Stop me if this has happened to you before – you watch a commercial and days later, you still find yourself singing the catchy tune that encourages you to buy a specific soft drink, change insurance companies or check out an educational website. My friends, this is the mystical power of creative jingle writing.
Creating a piece of music that can sell a product can be creatively demanding, but it can also be quite rewarding. The question is how does one transition from indie songwriter/artist to valued tunesmith for a company? What steps should you take once you have successfully negotiated your first commercial contract? Here are some valuable tips which can help you get your jingle writing career started off on the right foot.
Do Some Background Research
Richard Leiter is a songwriter who has worked with companies like Walmart, the American Red Cross, and Microsoft over his career. His advice is to listen to as many top jingles as possible, because it’s essential that you match the quality of what’s on TV.
Other established jingle writers like Lloyd Landesman agree;
“Pay attention to commercials and watch channels that are more youth-oriented, like MTV and Fuse,” he explains. “What kinds of music are being used in those commercials? Are they dance tracks and electronica, or more quirky, acoustic songs from artists like Ingrid Michaelson? Watching and listening to what’s out there can give you an idea of what the industry is looking for.”
The market for new jingles may not be as big as it used to be, but there are still plenty of opportunities out there for aspiring jingle writers. The key is to set your expectations accordingly. Leiter points out that there are many companies which are looking to obtain the rights to existing tracks from existing brands, or using semi-professionals to whip up something fairly simple.
That being said, there is always room out there for new talent;
“When I was a staff writer for a production company, the owner would keep bringing on new writers, both to bring new ideas to the company, and to keep the existing composers on their toes.” recalls Landesman. “You do need to maintain a sense of persistence as you’re going to get a high rate of rejection early on.”
Know Your Role
As a jingle writer, you’ll strive to understand the true message of the company you’re working with, and then you translate that into a song. As an aspiring jingle writer, you should be open to new suggestions and compromise. In the end, you’re providing a service, which entails making the client happy. If your client doesn’t approve of the product, it’s on you to understand their issue and make necessary corrections.
Invest in Self-Promotion
Shameless self-promotion is crucial when starting out in this business. Do whatever it takes to get your name out there. Strike up conversations with people at ad agencies, email them, even send them gifts if need be. You should also learn what their needs are, so that you can offer them a solution.
You are trying to open doors, even if its just enough to get that first toe slipped in. Tell people that you write jingles, visit ad agencies in person, even offer to work pro bono on a starter project. This is where that persistence is going to come in handy, although you should not go overboard. Be consistent and stay calm, but don’t let yourself come off as desperate (refrain from calling the same ad agency every day). Just like in everyday social situations, that can be a real turnoff.
Prepare Your Demo Beforehand
Landesman recommends compiling six or seven of the best pieces you have written and editing together about 45 seconds of each song into one larger audio file. “Either email it to music production companies or send a CD or press package,” he recommends. “Inquire with them first, though, as to what they prefer when it comes to finding new composer talent.”
Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions
Once you have landed that first project, keep in mind that crafting a good jingle is going to be a collaborative process. You aren’t going to be able to capture the company’s true message if you don’t spend time talking to them and gaining a true understanding of their needs. Ask them if they have any songs which they would like your jingle to emulate or if their is a specific style they have in mind.
Capture the Vibe, Don’t Copy the Song
If your client does have a specific sound or song in mind, be sure to proceed with caution. Musicologists are trained to identify copied music that infringes on copyright laws. This is really tricky territory, because even something that is perceived as intent to sound like another piece of music can be a lawsuit waiting to happen.
As a jingle writer trying to recreate the emotion or vibe behind a particular piece of music, start with the obvious similarities as a way to set a like-minded sonicstage. For example, say your client really likes this one song, and that song relies heavily on acoustics. Implement some acoustic guitar or piano in your track, and you’ll be on track to capturing that vibe your client favors.
Don’t be Afraid to Take Risks
As a songwriter, you probably have styles that have come to define your own artistry. These are your strengths, and they should be your focus when creating new jingles. However, don’t be afraid to undertake a project if it asks something completely different from you. In fact, the ability to show diversity can be a great strength, especially if you work independently with various ad agencies or as a freelancer. That said, you don’t want to get too diverse as this can misconstrue your identity as a songwriter.
Keep these tips in mind as you get your jingle writing career started and you’ll have the resources needed to overcome many of those early obstacles. If we can leave you with one last piece of advice, it would be “be prepared to go that extra mile”. Fledgling jingle writers are going to have to deal with plenty of rejection, but this can’t deter them from continuing to put in the effort. When you sign with a new client, do as much as you can to help them realize their vision. It won’t be easy, but you’ll be laying the foundation for a solid career in songwriting.