Why agencies don't get the music they want

Antony Demekhin
11 Jan 2022
5 min read
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I'll start off by saying that I've been helping agencies and brands buy and produce music for over a decade, and the issues involved have stayed consistent:

  1. You want a specific popular song, and it's too expensive.
  2. Agency and client can't agree on a music direction.
  3. You have to use low quality library music due to budget.
  4. You commission an original track and it sounds generic.

If your agency has a dedicated music team, they usually solve these for you. But if you DON'T have a music person in-house, you have to rely on the production department network and business affairs.

For those agencies, brands and freelancers who don't have access to a music producer in-house, here are some common tips for how to address the common issues above.

Problem 1: You want a specific popular song, and it's too expensive.


If your creative concept only works with this one song, then you're in a tight spot. Usually without a music team, a producer would ask business affairs to reach out to a record label for a quote. Don't!

Instead, find a music supervisor or clearance person to work with. Trust me, it's worth it. Someone who frequently works with music publishers and record labels will have negotiation tactics. Negotiating (vs. requesting a quote by providing the media plan and creative concept) can cut the cost in HALF.

If you do end up going directly, or via business affairs, start with the music publisher instead of the label. If you get publisher approval first, it's easier to get the label on board second. ASCAP and BMI both have websites that let you look up the publishers of any popular song, as well as contact information.

Problem 2: Agency and client can't agree on a music direction


OK there's no silver bullet here, but a music supervisor can help A LOT. If you don't have one in-house, I recommend hiring one for the project. They can provide a lot of musical alternatives, and arm the creative team with creative rationale around music.

Agency creative teams don't always have the same level of vocabulary and knowledge to support music choices, as they do to support art and copy choices. That's where a music supervisor can weigh in, even if they're not personally in the client presentation.

Problem 3: You have to use low quality library music due to budget.


When finding a great track for cheap is the name of the game, the biggest challenge is understanding which libraries and catalogs have the specific type of music you need, at the right price.

A music supervisor who works directly with libraries can help here. A music pull from several music houses is another option, which is usually free. Finally, you can pull in a junior creative or production person to search several libraries for the right track. Check with a music contact to get the lay of the land on which libraries are good for one type of brief or another. There is a LOT of music out there!

Problem 4: You commission an original track and it sounds generic.


Hire Ear Candy, cause we don't make generic music! Haha, serious though, original music for ads is getting increasingly more complicated as music styles "age out". Every music house claims to do it all, but obviously we all have our strengths and weaknesses.

Aside from looking at music house reels, and I would recommend working with music houses who tap a broad roster of producers and composers OUTSIDE of the ad world. You always get a more authentic sound when you pull in music talent that works on television, film and popular music for established artists. It goes without saying but this is one of the Ear Candy superpowers.

Antony Demekhin
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