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 provide a live accompaniment. At the beginning, they could use odds and ends of music production, either from memory or collections of sheet music, but soon volumes of specially composed or arranged incidental movie music were published, with cues arranged and categorised to put the many screen actions or moods. Perhaps that is why this extract from Krommer’s Double Clarinet Concerto is really a highly-known tune!
A Review Of ‘Production Music’
Very soon, music became available on discs, along with the coming of TV from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, there was a sizable demand for readily accessible music, which had been called mood music, atmospheric music and, of course, library music. A lot of this was of very high-quality orchestral and jazz, though together with the proliferation of synths in the late ’70s it gained a history of being cheap (but not necessarily cheerful). Originally a united states term, ‘production music’ has become on the whole use here in the UK, as producers have wanted to promote a newer generation of library music that has shed that 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 a department of your publishing company, that specialises in marketing, licensing and collecting royalties for production music. The final user is usually a film, TV or radio production company – but tracks could also be used for computer games, websites, live events as well as ringtones. Users choose tracks they wish to include in a programme and can license them very quickly, through MCPS in the UK or some other licensing agencies worldwide, in a set licence fee per 30 seconds of music. Frequently this really is cheaper, quicker and fewer complicated than commissioning a composer.
Most of the TV music in the ’60s was jazz-oriented; composers like Henry Mancini and Elmer Bernstein set the standard in this way. Library music producers followed suit, and may corner some excellent jazz musicians in touring bands who are delighted to supplement their meagre club fees with a number of sessions.
Today, a significantly larger proportion of production music is pop or rock. This is certainly due partly to a demand from modern TV producers, but another factor is definitely the digital revolution. The creation of convincing pop music has stopped being exclusively the world of companies with big budgets for big studios and vast swathes of session musicians. The standard still should be high and the application of real musicians wherever possible is definitely a bonus, however it is now feasible for anyone with the talent as well as a decent DAW to take on the big boys.
Production music CDs might look like ordinary albums…
Production music CDs might appear like ordinary albums…The current proliferation of television channels has inevitably thinned out the viewing audience for almost all individual channels, thus causing advertising revenue, and so budgets, to get slashed. In addition to the few with the very top, TV and film composers have experienced to become accustomed to concentrating on lower budgets. Often – but by no means always – it 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 brand new generation of music having greater artistic and production values, that could be licensed easily.
My Method Of Composing
Once I am commissioned to talkin music, it can be either for the entire album, or perhaps for any number of tracks to get included in a ‘compilation’ album in which several composers contribute. I have got produced six complete albums within the last several years and approximately 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 everything, really – the background music is mad, bad and jazzy – as well as a good title can obviously aid in marketing, by signalling to producers what to expect in the album. The fashion that has dominated my writing is slightly left-field or quirky jazz and Latin, with a sprinkling of indie, classical, electronic and merely plain bizarre.
I work closely with one or two producers through the company (Universal – formerly BMG – in this case), who serve as overall ‘executive’ producers. They know in the whole concept and marketing plan of the album, and generally I’ll offer an initial briefing meeting together to talk about this. Then they leave me to complete the composing and production, but will drop from the studio from time to time, especially as tracks evolve or completely new ideas come up during the duration of production.
An album will consist of about 16 tracks, and although they can often be as short as you minute, I love to think of them as ‘real’ album tracks, therefore i will normally cause them to between two and four minutes long. In addition, i include various shorter versions lasting half a minute, 20 seconds and 10 seconds, along with short ‘stings’. It’s less difficult for your producer to produce these on the mixing stage than to attempt to create them from the stereo master later – more about this in next month’s article.
…however the sleeve notes are created to assist the TV editor in a hurry. Note an added one-minute, 30-, 20- and 10-second versions, as well as the short ‘stings’.
…although the sleeve notes are designed to assist the TV editor in a hurry. Note the additional one-minute, 30-, 20- and 10-second versions, and also the short ‘stings’. Because my producers at Universal, Duncan Schwier and Jo Pearson, know the way I work, the briefing session is extremely much a two-way flow of ideas. I never really know what I’m going to be asked to do, but briefs ranges through the precise on the vague, including:
Writing something which fits an extremely specific commercial demand, like lifestyle programmes or quiz shows, or to fit popular search phrases such as ‘s-ex from the city’, ‘money’, ‘countdown’ or ‘stop press’.
Taking inspiration from a pre-existing track, composer or style, being cautious to not infringe any copyright or perhaps to ‘pass off’ as something copyrighted.
Taking inspiration purely from your generic film scene, say for example a car chase, slapstick comedy sketch or s-ex scene.
Building a dramatic feel or emotional atmosphere.
“Just have a certain amount of fun and discover everything you put together, Pete.”
Often I might also suggest using existing tracks I’ve already produced for one more reason, for example cues coming from a commissioned score that has now passed its exclusivity date, demos I did for something which were not actually used, or pieces I wrote only for fun.
