The No BS Guide To Custom Music As Branded Content 1576 words · 8 minute read

Let’s talk. Lean in closely. Closer. There’s a truth that you and I know to be very real. What’s that you ask? Content is king. It’s taking over. Great content is being demanded by today’s savvy, message-controlling consumer. It’s why crafty brands like Red Bull and Dove strive to create incredible content. This is the new world in which we live.

Within this new era of content-driven marketing, there lies an opportunity, an opportunity that happens to come in the form of the world’s largest passion point, shared by several billion people globally. Music.

So let’s get specific: This article will show you exactly how to use custom music as branded content for real marketing results. We guarantee no BS.

Custom Music as Branded Content

Fiat/Chrysler connected with Interscope Records to discover an artist who could write a song for Jeep’s 2015 Super Bowl spot, which went on to become a platinum-selling hit in the U.S.

British department store chain John Lewis, to great success, famously releases a yearly custom Christmas song — specifically, a cover of a famous song performed by a rising artist.

In 2015, Coca-Cola tapped Music Dealers (disclaimer: Coca-Cola is a client) to create a brand anthem. The song, written by the production Space Camp, produced by Avicii, and featuring the vocals of artist Conrad Sewell, was streamed nearly 3 million times on in its first two weeks on Spotify.

These aren’t just airy instances of building authentic engagement, these are real examples of how creatives used custom music as branded content to drive real business results and, yes, build authentic engagement with their consumers.

And we’ll outline the clear and honest steps for you to do the same.

Wants and Needs

We’ve all got a list of things we’d love to have but that we sure as hell don’t need. Before you approach custom, it’s critical to ask yourself which list your custom music project falls into.

Well, we’re pretty sure you won’t be licensing an Iggy track for less than 5k. And it’s doubtful that any free songs will deliver the virality your project needs. But before you get depressed, take a breath. Sometimes, you can get what you want, and what you need. Here are the different ways you can use custom music to get both.

The Master Refresh (Cover Song)

If you want the star-power of a famous song, but need it cheaper than what both copyright owners have quoted (anywhere from $500,000 to $5MM), then go with a master refresh. Find the song that works, and commission a great indie artist to record a custom cover of the song. You clear the publisher’s side of the song; pay for the new artist to record a new version; and license the new version for a fraction of the cost of the original.

Check out Coca-Cola’s commissioned master refresh of Robin Beck’s 1987 song, “First Time,” by Californian indie artist Gedina.

The Custom Anthem

If you want something that’s unique to your brand but also connects with consumers on benchmark engagement metrics, then go with a custom anthem. Find an artist whose style fits your brand and commission them to write a song with lyrics and melodies customized to your ad, campaign, or brand.

Check out Airbnb’s custom anthem, “Follow Me,” by indie artist Moth & the Flame, commissioned for its global rebrand in 2014.

Go one step further and buy the commissioned custom song rather than license, avoiding the limitations with rented content. When buying instead of renting, you pay a buyout fee and own the rights to the master and publishing of the song. That way, you can use it however/wherever you like, in any market you want, and you can even collect royalties from the song as a monetized asset.

Check out Wendy Colonna’s song, “A Happy Song,” custom made for a 2014 Coca-Cola commercial. The brand purchased the song, left the songwriter’s share of the ownership to the artist, and afterwards, Coca-Cola and Wendy released the song together on Spotify to encourage further consumer engagement after the ad campaign ended.

Select your Music Partner Wisely And Don’t Get Got

You know what sucks? Dating. You know what’s necessary? Dating.

Essential to discovering an ideal mate, dating means spending time with a stranger, sharing meals, revealing strange truths, all to determine whether a future is to be had.

Not too different from finding the right music partner. You’re going to be getting very cozy with this company, the equivalent of business spooning, so apply a high level of scrutiny when selecting a partner.

From strategy to song selection, music agencies serve the entertainment, advertising, and brand world by supplying music for all of their audio touchpoints, whether a :15 web spot or a $15 Million dollar campaign. Here are some of the elements that you should be looking for.

Authenticity: The music has got to be real. The true wellspring of authenticity are the artists behind the music. When creating custom with an independent selection, check out the music agency’s artist roster and judge for yourself. Musicians and performers who are actively writing, recording, and touring are experts in their genres and are true cultural change agents. Their work resonates strongest with consumers. If you aren’t blown away, keep looking.

Localization: For the brand in multiple markets, whether in different regions within one country or different territories globally, localization is an important quality to look for in a music agency. Access to a global network of talent provides you with the opportunity to work with the artists making waves in localized markets. If your product isn’t specific to the US, neither should your music.

Full-Service: Some music agencies specialize in connecting famous artists to top brands for live performances. Some specialize in recording custom music in-house for the post-production community. Others, like Music Dealers, offer multiple services that include sync licensing, custom music, music clearance, live activation, and music strategy.

What are your needs? Does your intended musical partner have the technical expertise to assist you with streaming and downloads? What about managing the rights and publishing-related aspects of complex, global music/marketing campaigns?

Each campaign is unique, so, of course, find an agency that offers the services that match your goals.

Music Supervisors and Creative Directors: Without the right team of music supervisors and creatives sourcing the talent and guiding the custom music process, the project may fall flat.

Great music supervisors are the go-to creative minds that translate your wants and needs into clear directions for the talent. They’re essential to ensuring that the music is on-time and under-budget, two things we know you’re very particular to.

For custom, a great music supervisor will work with the artist on each bar, lyric, and instrumental to make every second of that 3-minute song perfect, ensuring that the client’s needs are accurately communicated through the music.

Then there are the less tangible elements—how well they take instruction, experience with the costs of sync and custom, responding to emails and phone calls — all factors that play a substantial role in making your music agency relationship either heavenly or hellish.

Avoid the pitfalls of missed deadlines, legal issues, wasted money, crappy music, and ultimately, a failed project. There are plenty of options out there, so use these notes to help you find the best music agency for your custom music project (even if it isn’t us, which would be like, terrible, but the world is a cold, cold place).

The Creative Brief

Once you’ve hashed out the details, all of those decisions and directions are translated into that ever-critical document, the creative brief.

Crappy brief? Increased chances of a crappy project. This document is what gets passed along to the artist to help them conceptualize and write your custom song, so the details need to be on point.

Ideally, you’d work with the music agency to create your brief. But some of you are brave and fearless. If you go it alone, here are the items that you’ll need to include:

  • Vocal Type: Any preferences for male or female vocals, no vocals, or a Baptist church choir?

  • Genre: Any genre-specific requirements; i.e., reggaeton, modern pop, roots rock, pop-soul with a hint of 70s funk and a splash of British punk?

  • Instrumental: Any instrumental requirements; i.e., sentimental acoustic guitar, vintage big band horns, jazzy saxophone, happy ukuleles?

  • Lyrics: Are there any requirements for lyrical content; i.e., themes such as “Family,” phrases such as “I’m coming home,” or specific languages?

  • Arc: Is there an arc to the story, brand, or product that the song should fit; i.e., a slow-paced ad, a high-octane brand, or frantic gameplay? BPM?

  • Reference Tracks: Is there an existing song, or a blend of several songs, that you think matches your vision of your custom song? Describing the sound of your nonexistent song with music that you know gives essential direction to the artist as they create your custom song.

So, you daredevil creative you, consider engaging your music partner when creating your music brief. If that music agency doesn’t ask you these questions when you reach out to them for a custom song, consider diving back into that sea to find a new fish to partner with.

Bang bang you creative maven.

You’ve just completed part one of this BS-free custom music guide. You’re already leagues ahead of the game. And we’ve got more to go.

Head on over to check out part 2—>