An Introduction To Production & Library Music, And Can Producers Earn From It?

A production music catalogHey guys, today we're going to talk about production music. Specifically we'll look at what it is, how realistic it is you as a producer can make money from it, and how the business model works. We'll also look at whether you can only put pre-recorded compositions into these catalogs, or if companies require original material.

If you're a producer or composer who wants to make an additional income by getting into the world of stock music (and if you want to potentially see your music in films and computer games among other things), then you'll want to read on.

Note: This is a post by Janet McInnes on behalf of the Imagem Production and Library Music blog.

But first, if it's your aim to do music professionally, you'll want to check out our free ebook while it's still available:

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What Is Library Music / Production Music?

Often known as library music or stock music, production music can be likened to the large image libraries like Getty, who can provide a photograph for any occasion to newspapers, magazines and media outlets. Production Music does the same for audio: offering anything from a full soundtrack, background and incidental music for films and television and radio. It’s a sound library, basically, with existing copyright permissions for everything on its books, and thus a quick and convenient solution for media producers needing a piece of music at a reasonable rate. The APRA / AMCOS website explains Library Music as:

…music written & recorded specifically for the synchronization or dubbing in audio and audio-visual productions, for example, adverts, films, DVDs, TV & radio programs, websites, online games, music on hold and ringtones.

For musicians, music libraries can offer a sound secondary or even primary means of income, either reselling existing tracks or by writing music specifically for the library. For those composing specifically, it’s crucial to realize that much of the music found in these libraries functions slightly differently from conventional compositions, in that it’s designed to complement other elements, such as visuals or speech. As such your music is therefore in demand as a means of enhancing other elements and not as the main focus.

Library music composers generally supply ongoing edits of all their tracks to make it easier for companies to purchase their exact requirements without having to commission further editing. The whole point of production / library music for most of those that use it is to find suitable and affordable audio accompaniments, without having to arrange any customizations.

How Long Have Music Libraries Been Around For?

The first music library is credited to De Wolfe Music, founded in 1909 and which began its recorded library in 1927 to cater for the beginning of the ‘talkies’.

How Does The Business Model Work?

For users of music libraries, a basic license fee gives permission to use a specified piece of music in a designated manner. For example, a television company wishing to use a piece of classical music for thirty seconds would likely pay a production music house for the privilege.

Prices can range for a few dollars through to many thousands in the case of widespread commercial usage over multiple territories. These fees remain determined by individual companies in the USA, while the UK persists with a standardized fee schedule set by the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society or MCPS.

The second revenue stream for production music comes when the music is performed in public so that it is broadcast over television, radio or the internet. In these instances, the broadcaster generally bears the fees, which go to performing rights organizations: the PRS in the United Kingdom, and ASCAP, BMI or SESAC in the United States. It’s the responsibility of these organizations to distribute revenues fairly amongst their members.

But is this a good source of revenue for musicians? We look at that below.

Are Music Libraries A Viable Mean Of Income For Musicians?

As a comparison, many photographers find that although one or two of their shots make money on magazine covers, the regular income comes from stock photography. This trickles in via smaller amounts over many years.

Production or library music offers a similar possibility. Movies, corporate television shoots, radio and ad campaigns, and the growing network of smaller internet outlets all use production music on a daily basis. Signing up with a production house allows musicians to put their existing compositions to work, and means the production library bears the brunt of marketing and paperwork. They then send copyright checks several times a year.

It’s a highly competitive market, and like the music industry as a whole can deliver huge profits or negligible returns depending on the situation. Roughly speaking, a network television placement might earn $5000, whilst a major movie up to $30,000 for a lesser known artist.

The answer, then, is that some people are earning a healthy living off production music, whilst the majority use it as a subsidiary form of income.

For certain types of composers, it’s useful to simply have a larger agency taking care of selling your back catalog, dealing with all the relevant copyrights, and then sending you a regular check. Doing it yourself might work out more profitable on paper, but individuals generally lack the marketing capabilities of the library music houses. Plus, it will take up more of your time and effort.

Does Production Music Only Utilize Pre-Recorded Music?

Many of the bigger production houses are also involved in producing music on a made-to-order basis, via working with renowned musicians and composers on original scores. Background and incidental music being as important as it is for film and TV, many producers seek out composers whose work they admire and arrange for original compositions. Production houses often offer a consultancy service to filmmakers and producers to facilitate the process of creating the best possible original music via commissioning new work.

About The Author

Janet McInnes writes about the music industry for a range of publications, as well as for the Imagem Production and Library Music blog.

P.S. Remember though, none of what you've learned will matter if you don't know how to get your music out there and earn from it. Want to learn how to do that? Then get our free ‘5 Steps To Profitable Youtube Music Career' ebook emailed directly to you!

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