MFG Member Brent Holland has been composing music professionally for over 20 years and has had the privilege to create music for all major network broadcasting companies in North America including: CBS, FOX, NBC, ABC, NASA, PBS, Cox, Clear Channel, CBC, Radio Canada International, SRC, CTV, TVA, APN, CHUM, CORUS, RDS, Global, etc. Credits include feature films and international broadcasters. Mr. Holland holds to his name, two Bachelors of Fine Arts, one in of them is in music, and the other in Theatre Design. Contact info below.
Putting Music to Picture is a series of articles derived from my real-world-guerilla-grass-roots 22 years of experience scoring for film, TV, docs, etc. coupled with my work in composing for and operating a stock music library. In short, these are articles for the rest of us who make a living everyday in the business of the non-Hollywood world. These are not “how to” articles, but instead, they are “try this” articles interjected with stories and anecdotes of my everyday experiences in the trenches.
-Stock Production Music Libraries for the Brave & Bold-
Why Production Music
For those of us working in the non-existent-budgetary world of guerrilla film making, actually being able to hire a composer is often a luxury. For those moments, there is stock music or more commonly known as: Production Music. Production music is encountered throughout our everyday life. It is the background music of all broadcast programming. Virtually every broadcaster of both radio and television makes use of production music for sports highlights, local ads, news, local programming, etc. You may also be surprised to learn that even the big guns of Hollywood use production music sometimes. It happens when their custom score hasn’t been finished and they need some music to carry their trailers. But most often in high budget films where a composer has been hired, production music is used as “Incidental Music”. This is the term given to the music heard in the background during a film such as on a car radio, elevators, TVs and the like. An example would be when a character is channeling surfing on a car radio and they go past three or four different stations playing music. The various songs the character hears from the stations is what is referred to as “Incidental Music”. It has nothing to do with the actual score.
The advantages of Production Music are two fold:
Cost: $10.00 from a music library for a 30-second commercial compared with an original composition for the same commercial priced upwards of $100.00 to $100,000.00 and beyond.
Accessibility: to thousands upon thousands of songs in every conceivable style, tempo and instrumentation and all are available instantaneously for screening by pressing play on a CD player or auditioning online. Wow!
The downside is the lack of originality and the loss of flexibility. Not much originality is created when all of a sudden the song you licensed for your travel video’s scene of Mexico turns up the very same day on a radio commercial advertising a local restaurant of the same country or even worse something completely unassociated with the subject like a tire sale. In most cases, however, this will not present a problem. Production music, by its very nature, tends to be generic and inconspicuous. Put voice over on top of it and it’s pretty much transparent in the background and instead it plays on the listener’s subconscious. A certain amount of inflexibility does occur when you may need a different vibe in the middle of a song than what’s present in the production music song. Too many instruments (brass and lead guitar are usually the worst culprits here) along with durations and hit points present their own challenges as well. An example of the latter is: just when you need to punch up an edit that is truly visionary and Oscar noteworthy, the crescendo in the song happens 2 seconds later. So, you end up compromising by extending the scene or cutting to the music or even worse trying to cut and edit the music yourself. Either way, it may not be the best solution for the scene’s edit to “work”. There goes that Oscar again until next year.
What is a Production Music Library
A Production Music Library is a collection of songs categorized in much the same fashion as that of a traditional book library. For example, if one were searching for a book about “sports”, one would look in the stacks under “sports”. If you’re looking for a book about “mysteries” you would go to the “mystery” stacks. The same is true for a production music library. If an announcer is looking for background music for their “sports” highlight package, they would search for music in the CDs labeled “Sports”. If they need “mystery” music, they would search the CDs titled “Mystery”. Production music is used en mass by Broadcast, Television, Radio, Cable, Film and Audiovisual / Postproduction Internet Web Sites, Web Broadcasts, Multimedia, Educational Institutes, Satellite, and Performing Arts. Usually anywhere budgets are challenged and you’re unable to hire an original music composer.
A Grass Roots Approach for Choosing Production Music
It goes without saying that there are as many exceptions to the above approaches for choosing production music as there are stars in the sky. There are “no rules”; this is art, so have fun and experiment.
Search & Rest Cued
We are living in an era of instantaneity. We no longer need to bother searching through stacks upon stacks of CDs to find a single song. Instead we have indeed been rescued from our plight by the online search engine.
90% of music libraries have their own online sites where you can go and search, audition and then download the tracks you want. You simply choose key words from their search engine’s pull down menu and then all the songs that fit those key words pop up in a list for you to audition. This system works exceptionally well for those of us in the Audio-Visual realm doing industrial / corporate videos. Buyers beware, however. There are a plethora of production music sites on the net these days, which in a free enterprise, competitive sense, is healthy and in another sense: scary. Many of these sites are put up by non-professional composers with a synthizer in their parent’s basement in order to make some money and hear their music online. Fair enough. There is absolutely not a thing wrong with that scenario and creativity in all guises should be encouraged. But, when it comes to licensing the music: Red Flag. These sites are usually more than willing to “give the music away” but then are gone by the next year. What do you do about the song you licensed from them last year when a corporate client comes back for a new video shoot with new information added and a complete re-edit and 10,000 additional copies? Your license may not cover you and you may have just shot yourself in the foot to save $10.00. But what’s far worse is you may end up looking like an amateur in front of your client who has chosen you as a professional to oversee these things. A good rule of thumb for choosing music libraries is to take a look at their orchestra work. If they don’t have any, be prudent. Composers who have the skill to write for orchestra tend be serious craftsmen as opposed to those who throw a few preassembled break-beats looped together. A great analogy is: someone who buys stock photos and puts them together in a montage and then calls themselves a photographer. Not.
Broadcasters, on the other hand, have tended not to embrace online downloads and for broadcast specific reasons. Many broadcasters have three, four, sometimes more edit suites where their staff goes to edit their video film for broadcast. It is much easier for them to simply grab a CD labeled Sports, as an example, and then run to the edit suite, place it in a CD player and transfer the music to the audio track. The problem that crops up with broadcasters and online search engines is one of time consuming issues and simple logistics. It requires the staff to go online, search, examine the license to make sure they’re covered, pay for and then download and transfer the chosen song, to say nothing of which web site to go to in the first place. When you’re up against a show deadline for News, as an example, the internet can decide on the most inconvenient time to crash.
In some cases, broadcasters have chosen to receive an external hard disc full of a music library’s complete catalogue in .wav or .aiff files. The hard disc usually contains its own search engine and again, will also enable the end user to search by selecting key words. This works really well for smaller broadcast facilities. However, for larger stations, the problem arises on how many hard discs to license. Given a station with the 3- 4 edit suites, as mentioned above, the budget for licensing 3 or 4 corresponding libraries usually exceeds the money allotted for a single library. There are work a-rounds, of course, like making a licensing agreement with the library to enable the copying of the contents of the external hard disc to a desk top hard disc. Word of warning though, make doubly sure you have permission and the licensing from the library to do so, and don’t do it on your own without it, it is illegal and you may find yourself in copyright infringement. The other obvious problem arises with staff running down the hall to an edit suite with a complete library on a single hard disc in hand. What if someone else is in edit room 2 needs it for their piece? Or all the suites need the music...now?
Bang for Buck
Production Music remains the best avenue for all of us involved in everyday video and film making to get professional sounding music at bargain basement prices. Its benefits far out weigh its detriments. For what you would spend on going to see a movie you can license a fully orchestrated piece of music for your own film. It’s the most cost effective part of any production; period.
B&H Gold Production Music Library
the power of music
if there were words for it
we wouldn't need it
the Montreal Film Group with permission from Brent Holland.
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