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MusicBox leads hybrid-license movement

Shop functions as library and original music creator

MusicBox is trying to build a better mousetrap.

As the number of outlets needing inexpensive production music — such as the Internet, cable reality shows and TV commercials — continues to grow, more libraries are joining the fray. Even the major music publishers have been snapping up the leading independents as a way of gaining market share.

Production music typically describes the songs emanating from the juke box in a bar scene, the overhead music while a character shops in a mall or the theme music of a reality show.

To stay a step ahead, MusicBox is at the forefront of the hybrid-license movement: a process that taps its ability to create original music while also licensing its library of nearly 9,000 songs.

“Using our hybrid license, for example, we just did eight 30-minute episodes of a cable TV series where we custom-scored the themes and bumpers, and then used music from our library for the body of the shows,” says Andrew Robbins, director of film/TV music for MusicBox. “Plus, by being owned by two composers, if we don’t have it in the library, we can quickly bang it out.”

And as studios and networks continue to cut costs, production companies that may have once spent as much as $15,000 to create original music for a network show, now look to a library where music can sometimes be licensed for as little as a few hundred bucks.

With fewer firms each year sending out sample CDs, this highly competitive atmosphere has production music libraries making their catalogs easier to access and sample online and offering very reasonable fees. Selected music can then be downloaded in a variety of digital formats.

“With shrinking budgets, production companies are gravitating more towards the cost-effective blanket license that some of the production libraries offer,” observes Mary Jo Mennella, president of music licensor Music Asset Management. “Certainly a high-end, well-known evergreen copyright will always have its place, but for the incidental music used to help create mood and atmosphere, the burgeoning library business has become very profitable.”

The recent acquisition of BMG Music by Universal Music Publishing, which also included production music giants Killer Tracks and FirstCom in the deal, created overnight the market-share leader of libraries.

“The majors have also realized this is where the money is,” Robbins notes. “It’s not in radio play or album sales. It’s in licensing.”

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