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Production Music in the Multi-Screen Universe


Production Music

By Mark R. Smith

When perusing the offerings of production music companies, large and small, it’s easy to find those that are adding a new library or two, striking up a partnership, enhancing search technology, etc. But what has changed so much in recent years is the availability of platforms where the music might be used.

Megatrax Studio

While providing a score for some big-deal spot that airs during the Super Bowl, or for a Hollywood hit movie trailer still attracts considerable notice, just consider all of the new opportunities that are available – not just because of the Internet but due to the preponderance of screens that rest not only on one’s desk, but also in one’s lap and in one’s palm.

A Focused Approach

Some music libraries are large and all-encompassing, while others take the boutique approach. Then there’s the middle of the pack, which is where music buyers can find FirstCom Music of Carrollton, Texas (www.firstcom.com) and its 17 libraries. The news at the house concerns the acquisition of two new offerings: BBC Production Music and the Jonathan Elias series from the EVO collection.

“The BBC owns some of the best production music in the world,” said Ken Nelson, senior vice president/executive producer with FirstCom, noting “the music’s cinematic underscores don’t overwhelm the content” within its
legendary programming and documentaries.

Nelson stresses that, while the collection offers considerable variety, it contains just 30 albums. That brevity may surprise some observers, but he likes that “it’s not all things to all people. The BBC collection is more focused on film and doc creators.”

Jonathan Elias

[Above] FirstCom collections look as good as they sound.

FirstCom is also introducing the Jonathan Elias (of Elias Arts, a legendary high-end ad firm), which offers 11 albums. “They have a rich, unique sound for the kind of work that they do,” he said. “Their campaigns almost sound like film scores. They have a unique approach that lends itself to films and docs, so we are using their more long-form pieces.”

The house also is promoting two trailer libraries that it has been building on for the past year, the Universal Trailer Series and See Music, which feature hybrid orchestral sounds. FirstCom also has released two libraries geared to the Latin market: The Mexican Music Library and the Ultimate Latin Series. The latter is a compilation of in-house recordings that has been accented with some new music.

What’s trending? “There’s more focus on how the music is used and how clients describe what they need it to do, and less about particular styles,” Nelson said. “Style and trends don’t matter as much as the vibe or mood you are trying to create for your project.”

Megaphone Saxophone
Garbage Can Bow and String
[Above Top] Have you ever seen a megaphone Saxophone? Now you have. VideoHelper has one.[Above Bottom]
At VideoHelper, they make sounds with  non-traditional instruments. This is a garbage can, bow and human stretched string.

It’s About Quality

Stew Winter, CEO of New York-based VideoHelper (www.videohelper.com), recently attended Real Screen, a reality television conference, and returned with a revelation. “I found that libraries are trying to fit into the market by providing background music,” he said, “as well as music that sets a mood without sounding invasive.”

That may sound like the same thing, but Winter stressed that it’s not. “It gets back to what we’re trying to do with our music,” he said, which is to catch people’s attention, as opposed to [having the effect of] wallpaper. “We want engaging and active.”

That observation was supported by VideoHelper’s president, Joe Saba. “We have architecture to our music,” he said. “There is often an intro, then a shift with the energy and feel, always followed by a payoff. All in the first 30 seconds.”

In other words, VideoHelper rolls short-form. “If you’re doing a five-minute segment about otters, we’re not your library,” he explained, “but if the otters explode, then we’re good, because we create excitement – with edit points throughout.”

While many libraries try to “ape” popular music styles, VideoHelper’s concept is “to create hybridized genres and not repeat the work of competitors.” The house has served the market for 18 years and offers four libraries, encompassing 6,000 titles, which the duo calls “an economical approach. Most libraries do the number escape, but we don’t waste cuts,” said Winter. “Our version of quality control is handling the writing in our studios with our six writers.”

The clientele at VideoHelper tends higher end, with movie trailers, network promos and national spots dotting the dossier. While business has been steady, that doesn’t mean it has been easy.

Today, VideoHelper is creating sounds for the newest release in its Modules series, which is a library of narrative sound design with a big following in the trailer community. “The market is trending toward cheaper stuff,” said Saba. “Many people are trying to undersell, but we haven’t lowered our prices. People love us for our approach or hate us. But, happily, our customers are with us.”

Rebranding and More

The news at Nashville-based Warner/Chappell Production Music

Randy Wachtler Warner/Chappell Production Music
Randy Wachtler, president and CEO of Warner/Chappell Production Music.

(www.warnerchappellpm.com) is a “complete rebrand of the division under the iconic Warner/Chappell shield, with the words ‘production music’ added to it,” said President and CEO Randy Wachlter.

While the marketing angle points toward new markets, the effort concerns more than marketing. “We’ve enhanced our search engine to make it easier and quicker to find music,” Wachtler said. “We have 200,000 tracks across 80 catalogs, so we wanted to make it simpler for our clients to browse, stream and create playlists. You don’t even have to sign in to sample what we offer. You can listen to the full track, too.”

A new addition to Warner/Chappell’s vast catalog is MidCoast, which focuses on contemporary indie music. It appeals to users who might, in a perfect world, want to license a song from a popular group like Imagine Dragons, the Rolling Stones or Madonna – which can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million or more.

While that would usually be cost prohibitive, MidCoast will offer a comparable sound at a workable price. “It’s an artist series that includes real bands and artists, and that’s the trend,” Wachtler said. “More production libraries are offering music that is comparable to what you hear on the radio, etc. While that’s not new, our clients want music that is every bit as good as what is on the radio.”

