Cathy Heller is a go-to artist when it comes to licensing music to TV commercials. Her songs have been featured in major ad campaigns for McDonalds, Walmart, Petco, Quaker, KFC, and many others. For years, Cathy has been successfully pitching her own music and helping other artists do the same. In this podcast I ask her how she does it.
Since writing my book on songwriting for the Film & TV market, I’ve been studying the kinds of songs that do well in commercials, TV shows, and movies. Recently I began putting many of them into a Spotify playlist and I’d love to share it with you. I’m adding to it all the time.
All of these songs have been used in prime time TV dramas, national TV commercials, or films. I tend to favor the kinds of songs that can be recorded in a home studio or relatively inexpensively in a pro studio. There are even a couple of recognizable hit songs here, but in each case the song was introduced to the public via television or film.
Listening to this playlist will give you a good idea of some of the kinds of songs that work well as underscore in TV dramas and commercials, adding energy, emotion and atmosphere. Of course, many more types of songs are used, including Rock, Hip Hop, Blues, and Country. This is just a place to get started. If you’d like to learn more about film and TV songwriting, here’s a post that will give you some tips.
I usually feature a hit song from the music charts in this section, but this time out I want to take a look at an artist who has built an extremely successful career on Film & TV placements, Joshua Radin. More than 40 of Radin’s songs have appeared in top TV series, including Bones, Parenthood, Grey’s Anatomy, Beauty and the Beast, Hart of Dixie, 90210, and the list goes on. You won’t find his songs on the mainstream music charts, nevertheless, he has sold over 2.5 million singles and 700,000 albums.
Radin’s songs are atmospheric, mood-based, and emotionally evocative rather than attention grabbing radio hits. They tend to feature refrains instead of big, over-the-top choruses, as radio singles do. The production is simple but carefully thought out, with chiseled performances that lock into a groove.
Each song is a gem filled with insight, fresh twists, and beautiful payoff lines that are perfect for film and TV uses. If you’re a singer-songwriter looking at the Film & TV market, here’s an artist who’s worth studying.
TECHNIQUES TO HEAR AND TRY: Turn a simple idea into a compelling lyric. Add interest to a melody with unpredictable phrasing. Create an arrangement that supports your lyric concept.
Buy it now or listen on your preferred music site (Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, etc.) or watch on YouTube
Recorded by Joshua Radin
Writers: Joshua Radin & Kenneth A Pattengale
GENRE/STYLE(What is a genre?)
The song’s genre is Contemporary Folk/Rock. It fits right in with songs by Passenger, Phillip Phillips, Ed Sheeran, American Authors, and Iron & Wine. “Beautiful Day” has been featured in three primetime TV series and a Subaru commercial. Radin recently released a second version of this song featuring Sheryl Crow. You can reference either one since they’re essentially the same. I like his solo version better.
In many of his songs, Radin pays his respects to the Singer-Songwriters of the 1960s. The relaxed, conversational vocal style and harmonies, image-filled lyric language, and strummed acoustic guitar track are reminiscent of Folk Singer-Songwriters like Simon and Garfunkel. Yet Radin’s songs fit right into today’s Indie Folk renaissance. If you’re a fan of the ’60s Folk scene but want to pitch your songs to current projects, listen to Joshua Radin for techniques that will help you update your sound without losing heart and soul. Continue reading →
Until recently you would only have heard a thoughtful, acoustic-based folk song like this on college radio stations or eclectic NPR shows. Certainly not among Billboard’s Top 10 Pop hits. But there it is, right there with Katy Perry, One Direction, and Pitbull. Wha? If you haven’t heard this song on the radio then you’ve probably heard it on a national TV commercial or featured in series like “Elementary” or “The Vampire Diaries.”
Take a look at the official video on YouTube and then let’s dive deeper into this song to see what makes it work so well and how you can use some of these techniques in your own songs.
Read the lyric here.
The Shortcut numbers below refer to specific chapters in my books “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” (“Hit”) and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” (“Film & TV”).
GENRE/STYLE: Folk / Singer-Songwriter (What is a genre?)
The lyric, melody, and structure of this song are all reminiscent of the folk genre, with a nod to both authentic English ballads and the folk songs of the 1960s. If you still love to sing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” then this song is for you! There’s even a subtle group sing-along on the chorus, almost as if everyone is gathered round the ol’ campfire.
But even though the retro underpinnings are clearly there, the melody has interesting twists that give it a modern edge. If you’ve got a few old fashioned folk songs tucked away (and I know some of you do) consider giving them a facelift with these tricks. Continue reading →
This song by A Fine Frenzy is a big favorite among fans of the youthful, star-crossed romantic singer-songwriter style. It’s a perfectly cut gem of a song with a personal, yet accessible lyric and a melody that gets stuck in your head. It’s worth studying to learn how to write very personal lyrics that connect with listeners and create melodies that keep a slow-moving ballad compelling.
Moody, introspective songs like this one work well for film & TV. Songs by A Fine Frenzy have been featured in CSI:NY, Parenthood, House, The Vampire Diaries, Army Wives, and many, many more.
Here’s the official video on YouTube.
Recorded by A Fine Frenzy Writer: Alison Sudol aka A Fine Frenzy Read the lyric here.
The Shortcut numbers refer to specific chapters in my books Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting (“Hit”) and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV (“Film/TV”).
GENRE/STYLE: Learn more about Genres.
This solo Singer-songwriter style has become so widespread, it’s often thought of as a genre of its own. This intimate song style features the vocalist front and center with fairly minimal backup instrumentation. The lyrics are personally revealing and emotional. Listeners feel that the singer is speaking honestly about his or her life experiences. Continue reading →