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Music Libraries – Following Trends, For a Song

By Mark R. Smith

Music LibrariesProduction music libraries are as much subject to trends as any other slice of the film and video business. They’re witnessing a wave of acquisitions and global expansion, new technology demands, increased business from the video game sector and growth in original song placement. But whether they’re following trends or setting their own, libraries are primed to meet clients’ needs for top-quality, fresh, easy-access sounds.

Technology Spurs Growth at FirstCom
The forward march of technology has augmented the bottom lines of music and sound effects libraries in a variety of ways, and FirstCom Music, of Dallas, is no exception (www.firstcom.com). Senior vice president and executive producer Ken Nelson is quick to cite the trend — and probably soon the routine practice — of music libraries on mobile phones and other handheld devices.

FirstCom has an application available “that pushes new updates out to our iPhone app,” he explains. Accessing music via a mobile app for auditioning and spotting to video “will become the norm within the next year. We’re at the forefront of these applications.”

FirstCom Music's senior vice president and executive producer, Ken Nelson
FirstCom Music’s senior vice president
and executive producer, Ken Nelson.

FirstCom’s New Releases On The Go makes it easier than ever to keep up all of the great new music released by the company. A link from the FirstCom website allows users to add the app icon to their mobile device. Any time FirstCom releases new music the app is immediately updated.

Music libraries are also gaining market share with video game customers. “As game developers have come to discover the ease of acquisition and the assets from FirstCom,” says Nelson, “our game specialization has exploded. We offer a vast catalog of extreme sports music, rocktronica, metal and any other type of music a video game might need depending on the content.”

Nelson also observes a tendency toward greater outreach, such as joint ventures with international partners. FirstCom is currently involved in a liaison with what Nelson calls “an enormously influential media entity in the U.K.” that will include distribution of their music assets, as well as long-term licensing for FirstCom and the U.K. concern.

Another trend is that of mid-sized music libraries growing via the acquisition of other libraries. “This has been happening for some time and is more difficult to manage than it appears,” Nelson believes. “Unfortunately, we have seen throughout the industry a trend from smaller and mid-size libraries to ‘bulk up’ with whatever falls on their desk.”

FirstCom Music's New Releases on the Go mobile app.
FirstCom Music’s New Releases on the Go mobile app.

That’s not necessarily a good approach for clients, however. “We’ve seen an explosion in low-quality, low-budget libraries that aggregate in the belief that size equals high quality. The idea of bulking up to fool clients into thinking that your group of poor libraries will equal something that will work for them is just not working.”

FirstCom Music's Block Rocker offers cut-and-paste, mash-ups and funky breaks.
FirstCom Music’s Block Rocker offers cut-and-paste,
mash-ups and funky breaks.

What is working is placing songs (as opposed to just generic background music) from emerging songwriters for customers.

“FirstCom has had great success in focusing on the A&R (artists and repertoire) market for singer-songwriters,” Nelson reports. FirstCom created Roadside Couch Records in 2005, in part to answer the demand of clients and producers for songs that could be licensed without hassle.

The latest news is that FirstCom is now representing the MasterSource Library. MasterSource brings 400 artists and more than 8,000 tracks to the FirstCom collection. “That’s allowed us to add to our arsenal one of the best catalogs of easy-to-license song styles, bands, singers and source music,” he says.

Killer Tracks Boosts Business on Multiple Fronts
The vibe is positive at Killer Tracks in West Hollywood (www.killertracks.com) where business has “absolutely” picked up during the last six months, says vice president of marketing David Gurule. “More and more people are looking for companies like ours to provide the high-quality, convenient licensing solution that they’re seeking.”

Like some other music libraries, Killer Tracks is starting to see demand from users of the web, mobile phones and other handheld devices. “We’re focusing on making our catalog available to clients wherever they might want to audition our music,” reports Gurule. “Our new website is compatible with many mobile and handheld devices, and we’re constantly working on developing additional tools for clients to access our music ‘on the go.'”

Killer Tracks' new website invites exploration.
Killer Tracks’ new website invites exploration.

The library is also gaining more video game customers, which isn’t a surprise since Killer Tracks has “been supporting that industry for several years now. But that percentage of our business has become more significant,” he notes. “It’s gone from an ‘experimental’ type of sector to an important part of our business,” whether for in-game, marketing or educational usage.

Killer Tracks has released many albums tailored specifically to this market, he reports, including Video Game Trailers, 8 Bit Glitch, Crime Drama, Epic Action Trailers, Sports FX Grooves and more. Several titles even feature stem mixes with clear edit points for easy in-game placement. “Of course, the depth and breadth of our catalog is the real benefit to game developers as the variety of game genres is always evolving and expanding,” says Gurule.

While many libraries have been solidifying international connections lately, Killer Tracks has been distributed internationally, via many offices, for more than a decade; there are now more than 30 affiliated offices worldwide, and Gurule is hopeful that more are on the horizon.

Killer Tracks is “always looking to acquire a catalog or a business if it can accentuate our existing catalog and provide additional value to clients” or prospective clients, he adds.

