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01 July 2010

Production music is no longer the slightly embarrassing, uncool cousin of commercial music, thanks to a growing list of credible, well known artists proud to put their name to 'media' music, as Jake Bickerton reports

It’s time to come out of the musical closet – the stigma attached to producing “media music” (the preferred term for production/library music) has all but disappeared – it’s now a viable, shame-free career move for well known, established artists.

This turnaround in attitude has little to do with an improvement in quality – music libraries argue that media music has always been of comparable quality to commercial releases – but rather the downturn in fortunes of commercial record labels. Media music libraries nowadays offer potentially more lucrative financial returns than commercial labels, as well as an outlet for out-and-out creative ideas commercial labels are unlikely to have much time for.

Creative freedom
“Our writers compose all kinds of music and find that an outlet platform like ours is a perfect fit for some of their material – maybe not potential hits that they are going to put on a record, but some of their lesser known or instrumental tracks are perfect for us,” explains Larry Mills, director, music products, at Pump Audio/Getty Images, which represents Speech from Arrested Development and Chris Ballew, the frontman of The Presidents of the United States of America.

“Just recently, the stigma of having your music in a library has worn off. Artists were hesitant to have their music in commercials a few years ago – now it breaks bands and makes careers,” says Mills.

“On top of the obvious extra source of income, it can allow a creative freedom that might otherwise be stifled by record label expectations, or those of the fan base,” adds Rachel Menzies, sales and custom music manager at West One, whose roster of artists includes hip-hop act Nextmen and classical guitarist John Williams.

Toby Slade-Baker, head of commercials at Felt Music, which represents The Doves’ Martin Rebelski, Lemon Jelly’s Nick Franglen and Marco Peroni from Adam and the Ants, agrees: “Library music allows composers a greater creative freedom with their music. The best library music is created when an artist simply does what they do best rather than writing to brief,” he says.

“The result is just great music that is not ‘library’ music in the traditional sense but is nonetheless available to users at library rates. It also allows them to revisit pieces of music they started and never finished, or perhaps have no intention of releasing commercially.”

Surge of interest
Seeing famous names amongst the catalogues of media music companies isn’t something particularly new, but it’s the prevalence in which such names now crop up that’s very different to before. “From our experience, well known songwriters and performers have always come to us to publish their music for use in productions, as a separate income stream,” explains Warren de Wolfe, md, De Wolfe Music.

“Over the years we’ve had Jimmy Page, Bill Bruford and Stephane Grapelli performing for us, and members of The Pretty Things also recorded for de Wolfe using the name The Electric Banana.”

But, argues Felt’s Slade-Baker, “Historically, the well known artists were more behind the scenes writers/musicians. In the last six or seven years, more and more established commercial artists have contributed under their own names and allowed libraries to market themselves on these relationships/ contributions. This has helped drastically improve the industry perception of the quality of library music, and rightly so.”

Andrew Sunnucks, md of Audio Networks, whose artists include Nik Kershaw, Julian Lloyd Webber and dance music producer John 00 Fleming, echoes these points: “Well known composers have worked in production music for years, but there’s an increasing understanding in the commercial music world of what production music has to offer,” he says.

“As much of the commercial music industry atrophies, there are real opportunities in all forms of media music and some of the most creative and interesting production is done in the media music sector,” adds Sunnucks. “Because media music is relatively buoyant, there is also big money being spent on world class production – so this is appealing to all sorts of artists.”

In it for the money
As well as creative freedom, the financial benefits of working for a media music company are a major draw: “As the commercial side of the industry is seeing shrinking revenues (and so shrinking returns for composers), music for broadcast is increasingly being seen as a profitable alternative revenue strand,” says Dave Fuller, producer, Boosey & Hawkes, which represents writing and production team DNR who’ve worked with acts including Madonna, Britney Spears and Massive Attack.