I generally take six to 12 months to compose and record a complete album, while i want the tracks to sound great, and not much like the stereotypical library music of the ‘old days’. I start off with programmed tracks, though before presenting these as demos I’ll make sure they are as convincing as you possibly can by including as much real instrumentation as I can – saxophone, flute and a bit of guitar and bass. Something that isn’t a live instrument has to have a reason for being there, such as a drum loop that can’t be recreated or a particular rhythm that must be quantised to suit the genre. I in addition have a vast assortment of unique samples recorded and collected during my years doing work in studios like 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 in my opinion – I book musicians I am aware and am comfortable dealing with. Once again, I don’t think ‘It’s just library music.’ I have to believe that the musicians are thinking exactly the same: that they are contributing creatively rather than it being merely another session.
It’s great dealing with Duncan or Jo at Universal – they have got a great handle about what will continue to work. It’s also really good to have some fresh ears with a project when you’ve lived from it from the studio for several weeks. One time i presented a demo to Duncan with his fantastic comment was “great, however the saxophone is too in tune, seems like library music.” This became on the ska track and the man wanted it to sound really raw and rough. I used once or twice to experience badly, not easy to get a seasoned session player who has struggled all his life to try out well. In the long run I played the sax with the mouthpiece on upside-down, thus i sounded quite convincingly like I’d only been playing for a couple weeks.
Getting your music accepted or being commissioned to create production music is every bit as competitive as any of the more traditionally glamorous goals for musicians and composers, including landing a record deal, publishing deal, film or TV commission. You have got to send in your music on a CD that you simply should make look as attractive and interesting as is possible, though a well-constructed website or MySpace site with biography and audio clips can be equally as or even more useful. A couple of phone calls to receptionists will help you to discover the names of your right people to send your pitch to: a private letter surpasses ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.
The Net changed just how production music is distributed, and many publishers now make it easy to look for and download the tracks you require.
The Net is different how production music is distributed, and the majority of publishers now make it easy to search for and download the tracks you want.The most important thing to be aware of is your music should grab the interest from the listener quickly. If your company wants writers, they will likely definitely listen to music that they are sent, but frequently they can be inundated, so it’s probable that they’ll only tune in to the initial 10 or 20 seconds of each and every track (which might adequately become the way their end user will pay attention to this product, too).
Most important is not really to try to second-guess your opinion ‘they’ want, or what is ‘good’ or ‘typical’ production music. The chances are it’s already with their library and they don’t need any more, and in case they are doing, among their established writers will have to get it done. In order to come up with a good first impression, it’s much better to write an issue that has some character, originality and flair; and, most importantly, it should be something that you are perfect at doing. The ideal chance of getting your music accepted is always to offer something different, fresh and different.
Very often, a piece you wrote like a demo for another thing that got rejected might be ideal, but paradoxically, pieces which have actually been found in TV programmes might not be beneficial to production music. Often I’ve thought that music I have got written to get a film with a non-exclusive basis will be accepted in a music library but, as Duncan has explained, music written into a specific scene may work adequately just to that scene, and might possibly not sound right by itself. Surprisingly, it can possibly be that production values for TV music are usually not suitable, particularly with today’s increasingly stingy budgets.
The development music company won’t like being told their job, but sometimes there is no harm to help out with some marketing ideas. CDs or sections of CDs will wind up being categorised to help the conclusion user, so you might consider doing the identical for your personal demo. Categories is often as vague as ‘drama’ or ‘lifestyle’, or they can be more specific to a music genre or era – as an example jazz, classical, World, ’60s, kitsch, indie, ska and the like. Titles are exceedingly important, not simply like a description but in addition to aid with searches. It’s the identical principle as Googling: key phrases or phrases inside a title can be quite helpful, specifically for on-line searching. On the other hand, you can find limits to the number of tracks that might be called ‘Car Chase’, ‘Celebration’ or ‘Feel Bad Blues’!
Something that I still find fascinating is when my music winds up. Whatever you think your music is going to be employed for, it may be visible on something quite different, be that a feature film, TV drama, documentary, shopping channel, game show or gardening programme. To know how production music works, try putting yourself within the position of the stressed-out TV editor who desperately needs good quality music for a new bit of footage the executive producer motivated to be added to some documentary three hours before the deadline. There are several possibilities:
Search for a production music company website and do an on-line search, using various keywords that describe either the genre of music or the scene that needs music.
Needless to say, a skilled editor or director will already have a great familiarity with music that may be available, often calling on ‘old faithful’ albums or tracks, but tend to still search for brand new and refreshing material.
Many production music companies will also aggressively market their music production blog, as any good publisher should. This can mean contacting producers for any film or TV projects that happen to be about to enter production, along with accumulating close and ongoing relationships with their main clients, arranging all the stuff that composers would do ourselves if we had the time and money: courtesy calls, birthday cards, free holidays within the Caribbean, that kind of thing.
In this post, we’ve investigated this business dimension of production music: what it is, who uses it, how it’s sold and, above all, how you can get your foot in the door. But in the composer’s perspective there are technical skills that are specific to production music, such as the capacity to create versions of your pieces which fit exactly to the 10-second format, so the following month, we’ll look at techniques you can discover to make an expert-sounding production music library disc.