How to / Write a Good Music Briefing by Yellowboom

Open Thoughts


1) geen templove

2) make a mental music map (denk aan het ritme, het tempo, de sound, triest-blij/m-mi etc).

3) zeggen wat je niét wil

4) precies zijn - laat vooral weten welke details je vet vindt > ouwe vintage synths cool? of oosterse invloeden

5) playlistje meesturen

Erik: in de voorbeelden die nu genoemd worden gaat het allemaal vrij veel uit van cinematic shit, miss kan het ook hier en daar mee corporate zijn / advertisement-like.

Most people don't know what they want when choosing music.

We've had it happen countless times over in our studio. A director or creative comes up to us and says something along the lines of: 'I'd like the music have something classical to it, but with a modern twist', or 'it needs to have a strong identity' or 'the ad is about being the best possible version of yourself. The music needs to reenforce this'.

Why doesn't this fly well?

It's not only important to know what the message is your music needs to strengthen, it's equally important to make a mental image of what it needs to actually sound like.

Talking about music is like dancing about architecture, but today, we're talking about the connection between what you hear and how you talk about it.

It starts with understanding the difference between what your ears do and what your eyes do. Oftentimes, when describing music for a film, we fall back on our visual imagery. This is because our visual memory is, at least for most people, stronger than its sonic counterpart. A slow-motion shot in an ad, for example, is such a strong visual element, that the music is rarely what forms your memory of it. Very often when directors or creatives want the music to correspond with an effect like this, they start saying things like: 'the music needs to slow down', or 'it should feel as if all time is frozen, perhaps a clock ticking slowly?'

Try to make a mental music map

A key step in writing a good music brief is getting your own ideas aligned first. This requires some mental prep. One trick we often advocate for when talking music is to first memorize your treatment or edit mentally. Then, close your eyes and play it back in your head. Do not be bothered if you're not nailing the images or playback speed, just open up to any sounds that pop up in your mind. The lack of real-life images activates your inner musicality.

For most people, the first sounds they start 'mapping' are sound design-based: a little foley here, a deep low sub there, some distant noises there, etc. You'll notice that after a while, you'll start hearing more textures and tones. Perhaps you'll hear a lone trumpet, or a weird thick wall of sounds, a bass mimicking a heartbeat, or a synthesizer in a cathedral. Jot it down.

Pay attention to the details

Hier nog ff goed doorheen.

True music nerds are generally quite fluent in translating a vague briefing into something tangible. 'Something classical' quickly works out to 'I think she means a string quartet', and 'it needs to feel as if you're out in an open desert' becomes 'let's try a twangy guitar and listen to some Ennio Morricone'. However, we both know this might very well not be the sound you're looking for. Above all, it's very hard to have the music create necessary contrast to your shots if your briefing was too vague in the first place. That's why it's important to be super-precise.

If the director had said something like 'I'd like it to have classical influences, but let's not do strings because I want to avoid clichés. I want the viewer to be able to whistle the music, and in general I'd like the music to be light and upbeat, but with a subtle darker undertone.'

In nerd-talk, this would translate to something like: 'okay, we need a recognizable melody that anyone can sing. Let's start by singing 20 melodies and pick the best one. And light and classical, but no strings? Perhaps a flute and a clarinet, but mixed with a warm vintage synth. And may I suggest almost inaudible sub low-end that you feel in your stomach, just to keep a sense of urgency?'

The result will be ten times more creative, and give the director a piece of music she can give clear feedback on.

No need to talk terms

Do not worry if you don't know all the music terminology. You don't need to be able to read notes or know all instruments and genres, but you do need to be precise in what the music needs to make you feel. Even things like 'I need it to feel as if the main character is in a hurry' gives composers a world of possibilities. You need to make sure your music will support the message of your film in the highest resolution. So don't be shy, tell everybody why.

Choose your references wisely

It's always a good idea to make a list of references that inspire you. This makes talking about music much easier. However, there are some risks to sending over references, too. We've had experiences where a creative sent over a playlists of advertisements that loosely inspired the treatment of the hero video of his new campaign. He loved one particular music reference, and we worked hard to produce a track in a similar style. But mimicking references too closely rarely works out to a truly inspired ad or film. We felt it too, and halfway through the process we decided to add our own ideas into the mix, which benefitted the final product.

Another risk associated with references is -again- the difference between what a client sees and what it hears. A client might love a particular ad, or what that ad makes her feel, but this might be fully based on the shots she sees. It's important to be aware of what the main driver of emotion is in your references. Is it the images, the copy or really just the music? Music-only references are a great way around this. That's why we always advise to find musical references like styles, songs or genres that supplement a referenced film.

Screw temp love

Another common risk, especially if your production process spans a longer period of time and many rounds of feedback, is what we call temp love. An editor or creative quickly decided on a placeholder piece of music underneath the WIP file, and before you know it, you're in love with it. It happens to everyone at least once and it can be tough to come down from. It's even worse when that version has already been shown to client.

Combat this by being aware of it. Monitor your emotional investment into a placeholder track and always be prepared to fully abandon. Also take this into consideration when listening to the first proposals your composers are sending over: quite often the temp love clouds your judgment, and you might be giving feedback that works counteractive to where the film needs to go.

Love what you're creating

All in all, it's important to love what you create. Creating a film or ad, or any creative process, really, is a labour of love and ego, and a constant dialogue between those two. It's subjective, messy, vague and hard to grasp. This is especially true for music, because its abstractness makes it difficult to talk about clearly.

Be open to any musical idea you come up with, write them down and talk them through with your composers, and it's a certainty you will elevate your film to a new level.

Want to learn about how we tackle a briefing, or just need advice on music?

Just drop us a line.

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