Warner/Chappell Production Music, predictably, has a diverse client base that “includes the major broadcasters and movie studios,” he said. “We get about a third of our business via our NonStop Trailers division” for new movies such as The Monuments Men and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, among many others. Most of the remaining work is for TV promos and spots, with the rest for Internet video, corporate and other projects.

More Screens, More Needs

Stephen Arnold studio in Dallas, Tx.

Making music in the Stephen Arnold studios. Stephen Arnold studio in Dallas, Tx.


Whitney Arnold, VP music services for The Vault at Stephen Arnold Music of Dallas (www. stephenarnoldmusic.com), sees a fairly obvious trend in the music business, and one doesn’t have to look beyond their assortment of mobile devices to see the writing on the wall.

“The fragmentation of viewership of traditional broadcast TV has had huge implications on our business,” Arnold said. “People are consuming media across any number of devices and platforms. And we as a company, and an industry, have to be extremely nimble and forward-thinking.” But that also means increased opportunity. “There is more content being created and consumed than ever before, on such a wide variety of digital platforms” he said.

The Vault isn’t trying to be a mega music library, but more of a curated collection. “One of the biggest complaints we hear in the industry is that music searches often yield excessive results of questionable quality,” Arnold said. “Producers and editors [often] have to spend a great deal of time weeding through tons of tracks, just to find a few appropriate quality selections.”

He added that The Vault is currently developing several high-end catalogs from international music houses to complement its existing seven. The company has  been on an aggressive schedule with monthly releases “and we’ve doubled in size in 12 months,” he said, and noted that it should double again this year.

Catalogs in development include Song Zu, which features hybrid tracks with everything from upbeat rock to other fun/quirky music from Australia and Singapore; and Anno Domini Nation, which features beats used by the biggest names in Hip Hop, from Wu Tang Clan to Snoop Dogg.

A New Venture

Also happily existing in the mid-market is New York’s 4 Elements Music (www.4elementsmusic.com), which offers roughly 5,600 tracks in its catalog (4,500 unique) and has focused on non-fiction TV in recent years. Librarians Bill Sullivan and Henry Terepka say that has helped the house build a strong collection of suspenseful, tense sounds with many a hooky underscore, action/promo and pop cue.

Tyler Ewing and Staff/Composer Henry Terepka at Warner Studios in Nashville.
Tyler Ewing and Staff/Composer Henry Terepka at Warner Studios in Nashville.

“We work closely with our composers to make this happen,” said Sullivan, “and clients like to use us because they’re able to find what they need quickly. That’s partly due to our careful tagging and metadata, and partially because we’re a smaller company, thus more engaged with our catalog and our composers. When you call us, you’re talking to someone who is familiar with the entire library and how it’s used, so we can create custom playlists for you within minutes.”

As noted, the amount of production music that’s available within the industry is vast, but that fact also creates an opportunity for the smaller and boutique operations to stand out, said Terepka. “We’re seeing the growing importance of metadata and its relationship to distribution and we work with some overseas partners [like Intervox in Germany] who understand how that data translates into placements.”

Sullivan also mentioned the use of popular music from famous artists, which is still increasingly being licensed for picture, and how it’s led 4 Elements Music owner Rob Reale to a new venture: representing a small record label division to develop pop artists. “We’ve taken a producer’s role for this new label, which has enabled us to give our artists the resources they need to execute their vision,” Sullivan said, “as we also help them shape their pop sounds and get placements. We’re excited with the results so far.”

Playin’ to the Market

Two new catalogs are the news at Megatrax, North Hollywood (www.mega
trax.com). They include a new boutique-style offering, “Zest,” which was produced by the company’s U.K. partner Deep East Music. It features catchy, upbeat tracks played in a variety of styles and genres, that are tailored for promos and commercials; released just previous to Zest was the edgy, European label, Black is Blonde, which targets youthful, irreverent tracks “which definitely push the envelope of political correctness,” said president and CEO Ron Mendelsohn.

(l-r) Producer Jack Elliot, Engineer  Derek Jones and Megatrax Co-Owner JC Dwyer  in the Megatrax Studios.
(l-r) Producer Jack Elliot, Engineer Derek Jones and Megatrax Co-Owner JC Dwyer
in the Megatrax Studios.

How can music be “politically incorrect?” Mendelsohn lets us in on the secret: “The idea here was that the Black is Blonde album concepts, and sound, are very young and edgy, with titles such as Babe or Bitch, Parents Suck, and Bloody Cutz.”

Those additions, which bring the total number of catalogs at Megatrax to 13, and access to them was recently complemented by a loyalty program, the Curator’s Club. It offers such perks as complimentary custom scoring, track modifications, bonus tracks and more. Another move, this one made with a nod to the company’s liaisons who need the sounds that dominate today’s market, was the unveiling of the Hot Trendz playlist. It offers all clients exclusive pre-release tracks inspired by top charts and trending artists.

Given that its headquarters is located in a world media capital, it’s not surprising that the Megatrax client base emanates from the film, television and Internet production industries. “Our music is used by everyone from major Hollywood studios to local TV/radio stations to independent producers,” said Mendelsohn.

On that note, he added that the house is “being asked more for current chart styles and indie rock,” with several more new releases along these genres slated for release later this year.” Other heat seekers – as they say in the music industry – are requests for electronic dance music, indie folk and neo soul styles, as well as requests for full-length songs with vocals.

March 25, 2014