The No BS Guide To Custom Music As Branded Content, Part 2: Execution 1688 words · 8 minute read

When Don Draper ended the Mad Men series by solving his top client’s biggest problem with a custom song, did you imagine you could do the same for yours in real life?

Well, you can. In that fateful final scene, the fictional adman conceptualized the very real brand anthem, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” for The Coca-Cola Company, which is still lauded by many adland pundits as one of the most recalled advertisements of all-time.

A custom song can bolster any creative campaign by harnessing the sexiest consumer passion point out there: MUSIC. However, these songs rarely result from meditations at panamorous getaways like in Mad Men. There are some specific steps everyone should follow when executing a custom music strategy. Don Draper not included.

Before we jump into execution, here are the broad strokes from Part One:

Now, let’s dive into the first step to execution, selecting your custom song, and explore the pros and cons of the different ways you can source your music.

From One Or Many

There are plenty of ways your music partner can source your custom song, and each has its own benefits and downfalls. Discover which suits your project best.

In-House Composers
Traditionally, someone in your position would work with an agency that would assign on-staff composers to develop your custom track. You deal with one agency, one contract, one point of contact, and one party to pay — relatively simple. However, as you can expect, there are cons to every strategy.

  • Creative Constraints: When you work with one artist rather than many, you’re confined to only songs in their specific style. No matter how diverse an artist’s skillset is, they still leave their own mark in every song they write.
  • Eggs in One Basket: You increase the risk of mediocrity when you rely on just one to two artists. If that artist can’t bring it, then you’ll waste time re-recording songs and wind up with more of the same disappointing music.

(Hold on a second. How about some music from custom artists while you read?)

Unaffiliated Crowdsource
Crowdsourcing allows you to receive tons of different submissions for one job so you can get a variety of options from a diverse sample. It’s like sliding up to a buffet of the world’s top 100 chefs, and each one can satisfy your cravings with their own spice and spin. These chefs may include music publishers, labels, composers, and bands whose creative palettes represent flavors from all over the world.

However savory this may sound, open crowdsourcing to an uncapped community can have its downfalls, too.

  • Need Anonymity? If you define “everyone” as everyone, then you’re essentially sharing your creative brief with the world, making NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) difficult to maintain.
  • Quality over Quantity? You probably don’t have enough budget to pay every artist a demo fee when you open a custom opp to the world. Without demo fees, some artists are decentivized to write and submit top-quality work.

So, how do you get the convenience of working with minimal points of contact as well as the benefits of crowdsourcing diverse talent? Get a girl who can do ‘em both.

Jack of Two Trades, Master of Both
Whoever said you can’t have your cake and eat it too obviously hasn’t worked with Music Dealers on custom music before. We maintain a growing, global catalog of artists that we tap based on the client’s needs. Sometimes we hit up a few specific artists whose styles we know and turnarounds we trust. Other times we post the creative brief on our site extension, The Deal Board, which allows anyone in our artist community to submit custom music to new opportunities.

Either way, we provide clients with the widest range of creative interpretations and options, yet still gate that number from the horde of unvetted artists out there in the world. That’s because we crowdsource from an affiliated network of artists — the creme de la creme of global indie music.

Wherever you source your custom music choices, be sure you get a partner who can do satisfy all your needs, whatever they may be.

The Talent Union

Ah, union fees. They can be like entertainment tax on your Spotify account — the money goes to a worthy recipient, but your wallet nonetheless feels the difference.

We’re big fans of unions and the invaluable services they provide; however, the associated fees can stretch your budget like the elastic on a pair of old socks if you don’t account for them properly. And everybody hates stretched out socks.

Talent unions like SAG-AFTRA form collective bargaining agreements with media firms, brands, and agencies to protect the rights of its members. So, if the artist, agency, or brand you work with is affiliated with SAG-AFTRA, then there may be union dues to account for, including paying vocal talent for broadcast commercials.

Before you toss out music altogether and go back to silent films, take a breath — all hope is not lost. There are a few different ways to skirt around or minimize these fees.

