Killer Tracks Marks 25 Years in Production Music
Killer Tracks is celebrating its 25th anniversary in a big way with the release of a host of new music and other sonic ventures. Among the dozens of new releases the company plans to issue in coming months is a collection of newly-minted tracks from legends of the Japanese punk rock movement. It’s the follow up to an earlier release from Killer Tracks’ popular Artists Series, The Mutants—Rhythm and Punk Review, which became a cult hit earlier this year.
The company also has teamed with one of Barcelona’s top music producers, SaraoMusic, a new music library with broad international roots and an eclectic sound. In addition, Killer Tracks continues to add to its outstanding array of orchestral music. Among other things, it recently hosted a recording session in Hungary with a 140-piece orchestra and choir for End of Days, a new release with an apocalyptic theme.
Now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Universal Music Publishing, Killer Tracks launched in 1989 with a collection of 30 original music CDs. The company revolutionized a business that had been dismissively referred to as “stock music,” by introducing top-flight composers and musicians, employing cutting-edge production techniques, and delivering a sound that rivaled popular commercial recordings. Today, the Killer Tracks catalog encompasses a collection equivalent to more than 2,300 CDs, with more than 100 new releases added each year. Artists and producers whose work is featured in the catalog range from heavyweights such as Chuck D, Rev Theory, Lamont Dozier, Jim Brickman and Ennio Morricone, to edgy up-and-comers like Shiny Toy Guns, Rare Monk, and Misun.
Killer Tracks VP/Head of Music Licensing Anna Maria Hall says that the production music business has undergone momentous change over the past quarter century, and that she and her staff have responded by constantly upping their game. “People today are absorbing content through a lot of new channels; they’re no longer limited to big broadcasters,” she observes. “It’s an era of narrow-casting, and that is creating new opportunities and niche markets. Satisfying the needs of the market requires diverse music and the ability to support it on a global basis.”
A quick glance at Killer Tracks’ upcoming releases reveals just how diverse and globalized the company’s offerings have become. Tokyo Surf Rock is a collection of new tracks from Japanese punk bands Guitar Wolf, The Let’s Go’s, Mr. Pan, Chigwo and others. It was produced by Chris Constantinou (Adam Ant, The Wolfmen, Sinéad O’Connor), the creative force behind The Mutants, which featured a literal Who’s Who from the ‘70s punk era: Paul Frazer (The Prodigy, Black Futures), Rat Scabies (The Damned), Neville Staples (The Specials), Jake Burns (Stiff Little Fingers) and Wilko Johnson (Dr. Feelgood). Released by Killer Tracks both through its Artist Series and, commercially, via iTunes, The Mutants – Rhythm and Punk Review became an instant classic, garnering radio play in the U.S and the U.K.
“We’re very pleased, not only with the success of these projects, but with the quality of the creative product,” says VP/Head of Music Production Carl Peel. “Chris Constantinou and Paul Frazer did an excellent job in pulling these artists together and making great songs that people were excited about.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum, End of Days is a collection of dark orchestral music from composers Robert Leslie Bennett and Tobias Enhus. For that project, producer Jason Steele traveled to Budapest to record more than a dozen tracks with the 140-piece Hungarian Studio Orchestra and Choir, renowned for their work with Michel Legrand, Michael Price, Patrick Doyle, Richard Harvey, David Buckley and others.
In its quest for diversity, Killer Tracks is constantly seeking new artists and musical collaborators. That effort recently led the company to Barcelona where it joined with local music producers SaraoMusic, a music library covering such genres as electro ambient, Balkan, Gypsy swing, pop, dubstep, Latin and lo-fi.
Teresa Carbonell, general manager of the new venture, says that their focus is on “hand-crafted” music produced by local composers and musicians. “Our aim is to create music that is authentic, beautiful and emotionally engaging,” she notes. “When you listen to our music, you hear a depth of sound in every note. The emotion of each performance comes through in the final product.”
Killer Tracks’ Origins
The company’s commitment to high-quality, genuine music dates back to its earliest days and its founder, music publishing executive Sam Trust. Trust had a vision for transforming production music, an overlooked part of the music business, through the use of high caliber composers and production techniques. Taking out mortgages on his homes to finance the venture, Trust teamed with Killer Music, a Hollywood-based commercial music company, to produce an initial catalog of 30 CDs. By all accounts, the product was very good, but the company’s timing was less than ideal. “It was 1991 and Desert Storm had just begun,” Trust recalls. “No one was buying anything.”
Despite the lack of initial success, Trust remained confident in the concept of quality production music and came up with a novel plan to convince others of its value. He compiled a list of the country’s top 100 production companies and sent each of them a copy of the complete library, free of charge. “We told them that they could have the library for 90 days and if they didn’t like it, they could send it back,” Trust recalls. “Only one company sent back the disks—and two weeks later the guy called to say he had made a terrible mistake. By the end of the year, those CDs produced $900,000 in revenue. It saved the company.”
Killer Tracks went on to become a go-to source for music supervisors, advertising agencies, film and television producers and others, attracted not only by the quality of its product, but by its savvy, taste and knowledge of the global music scene. Trust eventually sold the company to BMG Music Publishing, which in turn was purchased by Universal Music Publishing.
Meanwhile, its collection grew exponentially as did its connections with musical talent worldwide, and its placements in films, television shows, ads and other media of every description. The company’s notable licensing coups includes the signature track from Lexus’ December to Remember ad campaign, now in its eleventh year, and the theme song for the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. Crazy, the single that launched the career of Gnarls Barkley, began from a Killer Tracks sample of the track Last Men Standing from its Spaghetti Western. The song went on to win a Grammy for Best Urban/Alternative Performance in 2007 and named Best Song of 2006 by Rolling Stone.
“Killer Tracks has grown immensely and compliments the other industry leading businesses within the Universal Music Publishing Group,” says Gary Gross, worldwide president, Universal Publishing Production Music Group. “It starts with creating great music—I can’t overestimate the importance of that. We’ve never sacrificed quality. We’ve also hired great people—hard-working dedicated people who work together as a team, with the goal of exceeding their client’s expectations each and every time.”
An Island of Stability
Indeed in a music industry often marked by upheaval, Killer Tracks represents an island of stability, the company reports. Many of its staff members have logged 10 years or more with the company. A few have been on board much longer. “We’ve been a notch above since the very beginning,” recalls senior account executive James Frangipane, who was one of Trust’s first hires back in 1989. “While others were putting out stock music, we were all about compositional integrity, musicianship and customer service. Even the artwork was great. It caught on. People were impressed—they still are.”
Twenty-five years in, Killer Tracks shows no signs of slowing down. The company has steadily been bolstering its presence on the web, adding state-of-the-art software and networking technology to make its catalog easy to use and accessible to music buyers around the globe. “We’re investing millions of dollars into our website to fully enhance the user experience through faster downloads and efficient searches to ensure that the music search experience for our clients is the best in the industry,” says Hall. “We have all this great music and we want to be sure that our clients can find what they need. This company has a legacy, not only of great music, but also of great service. We do whatever we can to accommodate our clients, understand their needs and act as their partner. We carry that passion with us every day.”