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The Songs Remain, But They’re Not All the Same

By Mark R. Smith


Here’s a question for music lovers: Are you buying as many CDs as you used to? Chances are that you’re not. After all, you probably don’t read the liner notes very intently and it’s so easy to do a quick download from the Internet.

If that’s true of the public’s general approach to acquiring music, just think about how that trend is reshaping the world of production music, with the constant advertising deadlines and other requirements that make time a crucial consideration – just like the need for fresh sounds, which more and more often mean original tunes from indie bands.

The World Beat

Cassandra Lord
Cassandra Lord

As one of the larger production music libraries in the United States, 5 Alarm Music of Pasadena, Calif., backs up its size by repping 60 music libraries worldwide and marketing “any kind of music you can imagine,” says Vice President and General Manager Cassie Lord.

What’s the definition of “big” at 5 Alarm? “We have more releases in a year than most companies have in their entire libraries,” Lord says, noting its approximately 160,000 tracks available for download. Its international reach makes sense when considering that owner Imagen, which publishes the Elvis Presley and the Rogers & Hammerstein catalogs, is based in the Netherlands.

Lord and Maddie Madsen, head of production, not only rep libraries, they create music in the Pro Tools house, releasing 12 new albums a year; 5 Alarm hires composers and works with its partners from the adjacent Firehouse Recording Studio.

The sirens sounding at 5 Alarm are about its acquisition of the Strip Sound and the Zero Three Music libraries. They provide further enhancement to the house’s selection, which requires advanced online search and download capabilities; hence the use of Soundminer, which automatically makes cue sheets and allows users to share links with clients.

5 Alarm Music Studio.
5 Alarm Music Studio.

“With so many music libraries in the business, you want to ensure that you’re dealing with a source that legally protects the client from copyright infringement,” says Lord, who has been in the business since 1983. “It used to be very laborious to acquire a track; now it takes two seconds – although digital technology also has allowed many new people to enter the business who might not know it well.”

Lord also has noticed the trend toward clients preferring songs by actual bands, so 5 Alarm clients who can’t afford to license that “big hit” can turn to its indie music division, Rescue Records, headed by Terrilynn Rosa, which boasts a roster of more than 300 artists.

Hear It at the Multiplex

The latest from Port Washington, N.Y.-based Omnimusic is the upcoming release of “L.A. Edition,” a library of scores that was created by Hollywood composers for TV and film projects.

President Doug Wood pointed out that scoring for film is markedly different than providing sound for other projects because film scores “take a number of musical left turns,” he said. “It’s written to picture and it sounds that way; that may not be perfect for every editor because it requires a constant shifting of gears. However, that’s part of creating music for films. It’s designed to keep the viewer on the edge of his chair.”

Omni founder and composer Doug Wood at work in the company's recording studio.
Omni founder and composer Doug Wood at work
in the company’s recording studio.

That release is the latest complement to Omnimusic’s 18,000-song catalog, which encompasses seven libraries. They include “Omni,” the house’s flagship, which covers virtually every genre; “Flashpoint,” the drama/trailer library that complements TV news magazines (and was created by the composers from “America’s Most Wanted”); and “Blue Dot,” which is targeted for spots and comes complete with tags, for stingers and cues.

Another recent creation at Omnimusic is its initial online offering, “Burn,” a contemporary rock/R&B/dance mix; and “Music Outside the Box,” which is, predictably, “free-form, orchestral concert music that stretches the boundaries of what production music can be,” Wood says. “Is it music or sound design? Even I can’t say.”

The music is produced in-house in Omnimusic’s 24-foot by 24-foot studio, which is complemented by its Pro Tools control room. “It’s almost 100 percent of what we market, aside from a library called CDM, which is a ‘Eurotech’-type of sound for fashion and lifestyle projects,” he says.

And, speaking of online offerings, the replication of CDs will end this spring. “The Internet gives us the opportunity to offer remixes, which only heightened our creativity,” says Wood. “I’ll burn CDs for clients who want them, but everything else is online.”

Wide World of Music

An acquisition by legendary music publisher Warner/Chappell a few years ago made Nashville-based 615 Music – along with Non-Stop Music, Groove Addicts, V and CPM (formerly Carlin) – the home of more than 150,000 tracks spanning more than 80 catalogs.

Then there’s “the 100 new releases annually,” says Executive VP of North America Randy Wachtler. “In addition, the company features an extensive, world-class recording facility, smack-dab-in-the-middle of Nashville’s world famous Music Row, with another in Salt Lake City; both facilities have multiple rooms and can accommodate “live orchestral” recording for original projects.

