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Is there value in trying to write commercial/corporate music?

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Mark Wayne, Mar 15, 2021.

  1. Hello everyone,

    I've recently been thinking about the topic of modern "commercial" or "corporate" music.

    This type of music isn't intended to be listened to on its own, and it is almost always an accompaniment to a brand or advertisement where the ultimate goal is to sell a product and make money. It is musical enough to be better than complete silence in the background, but it is purposefully restrained so that it will not overpower or distract from the product being advertised.

    I understand why this music exists and why it is so widespread. Everyone has to make money, and if all the most successful companies have a team that can apply things like ukuleles, whistles, and hand claps when the tone of their advertisements requires it, then it makes sense that everyone who has a product to sell will employ their own variation of corporate music.

    With that said, I doubt that many people genuinely enjoy this type of music. There's this video by YouTuber Tantacrul that gives a pretty humorous and interesting take on this whole phenomenon - I recommend checking it out if you haven't already and are interested in this topic.

    Of course, that's not to say that making this type of music requires no skill whatsoever, and I do not consider myself "above" those who write corporate music. I actually had someone recently suggest (after hearing a few of my pieces) that I try writing and submitting some pieces to Audiojungle. I put together a fairly simple arrangement of "Jingle Bells" in my DAW and sent it their way, but it got rejected for not being of commercial quality (in their words). I still don't really know exactly what they are looking for in submissions (the feedback didn't go into anything specific like the mix, instrumentation, or structure), but my point is that there are rules and guidelines for composing this type of music, and it is a specific language that one must take time to learn. (Also, the community of creators on Audiojungle is pretty huge, maybe even saturated. I'm seeing so many profiles where people divide their content into sections like "inspirational", "motivational", "logos", "modern corporate", etc.)

    Now, as for me, I'm in a position where I really just want to grow as much as possible as a composer/hobbyist. I do this in my free time and work at a job completely unrelated to music, so I don't particularly care about writing the thing that will make me the most money. Expanding my musical vocabulary through listening, transcribing, and practicing is my main goal, and I often feel that studying dense orchestral pieces like the works of Ravel will enrich me more than trying to make the most slick, polished ukulele-and-whistle advertisement piece ever. At the same time, though, I don't want to be the person who only paints in the style of Monet and Picasso and scoffs at those who draw stick figures or design billboard advertisements. So if there is value in delving into the world of corporate music, I'd like to know more about it.
  2. Learn to write catchy tunes. It's a world all its own, and if you can do that, you can always slum it with the soul-deadening tripe that is corporate library music.
  3. For sure! Writing catchy tunes (especially ones that I myself would enjoy listening to) is much more up my alley than writing in the rather bland corporate style.
    I feel like corporate music, much like modern "epic" film trailer music, is more about the clean and slick production and less about any kind of development.
  4. #4 Mike Verta, Mar 21, 2021
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2021
    On the one hand, everyone's got bills to pay. On the other hand, corporate music is antithetical to everything music is about.

    Generating generic, noncommittal, disposable noise designed to not draw attention to itself or leave any lasting impact; as transient as a fart in the wind? What kind of fucking goal is that?

    You know what the two most remarkable things about the ruins of the great Roman Forum in Italy are? The first is the majesty, splendor, artistry, aesthetic, practical and architectural accomplishment of it. The second is that humans never did anything like it again. There are no more Roman Forums, no more Great Pyramids of Giza. (Today's slaves build iPhones.) People are still lining up to see the Mona Lisa because there are no more DaVinci's. Or Mozarts for that matter. Project the downward slope of ambition and ability over enough centuries and you eventually hit the abyssal depth of worthlessness that is corporate music.
  5. Well said. Can't think of a better example than i.e. the Milan cathedral. It's absolutely saturated with excellence and meaning.

    Corporate music, aside from its utility, feels like the equivalent of an internet meme, whereas academic composition (other end of the horseshoe) feels like postmodern art. Still tons of people paying 30+ euros for a day pass to visit the Uffizi while the Met barely holds on.

    That said, why not write simple, catchy tunes as an exercise and simply see if you can sell it? Nothing wrong with utility if it serves the greater vision.
  6. This point is actually a big part of why I chose to open this thread. Being an acclaimed arranger of corporate music isn't any type of end goal for me, but I'm interested if there's any value in familiarizing myself with the language of corporate music. In Mike's Unleashed series there's a lot of discussion about how one should be able to arrange music in styles that most of the world is familiar with, such as cowboy/western themes, East Asian tunes, Latin American rhythms, medieval/folk songs, etc. Should corporate themes be specifically excluded from what a well-rounded musician/producer should have in their repertoire?

    I should also mention that although the vast majority of corporate music these days is forgettable (and often deliberately forgettable), there are a few gems out there. If you're familiar with Jacob Collier and his "Over the Horizon" jingle that was used by Samsung, it's a very corporate-sounding tune, but Collier manages to add a lot of his own flair to it with funky rhythms and harmonies. I don't have a fraction of the musical chops that Collier has, but my point is that with enough understanding of the corporate language, it's possible to create a sound that's unique to the composer but still fits within the light, happy, and polished corporate framework.

    Now, this still isn't a tune that I personally would listen to in my spare time, as I'm someone that craves a bit of darkness and dissonance in my music (which is completely absent in this piece), but I can't dismiss all the musicality that went into it.

