10 dumbest ideas for music from clients and how to deal with them?

In the last ten odd years that I've been actively working on music both as a sound engineer and a music director I've heard all the possible briefs from clients that included film and commercial directors, producers, agency heads, and just about anyone who wants to pop in their two cents.

I've been wise enough to avoid most of these directors who've made these suggestions and statements but have also ended up working with a few of them. And no second guesses - that's the last I saw of them.

With the craziest to the stupidest suggestions, I'm truly happy to have encountered the extreme kinds of 'creative' people, from whom I've learnt only something good. 

That said, I needed to compile and share with you this list of the most dumbest and spectacular suggestions, ideas and comments I've got during production stages of the making of music for the projects that I'd been commissioned.​

Do note that the following is to be taken with a pinch of salt to savour the skimmed sarcasm.

1. "We've to do something different."

Music Suggestions by films Directors

This is the most commonly used opener statement by a director. They'll have a lot of path-breaking ideas, but when they start narrating their script it's another weak, half-cooked film script.

2. "You can copy that line from this song."

Music Suggestions by films Directors

After Shaitan released, I was asked to use one phrase/hookline from a very popular song as it suited the film's narrative. 

3. "I want it to sound exactly like that Akon song."

Music Suggestions by films Directors

An OCD type director wanted an Akon song as is, and miserably failed to convince me to make one. 

4. "Let's use this singer, he's on so many reality shows he'll do free promotion for us."

Music Suggestions by films Directors

Just because someone is popular in the TV circuit as a judge or host does not qualify them to be a better singer or a singer that suits the song. 

5. "We've to create a breakup song. I'll go get some beer and we'll knock it off tonight."

Music Suggestions by films Directors

This happened a year after Shaitan score, a director felt that one needs to be drunk to make a breakup song, for the character who has turned a liquor addict. 

6. "I want more feel in the words. Can you make the singer sound like she's more in pain."

Music Suggestions by films Directors

Thanks to the trend of  well juiced and drugged singing in most 'commercial' and 'hit' songs, this 'tasteful' director wanted to feel more pain and agony in the singers voice. 

7. "This is the reference. Just do it. As it is."

Music Suggestions by films Directors

These kind of directors are very clear in what they want. All they want is - The same damn reference song!

8. "This is the reference, let's keep everything the same and make it more 'folky' ".

Music Suggestions by films Directors

These directors want some originality while copying and that comes by applying some Indianised elements to song that has to be copied.

9. "This is what you've done. For a fraction of what I've paid you I got someone from the market to make this for me. Why can't you make a song like this?"

Music Suggestions by films Directors

I was at the receiving end of this Kindergarten level behaviour by a very insecure Director-Producer duo.  

10. "Give me more bass. More energy. More power."

Music Suggestions by films Directors

Another most commonly heard comment / feedback from directors - Give Me That Bass.  They cling on to the notion that -  "If there is more bass in the song, the song is going to be hit.  A very big hit."


Here's how you should deal with such clients

Most of the times such suggestions come from people who have either a weak script, are terribly unsure, are living in a stone age era or are people who just want to show-off their musical sensibilities - which is pretty evident from these ideas.

Sadly today, most of the freshers and composers fall into this trap and end up compromising their creativity for the sake of pleasing these kind of people. And the end result is to be seen in similar sounding songs and commercials.

From what I've learnt in my career I would like to share a few meaningful approaches to working on a music score for films, short films, documentaries, commercials etc.

A few guidelines for both music composers and clients


1. When you have a Reference Track

IF YOU'RE THE CLIENT

If you intend to commission anyone for scoring music for a project, temp music or reference music is a good starting point.

Never enforce that as a track to be cloned. If you want to do so, take a license and use that music, do not get the composer to hover around the reference track.  

If you like something about the music, be specific about it and share all the good things you like about the music.​

From that point on let the composer have a fresh approach to scoring your project.​

IF YOU'RE THE COMPOSER

When you get a reference track, make sure you make it clear that you won't be cloning AKA. copying the music.

Take extra effort to understand the requirement of the client .

Ask them questions like :

- What do you like about this reference track? ​

- Do you like the instruments, voice, arrangement in this reference track?​

- I can try this* and this* to make is sound exciting. What do you think?


2. When you're unsure of
what you want 

IF YOU'RE THE CLIENT

There are times you'll be unsure of what you exactly want the music to do.

In this case, the best way to make the music discussion more meaningful is to share what kind of music you love listening to.

Understand the taste and likes of the music composer​, see what music you like from his choices and get deeper into it.

You'll end up having some wonderful, beautiful music for your project by just sitting and sampling different kinds of music and discussing your likes and dislikes around it.

IF YOU'RE THE COMPOSER

If you've not got a clear understanding of what the client wants - play some of the music you like.

It could be songs you've been listening to off late or some songs from your collection that you think will suit the narrative the client has shared with you.

You need to make that extra effort to know what the client expects from the music, from the project overall.

In my experience when I've understood what the person sitting in front of me wants, the project has sailed smoothly until the finish line.  


3. When you're working with rigid people and bullies

IF YOU'RE THE CLIENT

You know you've signed up the wrong person for the project for reasons too many. If the composer is stiff and isn't interested in trying out new ideas, you have one of the two options - 

Option A - move out of the current work setting and inform and educate the composer about the project and what you expect from him. Explain hi, as to why you would want him to work for the project, and instill the trust and faith you have on him and his work. ​ This sobers down the composer and you'll see a favourable change in his working.

Option B - mutually terminate the contract and let the composer know the exact reason for the same. 

IF YOU'RE THE COMPOSER

If the client is turning out to be a nightmare for you, all you got to do is ask yourself if you stick around a little more longer, will  you be happy with the outcome of the project.

If the answer is YES, work hard, and deliver your best version. Let the work win over all these little troubles you face from a tough client. 

But if your answer is NO, inform the client about your discontent with the way things are moving and walk out. There is no point in working on projects where you have to sell your soul and berate your integrity.


4. When you're not being heard or understood

IF YOU'RE THE CLIENT

The best way is to let the composer know that the route he is taking might not be favourable for the project. However give him his space to express and wait to hear his version. 

If it still isn't what you're looking for, voice your concerns and let the composer know what he needs to do to align with the project. 

IF YOU'RE THE COMPOSER

If you feel your suggestions are not being heard by the client, go for one round of work with what exactly the client wants.

Then you review that work and review what works for you and what does not.

If the music is turning out to be unlike what your music should sound, voice your concern and find a mid-way to blend in your ideas into the track.

Make a few options, try different combinations - it'll break the monotony in clients head and will help the client open up to new ideas.


5. When you're disrecpected

IF YOU'RE THE CLIENT

Standup, shake hands, walk out.

IF YOU'RE THE COMPOSER

Standup, shake hands, walk out.

Over to you...

Have you come across any comments, ideas and suggestions while making music. If so what are they, and how did you deal with them, drop in your comments below, would love to listen to your story...

About the Author Prashant Pillai

Prashant Pillai is one of the most experimental and distinctive musical producers around today. An unconventional thinker, Prashant is a thought leader on creativity and music and his writings can be followed on the blog here.

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