Why I Love Writing Production Music


I was running through my Tunesat account the other day and was reminded once again why I love writing production music and today’s technology that makes so much possible. As I looked at the networks running our music they included shows about swamps, country music, rappers, Latin culture, zany reality shows, episodic TV as well as major network placements.

For a couple of a “certain age” and now living outside the confines of L.A. I feel very fortunate to live at a time when this is all possible. Though I have had a fair amount of success in other parts of the music business this has been a dream of mine for many decades. To sit at home and write whatever comes to mind with no stress and still make a decent amount of money is just too cool as far as I’m concerned.

To all of you just starting out, keep writing and plugging away. Much can be done with patience and persistence.

19 Replies to “Why I Love Writing Production Music”

  1. I’ve had fun writing stock music too! I’ve realized that quantity is as important as quality. To a tip to anyone who is currently writing stock music, I often times re use templates to save time. Change the chords and melody around and you have a whole new tune! It’s a great way to cover more ground with basically the same material. The only thing is that you don’t want to do that too much though. You want some variety.

    1. I use a template but only in the sense that i have a “mixer ” set up with instruments I use all the time…Guitars, Bass, Drums, synths, acoustic instruments, percussion, 1 or 2 blank VST’s…and am always tweaking it….lately more focusing on gain staging….there are separate auxs for plates reverbs, room, and halls that I can send to as needed. Another 2 for delays….all the instruments go to their own auxes….I use Logic. If I need extra I can always duplicate the tracks I need. My levels for my real instruments, and for the VSTS, have been, especially as of late, been optimized to peak out around -18 on my output strips, and everything is prefader. Sometimes that output of -18 is kind of a moving target…..following the , in general, rule of thumb that louder is better, many manufacturers have set their plugins defaults to automatically clip….so is up to you to drop their levels down to manageable levels (the -18). You will soil yourself when you discover what this does to your ability to really hear your mixes, and solve mix problems you couldn’t seem to solve any other way. FWIW I am a Logic Pro user so ….

  2. I too am a house-husband/mad scientist of sound pursuing a reasonable income through my music. When i’m not taking care of the house , kids or studio, i scour the internet looking for places to submit my music to… 3 libraries so far but no income yet, mind you i have only been submitting a feww eeks so i’d say i’m doing alright!!
    Thanks for the great posts!!!

  3. Thanks for the kind words about my post/essay. Writing prose is what keeps me sane when writing music (or more accurately, trying to write music) is driving me crazy.

  4. I’ve been working at this pretty hard for about 3 years now. I really enjoyed all of your comments. This can be a very discouraging and lonely endeavor. I am quite certain I would have given up after about 2 years had it not been for MLR and reading about all of your experiences.

    After a successful career as a military musician, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to chase my dreams, which seems to be Art’s reality. I spend most of my weekdays writing cues and playing house-husband. I work part time as a live sound mixer and get the occasional trombone gig (playing, not delivering pizza!) I recently hit a milestone, my 100th cue.

    I love:
    -Writing whatever/whenever I feel like
    -Trying different/new genres, especially if it’s for a “call for music”
    -That I’m taking classical guitar lessons to broaden my musical horizons. It’s has already made it into a few tracks
    -Buying cheap/exotic instruments off Craig’s List, learning a lick or two on them, and putting them in a cue
    -Knowing that my music is occasionally (or rarely) placed on TV and that sometimes people pay to use it.
    -That I have heard my tracks on TV when I wasn’t expecting it.
    -Hearing my cues and mixes improve the longer I do this

    I hate:
    -That I’ve worked so hard and have made so very little money
    -Rejection of tracks
    -Almost every day I have to convince myself not to give up
    -Exclusive vs. non-exclusive
    -Tagging tracks
    -That I have never heard of the majority of genres I see listed while tagging tracks
    -All the “dirty secrets” I’m learning about this business the longer I do it.
    -The emotional pendulum of weeks/months without a sale or cue sheet, then a great week.
    -Self doubt and self imposed stress.

    I don’t see myself ever quitting. If I don’t see steady income growth over the next few years, I will probably write less and treat it as a hobby.

    I did hit one other milestone. People often ask me what I “do” during the week now that I’m retired from the military. I used to jokingly say “I watch TV and take naps.” I recently began confessing that I write production music. “You do what?” …

    1. Hi Alan,

      I am a house-husband also and you very accurately summed up many of the experiences and feelings I have writing production music and doing music to picture in general.

      @ Robin: great post (essay really). You have also articulated the experience with chilling accuracy. Nicely done.

      This is a good thread.

