Top tips for budding production music composers

‘In any creative industry, you have to make your own opportunities and create your own work by putting yourself out there’: says Amy Collins.

Amy is one of the composers nominated for a gong at The Production Music Awards 2019, which takes place at The Ballroom, 8 Northumberland Avenue, London on 22nd November 2019.

Presented in association with MCPS Production Music, PRS for Music, Klineberg K-OMS Production Music Manager and PRS Foundation, the awards celebrate the best in production music libraries and the most talented composers from around the world.

As the opportunities have increased in this area of composition, so has the competition.

Here, nominated composers Malory Torr, Amy Collins, Michael Emmerson, Melody Girl and James Everingham share their experience of working within the world of production music and offer some handy tips for breaking into it…

What have you learned from your time working in production music?

Malory Torr (Extreme Music, Best Acoustic Pop/Rock Production Music Track & PRS Foundation Best Newcomer Award, Cornucopia): So much! I’ve learnt that my instincts are usually right when it comes to a take, song, lyric etc. That it’s best not to overthink. But also, just how to produce better and improve my own engineering skills. You’re always doing different styles of music so being able to learn to shape shift your voice, melody or type of production is what you need. I’ve learnt that I make a pretty good chameleon.

Amy Collins (BMG Production Music, Best Acoustic Pop/Rock Production Music Track, A Song For The Soul): I’ve learnt that it’s important to be true to yourself when writing production music but also to be open to constructive criticism and to remain flexible to make changes. You can’t be too precious about your music.

I’ve also found that it’s a numbers game, and the more of your music that supervisors and editors have to choose from, the better.

Melody Girl (JW Media Music Ltd, Best Contemporary Classical Production Music Track & PRS Foundation Best Newcomer Award, Above and Below Stairs): Often, your gut instincts are the strongest ones. The pursuit of perfection can all too easily become procrastination (we’ve all been there) and keeping a track quite raw has many advantages; character, personality etc which can give a track much more depth – something is lost when it’s too glossy. The creative, music-making process becomes faster and more enjoyable on all levels.

James Everingham (Extreme Music, Best Contemporary Classical Production Music Track, As You Are): Something about production music I’ve come to learn and enjoy over time is the freedom and ability to be creative while not having the pressures that come with writing to picture or to tight deadlines.

What are its unique challenges?

Malory Torr: One of the most challenging aspects is also one I enjoy most and that is writing in genres you would never normally sing or perform in. It’s an amazing opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and push your own boundaries. Another challenge though is writing music that is authentic but also viable to be synced at the same time, it’s a balance between keeping it original but universal, without it veering into the dangerous territory of cliché or cheese.

Amy Collins: It can be difficult to manage your time, and you don’t often get paid upfront. You may have to manage several other jobs whilst making time to write music, go to the gym etc, so it can be hard to find a good balance. I also think that it’s not always easy to know what the publishers want when writing albums, but It’s important to write what comes naturally to you, whilst bearing in mind the brief.

Michael Emmerson (BMG Production Music, Best Acoustic Pop/Rock Production Music Track, A Song For The Soul): The biggest challenge for me so far has been the time it takes to build a full catalogue of tracks. I tend to focus on quality over quantity, but you need a lot of tracks out there to see consistent back end royalties from it. I’ve definitely got a lot faster at creating music over the past five years because of writing production music which is great.

Melody Girl: You’re trying to create flexibility in the music – something that will work for a variety of different situations and nuances – but at the same time trying to avoid the result sounding like musical wallpaper.

What makes a piece of production music really stand out?

Amy Collins: I’ve found that my most commercial songs get syncs, but also the ones with the most feeling and human connection through the lyrics tend to be selected in my own experience. I think it’s also important that the music production and mix is at a high standard.

Michael Emmerson: For me I’m always listening to a lot of orchestral trailer music and I always seem to notice tracks that have something a little different about them, whether it be interesting chord changes, the production or even the instrumentation. Originality always stands out, but it’s still got to be commercially viable to sync, a great blend of both tends to stand out to me the most.

Melody Girl: The million-dollar question! – the same thing that makes any piece of music stand out – it somehow catches the ear, connects with your emotions, touches a nerve, and maybe the heart as well.

James Everingham: I think this can really vary depending on the brief. A strong melody might be appropriate one day and completely off-brief the next, so it’s hard to recall universal qualities when there’s so much variety in production music. I’m always admire tracks that can stir up emotion with a sparse palette of instruments.