Killer Tracks' Trailer Tool Kit 4 for Epic Action Trailers is ideal for high-impact video game marketing campaigns.
Killer Tracks’ Trailer Tool Kit 4 for Epic Action Trailers is ideal for high-impact video game marketing campaigns.

“This is already a very large catalog, with more than 2,000 CDs within 21 libraries,” Gurule explains. “We’re always open to the idea of acquisitions. There is movement in the market today on the acquisition front; but what needs to be looked at carefully is whether or not the acquisitions are simply being made to increase track numbers or if the acquisitions are indeed adding value for the client. We don’t care about simply increasing the numbers of tracks in our catalog, just to use it as a marketing line.”

Killer Tracks is on board with the trend of increased usage of songs with vocals by independent artists. The library already contains more than one thousand songs with vocals from a variety of independent artists.

Dozier Generations from Killer Tracks features contemporary R&B/pop songs with vocals.
Dozier Generations from Killer Tracks features
contemporary R&B/pop songs with vocals.

“We are seeing a rise in the licensing of songs with vocals,” Gurule reports, pointing to recent CDs featuring the songs of indie/folk artist Christina Courtin and another of R&B/pop vocals from multi-platinum songwriter and producer Beau Dozier.

“Those songs have already been licensed many times in just a few months,” he says, “because clients are realizing that Killer Tracks can offer much more than just background music; we can offer compelling artist material as well. We’re looking at this as a growth area.”

Demand for Quality is Non-Stop
It makes sense that Randy Thornton was in London when this interview took place since Salt Lake City-based Non-Stop Music (which also has offices in New York and LA) conducts what he terms a “substantial amount” of business in major international markets. Non-Stop (www.nonstopmusic.com) is a division of Warner/Chappell Music.

Not only does Non-Stop have operations for licensing, marketing and production in London, but in Paris, Hamburg and Stockholm, as well. “In the major European markets, we tend to do our own thing,” says Thornton, Non-Stop’s president and CEO. “In other foreign territories, we are represented by third-party sub-publishers.” What’s more, “we have several worldwide representation deals for third-party catalogs, for both domestic and foreign [production music],” he adds.

Parent company “Warner/Chappell and Non-Stop Music have been acquiring numerous top-tier independent catalogs during the past year,” Thornton reports, including V-the Production Library, Groove Addicts, Carlin Recorded Music Library (now CPM) and 615 Music. “We feel strongly that ‘bigger’ is a necessary component, but more important is having extremely high production and creative values, as well as relevant material for each individual market. Certainly, one size does not fit all.”

Judd Maher and Glen Neibaur mix a live orchestral session at Non-Stop Music's LA East Recording Studios.
Judd Maher and Glen Neibaur mix a live orchestral session at Non-Stop Music’s LA East Recording Studios.

While many music libraries are now placing songs from emerging songwriters for customers, “Non-Stop has always prided itself on producing top-quality music written by real songwriters and real composers and recorded by professional engineers and producers,” says Thornton. “The trend during the past several years of aggregating indie song artists’ material on websites with the idea that ‘if you have tens of thousands of garage band recordings to choose from, the client might be able to find a gem’ is, in my opinion, somewhat of a waste of time for clients.

“Most of the material on these sites is unusable and irrelevant more often than not,” he believes. “We pride ourselves on only offering the cream of the crop to our clients, thereby saving them time, energy and money. They come to us because they trust our judgment because we’ve been in business for 30 years.”

Non-Stop is taking advantage of the trend for music libraries to be available via mobile phones and other handheld devices — a new app is on the way — and is enjoying an increasingly strong presence in the video game industry due to the acquisition of specific libraries, such as Groove Addicts and V-the Production Library, Thornton points out.

But it’s the “quest for quality” that’s “probably the biggest trend we’re seeing,” he reports. “People have a lot of choices these days. There’s 10 times the amount of production music that was available even 10 years ago, so the competition for relevant, top-quality music is extreme.”

The Magic of Music is Timeless at OmniMusic
Although Port Washington, New York’s OmniMusic (www.omnimusic.com) has “not yet tried to package our whole 17,000-track library for downloading to mobile phones,” president Doug Wood sees the nature of the production music business changing in other ways.

“Clients of certain libraries are licensing music without knowing how it’ll end up being used,” he says. “That’s because no one produces a music video, or any other production, that doesn’t go on the Internet. It’s being cross-purposed so often.”

Indeed, video produced today is showing up everywhere, on every platform. Couple that with people’s shrinking attention spans and the need “to be entertained every minute of every day” and the result is a great thing for the production music market, he says. “What we do is orient the viewers to the message that the producer wants to get across. Music is not only the least expensive production medium but also the fastest,” Wood declares.

Composer and international recording artist Marc Longchampt is one of the contributors to OmniMusic's latest collection, Music Outside the Box
Composer and international recording artist
Marc Longchampt is one of the contributors to
OmniMusic’s latest collection, Music Outside the Box.