    My feeling is that it can't hurt to maybe try arranging a few corporate themes while also continuing to study, analyze, and transcribe the music that actually inspires me. In the worst case scenario I would end up learning a bit more about production, while in the best case scenario I could end up creating a type of corporate jingle that also displays my particular sensibility.
  7. What about the Cologne Cathedral or St. Peter's Basilica?

    I'm pretty sure people only line up for it because it's the most famous painting in the world, not because it's the best painting in the world. The experience of seeing it in person must be rather unremarkable too (at least in terms of the painting, maybe not in terms of the "ritual" surrounding such a visit), you can only look at it from a couple meters away, while it's under thick bulletproof glass. That's no way to really appreciate a painting and the craftsmanship that went into it. It's all about having been there, so that you can claim you've been there, and cross it off from your bucket list.

    The spot for most famous painting has been decided, and I think the Mona Lisa will still be the most famous painting in 1000 years, if it still exists by that time. I think there will be plenty of new better ones by then, but it's simply culturally too deeply entrenched and impossible to dethrone. Not even DaVinci himself could do it in my humble opinion, if we were able to bring him back. There is no mechanic, by which a painting could ever become more famous now. It has become the icon of famous and valuable paintings, you'd have to erase our culture and start over to undo that.

    And we still have fantastically skilled and hard working painters today, like for example Cesar Santos:


    Compared to the world of composing, the painters have figured out really well how to formalize, streamline, preserve and teach their craft. Although, to be fair, it's much easier to reverse engingeer paintings than symphonies.

    The biggest threat to art, craft and culture is capitalism, which brings us back to those soulless corporate jingles...
    There are so many artists who have to paint the equivalent of creatively depressing media music, to make a good living and feed a family, when they really would prefer to devote themselves fully to higher artistic pursuits that are simply not financially viable today.
    But that's an age old problem, Da Vinci had to take morally questionable jobs to finance some of the better projects too. But in his case he had to design war machines among other things...
  8. Absolutely. All the composer teams I know that make a killing at commercials will opening say production is 90% +.
    So you really have to the production side down, and of course the considerable investment in gear to do so.

    Additionally, regardless of what DAW is your main one, having basic understanding and ability
    of pro-tools will help.

    You're not going to get far thinking like this. It's clear you don't understand the industry. If you really want big clients you'll need to
    know how advertising people and marketing teams think and communicate. Not generic stuff.

    Same with your music. Sure you can chase the current bottom of the barrel stuff, but I have said here before one of the most common
    reason I have seen people get their music rejected is "We have that already".

    For most ads that do not feature a pop star, it is still very common to have a few agencies ask a few composers to pitch for the gig.
    You get paid for the pitch, and then of course if selected even more.

    The places that are full time music for advertising are incredibly sophisticated and it's a highly competitive field.
    Martin Hoffmann likes this.
  9. No it isn't. When daVinci produced for money it wasn't complete shit. In fact, the opposite. We're supposed solve the Art vs. Commerce? equation by our twenties. The answer is both; balance. But it can't be both if you're not a master of your craft, hence why I teach what I teach.
  10. I want to clarify one thing - getting big clients isn't a goal of mine, at least not at this moment. I make music for myself because I enjoy the process.
    The reason that I tune in to Unleashed and similar channels (and the reason I'm here) is that I want to identify the problem areas in my music and ultimately have more control over how it sounds.

    As for music being rejected because the client already has something similar, yes - I do remember you talked about that in this thread I made, and about how the quirky lofi-esque music I make could potentially fill a niche somewhere.
    I'll always continue to make music in my unique, idiosyncratic style, but I'm not going to pigeonhole myself. I see value in learning to write in different styles, at the very least as a compositional exercise.

    I'm even fine with failing at it horribly as long as I end up learning something in the process.

    What I'm looking for is a well-articulated reason why I should completely dismiss the idea of trying to write corporate music as an exercise in composition/production. Saying that this type of music is "soulless", "disposable", "worthless", or "noise" isn't particularly helpful to me. People have used all of those adjectives to describe music in genres like hip-hop/rap music, EDM/dubstep, and ambient, and plenty of people have made a name for themselves making music in all of those genres, so to me those terms have almost no meaning. I want to know what precisely makes corporate music not worth touching, from an objective point of view.

    I should reiterate that I don't personally enjoy corporate music. I personally find it bland and uninspiring, similarly to how others here feel, so it's not like I'm trying to defend it. I just want to understand what makes corporate music different, and why I would ultimately gain more knowledge by, say, transcribing 80s power ballads.
  11. I never said that for the record.

    Why would anyone do that? What a waste of time. Do whatever you want with your music. It's your life.

    Then go do it.

    "Corporate Music" is a nothing term. I have no idea what you mean. It is too broad and vague.

    In fact, it's worse than that. "Corporate Music" is like using a slang word. (except you don't know it)

    That's what I said. It's a business, and you have to deliver the results for your clients. This means you are going to be knee-deep in marketing and advertising.
    I say that as a fact not a judgment. Like a film you would meet with a director, well you will meet with the head of marketing.

    I'll throw you a bone to help you out. No one says "corporate music". The term is either Audio Branding or Sonic Branding.

    It's big business and a lot of money to be made. Lots of former pop stars do this too. Even if what they want is the most generic, you need to make
    them feel it's customized for them. That's the game. Your musical abilities are important but also how you work with others.

    Have a look below

    Martin Hoffmann likes this.

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