What opportunities are there for emerging composers in this field?

Malory Torr: All sorts! There is so much content being constantly produced and it all needs music. I believe the demand is only going to increase as our lives become more digitally centred. Emerging composers have the whole PM industry at their fingertips, with a little bit of research, passion and persistence you can find and contact many of the top companies and just reach out. It just takes one person to believe in what you do.

Michael Emmerson: With more and more visual content being created, with streaming services like Netflix coming to the fore, there is now more of a demand for production music than ever before. But it is also becoming increasingly competitive. Production values, arrangement, mixing etc all need to be of a very high standard in order to stand out to not only publishers, but also the music supervisors and editors who will be choosing your music.

Melody Girl: Many more than before – as platforms multiply and the insatiable need for product increase there have to be more opportunities for young composers to have impact in this widening industry

James Everingham: There are more opportunities than there have ever been for new talent to break through the noise. There is a huge demand for production music and it’s an excuse to be consistently outputting content with real musical growth in that process.

Tell us about your relationship with Extreme Music/BMG Production Music/JW Media Music and how you came to write for them?

Malory Torr: I have the most wonderful relationship with Extreme! From my incredible A&R man, Jack Lewis to all the amazing audio team and marketing members, they truly are just THE nicest people to work with. It was playing The Great Escape Festival in 2018 where I met Jack actually. Back then I didn’t really know much about the production music world although I had had a publishing deal when I was younger and worked in the industry for many years, it was mostly the commercial side I knew.  But Jack was so knowledgeable, passionate, and genuinely really loved my music, he came along to my next few shows and once I knew he was as committed as I would be, it was the perfect match!

Amy Collins: I have worked for BMG production music as a singer-songwriter and music producer for four to five years. I came to write for them when my husband and I worked on cinematic a track together, we sent it to many trailer houses and one replied. We went to London with a portfolio of music and we were then put in touch with publishers including BMG through having a connection with the trailer house. We were often asked to work on custom music for trailers, and this led to us working on several production albums, as individuals and as a husband and wife team.

Michael Emmerson: I’ve been writing for BMG production music for around four to five years. Me and my wife Amy were both introduced to them through doing some custom work for a London trailer house. After the initial emailing and phone calls, we were asked to work on projects for the Must Save Jane trailer label, and also some full production albums. This included the Songs For The Soul album which has now been featured on many trailers and TV shows etc. It’s been exciting working for them as both separate composers and songwriters as well as a husband and wife team.

Melody Girl: I had just finished writing a solo piano and a classical-electronic album. My mastering engineer felt that my music really lent itself to film and recommended to connect me with JW Media founder Jenny whom I really clicked with. She subsequently encouraged me to make an album.

James Everingham: The first time I came across Extreme was actually in my early teens – I was making short films in my spare time and listened to the catalogue for inspiration. I was introduced years later when writing music started becoming a big part of my life. Extreme have a passionate and disruptive approach to production music and I’m proud to work closely with them and call them my production music home.

What advice would you offer to music makers interested in getting into production music?

Malory Torr: Believe in yourself, keep at it and most of all be patient. It takes a while before your music is being consistently used but the more quality music you can create, the more it will snowball and soon you’ll be hearing your tunes across many platforms!

Amy Collins: It’s a long road, but perseverance and positivity is key, as it can be a long time before the royalties start to roll in, but it’s all worth it when you hear your music on trailers and advertisements.

Michael Emmerson: I would say that first and foremost you need a great demo reel, in order to stand out from the crowd. I believe it was our initial demo that helped us to get our foot in the door. The writing, emotional impact, production, sounds your using, mixing, everything needs to be top quality. Also, making sure your music is the right fit for the people you are contacting is really vital. Doing a bit of research first to make sure your music is in line with what they might be looking for. You have to really believe in your music and never give up as it’s a long process that can be very rewarding if you stick at it.

Melody Girl: If you’re in it for the long game, be unique and go with your instinct, and not follow current trends because at the end of the day, it’s more rewarding to be creative whilst carving out your own journey. Make it your own. You’ll feel more satisfied after sessions.

On a practical note, get a music tech assistant if you want to focus more on the music making aspect. This will save you time and headspace for your creative output & flow.

Lastly, enjoy the process!

James Everingham: Simply, keep writing music in order to improve and develop. It’s a competitive industry, but new talent and diversity is such a vital part of it all.

For more information about The Production Music Awards 2019 and to buy tickets, please visit productionmusicawards.com.