There’s a huge misconception about the kinds of lyrics and tempos that tend to be best suited for television and film placement. When I hear depressing, self-absorbed, non-commercial music and I ask, “What do you hope to do with this?” the answer is invariably, “I’ll place it in a TV show or a movie.”
Mournful, slow ballads are actually the hardest songs to place for TV/Film. (They’re the hardest to place with recording artists, too – but that’s another topic.)
I consistently hear music supervisors and those who work at music libraries state that they look for songs that are similar to current hits—or classic songs—but without the high price tags these songs typically command. It can be effective to evoke the mood and feeling of these songs—but without copying them—or being a sound-alike.
The lyric themes most in demand for television and films express universal concepts and emotions such as some aspect of love. Other popular lyric topics include “let’s get started,” “it’s a new beginning,” “I’m gonna make it,” “things are gonna be great,” “feels so good,” and “enjoying life.”
Mentioning proper names, places, and specific details incurs the risk of conflicting with something in the script. It’s best to address emotions that are frequently expressed—things millions of people relate to—while saying them in a way that does not exclude too many scenarios.
But … this is not a license to settle for overused clichés. As in all songwriting, to separate your song from the pack it’s important to include fresh, original images and approaches. Also, note that if your lyric includes language that might be offensive for some uses, have an alternate, clean version available.