What we should now call ‘production music’ is through various stages of evolution. Its origins are probably in silent movies, when cinema pianists and organists would watch the movie and offer a live accompaniment. At the beginning, they could use pieces of music production, either from memory or collections of written music, but soon volumes of specially composed or arranged incidental movie music were published, with cues arranged and categorised to suit the different screen actions or moods. Perhaps that is why this extract from Krommer’s Double Clarinet Concerto is such a well-known tune!
An Overview Of ‘Production Music’
Soon, music became on discs, along with the coming of TV inside the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, there seemed to be a large requirement for readily available music, that has been known as mood music, atmospheric music and, needless to say, library music. A lot of it was of extremely high-quality orchestral and jazz, though together with the proliferation of synths within the late ’70s it gained a track record of being cheap (however, not necessarily cheerful). Originally an American term, ‘production music’ is now on the whole use here in britain, as producers have desired to promote a newer generation of library music which has shed the old image.
Production music has traditionally been distributed on vinyl or CD however it is now made available via download. A production music company is basically a publishing company, or even a department of a publishing company, that specialises in marketing, licensing and collecting royalties for production music. The conclusion user is generally a film, TV or radio production company – but tracks can also be used for computer games, internet sites, live events and even ringtones. Users choose tracks they need to use in a programme and can license them very quickly, through MCPS in the united kingdom or some other licensing agencies worldwide, with a set licence fee per thirty seconds of music. Frequently this is certainly cheaper, quicker and fewer complicated than commissioning a composer.
Most of the TV music of the ’60s was jazz-oriented; composers like Henry Mancini and Elmer Bernstein set the standard in this way. Library music producers followed suit, and might corner some excellent jazz musicians in touring bands who are happy to supplement their meagre club fees with a number of sessions.
Today, a far larger proportion of production music is pop or rock. This is certainly due in part to a demand from modern TV producers, but another factor may be the digital revolution. The production of convincing pop music is no longer exclusively the arena of companies with big budgets for large studios and vast swathes of session musicians. The standard still needs to be high and the usage of real musicians wherever possible is certainly a bonus, yet it is now entirely possible that anyone with the talent along with a decent DAW to take on the large boys.
Production music CDs might appear like ordinary albums…
Production music CDs might appear like ordinary albums…The recent proliferation of television channels has inevitably thinned out of the viewing audience for most individual channels, thus causing advertising revenue, and therefore budgets, to become slashed. Besides the few in the very top, TV and film composers have experienced to become accustomed to working on lower budgets. Often – but by no means always – this has contributed to either (at worst) lower-quality commissioned music being produced or, sadly, fewer live musicians being involved. Seizing the opportunity, the library music companies stepped in with a new generation of music having higher artistic and production values, that may be licensed easily.
My Method Of Composing
As I am commissioned to music production online, it may be either for the entire album, or a variety of tracks to be a part of a ‘compilation’ album that several composers contribute. We have produced six complete albums during the last ten years contributing to another 30 or 40 single tracks. My first commission was for the jazz album called Mad, Bad & Jazzy, which now has three sequels. The title says all this, really – the music is mad, bad and jazzy – as well as a good title can obviously aid in marketing, by signalling to producers exactly what to expect in the album. The design and style which includes dominated my writing is slightly left-field or quirky jazz and Latin, having a sprinkling of indie, classical, electronic and merely plain bizarre.
I work closely with 1 or 2 producers from the company (Universal – formerly BMG – in such a case), who serve as overall ‘executive’ producers. They know from the whole concept and web marketing strategy from the album, and customarily I’ll come with an initial briefing meeting together to go over this. Then they leave me to do the composing and production, but will drop with the studio every now and then, especially as tracks evolve or completely new ideas show up over the course of production.
An album will contain about 16 tracks, and while they can be as short as you minute, I really like to think about them as ‘real’ album tracks, so I will often make them between two and four minutes long. Also i include various shorter versions lasting thirty seconds, 20 seconds and 10 seconds, along with short ‘stings’. It’s much simpler for that producer to produce these in the mixing stage than to try and create them from your stereo master later – more about this in next month’s article.
…although the sleeve notes are created to help the TV editor in a rush. Note the extra one-minute, 30-, 20- and 10-second versions, and the short ‘stings’.
…nevertheless the sleeve notes are made to help the TV editor in a rush. Note an added one-minute, 30-, 20- and 10-second versions, and also the short ‘stings’. Because my producers at Universal, Duncan Schwier and Jo Pearson, are aware of the way I work, the briefing session is quite much a two-way flow of ideas. I never understand what I’m gonna be inspired to do, but briefs ranges through the precise to the vague, for example:
Writing something which fits an incredibly specific commercial demand, like lifestyle programmes or quiz shows, or perhaps to fit popular search phrases like ‘s-ex from the city’, ‘money’, ‘countdown’ or ‘stop press’.
Taking inspiration from an existing track, composer or style, being very careful never to infringe any copyright or to ‘pass off’ as something copyrighted.
Taking inspiration purely from your generic film scene, like a car chase, slapstick comedy sketch or s-ex scene.
Developing a dramatic feel or emotional atmosphere.
“Just have a little bit of fun and discover whatever you come up with, Pete.”
Very often I may also suggest using existing tracks I’ve already produced for an additional reason, for example cues from the commissioned score that has now passed its exclusivity date, demos I have done for a thing that were not actually used, or pieces I wrote exclusively for fun.