615 Musicís Executive VP of North America Randy Wachtler.
615 Music’s Executive VP of North America Randy Wachtler.

“We’re one of a very few production libraries that can compose and produce new releases, from start to finish, in-house,” says Wachtler, “and this has proven a tremendous advantage in keeping the quality level high,” also noting that 615 Music and Non-Stop are among the largest creators of news music packages in the world.

The company has some exciting news coming soon, but Wachtler can’t discuss it – not yet anyway. However, the company has new releases and special collections from several of our catalogs and numerous custom projects going in both facilities, with the music available primarily for lease.
Wachtler says that 615/Nonstop’s music is “quite popular” and ends up in use in various production arenas, including promos, commercials, high-end theatrical trailers and in-show segments, as well as local TV and the cable universe. It can end up online, too, and he’s also noticed how the Internet continues to change the production music business.

“Our customers can search, download, and share playlists faster and with more ease than ever before,” Wachtler says. “It wasn’t long ago that online search engines were clunky and hard to navigate. Today, however, we’re perfecting and simplifying our online experience all the time. Our goal is to make it so intuitive and easy to use our music that it will literally save our customers much needed time and, ultimately, dollars.”

It’s Texas and It’s Big

Bigger is also better at Dallas-based FirstCom Music. The full-service production music company offers 19 libraries with a whopping 160,000 tracks that span multiple genres, with selections available online or as Soundminer-ready audio files. FirstCom also creates custom music for advertising, film and television; and editor’s tools, including Liquid Traxx, for remixing selections from its libraries.

FirstCom music collection.
FirstCom music collection.

Like other big fish in the production music pond, FirstCom releases an extensive series of new music updates throughout the year. Recently, the house teamed with the BBC on what Vice President of Production Ken Nelson calls “one of the most extraordinary music collections ever released, BBC Production Music. It offers everything from sweeping romantic dramas and proud period pieces to brutal booming tunes and the magic of the natural world.”

FirstCom also is set to introduce “Shuffle” in its “Evo” library. Shuffle was designed with ad agencies and commercial spot producers in mind, and combines specific commercial-length music with popular ad music styles and trends.

In addition, FirstCom has welcomed “Build Destroy Music” (BDM) to its “Chronicles of Hip-Hop” catalog. Created and produced by DJ Skee, BDM is a hybrid music company featuring up-and-coming musicians, songwriters and producers; the label is designed to fill the demand for that unencumbered, cutting-edge original sound that’s hot for TV, commercials, films and video games.

Nelson also has noticed a surge in the use of singer/songwriter music during the past year. “Indie vocals are extremely popular among film, TV and advertising producers who are trying to garner viewership from younger audiences, and our Roadside Couch label was created specifically to meet [that demand].”

That’s part of where the recent acquisition of MasterSource came in, he says. “That [deal allows FirstCom] to offer one of the largest and easiest-to-clear sources of songs, vocals and source music.”

Do It Right – Online

While online production music search and delivery is nothing new, launching “a proprietary system that promises to be the fastest, most accurate such system in the production music industry” takes confidence.

Those are the words of Megatrax Production Music President and CEO Ronald Mendelsohn concerning the new site. North Hollywood-based Megatrax’s “whole web experience was reconceived after we talked with our clients,” said Mendelsohn. “It has been streamlined. On our old site, multiple locations to download music were cobbled together; but the new site, everything is one click away.”

“Everything,” in this case, includes Megatrax’s in-house catalog, which contains 60,000 tracks, with “100 or more new albums” added every year at what Mendelsohn calls, “the largest exclusive independent music production company in the United States, in terms of content.” They include the flagship Megatrax, “The Scene” for film and TV underscore music, “Marquee” for indie artist songs and “Sensacion” for the Latin market. They also have a custom music division, Aircast Custom Music.

Megatrax also houses an in-house studio, which includes a Pro Tools 7.4 studio that can accommodate up to 40 musicians, plus two isolation booths.

Repping outside catalogs such as Beat Bites, a hip urban catalog; L.A. Riot; Intervox; Amusicom; and Tonal Injection enhances the bottom line. Recently, a third-party catalog, Sound Adventures, was added to the mix. As for trends, he’s seeing more retitled music in the market. “It creates confusion for clients and artists when the same piece is licensed under different titles,” he says, “when clients can’t tell who has the rights they need.”

He also noted the line blurring between production and commercial music. “It provides an outlet for their creativity,” Mendelsohn says, noting work with artists such as Johnny Wickersham of Social Distortion and Us3, and Geoff Wilkinson. “Artists used to turn up their noses at having their music played in commercials; now they embrace it.”

November 12, 2012