So- you've got the song. It's the one; your masterpiece. You've spent countless hours writing, honing, and crafting your tune to sonic perfection. You've got all the perfect vocal takes. That synth tone is dialed in flawlessly and the drums are slammin'. The final master is ready, the release plan is all lined up, all your videos and social posts and artwork are lookin sharp and good to go. Everything is feelin' good.
Release day comes. Your song goes live! Awesome. People are starting to catch on; the song is really connecting. Streams are growing. Next thing you know you're on that coveted Fresh Finds Spotify playlist and things are really picking up! Out of the blue, you get an email from a music supervisor (or a company like CompleteTracks) saying they love the song and want to use it in an episode airing in 2 weeks. Great! They ask you for the files. They'll need the instrumental and a clean version where you don't drop that F bomb. So you text your friend who did the mix for you. Ah damn.... They're out of town camping with no cell service.... for two weeks. Opportunity missed. That ship has sailed. You're shit out of luck.
The above scenario has happened far too many times. Many an opportunity has been missed due to poor organization and storage. But it doesn't have to happen to you!
Here's a handful of best practices for maximizing opportunities for your music in sync, and ensuring that you don't miss out. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but should be a good primer for preparing and storing your music and all of the various assets associated with it.
When your music is all wrapped and your final mix is done, make sure to create instrumental versions of your songs. It's quite frequent that an instrumental version of a song will be licensed as much or more than a full mix of a song. All the more reason to make sure your instrumentals shine on their own (but more on that in a future post)
In a licensing context, there may be one section of your song that works super well lyrically, but maybe some of the lines are out of context for the story. It's quite often that only one or two key lines may be used in a placement, and the rest will be instrumental. This can only be accomplished if there is an instrumental version of the song available. Check out this placement from artists Easy McCoy and The Prizefighter below for a good example.
And when the instrumentals aren't enough to accomplish the goal, that's where stems come in...
It's important whenever possible to create stems of your tracks. Oftentimes, it's necessary for editors to have access to remove certain elements from a mix that are in conflict with a particular use, or to fulfill a specific creative need on the project. Perhaps they need to remove bass in the first half of the song to create a more dynamic story arc, or take the shaker from the second half of the song and add it to the first half to keep the energy going. Maybe your sick guitar solo that's great in context of the song is really just getting in the way of voice over. In short, stems give editors options and creative ways to solve problems.
Each song is different, but when creating stems, the goal is to find a good balance between having enough options without being overly granular. Most songs should have somewhere in the range of 5-15 stems.
Here is an example breakdown of how stems might look:
3. Bass Elements
6. Misc Midrange Elements (Strings, Synth, Horns etc)
9. Lead Vocal
10. Auxiliary Vocals (Background Vocals, Ad Libs, Choir etc)
3. Clean versions
If your song has explicit language, always create clean versions. While language may artistically be what you want, it may limit your for certain opportunities, particularly on broadcast TV, as well as radio and TV advertising. Having a clean version on deck will save the time of having to create one if an opportunity arises last minute.
While it may seem obvious, it's important to have lyrics handy in a document format. Having these on hand make it quick and easy to share as needed.
When the time comes to store all of these assets you've created, we recommend using a cloud based storage system like Google Drive, Dropbox or Box. It's not important which one you use. What's important is that the files are easily accessible and ready to be shared on short notice. Here's an example folder hierarchy for when the time comes to store your files.
The most important component to licensable track is a well written and produced song, but putting a little extra time in to collect all the relevant files, and properly organize them will help maximize your opportunities in sync and prevent you from missing out. You'll have peace of mind knowing that you'll be ready when the moment strikes.