share in licensing fees? Do you get to split– do you get 50– all of your writer’s share, and
they get the publishing share? And like I said, every
situation is different. And there was one show,
actually, that I was on. I was the lead writer on
a show called, what is it? Last Comic Standing–
and so with that– and I don’t know how this happened,
but needless to say, no one ever asked me for my publishing. And so when the music supervisor
and I talked about it, he didn’t even know to ask. And I said, well, I’m just
going to take my publishing. Is that cool? And he said, yeah. And so that was great. So rather than just getting my
writer’s share, I got the publishing. And of course, that was
a prime time TV show that also played throughout the world. So that was a nice little bump on that. That was a lucky little
thing that happened. And so it’s good to be
educated along those lines, should you go down this path, so that
you know to ask the right questions or just to know when
not to ask the questions and just navigate
through your situation. Getting started in music
libraries is interesting. I mean, I got started just by a fluke. I was out to dinner one night with a
bunch of people, and this girl I know was there with her boyfriend. And she introduced me. We got along. We had similar tastes in music. He told me he was an
attorney, and he said, oh, I’m putting together a music library. And I said, oh, good for you. And he said, you must write music. Give me some of your music, and
I’ll try and get it out there and make you some money. And I was young and naive. I didn’t know. I was like, OK. But I thought for a second there. I remember, when I grew
up initially in Chicago and before I moved out
to California, I was writing music for commercials and
advertisement, and stuff like that. And so, as you can
imagine, for every spot that I would submit three or
four different pieces of music, and if I did get it, one would get it. And then those other two or three
pieces of music that they didn’t like would go into, what I called,
my little music orphanage, because there was no home for them. And as my orphanage started to fill
up, it rang a bell when this guy said, hey, do you have these spare tracks? And I was up front with him. I said, you know, I have this orphanage. I said, but there’s a reason
why they’re in the orphanage. I don’t think they’re that great. And he said, oh, trust me. I’ll get them out there. And so I did. I gave him a couple of dozen tracks. They were anywhere from
60 to 90 seconds long. And lo and behold,
within the first year, I started getting checks from ASCAP,
because I’m registered with ASCAP as a writer and as a publisher. And they were really small at first,
$18 here, $37 there, that sort of thing. But I was getting checks,
and that was kind of cool. And so I started to realize, OK, so
there’s some money to be made here, if I could add to this. And so I started to
write a little bit more. I gave some more of my
tracks to the library. And then an interesting
thing happened, which is– and I’m sure those of you who have
ever been in a relationship probably know this scenario. There I was sitting on the
sofa with my wife, watching TV, and she had the remote. [LAUGHTER] So we’re watching her cooking
shows, whatever, the home shows. And I’m sitting there,
going, I don’t like this. And then I’m watching this show
where it was one of those home shows where they’re remodeling a
home, or something like that. And I noticed they were playing– the music in the background
was like Lynyrd Skynyrd. And I was like, geez, I could do that. I could do a track like
that in 10 seconds. That’s like– that’s C,
G, and D, with a groove. And there’s no melody,
so the dialogue works. I get this. All right, honey. You good? I went back into my studio. And about an hour and a half later,
I had a track very much like that. And I started to realize, OK, these
are the shows that are using my music. I see them on my cue sheets. Cue sheets are the
sheets that the TV shows submit to let the writers know
where the music is being– or actually, to let ASCAP or
BMI, or whoever– can I say that? [LAUGHTER] Well, I just did. To let the pros know
what has been played, so that they can divvy out royalties. And so anyway, I thought, wow, I should
start paying attention to these shows and seeing what kind of
music that they’re using. Because I should start
giving them what they want. I might be interested
in doing blues tracks or doing this or that and the
other thing, but why waste my time? If I’m just going to be
doing this for a show, I should give them what they want. And so I started doing more of that. And as I got a few Lynyrd Skynyrd
type tracks, or at least of the show that my wife was
watching, I also started to notice who was providing the music. And I’d read the credits,
or I’d freeze the credits, because in TV, they go so fast. Or I’d go on IMDb and
figure out who the music supervisor– who’s providing music
for this show that we’re watching? And then I would reach out
to them and try and navigate my way so I could get a meeting. Or somehow say, hey, look, I’m a writer. I’ve got experience writing
music for these libraries. Oh, and by the way, I
have a bunch of new tracks that I haven’t submitted anywhere
that are really like your show. And so it was that sort of
thing that got the ball rolling. And I started to meet more people,
more music supervisors, and other music libraries. And then fast forward to
where we are right now, I have well over 1,000 tracks registered
in three different music libraries. And that has– now my checks are
a lot bigger than $17 and $37, and that sort of thing. But it’s something that I did over time. And this is something
that I started in 1994. And so over the last 20
plus years, I’ve added a lot to what I’ve contributed to the library. Now, another thing that you have to
take into consideration, if you’re going down this path– and I’m sure most of you already
have something like this– but you need some sort of
home studio, some sort of way that you can create this music. It can be as simple as a laptop computer
with a digital audio workstation. I like to use a program called Logic. I also use Ableton Live and Pro Tools. And then I have a wide
array of different samples and different sound libraries
that I use in writing. I’m also a guitar player. And so I also, in addition to having
a computer-based digital audio workstation, I also have a really
nice interface and microphones to mic my acoustic guitar or any of my
stringed instruments that I do play. And so that has been a
substantial investment. I think, in my family, it’s also
been referred to as my money pit. But it’s cool. It’s my hobby, that generates
a substantial amount of income for my family. So I can justify buying a new guitar
here and a new microphone there. And that’s really cool, because
it is part of our income. Also, when I buy new musical
instruments and stuff, then it becomes a tax write-off. And so that’s another thing. So having a good studio
environment is crucial. Because mainly, what I found is then– and I just figured this out,
as we all do at some point– well, if I’m watching this reality
TV show, someone else is, too. And so other people are contributing
music to these libraries. And I found that it has become very,
very competitive, really competitive. In fact, as I started to pursue this
a little bit more professionally, I went out to some of the bigger
libraries to just test the waters and see where things were at. And some of the bigger
libraries were licensing music from people like Hans Zimmer
and James Newton Howard. They were getting their
throw-away tracks. Now, they’re throw-away tracks
