“Inspirational.” It’s a sound every composer and music supervisor learns to get under their belt early. From advertising to sports to the hero’s journey on the silver screen, storytelling is all about lighting that fire. With over a year of quarantine behind us, there has been no shortage in requests for hopeful, driving tracks. Now that we’re entering a new normal, with the growing prospect we can step into the sunshine and see each other again, that need is not slowing down. We interviewed Flavorlab Score, drawing on their insights as composers, and took a look at four months of briefs at Producer’s Toolbox, from January to May, to pinpoint what exactly inspiration means in 2021.
Genre & Vocals Vs. Instrumentals
First, we looked at major genres and whether our clients preferred vocals or instrumentals. “Any genre, I believe, could capture the feeling of being inspired,” says composer, Erik Blicker. “Performance, performance, performance. Orchestral and acoustic styles tend to be easier as live players can be more expressive. That being said, there are plenty of killer inspirational hip hop tracks. Whatever you write, your performance needs to build, grow, evolve, and rise.”
So far this year, pop reigns supreme. Particularly pop that pulls from other genres like soul, hip hop, rock, and electronic. The next most popular genre is Classical. In this context, we’re defining classical as any instrumental music with traditional or cinematic instrumentation. Requests included piano driven classical and electronic classical multiple times.
In terms of vocals, female singers were slightly more popular than male singers. Overall, though, the briefs were largely open to any voice type or no vocals at all. We can see this in the almost even split between “instrumentals only” and “both instrumentals and vocals accepted.”
Now that we have a general sound with the genre and vocals sorted, we looked at the specific elements that enhance a style’s ability to elevate. Are there similarities in inspiring music across genres? What timbres lift us up? “The groove always needs to be driving, even when it’s minimal,” says composer, Glenn Schloss, “I think it all begins with the rhythm; how does the pulse feel against the dialogue? Anything that has a great rhythmic meter and propels the piece forward, through it’s rhythmic foundation – makes me feel inspired.”
The charts above are based on both the brief copy itself and what we heard in the reference tracks provided. Most requests, regardless of genre, included elements of live band. If the requests didn’t include a rock or soul band, they usually included live rhythm section to compliment electronic elements. To Glenn’s point, the groove led the charge. Live drum set and bass guitar are the most common elements in the references we reviewed.
Piano isn’t far behind. Clients often asked for keys specifically. Their references include piano across most genres and ensembles. So, outside of the rhythm section, what inspires viewers? Strings! Note: we categorized strings separately from orchestra. “Strings,” for example, could be a single cello or a quartet providing a supportive layers like swells.
Usage & Keywords
Finally, we looked at who has been asking for this category of music and what words they’re using. “Last year, I noticed a lot of these requests included words like ‘tender’ and ’emotional.’ This year they didn’t even make the top 20 and instead we’re getting ‘positive’ and ‘modern,” says music coordinator, Kyle Guffey. “It looks like people are still eager to uplift viewers, but the method of inspiration has shifted to the bright side.”
Based on volume of requests, retail advertisers led the charge with the most common retailers coming from the clothing, fashion, and automobile industries. Retailers, along with tech and internal corporate campaigns, turned to the future. This half of the pie chart tended towards words like “modern,” “optimistic,” and “forward looking.”
“Each project has its own unique personality and our goal is to collaborate with each of the creative decision makers on the project from the beginning,” explains Glenn. “Ultimately, does the client want you to feel the character is inspired or do they want the viewer to feel inspired?” asks Erik, “Clients go by emotion, mood, and feeling of a story. Together we strive to understand the story as best as we can. What emotions need to come across?”
Whether you’re loading up your DAW of choice or hunting through a new library, we hope this helps your project uplift and motivate. Happy pitching!