Going for a Song

Posted on: Friday 05 July 2013 4:38pm by Dave Hill

Blogged by Dave Hill

“It was great fun!”
Adrew Viner, Freelance Writer

“A very well produced session, with entertaining contributions. Basically, a great way to end a content rich conference.”

A fun and funny session that discussed best practice in composing and integrating songs into children’s content. Tony Reed, used his understanding of creating programnmes with high musical content to lead the panel of talented musicians, all of whom shared their wisdom and stories from years of producing songs for children’s television. Very useful and entertaining.

Here’s this session’s top ten:

1) What’s the job of a theme tune? To encapsulate the identity of a program in a very short time. Interestingly Bergerac used to have 1.5 minutes given to it’s theme tune compared to a typical show now on BBC3 which is around 8 – 10sec.
2) How do you approach writing for children specifically? The intricacies are as varied within the genre of children’s as the genre itself. Sometimes you want the music to purely entertain (so have multi layers of production) and sometime you want to encourage the viewer to sing the song in the playground, (stripped back production to highlight the melody). And writing for theatre is very different to writing for a game show. The key distinction is that kids TV still favours the big tunes and you know how the tune goes instantly. Compare this with big shows in adult TV e.g. Come Dine with me, what’s the melody? We don’t know, it’s more about creating a mood. If you pitch a strongly melodic tune to adult TV they often say it’s too daytime, which basically means, lose the melody. Within the genre of children’s CBeebies features song more than CBBC.
3) Within a show, sometimes the music is expected but not thought of stylistically at the beginning of the process. The earlier you can get a composer in, the more you can cover the program in the style that you want to.
4) Each composer shared stories about how key songs have been developed, the most interesting bit of info being that, Chris use to play the keys for “Busted.”
5) Sometimes the rules can be broken. e.g. Horrible Histories big finale for series 3 was a 4 mins. long listing the kings a queens of England. It broke just about every rule; delivered too quick to clearly hear all the words, huge cast, alternating chorus… but it worked. Children now know the monarchs, (and so does Michael Gove).
6) Do you like to write the lyrics yourself? Yes and no, all options have benefits and pitfalls and it ales depends on the composer. A top tip for scriptwriters is to avoid long lists, repetition is the key to learning.
7) What’s the most challenging piece of music that you’ve written? Chris shared his experienced of writing a Bengali Folk Song for ZingZillas and how his research came through Youtube and Wikipedia. Richie shared the story of creating a theme tune for Baby Jake, the brief of which was; we want a 9 month old to sing the song! His answer was to give a Zoom recorder to his sister and ask her to record his nephew every day for 4months. As a result he made a library from which he could pick out sounds that sounded like words, could put them together with the odd bit of auto tune and create a song. Liz answered candidly that it can often be hard. It’s not an easy job. Normally if you struggle a lot you haven’t got it right but sometimes the song requires it.
8) What about dubs? It’s a bit like, “well you’re on you’re own now, I hope no one puts an enormous horse sound FX over you.” Essentially you have to be willing to let it go.
9) What about pitching to the producer? If you know that you’ve got the job beforehand it can be nice to have a two way dialogue between you and the producer. This is very different to pitching it. You’re caught between knowing that it’s a competition, so you’re up against many other composers but you also know that it’s going to be playing on some tinny speakers. Descriptions like; new but familiar, classic but modern can be difficult to negotiate. One note from the composers to CBBC producers is that often the brief can be too narrow and not everything needs to live up to the pressure of sounding like it’s in the charts.

10) The session ended with the panel hilariously playing the audience’s favourite children’s theme tune using an Ethiopian drum, ukulele, keyboard and a kazoo.


• Terri Langan, Development Producer, CBeebies

• Tony Reed, Executive Producer, CBeebies
• Chris Banks, Composer, Banks and Wag
• Richie Webb, Composer, Top Dog Productions
• Liz Kitchen, Composer

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Dave Hill, Writer and Content Developer – Freelance

About the author

Dave Hill

Freelance, Writer and Content Developer

Dave has worked on numerous projects across broadcast, education and publishing. Main contributions include: - Content developer and writer for 'Shusshh Listen,' 'Always Remember To...' 'Pablo and His Dogs,' CBeebies Radio & 'Together,' BBC Learning. - Production team for 'Let's Celebrate,' CBeebies & '15 Children and Counting,' Channel 4 -… Read more