were, I’m sure, a lot better than what was in my orphanage. But nonetheless, I thought, wow, OK, so
now, I’m competing against these guys. And they’re really good. In fact, I look up to
a lot of these people. And I’ve been fortunate
to work with some of them. And it’s hard to be in a
professional environment and still be in awe at the same time. But also, it made me realize,
OK, well, if I’m really going to take this to the next
level, I have to literally take this to the next level. I have to up my game. I have to make sure that the sounds
that I’m using are contemporary and that my writing is better,
and so on and so forth. And I also realized, as I was working
more and more with music libraries, that they were contacting me. In fact, as I was just moseying back
there, I got an email from one of them. And I’ll read that to you so you
can see what the call sheet is like. It says, hey, Mark, America’s Next
Top Model is back for cycle 23 on VH1. And this is what they want. They want uptempo hip hop. And then they give me four
or five different examples. They want length for a minute
and 30 seconds to 2 minutes long, as soon as possible. And so the reason why I bring this up
is because, if they sent this to me, I would be a little naive to think
that they just sent this to me. I’m sure that they sent this
to a few dozen other writers within their inner circle. And so anyone who’s interested in
doing this, who got that email, is going to act on this. So that means, if I submit
three or four tracks to this, they’d better be three or
four really good tracks, because my stuff needs to stand
out, so that they choose it. Because chances are, they’re going
to have 30 or 40 other tracks in that genre to choose from. So like I said, it gets
very, very competitive. The fact that I have a
background in music production and mostly music mixing, I think
is a good attribute for me, because I know how to present my
music and how to mix it so it, as I would say, so it
jumps out of the speakers. When someone listens to
it, I’m going to make it– I’m going to produce it as best I can. In fact, I was talking to
another writer about this. I found that recently, I
would say, my work as a writer has become 20% composing,
80% music production. And so it doesn’t take me
long to turn out a track. I can do it in fairly short order. What I’m spending most of my time
on now is making it sound amazing. And whether that’s using the
best compressor on my bass or a different treatment on the
drums, or whatever the case may be, I’m doing everything I can to make
things jump out of the speakers. And I also have a friend. One of my closest friends
is a mixer, and he primarily mixes metal music, or at least,
that’s what he’s doing now. And he was over a couple of weeks ago. And he was telling me about this
record he’d been working on. He’s like, oh, you’ve
got to hear this stuff. And we’re sitting outside. And I was like, cool. And I got up. And he’s like, what are you doing? I was like, well, let’s go inside,
in the studio, and listen to. And he goes, uh-uh, check this out. And he put his phone on the table. And then he played it. And it just was amazing. And I thought, geez, how did you get
it to sound that great on a phone? And he goes, I mixed on the phone. I was like, well, I’ve
been to your studio. You’ve got these big
monitors here, and you’ve got those little near-fields there. And he goes, yeah, and I got
another feed that goes to my laptop, and then the output of
that goes to my phone. And I only listen to my phone now. And I was like, oh. I’ve got to remember that one. And then I realized, oh, so
when I’m submitting tracks, I’m uploading them to some FTP
site, or whatever, some Dropbox. And so that means that
the receiver of these is going to download them to what? Probably their laptop. OK, I’ve got to start
mixing on my laptop, because now, I got to know
exactly how they’re hearing. So these are the things that I
started to use as tools and techniques to get myself noticed, or
to get my music noticed. I cared less about myself. It was more about getting
the music out there. And basically, it’s– I hate to make it sound like this. I just didn’t want to waste my time. If I was going to do
this music, I just wanted to make sure that it was a good,
efficient workflow that I had, and so that it wasn’t
a waste of my time. I find, as I’m getting
older, I have children, there’s so many demands
on my time right now. If I’m going to dedicate a few
hours to do something like this, I want it to be great,
and I want it to be used. Otherwise, I would rather
just sit at home and jam. I could have much more
enjoyment doing that. And so in recognizing delivery
systems and that sort of thing, and mixing systems, this helped me
to put together a much more effective workflow in my creative process and
in my professional process of feeding music libraries. So a lot of it went into
identifying the marketplace, but also realizing,
ultimately, like I said, now– I mean, I started off
with a few dozen tracks, and now I’m up to well
over, I think, over 1,100. And so this happened over time. And it wasn’t until the
last five to six years that I realized that it
really is a numbers game. Having a dozen or so
tracks out there is cool, and getting a check here and there
for, say, $50 bucks is great. But it’s a lot nicer if you could get
these four, or five, six-digit checks. Wouldn’t that be great? And so I realized, the more
music that I got out there, and that the more focused
my music was to their needs, that the more money it was
generating for me and my family. And so that was a big part of my model
for creating music for music libraries, and making sure that it was being used. Also, it’s a pretty quick turnaround. When I read that email I just got,
when they say as soon as possible, I would imagine, if they
sent that email today, that they would love it if I
gave them something tomorrow. So if I got that email, wouldn’t it
be great if I could knock out two, maybe three tracks? That’s a pretty tall order. If I had nothing to do for
the rest of the day, maybe. But if I could do a couple of tracks
and give it to them overnight, and they were good, I
might get their attention. And so these are things that I’d
have to take into consideration. If you are going to get in the game, or
if I’m going to respond to this email, it’s always best if I respond
quickly and efficiently. Because I know other people are. And like I said, there are
other writers out there that are probably
infinitely better than I am. And so I just need to take
that into consideration as I go through my process. Last of all, I want to thank
you guys for coming out here. All this stuff that I’m
talking about is stuff that is part of the production, music
production, courses from Berklee Online, for which there are many. And like I said, I teach several. And I’ve been doing it for well
over five or six years now. And I love it. I get a big kick out of it. Like I said, I went to Berklee. I graduated from Berklee back in 1986. And it has done nothing but open
doors for me, which has been awesome, especially coming from
Chicago and coming out here to where I was, basically, no
one, and starting all over again. And just the Berklee name opened a
lot of doors for me, which was good. And so a lot of these courses will
teach you about these opportunities and how to respond. It’s good to get the door open for you. But then knowing what to do
once you get in the door, and then how to stay in
the room and continue to be makes all the difference
between having a few dozen– in my case, in this situation, having a
few dozen tracks or having over 1,100. So thank you again for
being a great audience. And I hope I get to see you guys again. [APPLAUSE]

