The Holiday season is here again, and I’ve noticed we all have different triggers to signal its arrival. Things that alert our mind, spirit and body (that few extra pounds we all gain) that the season has begun. Starbucks begins selling peppermint mochas, Christmas tree lots begin popping up, Walmart puts up its Christmas and Hanukkah decoration displays. For many Americans, just the fact that it’s the day after Thanksgiving is reason enough to get into the spirit.
For me, it’s always been music. In fact, one song in particular. “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney. Not even the tree at Rockefeller Center could impact me more than the opening, retro synthesizer sound of that song.
In the world of niche songs, the Christmas song is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Unlike a hit on the Billboard charts that rises, falls and then is played occasionally, albeit less and less each year, a hit Christmas song can bring in bags of money EVERY year – comparable to the size of the bag of gifts with which The Grinch speeds down the mountain at the end of that wonderful Christmas tale.
Although I can’t get into numbers, I can recount my experience as a publisher, and the kind of revenue these songs can make. Most notably, the deal I almost made for ONE song, “Feliz Navidad.” The attempted deal for co-publishing ownership for that one song alone was in the millions. Not only do songs like this get played extensively on the radio, but they faithfully come back to haunt us like the ghost of Christmas past every year. These songs also find revenue and an audience on holiday compilation albums and playlists, and in countless TV shows and movies throughout the season. In fact, even holiday songs that don’t make it to the radio often find a home on the big and little screens.
With this idea in mind, I thought it would be a good time to offer some insight into the world of screen synchronizations (“synchs”) and music supervisors. Why? Because the Christmas song is often the example I give to writers when talking about how to appropriately pitch songs to TV and film. Now, for the pivot…
I’m often asked, “How can I get my songs in TV and film, and to music supervisors, without a publisher or a manager? It’s impossible.” This is entirely a falsehood, and one that I personally used to believe myself, as a writer. In fact, most of the advice I give to our members come from lessons I learned during my tenure as a dedicated professional songwriter. Although anyone of authority is seen as a gatekeeper, that doesn’t mean that YOU as the creative force do not hold a large amount of leverage. It’s the classic, and quite systemic, air of self-deprecation among music creators that tends to make’s them forget this. You are solving the problem for them. It’s hard to write a great song. Great songs are rare, and in the world of music supervision, often “great” means the song that perfectly “fits” the scene.
So, how do you pitch for TV and film? You’ve finished a song that you think is amazing, and you think, of course it would fit perfectly on a TV show, or in a feature film. The mistake that a lot of writers make is to then blast the song out to every music supervisor they know. The reality, though, is that, that song is probably only right for two or three shows, and that’s where you can find your advantage, your edge. Do the research. Contacting a music supervisor with no idea of what they’re actually working on will kill the relationship. Engaging a supervisor with an educated knowledge of their current project, and providing a song that can legitimately work for it, will start a healthy, ongoing relationship. They want to know that your song could truly help solve their problem of finding the right piece of music for the right scene.
Engaging a supervisor with an educated knowledge of their current project, and providing a song that can legitimately work for it, will start a healthy, ongoing relationship.
Let’s take the example of a Christmas song again. It’s a textbook case of targeted and educated pitching for TV and film. To pitch successfully, you’ll need to:
- Understand that Christmas movies, TV show episodes, etc. are filmed in June or July and not in December. So when writing for Christmas, do it early in the year and have it ready to roll before the summer.
- Go on to IMDB, or better yet, IMDB Pro, and type the words Christmas, Hanukkah, Holiday, etc. into the search bar. Up will come all the productions with those words in the title.
- Go through all of these, and find the ones that have “in production,” and/or the year you are pitching, attached to them. This means that they’re actively working on these projects for the upcoming holiday season.
- From those, get the names and contacts (IMDB Pro comes with most of the contacts) of the music supervisors working on them.
- Now you have a list of supervisors that you know would be interested in hearing a Christmas song.
- Write them a short, polite e-mail talking about the project on which they’re working, and the fact that you have a song that you think would work, that they’d be interested in. Do NOT send an MP3. Offer to send a link. Nine times out of 10, this gentle, educated approach will be welcomed, and you’ll get your shot.
Although this is a very specific example, it works for everything in the synch world. See lots of movies and watch a lot of TV. Be honest with yourself. Your music will more than likely only truly work on one or two shows. Find them, and then, with information in hand, approach.
These words are my gift to you this holiday season. I challenge you all, once January rolls around, to get back into the spirit and write that amazing holiday song.
Here’s one of my favorites from this year, Darcys’ song, “Another Log on the Fire.” Happy Holidays!
As a native of Newfoundland and accomplished songwriter and composer himself, Chad Richardson joined SOCAN in 2014 as General Manager, Los Angeles Division, bringing more than 20 years of progressive experience in the television, stage and music industries. Most recently, he was Creative Director with ole, Los Angeles, where he played an instrumental role in signing Steven Tyler, Timbaland and Clare Reynolds (a.k.a. Lollies). He is also a member of the Canadian Cultural Advisory Council in L.A. He has a wealth of experience introducing songs to music supervisors, placement in television and video, song critiquing and guidance, and sourcing co-writing and industry opportunities. Chad also heads up SOCAN’s song camp program, with 18 global camps to date under his belt, in locations such as Sweden, Greece, Nicaragua and London, England.