Think, for example, about how much it costs to create a video streetscape of Harlem in the 1920’s — then think about the musical equivalent. “I can do that with a black screen in seconds,” says Wood. “The music goes right to the subconscious in a way that people don’t even realize.

“That’s the magic of music. You can use musical elements as they appear in production music to make [people] laugh, cry or be frightened, or to remind them of a time of year. There’s a lot of power there, but I still see so many producers that just use it to fill in blanks, when they can use it to accentuate their project” instead.

“The music can be great,” says Wood, “but its impact often goes relatively unnoticed.”

OmniMusic was “the first music production company to issue CDs in 1984,” he notes, and some of its clients date back that far or farther. They range from corporate producers to the creators of Saturday Night Live. “They’re big clients and tiny clients,” says Wood. “We’re starting to pick up more agencies that are responding to corporate clients who need music for their websites.”

OmniMusic has not pursued the trend of acquiring libraries, but distributes a few boutiques like Flashpoint CDM and Blue Dot. The company has jumped on the bandwagon of placing songwriters’ creations with lyrics with a new collection called Spice.

“Every time you see a fad and think that it won’t last, like adding lyrics to production music,” says Wood, “it does.”

615 Music Increases Global Footprint
Nashville’s 615 Music (www.615music.com) found itself part of an industry trend when Warner/Chappell Music acquired it at the end of 2010, a move that resulted in 615 Music founder Randy Wachtler being named executive vice president/North America for Warner/Chappell Production Music.

The acquisition “expanded the corporation’s international outreach and partnerships as we’re making more inroads into China and India, for instance,” says Wachtler. “It was happening anyway, but being part of Warner/Chappell has increased our global footprint.”

615 Music had acquired some smaller libraries, too, notably Kingsize of New York last year. “Warner/Chappell is still in a growth period, so I expect us to continue looking for other properties as well,” Wachtler reports.

The beat goes on at a recording session at Nashville's 615 Music.
The beat goes on at a recording session at Nashville’s 615 Music.

615 Music recently announced a move away from producing CDs to offering a more robust and user-friendly online search engine, 615 Music Search, and a hard-drive application, 615 HD.

615 Music's 60's British Rock Invasion is part of the Platinum Series.
615 Music’s 60’s British Rock Invasion is part
of the Platinum Series.

“For us, this business is all about making it easier for customers to get our music and license it. That’s the key,” Wachtler says. “Online searching and downloading is getting so much better and easier, and that’s key to our growth.”

The company has always counted video game developers among its customers, and there has been increased business in that sector, most recently with Chronicles of Narnia — Prince Caspian, which featured music from the Scoring Stage collection and Saints Row 2, which included music from the Platinum Series.

About a year ago the company launched Song Street Records that focuses on emerging artists and bands for placement in TV shows “and all kinds of media,” says Wachtler. “These days, everything is moving to the Net; some TV shows are only playing on the Net, which has opened up so many new licensing opportunities that the demand for content is stronger than ever.”

Currently, 615 Music markets 23 libraries, and “with the oomph of Warner/Chappell behind us, we’ll market our catalogs in a more effective manner worldwide,” he predicts. The company will maintain its quarter-century-plus roots in Music City.

American Music Co. Goes Its Own Way
Mitchel Greenspan, president/owner of American Music Co. (www.americanmusicco.com) in Oceanside, New York, is taking a different path from many in the music-library business.

“We’re not partnering up with any international entities,” he says. His library contains 2,000 songs within one catalog, all produced and recorded just for American Music Co., including roughly 175 new tunes each year. “Although we have been asked by many companies several times each during the past seven years to consider doing so, we have chosen to keep separate from other possible suitors. The deals that are being presented to us are not enticing enough to pursue.”

To date, American Music Co. has only been involved with its own music catalog during its seven-year history. “The opportunity has presented itself a few times to acquire additional music libraries, but we have chosen not to go down that path, either. Even though that would enable to us to increase the size of our offerings and offer a quicker solution to producing new material, I’ve always felt that faster is not necessarily better.”

Mitchel Greenspan, president/owner of American Music Co.
Mitchel Greenspan, president/owner of American Music Co.

For Greenspan, it comes down to control over the quality of the music. “I’d rather have control than bring music on board that we’ve not had a hand in producing — not to mention the legal ramifications of the ownership of the copyrights of the music.

“Even though I’m sure that everything would work out in the end, I’m not willing to take the chance and put our clients, and our company, in jeopardy with any possible copyright infringements,” he says. “With us being in control of every aspect of the music, we can guarantee that there is no question about ownership. I sleep better at night knowing this.”

Instead of following trends in the industry, the firm seeks “to make our own path and to anticipate the type and style of music that a client may want to use,” Greenspan points out.

His approach is to take the initiative and produce music that other music libraries may not have thought about creating. “I always like to push the envelope with new ideas,” such as offering rock or jazz versions of classical music in Classical Mania or the new Arabia: The Middle East CD recorded in Damascus, Syria. “We also listen very carefully to our clients and will produce music based on their specific requests,” he notes.

December 6, 2012