Music supervisors find cheaper alternatives to original songs

Long a badly kept secret of the TV-to-DVD business, replacement music for DVD releases has recently undergone something of a facelift, with supervisors and libraries growing more canny in their substitution efforts.

While most major TV series opt for all-media licensing rights for songs used in perpetuity, those with smaller budgets, or new series with uncertain futures, often have to content themselves with limited-term agreements, then find replacement tunes when the DVD release rolls around. Collections for TV series that predate the growth of DVD suffer most acutely: “Baywatch” was stripped of all original music; other series, like “China Beach,” are held up in release due to music clearance issues.

Music library production house 5 Alarm Music is one of several companies called upon to find and plug in new tunes, having sonically retrofitted such TV series as “Friday Night Lights,” “Life,” “Everwood,” “Felicity” and “Jack and Bobby” for DVD release.

“We try to keep the integrity of the scene intact when (selecting music),” says 5 Alarm general manager Cassie Lord. “And it’s often a nice bonus for independent artists to get more exposure.”

She adds that show producers are often exposed to cheaper musical options in the process of replacement and realize that, say, using a Black Eyed Peas song in the background for a dance club scene may not be a necessity.

Evyen Klean, music supervisor and co-owner of Neophonic, adds that publishers and labels have become more cooperative in providing alternative choices. “Recognizing that budgets are limited, they’re often now offering up alternative songs that they control,” he says.

And sometimes cost can be controlled via simple ingenuity.

“I really liked what CBS did with ‘Joan of Arcadia,’?” says Gord Lacey, founder of website TVShowsonDVD.com, of the series’ Joan Osborne-sung theme song. “Instead of licensing it 22 times for the DVD, they just licensed it six times, using it only on the first episode of every disc.

“It was totally invisible to me until I got to the second disc, and I thought, Wait a minute… It was a really clever way to approach the situation.”

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