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this Berklee!!! As a student, it's exactly what I hoped for and you've gone further by making it public! I hope to see more film scoring tips!

  2. Wow – mixing only with your phone. Mind blown haha
    Its so easy to get caught up with getting the best monitors for your studio that it can be easy to forget that that's not what your audience (professional or casual) will ever be listening to your music on. Lots of great and interesting points made in this presentation – glad I found it!

  3. After listening to this, I filled in a blank in my music production journey; thanks to Mark Cross and Berklee Online!

  4. I spent $100 for a five disc CD set. Good investment. Surprised some of the cues were originally composed for one of the first hit slick "reality" shows. Nowadays I compose music for my own films using MuseScore. All copyrighted, so I can easily compose for my own library for sale. Just keyboard: simple melody and bass or harmonized 2nd melody and harmonized bass. You don't need guys like this to tell you how to compose music. It's all common sense and keeping your ears open. Hint: once you have a nice melody, you can easily do variations on it: march, pizzicato, samba, thriller. No brainers.

  5. I wrote more then 6 library songs and I know for a fact that some of my work has been use for Spanish films tv shows and many others but my cue sheet on ASCAP still empty ?

  6. Time is precious for this beginning Baby Boomer producer – any suggestions how to find Libraries for primarily Christian movies, films?

  7. Lots of good info here. Though, I wouldn't mix exclusively for my phone, but you could definitely A/B it. Since a lot of this music will be underscore and shouldn't distract from dialogue, I like to mix really quietly to make sure there isn't anything that calls too much attention to itself (too much cowbell!). Another thing to do is mix in mono and make sure you can hear everything clearly and then split and pan things into stereo.

  8. Can anyone here recommend any videos or libraries to get started in library music? I have a surplus of music I'd really like to start making an income from, instead of solely earning money from the gig economy.


  9. Unlike a bloviating panel this is actually helpful and won’t take up an hour of your time. Mark is extremely qualified and has a knack for effective teaching. Time to take notes and get writing!

  10. Thanks for the video. Boy, have times changed. Music Sups rarely take any unsolicited calls or emails. There are also many times when a show never fills out a Cue Sheet. I hope it's accidental :-).

  11. Thanks to the music lovers and music makers out there
    yeah, music really take our attentions even when we ignore them at some point
    they kept rising to Attention!
    Thank you again

    Love music (clean)

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