PLAYLISTS: A Film & TV Songwriter’s Secret Weapon!

My Song Coach

When I asked successful music supervisors how they manage to find just the song they’re looking for among the thousands of song links, mp3s, and CDs they collect every year, they all told me they keep “playlists.”

If you use iTunes, you’re familiar with playlists. And, in fact, the iTunes playlists are the very ones that many music supervisors use. When you open the iTunes window, you’ll find “PLAYLISTS” in the left hand column. You can add playlists of your own and name them according to artist, genre, mood, or anything else you want. Here’s how they can be helpful if you’re writing songs for film & TV.


Let’s say you have an opportunity to pitch a song to an ad agency looking for  “quirky, playful, upbeat songs about falling in love.” (TAXI has run many listings like this!) What does that kind of song sound like? Do you have a song that sounds like that? You could take a guess. You could spend hours searching for ideas.  Or you could go to a playlist of “Love Songs” that you’ve created and search for those you’ve tagged as “quirky” “happy” and “upbeat.” Maybe you’ve even put one of your own songs onto the playlist. 

If you don’t have a song with this feel, maybe you’re interested in writing one. It’s a very popular style with advertisers, in particular. You’ve heard plenty of ads that use this style –Subaru, Lowe’s Traveler’s Insurance, Volkswagen. You can quickly get into the mood, and maybe grab a few ideas that will get you started, just by listening to a few of the songs from these ads – songs you’ve added to your playlist. What kinds of instruments are being used? What’s the attitude of the singer? What does the rhythmic groove feel like? Could you blend some of these ideas with your own style to create something new with that feel?


 You can use iTunes to create a playlist then input keywords and descriptive information on the “Info” page (File > Get Info). I use the “Grouping” box for a description of the energy, emotional feel, and overall mood of the song, plus the instrumentation and vocal (male / female). I use “Comments” for lyric theme and key words in the lyrics. Then I can easily search for an “Upbeat / Quirky / Happy” song about “falling in love.” I just type a word or two in the Search Box in the iTunes window.

There are no hard and fast rules, just arrange songs so you can quickly find and hear them. When you hear a song in a commercial or TV show, notice the emotional feel (sad, happy, playful, urgent, angry).  If you can’t identify it easily, you can often get a clue from the scene itself. If it’s a song you think is a good example, go over to iTunes and buy it. Or stream it if you use a stream-on-demand service with playlists. Enter the genre, emotional mood, lyric keywords, and any scene information that will help you find this song later on.

Good playlists represent a considerable amount of work but, in the end, it can save you hours of searching for song examples and help you get your new songs solidly in the genre, mood, or energy level you want to pitch!

by Robin Frederick

Author: Robin

Robin Frederick is the author of Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. She has written and produced more than 500 songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. She is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records and Executive Producer of 60 albums. Visit Robin's websites for more songwriting tips and inspiration: and