Like many media composers, I split my time between scoring TV shows and licensing music to Music Libraries.
Nowadays, in my experience at least, to be chosen to score a TV show you’ll need to pitch even if you’ve worked with some of the team before and/or have been personally recommended. As such, last year I found myself pitching for a 3-part BBC nature documentary series from the team that produced Blue Planet 2.
I’ve done quite a few of these pitches before and I have around a 50/50 hit rate regarding winning the job.
Pitching – The Brief
The first thing you receive is the brief (and possibly a non-disclosure document to sign before that, if the production company are sensitive about the footage being shared.) In this case, the brief was to score 2 x 3min long video sequences the team had shot, plus to compose a series theme (which was not to picture), over the course of 2 weeks. In this post, I’m going to just talk about one of those sequences. But first, a bit about mindset.
Angles – Taking a chance
I think one of the important things to do when pitching is to be aware that you’re probably up against a bunch of people – mostly good composers if they’re there pitching in the first place – and if the brief is good and descriptive you may well all be having similar ideas. So how do you stand out from the crowd? You don’t want to be different for the sake of it and have the production team wonder why you’ve gone so “off piste”, (read: irrelevant!) with your concept, as then they’ll be questioning why you’re not willing or able to give them what the sequence needs. But play it too safe and they’ll not consider you as capable of giving the show anything special from it’s music. (Note: Strangely, if you do give them an off piste idea for a pitch, but one that does totally work with the picture, they will never question if you’re willing to give them what they need, even if they decide against that angle.)
The temptation when pitching is to just get writing. But take a moment and get THINKING instead.
Music for Fish
One of the sequences of the pitch was shot underwater and followed a huge school of fish. Midway through it zoned in on just one of these guys. Then follows a section where two smaller fish turn up and clean this bigger guy’s teeth by swimming in and out of this his mouth.
(It’s not unsurprising for pitch sequences to take several twists and turns so the production team can see how you handle this kind of thing.) For this section, I thought something a little cheeky might be a good call. Keeping it light, I opted for some pizz strings, some light piano and woodwind, and also recorded a little shaker to tie things together.
At that point, as it was getting late and I’d been working on the pitch all day, I decided to turn in. Now can’t inspiration strike at the weirdest of times?! I was listening to the rhythm of brushing my own teeth when I had the idea: What if I replaced the shaker with the sound of me brushing my teeth in time to the track?
1:08am: Computer back on.
You’d be surprised how tough it is to get 16th notes perfect from a toothbrush inside your mouth.
Done and with a little EQ and the finest bit of reverb to sweeten, and it seemed to be working. Then there was the level: too quiet and the effect would be lost, too loud and it would seem like I was trying to make their high end series a joke.
In the end it seemed to work.
Now of course, there was lots of other music within that pitch other than that, and I’ll never know how much that piece had to play in my eventual winning of the pitch.
I do know I had a nervous moment of “Oh my God, I’m taking a bit of a risk here” but my gut didn’t flat out tell me not to do it. I think that is a reaction that tells you you’re doing something interesting and whether it’s Library Music or custom scoring a show, this feeling can often be a good thing.
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