I generally take six to twelve months to compose and record an entire album, because i want the tracks to sound great, rather than such as the stereotypical library music of the ‘old days’. I usually start out with programmed tracks, though before presenting these as demos I’ll cause them to as convincing as you can by including the maximum amount of real instrumentation while i can – saxophone, flute and some guitar and bass. Something that isn’t a live instrument really needs reasons as being there, for instance a drum loop that can’t be recreated or a particular rhythm which needs to be quantised to fit the genre. I also have a vast variety of unique samples recorded and collected during my years operating in studios being a producer.
When the early drafts are approved, I print scores and parts from Logic and book sessions for musicians where necessary. This is a crucial step to me – I book musicians I am aware and am comfortable working together with. Once more, I don’t think ‘It’s just library music.’ I have to believe that the musicians are planning exactly the same way: they are contributing creatively as an alternative to it being merely another session.
It’s great dealing with Duncan or Jo at Universal – they already have a great handle of what will continue to work. It’s also very good to obtain some fresh ears over a project when you’ve lived along with it in the studio for a few weeks. One time i presented a demo to Duncan and his awesome comment was “great, however the saxophone is too in tune, may sound like library music.” This was on a ska track and he wanted it to sound really raw and rough. I attempted a few times to perform badly, difficult for a seasoned session player having struggled all his life to try out well. In the end I played the sax with the mouthpiece on upside down, so I sounded quite convincingly like I’d only been playing for several weeks.
Getting the music accepted or being commissioned to write down production music is every bit as competitive as some of the more traditionally glamorous goals for musicians and composers, including landing an archive deal, publishing deal, film or TV commission. You will have to submit your music on a CD which you should make look as attractive and interesting as possible, though a properly-constructed web site or MySpace site with biography and audio clips could be just like or maybe more useful. A couple of cell phone calls to receptionists can help you to get the names of the right customers to send your pitch to: an individual letter is preferable to ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.
The Internet has changed the way production music is distributed, and many publishers now ensure it is easy to look for and download the tracks you require.
The Web has changed the way in which production music is distributed, and a lot publishers now help it become easy to locate and download the tracks you need.The biggest thing to be aware of is your music should grab the eye in the listener quickly. In case a company is looking for writers, they are going to definitely pay attention to music they are sent, but frequently they are inundated, so it’s likely that they’ll only pay attention to the very first 10 or 20 seconds of every track (which can well become the way their consumer will listen to the merchandise, too).
Most significant will not be to try to second-guess your opinion ‘they’ want, or precisely what is ‘good’ or ‘typical’ production music. The likelihood is it’s already within their library plus they don’t need anymore, and in case they do, among their established writers will be asked to undertake it. If you would like create a good first impression, it’s much better to write an issue that has some character, originality and flair; and, especially, it ought to be something that you are good at doing. The most effective possibility of getting the music accepted is always to offer something different, fresh and different.
Often, a piece you wrote as being a demo for another thing that got rejected can be ideal, but paradoxically, pieces that have actually been found in TV programmes will not be beneficial to production music. Frequently I’ve believed music I have got written for any film over a non-exclusive basis would be accepted within a music library but, as Duncan has explained, music written to your specific scene may work well just to that scene, and may not necessarily appear sensible naturally. Surprisingly, it can possibly be that production values for TV music are often not suitable, particularly with today’s increasingly stingy budgets.
The development music company won’t like being told their job, but sometimes there is absolutely no harm in aiding by helping cover their some marketing ideas. CDs and/or sections of CDs will end up being categorised to aid the end user, so you might consider doing the same to your demo. Categories is often as vague as ‘drama’ or ‘lifestyle’, or they can be more specific to your music genre or era – as an illustration jazz, classical, World, ’60s, kitsch, indie, ska and so forth. Titles are extremely important, not only as a description but in addition to help you with searches. It’s a similar principle as Googling: keywords and phrases or phrases in the title are often very helpful, specifically for online searching. On the other hand, you can find limits to the quantity of tracks which can be called ‘Car Chase’, ‘Celebration’ or ‘Feel Bad Blues’!
Something that I still find fascinating is when my music ends up. Anything you think your music will probably be employed for, it might show up on something quite different, be a feature film, TV drama, documentary, shopping channel, game show or gardening programme. To learn how production music works, try putting yourself from the position of a stressed-out TV editor who desperately needs some really good music for the new part of footage the executive producer required to be included to your documentary three hours before the deadline. There are several possibilities:
Check out a production music company site and do an online search, using various keywords that describe either the genre of music or even the scene that requires music.
Needless to say, a skilled editor or director will already have a great knowledge of music which is available, often calling on ‘old faithful’ albums or tracks, but tend to still be on the lookout for first time and refreshing material.
Many production music companies will likely aggressively market their music production blog, just like any good publisher should. This may mean contacting producers for any film or TV projects that happen to be about to enter production, in addition to developing close and ongoing relationships making use of their main clients, arranging all the stuff that composers would do ourselves once we had the time and expense: courtesy calls, birthday cards, free holidays from the Caribbean, that sort of thing.
In the following paragraphs, we’ve considered the company dimension of production music: what it is, who uses it, how it’s sold and, most significantly, how you can get your foot in the door. But through the composer’s viewpoint in addition there are technical skills that are specific to production music, including the power to create versions of your own pieces that suit exactly into the 10-second format, so the following month, we’ll be looking at techniques you can study to help make an experienced-sounding production music library disc.