Write Songs for TV Commercials

My Song Coach

What was that song on the Delta Faucet commercial, the cute one that goes “So many things your hands can do”? It sounds like a children’s song, something maybe you might write for kids. Well, it is a children’s song. It’s from a Sesame Street record featuring The Count, the vampire Muppet who simply adores numbers. Could you write a song like that? You probably could and possibly you already have.

Songs add emotion 
Advertisers use songs to link their product to an emotion. For the most part, they don’t use jingles anymore – those little ditties that sell a product by naming it (“Campbell’s soup is, mmm, mmmm, good.”) or telling you what it does (”Plop, plop, fizz, fizz. Oh, what a relief it is.”)

Instead, we hear songs that have the emotional feel the advertiser wants to associate with the product. For example, Suburu used Sheryl Crow’s “Every Day is a Winding Road” to add an organic, free-wheeling feel to a big ad.

But you don’t have to be a hit songwriter like Sheryl Crow to get a placement in a commercial. For another one of their ads, Suburu used an unknown artist and song: Basia Bulat’s “Before I Knew.” Now, everyone is asking: Who’s that singer? What’s that song? And downloading it at iTunes. Here’s the commercial with the song…

=> Keep the lyric focused on a single emotional theme
To improve your chance of getting a commercial placement, choose an emotional theme that will appeal to advertisers. Look at the products that are being sold on TV. Ask yourself: What does this company want people to feel when they think of or use their product? Confident? Happy? Powerful? Loving? Whimsical? Adventurous?

Construct your lyric around one emotional idea and stick with it. Don’t wander off. The Delta Faucet commercial creates a whimsical, upbeat feel by simply giving us a fresh, imaginative list of things that hands can do after they’re washed. It’s not the cleaning up that’s important but the appeal of having carefree, childlike fun.

Use language that evokes an emotional response in the listener. Images and action words help to engage listeners and get them involved in the song.

Read more about adding emotion to your lyric with images and action words. 

=> Keep your melody simple and catchy
The trick to being simple and catchy is to NOT be predictable. Nursery rhymes are catchy but they’re too predictable to express much emotion. You need a melody that’s easy to remember but adds something fresh and unexpected.

Here’s one method for writing melodies that works for ads. Start with something simple. Create an easy-to-remember melody or you can even use a nursery rhyme. Use a metronome or tap your foot to keep track of the beats. Then…

  • Stretch out a note or shorten one.
  • Divide a long line into two short ones.
  • Change the pitches of the notes – jump up or down.
  • Start your melody one beat later or earlier. Or start on an upbeat (the “and” between beats).
  • Fill a pause at the end of a line with extra notes and words and run it right into the beginning of the next line.
  • Add chords that create a brighter or more sophisticated tone.
  • Use a drum loop or try foot stomps, finger snaps, or hand claps to add rhythmic energy. (Watch the Subaru video included above to hear that!)

Have fun with you melody. Spend some time reshaping it until you have something you like.

=> Production
There are many good songs in commercials that are very simply produced, some arrangements consist of just piano or guitar and vocal. The Subaru commercial I included above has a very minimal arrangement. You can hear more on websites like SplendAd. At SplendAd, you can often watch the commercial which means you can study it without having to watch hours of television, hoping it will be on! Or just look for these ad on YouTube. You can also find links to many of these commercials on my Film & TV Songwriting Facebook page.

Once your song is written, you’ll need a broadcast quality recording to pitch, but if you keep the arrangement simple you could record it at home or rent an inexpensive studio and record it in an hour or two. Be sure to use a vocalist that fits the style of the song. Is it a fragile female singer or a warm and friendly male? Or a distinctive voice with loads of character?

Here are 7 Tips to a Great Vocal Performance.

Music Libraries are interested in this type of song, knowing that it appeals to ad agencies. You can submit your demo to many music libraries through TAXI.com. Some Music Libraries, like Crucial Music will accept submissions online. You can find more information on pitching your songs to commercials in my book Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. But first… make sure you’ve got a song that will do the job.

So many things songwriters can do!

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: www.RobinFrederick.com and www.MySongCoach.com.