    2. Thanks for the kind words Alan. I like the idea about getting exotic instruments off Craig’s List. Cool.

      I recently started making it a daily mission to practice all the various stringed instruments I’ve had lying round for years. I usually wouldn’t pick them up unless I had something specific to play. It’s been great fun and really helped my facility with those instruments. Plus all those different tunings are good for the brain cells!

  5. I’m really enjoying the production library thing. I can see how it would not be for everyone. I think you have to be fundamentally driven to some degree and also it helps to be versatile in your composition styles. But that’s part of the fun!

    I like learning how to use VST instruments I’ll probably never own. I like writing a lot and learning the whole process is cool, too. (i.e., mixing, mastering, etc.)

    The learning curve is long. I went to music school a long time ago and started writing again about 9 years ago…. (Hmmm. That just reminded me about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10-year rule. According to that I should be getting pretty good next year. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) At first I wasn’t focused… just writing anything and leaving stuff unfinished.

    Looking forward to the future. Hoping I make lots of money, but I’d take a guess that nearly everyone here would agree there are easier ways to make lots of money if that was all it was about.

  6. Very nicely written Art.

    I guess I am at a different stage in my life than you, and have a quite a few years left till I reach that “certain age”. I still work as a touring and session musician, and that is where I make most of my income. But as much as I love traveling, playing gigs and festivals, smiling behind a good old B3, I do more and more realize that this ain`t gonna last forever. Not because I can`t do it, but I`m not sure I want to do it. Having two small kids has made me stay off the road for longer periods, where I do regular family stuff like dropping them of at school and kindergarden and stuff, and then go home to my studio and write production music. I can sit down, write and play whatever I feel like that day and send it out to the world. There`s no applause when the gig is done, but it still feels great! And I even get to cook my own diner ๐Ÿ™‚

    My point is that I really can see myself in you position further down the road Art, and it`s inspiring to read how much you enjoy it. Like you I`m now having a certain success in other areas of the music business, and making a pretty good living at it. But I have already made the move a bit out of town, set up a nice little studio in my basement, and I`m really looking forward to spending more and more time here in the future. Building my catalogue slowly and hopefully make a decent living out of it when I reach that “certain age” ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hi Kenny,

      Sounds like you are exactly where I was a few decades ago. I had a couple of more career stops along the way before I discovered production music. Seems like you are in a great position to get an early start on building a new career. Best of luck!

  7. Very nicely put Art, also personally, it allows me to spend time and be with my wife and daughter who is now 5 y.o. and enjoy time not travelling. As you said Art, I am a โ€œcertain ageโ€ now and enjoy the quiet life. Aswell, it is challenging to write in different styles and out of my own comfort zone.

    1. But that is part of the fun of it!

      Writing in unfamiliar styles is alluring to me. I know that I am no expert in Country music, but I will try to write a Country/Pop song in the style of Taylor Swift. The exercise of messing around and discovering new sounds is fun.

      Of course I can just knock out hundreds of songs in genres that I am familiar with. But exploring new things is awesome. Even if I cannot successfully pull off a particular genre, I learn new sounds to incorporate into styles that I am familiar with. That idea of sampling and exploring new things is what keeps me active.

      Whatever the case, music should be fun.

  8. These posts are quite encouraging to someone like me, who’s just starting out. It’s quite difficult to invest so much time and energy into something when you don’t know how, or even if, your efforts will be rewarded. This website is an invaluable resource for me, and helps me to keep being optimistic and persistent.

    1. Don’t get me wrong. I love making money from my music and I am always seeking ways to maximize my income. But making music is a reward in itself. If I went into this from a strict financial basis, I would have quit years ago.

      But I didn’t and things are picking up. Some businesses just take continued effort and actual work to take off. I was of the mindset that a handful of songs on TV would bring me an easy 5 figure income. It just does not work that way for most of us. Even the people that do make a living from music experience fluctuations in income. Some months are great and others and terrible.

      Just stay creative and continue to build. Work with libraries that help to get results for you. All of the ‘noise’ can be overwhelming. Sometimes it is better to just bury yourself in the work. The business side gets easier once you get a few deals. Companies want to see results. If you can meet with music supes and publishers in person and show them your placements, more doors will open for you. Just start and keep working what you have.

  9. I agree. Writing music for libraries is a blast!

    I often get stressed about not accomplishing all that I want. There is also so much “noise” now about copyrights, exclusivity, blanket licensing, sync fees, making a living, etc. It gets hectic trying to make sense of it.

    But through it all, I get to create whatever I want on my own time. I get to use technologhy to make sounds and noises that I thought I would have never been able to create. That may not mean much to most people, but I have music playing on TV shows all over the world and I am earning royalties.

    Stay creative and enjoy the ride is what I say.

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