“Production music especially has become an investment for many composers as tracks can continue earning good royalties for 10 years, whereas a commercial single or album track can dry up after just one or two,” he adds. “As the landscape of the music industry changes, the lines between production and commercial music writers will continue to blur. My opinion is that this can only be a good thing, as it allows the best writers and tracks to come to the top, whether a commercial single, production music, album track or the background music for an advert. In the end, it’s the music that’s important, everything else is just packaging.”

Felt’s Slade-Baker believes, “The only disadvantage [to contributing to a music library] is it may take a while for library tracks to generate any serious income. It can be a slow burner but is generally very lucrative in the long run. At worst it will be a welcome additional income stream.”

Audio Network’s Sunnucks adds that, “Production music is a big part of the future of the music industry. There used to be an implicit snobbery towards any music that wasn’t created for sale to the public on CD and I’m glad to say this attitude seems largely to have changed. I would encourage musicians from all backgrounds to see this innovation in both music and progressive business models as hugely exciting opportunities.”

“Mark my words, one day you will be asking record companies which famous composers they have taken from the production music industry rather than vice versa.”

Contract issues
With such a striking increase in interest in media music, Roberto Borzoni, head of production at Universal Production Music, home to Chuck D, Michael Nyman, Ennio Morricone and Coldcut, says artists now need to ensure their contract allows them to fully exploit this potentially lucrative revenue stream.

“There are contractual differences between production music and commercial music – splits tend to be 50/50 on synch and performance and we seek copyright in perpetuity of each track,” he says. “We have had issues in the past regarding commercial artists already signed to another publishing company – if you’d like to write in this area and ultimately create an independent income stream we suggest you seek a clause excluding production music.”

Nik Kershaw
Audio Network

What are the benefits of doing ‘media music’?
I get a chance to do stuff with orchestras with someone else paying for it! It gives me an opportunity to do things I’m not well known for. I’m fortunate enough to have a very healthy back catalogue so I’m not doing it for the money, although I know it can be incredibly lucrative. It’s not a career shift for me, but it’s certainly something interesting and another string to the bow. But I’m pretty clueless about it all, to be honest. I don’t really understand what it’s all about and have yet to get into the head of a TV music producer. It’s something I’m dabbling with and have been for about two years. In that time I’ve finished seven instrumental tracks.

Does your media music differ from what you’re known for?
I like big tunes and memorable lyrics, which is so not what’s required here. It’s all about the atmosphere and vibe. I find it very difficult to get away from melody. When I started I chucked a few things over to Audio Network and they threw them straight back again.

A lot of the library music stuff that gets a lot of use I think doesn’t even sound like it’s finished yet. I’m still trying to get myself specifically into that mode. I want my music to be noticeable and grab your attention but that’s not really what production music is supposed to be about. There’s a science and craft to it I don’t understand yet.

Where has your media music been used?
I don’t know, but apparently something of mine was used on Location, Location, Location. I didn’t even spot it.

Chris Ballew
Pump Audio/ Getty Images

What are the benefits to creating ‘media music’?
Having something out there making money while I’m doing whatever else I want is amazing. Also it’s a brilliant destination for all the instrumental music I was already making for fun. I love knowing this stuff that would otherwise just sit there is out being used and enjoyed.

Does it give you complete artistic freedom?
Yes – I just made music that I liked as I built up the library and felt free to make it as odd as I wanted it to be. The thinking here is that most music that supervisors have to work from is pretty safe and I wanted to be a little odd. So in that context I felt free to be me. It’s very different [to The Presidents of the USA]. I explored all kinds of textures and sounds that I could not in the rock band. The rock band is like primary colours to me: yellow red and blue (guitar bass drums) and the library music is the entire colour wheel spinning out of control!

How long have you been writing media music?
I’ve been making music like this my whole life. In fact some of my library pieces contain loops and samples from music I made in the early 80s. But I’ve been focused on this and placing music with Pump since about 1999.

Where has your library music been used?
Well there are just too many to list, I mean my statements are like a foot thick! But, off the top of my head, I can remember Oprah, MTV shows like The Real World etc, The History Channel uses a tonne of the stuff, as well as Anthony Bourdain’s travel/food show (which I love). It’s just all over the place in tiny bits.


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