Production music, also referred to as “stock music” or “library music,” is recorded music composed in a wide range of styles and genres, most commonly for use as background or incidental music online, or in film, television, games, advertising and other media. Some production music tracks have even been sampled by hip-hop and pop artists like Jay Z, Gorillaz, Ja Rule and Mark Ronson.
Production music libraries, featuring tracks which are thematically and stylistically similar, are typically marketed as part of compilation albums, with titles sufficiently descriptive of the content to assist audiovisual media producers and editors in their search for a particular musical ambience or groove.
“I’m earning more money making music, giving it to a production library, and telling them to farm it out.” – Steve Pecile of Soundminer
In the digital age, as the number of digital media channels and platforms in search of music has dramatically increased, production music has enjoyed huge growth. Predictably, with the increased demand, budgets have shriveled and production music – which is much cheaper than hiring a composer to write a customized score for a project – has been the more frequent option for producers at every level. This has opened up a world of both opportunities and challenges for A/V composers and music publishers.
“When I first started, production music libraries were pretty much low-grade, and your avenue of last choice,” recalls Steve Pecile, a composer and pioneering creator of the Soundminer Audio File Management System, which makes desktop, server and web software in varying packages for different types of users – including both music supervisors, and music consumers looking to add a soundtrack to their YouTube cat videos.
“You’d always want to hire a composer to do something original,” says Pecile. “People were used to larger budgets because they knew that when they got a program on television, the program would pay very well. But, as we live in a 1,000-channel universe, and with YouTube and all the other services, that same dollar is now split 100 times, so now you’ve got a few cents instead of a dollar to play with. I’m earning more money making music, giving it to a production library, and telling them to farm it out, than [I am] trying to get a gig to compose the next children’s show.”
Explains composer Ross Hardy: “The reason I fell in love with this market is that nobody hovers over me. I’m best in a situation where someone says, ‘What do you want to compose? Compose a lot of it, give it to me and I’m going to sell it.’”
Besides being a composer, Hardy is a former SOCAN staff member who’s worked with a number of different publishers in the production music sphere over the years. In June of 2013, he founded the production music company hard, of which he is the CEO, with partner and company president Craig McConnell, a veteran, award-winning film and TV composer, record producer and songwriter, who also sits on the board of Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC).
As an organization, the SCGC – which found in a recent study that along with TV and film projects, one third of its members work on games and online projects (35%), advertising (39%) and stock music (34%) – is not enamoured with the concept of production music. To some screen composers, the low pricing of production music undercuts that of their work directly scoring a project, and fosters a decrease in the perceived value of original audiovisual music.
The SCGC website says, “Music libraries can be a great place to find specific period music or songs which pair with a particular scene, but when it comes to the underscore, many libraries are restrictive with the choices available, and a music editor is needed to create smooth edits and transitions between pieces.”
Composers working in the field of production music should be aware of the potential danger of re-titling.
“What re-titling is about is essentially having catalogue A, which is your main catalogue with thousands of titles,” explains Hardy. “Because you’re the publishing company and you are reaping the benefit of the return of performance royalties through PROs like SOCAN, every time your works get used, you look at that and say, ‘That’s my piece of the pie!’ Now you enter in to negotiations with a network like NBC and, to make the deal, you sign over half of the publishing figuring that 50 percent is better than nothing. The incentive is there for the network to use the music a lot and the royalties roll in. You then figure, ‘I’ll make the same deal with ABC,’ but to make it work, you change the titles. The net effect of that is it denigrates the value of copyright, the very thing we set out to protect in the first place. At its very core, the integrity is gone. It creates a very uneven playing field for production music catalogues.”