Learn Composing | Tales of the Unexpected

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Jared Gutstadt, seated, with the Jingle Punks team.

We here at Electronic Musician are looking out for you, because let''s face it—it''s a jungle out there. When you''re not hustling for scraps from record labels, club owners, or even your own fans, you can fall into the negative feedback loop of asking yourself, “Am I really doing this because I love music?”

Over the past few months, we''ve tried to provide some alternatives by shedding light on the arcane secrets of composing, producing, and placing music for film, TV, video games, and commercials. What does it take to break into that world? The approaches are pretty much endless, but among all the artists, producers, and licensing execs we''ve interviewed, the consensus for success has focused on one elusive but essential ingredient: Find what comes naturally to you, whether it''s a particular genre, sound, style or stunt, and give it your own unique twist.

“I learned early on that it wasn''t always the best bands that get signed, but the more interesting ones that do,” says Jared Gutstadt, CEO of Jingle Punks, a New York-based licensing house that specializes in hip, underground, and indie music for a wide range of clients, including top TV networks like NBC and Bravo. “That''s why Facebook and Twitter are so useful as a means for artists to market themselves. You want to make your story magnetic to people—not in a desperate ‘Look at me!'' kind of way, but more like, ‘I''ve got a cool perspective on this, and you should follow me.''”

Gutstadt certainly knows the terrain; Jingle Punks itself is unique in that it does more than just music placement. Like Rumblefish or Pump Audio, the company represents a library that has ingested music from thousands of artists (see jinglepunks.com/submit_music), including MGMT''s Will Berman, who composed original cues for the new Cinemax series Skin to the Max. But Gutstadt also employs a full-time staff of composers, and each Jingle Punks office (a Los Angeles branch launched in 2010) is outfitted with high-end recording and post-production studios. In fact, Gutstadt won his own ASCAP Award last year for his rocked-out theme to the History Channel''s hit reality show Pawn Stars, and has just released an album of classical revamps of Nirvana (The Nirvana Sessions, Razor & Tie) with his Jingle Punks Hipster Orchestra.

As the old music industry rolls over and dies, artists are beginning to package and present their music in new ways—another key to being heard above the din. “When we first started, most of what we got was from people who had a CD out,” Gutstadt says. “But I think artists have gotten hip to the fact that sometimes all we need is an awesome 40-second instrumental jam to put in [the History Channel''s] American Pickers or something like that. If you want to get your stuff heard in TV shows, you have to optimize it accordingly. You might write the best song in the world about breaking up with your girlfriend, but that may not be relevant for a reality show that needs a more general lyric about love, loss, and forgiveness. It''s bizarre, but if you just watch TV and make music based on that, it actually works.”

Jingle Punks has a team of “sonic deducers” who screen each submission, giving it a value that assesses whether a certain drum loop or keyboard hook brings to mind an iPod commercial or a show like NBC''s The Voice. If a song gets placed, the company splits all licensing fees and performance royalties down the middle, fifty-fifty, with the artist. And in some cases, if the material a composer submits online is especially strong, they might just get an offer to join the company.

“We''re trying to pinpoint trends and usher those into our library and make them available to our clients,” Gutstadt explains, “but we also see ourselves in a high-growth industry right now. A lot of that is because labels are saying no, and publishing companies are saying no, and making it really difficult for people to work with them. It''s a very entitled business. They like to say no to everything, but we like to say yes, and I think the artists we work with are all on the same page.”