More Music for the Money: CD Sound for All Budgets

Did you know that spicing up your video’s soundtrack is as easy as pressing "play" on your CD player? That’s right–by using music and sound effects libraries in your videos, you can create powerful soundtracks with minimal effort and financial outlay. With the broad range of CD libraries available today, it’s easier than ever to find one that fits your needs and your budget.
Successful Soundtracks

Few people question the power music and sound have to enhance a video or movie. Blockbuster movies rely on music and sound effects
a great deal. Consider how many movie soundtracks are top-selling albums in their own right. Now maybe you’re thinking that the latest FM hit might make a nice accompaniment to your video footage. You might be right, but you can’t use someone else’s music without permission any more than you could steal a car to use as a prop in your video. The odds of getting caught for "stealing" someone else’s music are slim, but it’s still not a good idea (see Shoot With Caution on page 73).

CD music and sound effects libraries offer you easy, legal and affordable ways to get quality music and sound effects into your videos. Don’t worry that your budget is too small to purchase a music or sound effects library CD–it’s probably not.

Music libraries are available for people making low-budget videos for their own enjoyment, as well as for folks creating videos or commercials for broadcast or worldwide distribution.

Many companies sell small libraries containing just a few CDs. Some companies will sell individual CDs as well. You may even be able to buy a CD devoted to a specific type of sound effect, such as "animals," "vehicles," "nature" or "crashes and explosions."

For All Occasions and Budgets

CD libraries come in many different forms. Some pack numerous different styles of music or effects onto one CD, so you get a good variety on one disc. Other libraries span dozens of CDs, with each disc devoted to a specific musical style, type of production or variation of sound. There might be one disc entitled "romantic," one "sports," one "corporate themes" and one "blips and bleeps." Though these multi-disc libraries usually cost more, they give you much greater selection.

When it comes time to add some "crash!" and "boom!" to your soundtrack, sound effects libraries are just what the eardrums ordered. Sound effects libraries are available in every size, from single CDs to 80-disc behemoths, covering a broad price range.

A unique audio effect increasingly available on CD is the "stinger." Somewhere between a very short piece of music and a sound effect, stingers make great punctuation for on-screen action. Stingers include whoosh sounds, orchestra hits, brief trumpet or brass section stabs, mini drum solos, phaser sounds, etc. Television commercials frequently use stingers to capture (or keep) a viewer’s attention.

When a descending 3D logo is accompanied by what sounds like a space ship landing, somebody used a stinger. You can find affordable stinger CDs from a number of different companies now that you know how to ask for them by name. For example, Energetic Music’s popular Logos and Transitions #1 ($99.95) includes numerous zips, zaps, fly-bys, swooshes, drones, and other stinger-type effects for use with titles, logos and screen transitions.

CD music and sound effects are sure to enhance any video you produce. And no matter how small your budget, there is sure to be a CD music or sound effects library for you.

When it comes to paying for the music or sound you use, CD libraries come in three
different flavors.

Needle Drop

The first (and oldest) type of library uses what’s called a "needle drop" license. After you pay a small up-front fee for the discs, the company then charges you each time the needle "drops" onto a record (or the laser hits a CD). This type of library has a small start-up cost, after which you pay only for the music or sound effects you use. Typical costs for one-time use range from $20 to $100 or more. A variation on this licensing arrangement is the "production blanket," in which you pay a single fee to use as much music or sound as you want in one specific production. Aircraft Music sells music on a per-use license basis. Prices vary depending on use, for non-broadcast AV industrial use the needle drop fee is $85.

Annual Blanket

The second type of license type is the annual blanket, in which you pay a one-time fee for unlimited use of the library for a given period of time (usually one year). This isn’t a cheap way to go initially, but it can make good sense for folks who churn out numerous productions. An added benefit of the annual blanket is the CD publisher’s tendency to regularly update the library with new material. These new discs usually come at no additional charge. The Music Bakery offers an annual blanket for $99 per CD with a new CD shipped every other month.

Buyout License

The final licensing arrangement is probably the most attractive for low-budget videographers. Called the buyout license, it involves a relatively low, one-time cost to purchase the library. From that point on, you are free to use the music or sound effects as often as you wish with no additional charge.

Because sound effects CDs are sometimes packed with hundreds of sounds, tracking and paying for each individual sound in a "needle drop" agreement would be an unwieldy process. For this reason, most CD effects libraries have buyout licenses with a one-time fee for unlimited use. This makes everybody’s job easier–your job as videographer and their job as library manufacturer and legal owner of the music or sound effects alike.

Many large film and TV production companies have made their in-house sound libraries available for purchase in this capacity. Sound Ideas, for example, sells a collection of 2200 Hanna-Barbera sound effects (including excerpts from The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Yogi Bear, The Jetsons, and others) for $495. Sound Ideas also sells collections of sound effects produced by Lucasfilm, Warner Bros., Twentieth Century Fox and Universal Studios. These big-name libraries cost around $500 for a dozen or more CDs.

You may have to give the company a credit at the end of your productions, but your financial obligation is complete when you buy the library. Many people purchase buyout libraries one disc at a time (for anywhere from $20 to about $80 a disc), and each CD usually offers a variety of styles and music lengths. River City Sound sells royalty free, buy out CDs at $59 each.

Sounds Good to Me

Some companies offer several different licensing arrangements to suit your needs. Before you purchase any music library, be sure you understand the details of the licensing agreement. Ask to see a copy of the agreement before you buy if you have any questions.

Well-selected music and sound effects are some of the most important elements you can add to any video production. Lucky for us, there’s been an explosion of companies making CD music and sound effects libraries, many of which are addressing the lower-budget markets. Despite lower price tags, the quality is improving. Recording technology has come a long way in recent years, making it easier to create great-sounding music and effects with affordable equipment. (For more on how music and sound effects libraries are made, see "Building a Library" sidebar, this page).

All this translates to very good news for you. Powerful, effective and affordable soundtracks are as close as your CD player. Once you’ve started to build-up a library, use it creatively to make your videos shine. All you have to do is press "play."

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