As a U.S. union, SAG-AFTRA only represents American talent, so you can avoid that jam by recording internationally. Additionally, you can avoid paying fees for additional vocal talent for broadcast commercials by licensing an instrumental only.

Typically, the music agency passes any union dues to the client via the production estimate. Your music agency should have this in mind, but regardless, make sure someone on the team does the necessary due diligence so there aren’t any surprise fees.

Because surprises suck.

Need It Yesterday?

There’s an industry-wide epidemic that flares up and we notice it from time to time. We call it “acute detachment from reality.” What does it look like? So, we’ll get a phone call at 10 am with a request for custom music by 4pm. Our creative director spits out her latte, ruining a lovely black sweater (she likes black sweaters), and then she politely informs the client that while Music Dealers is quite spectacular, we are not music magicians.

With that in mind, here are some things you can do to ensure your timeline is as short as possible:

  • Detailed Brief. The more detailed the brief, the less back-and-forth edits we’ll have to undergo with the artist.
  • Final Cut. Artists write to the rhythm of your edit, so every change to the video requires a prominent change to the song.
  • 24-7, 365. Remember that some artists are vampires and aren’t usually up at 9am when you are. They may be evening and weekend warriors.
  • Longest First. If you need a :30 custom track now, but think you may need a full-length version of that song for a different spot, definitely request the longer version first. One full song can be easily edited down to fit shorter versions, but a :15 track would have be completely rewritten and re-recorded for a :30 or :60 spot.
  • Ask Questions. Never settle for a custom song that doesn’t fulfill your expectations, but ask your music partner about the turnaround time on revisions to the song. A minor request may require a full rewrite, which requires more than an hour’s work; e.g., “Can you make that song sound more intimate?”

    The perfect custom song doesn’t mean jack if it’s three weeks late, or if it’s too sunk in legal issues to even sync.

Let the experts do what they do

Hopefully the music partner you’ve selected has a long history of turning ideas into ridiculous custom music. Now, you specialize in marketing, executing campaigns, positioning your brand. The music agency specializes in making bomb music. You’re an expert in your field; your partner will be an expert in theirs.

Make sure you enter into the process with trust and leave room for your partner to leverage their experience and expertise as they make magic. Loosen the reigns. Nothing puts a damper on the creative process like a too short leash around the music agency’s neck.

Not-So-Sexy Paperwork

No, the music industry isn’t all backstage revelry and songwriting sessions in the park — there’s quite the paper trail to manage, too. As long as you and your music partner tip-toe that trail carefully, you’ll be clear to wrap up the final steps of securing your custom song.

  • Non-disclosure agreements, pretty common in all business dealings, help protect the details of your content investments and prevent the release of proprietary details.
  • Demo agreements, binding agreements between the music agency and the artists, hold the artists responsible for following your creative brief and your processes to the tee.
  • Musicology reports guarantee the authenticity of the song through musicologists, who listen to the song, ensure it has no bearing to any other copyrighted material, and provide official musicology reports that the brand can use to protect itself and its new song.

Most contracts between the client and the music agency involve some sort of indemnity, which protects you by promising that you went above and beyond to guarantee the originality of the music, keeping you out of court.

Which is good, because court sucks.

More Than Feeling Good

One of the hardest parts of custom music is proving if or why it worked.

Many creatives, music supervisors, and artists point to the feelings you get when you experience the song and the picture in perfect sync. Dark and dramatic, anthemic and uplifting — whatever the sync, when the emotions of the song align seamlessly with the story of the visuals, it is truly a swoon-inducing experience.

However, advertising is still a business, and you’ll need to arm your after-action review with some sizable bullets that prove the value of your custom music adventure. In Part Three of this series, we’ll explore just that, and liaise between the dollar signs brands need to see and the music notes consumers want to hear.

P.S. - And speaking of feelings and conceptualized brand anthems, here’s a little custom music whipped up by the Music Dealers team, no Draper or panamorous getaway needed:


Interested in talking consumer engagement and custom music? Give us a shout!

Photo Credit: Seiichi Kusunoki