Library shops whistle a happy tune

In the cavalcade of big-budget TV commercials for the Super Bowl, at least 24 spots were embellished by audio supplied by production music libraries, which represents a coming of age, of sorts, for suppliers of tunes that some considered second-rate just a few years ago.

This low-cost, off-the-shelf recorded music is now a finding its way into pricey productions like those Super Bowl commercials, while continuing to be a mainstay of budget-oriented movies, TV programs, radio and TV commercials, videogames, film/TV promotions and corporate videos.

During the Super Bowl window, production library APM supplied music for two GoDaddy.com commercials, Brand X Music for a “Kung Fu Panda 2″ ad, Manhattan Production Music for a “Raising Hope” promotional spot and Position Music for a “Cowboys & Aliens” blurb.

Production library content, sometimes referred to as stock music, is one of several options for music supervisors that include original recordings and hit songs from such chart toppers as Lady Gaga or the Rolling Stones.

“It’s like a puzzle,” says Gary Calamar, who is a music supervisor for HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” Fox’s “House” and other primetime series. “You pick your priority scenes where music is going to have the biggest impact and go for a ‘hit’ song there. For other more background uses, library houses do the job and (are) considerably cheaper.”

The Production Music Assn., a trade group for the industry, estimates production libraries generate $400 million-$500 million in annual business worldwide, in the U.S. alone accounting for $150 million. Until the 1980s, overseas shops dominated because their music was cheaper, but then the U.S. side began a long growth run as libraries increasingly relied sessions by non-union (therefore more cost-effective) musicians and indie talents became more willing to part with their music for less, with the idea that exposure in a film or TV show would up their profile.

The traditional selling pitch for using library music is low price. A TV series incorporating a song from a famous recording artist can be expected to pay $30,000 for a tune — half for publishing rights and the other half for the “master” rights that goes to the artist’s recording label. A song from a lesser-known indie recording artist might command $5,000. Filling the same slot with music from a production library typically costs from $1,000 to $2,000.

“As an example, if someone needs a large quantity of music such as a reality TV show, it might require 100 or more pieces of background music for each episode, including perhaps five or six songs with vocals,” says Keatly Haldeman, CEO Los Angeles-based Pacifica Music. “And if they want to use different music in each episode to freshen them up, a standard 12-episode season would require 1,200 unique pieces of music. The paperwork to license that many songs individually would a nightmare.”

Libraries offer countless hours of easy-to-search music grouped in genres such as country twang, soaring symphonic, techno-rock, classical, eerie/suspenseful orchestral, ballet, blaring brass, jazz and even bhangra music.

Some individual libraries are so large they would fill the equivalent of over 1,000 CDs, though tunes are delivered by shipping loaded computer hard drives or else via Web downloads. That depth and breadth are another appeal. Because much of the music has been little exposed, libraries argue their tunes seem fresh to audiences.

“We’re in the trenches with the artists constantly creating new music and I’m a producer myself,” says Black Toast Music CEO Bob Mair.

Mair spends 60% of his time recording new music, always with his finger in the air trying to anticipate which music genres will be popular in a few months.

“When productions need music from us, they need it fast,” he says. “If it’s already created, then they have fast access.”

Mair says new and growing categories such as Internet advertising, cell phones and videogames constantly enlarge the pool of music buyers.

Libraries also ride to the rescue when rights for DVD release of a TV series are deemed too expensive, such as has occurred with “Baywatch,” “Beverly Hills, 90201,” “China Beach” and “Dawson’s Creek.”

A planned January Blu-ray release of Spike Lee’s biopic “Malcolm X” was postponed in part because of music clearance snags.

Because trailers stitch together scattered bits of a movie, they typically require an additional costly license for hit songs, even if those numbers are already cleared for use in the full-length movie — and that is where libraries fill the void.

“Production music libraries can deliver any music,” says Debra Young Krizman, executive director of the PMA trade group. “No matter how obscure, one or more of the libraries will have it.”

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