The Rhythm of Sight: Music and Sound Effect Libraries

Music: It conjures memories, elicits emotions and sets the mood for your productions. While you can always make your own original music, either by recording a performance or by using music-creation software, not all of us are musically talented or can afford to commission a soundtrack. You can use music that’s in the public domain, but public domain music is not always easy to find. Another option is to get synchronization rights to use off-the-shelf music, but that can get expensive. The easiest way to get music into your production is to use a music library.

Music libraries have evolved significantly over the last few years. There are now more companies in the field, offering a broader choice of higher quality music than what has previously been available. Best yet, much of today’s library music can not only be sampled online, it can be downloaded on the spot.

When to Use It

If you’re just making videos for private showings to friends and family in your home, you can safely use the music that you hear on the radio or that you already own in your private CD collection. If, however, you’re planning to distribute your work at public events, enter it in a contest, sell it or broadcast it on TV, for example, then you need to obtain permission before using copyrighted material (see Copyright: Legal Issues You Need to Know on page 69 of this issue), or use a music library. Production music is the easiest way to legally use music in your video.

Once you decide to use music from a music library, you have to pick a library. This is often easier said than done, as there are many producers with vast numbers of selections available from which to choose. Most distributors offer their libraries on the Web, via telephone or on demo discs.

Demo discs typically have short clips of some of their most popular selections, along with a sales pitch. Many libraries that let you listen to samples online keyword their selections for fast searches. To find a suitable track, just type in some adjectives and you instantly get a list of samples to audition. Clearly, a fast broadband Internet connection will be most efficient.

Most libraries offer instant downloads of songs, frequently in the MP3 format. You can also buy CDs that have the track you need, along with similar tracks, or you can buy entire libraries on CD that you can use as you need them.

Types of Licenses

Read the license agreement before you get out that credit card as there will certainly be terms and conditions for usage. If the legal aspects are unclear to you, give the library owners a call and ask them. While it might be tough to figure out what "one-time, non-exclusive" means (especially when it is lost in a paragraph written in lawyerese) a question like, "Can I use this music for 50 copies of a wedding?" will get you the "Yes" or "No" reply that you need.

Buyout licenses typically allow you to use tracks as often as you want. This is the easiest type of license to deal with for most video projects. The purchase of a disc grants you the right to use the music on it for the rest of your life.

Needle-drop (or laser-drop?) licenses are ideal for those times when a track is only going to be used once or twice. This pay-per-use license is not very commonly used, but it may be cost-effective for programs with short shelf lives or for one-time broadcasts.

Blanket licenses are ideal for production houses that use a lot of music. For the length of the license, it gives the license holder access to the complete library of music offered by the producer. Blanket licenses are usually priced mainly to cater to broadcasters’ budgets, but are frequently used by producers of commercial spots and radio stations.


The Bottom Line

Prices vary widely between libraries and between types of licenses within libraries. It pays to shop around, not only because you’ll save money, but also because quality varies – some library music is synthesized, but many libraries use actual recordings of real instruments. The selections themselves are usually available in varying lengths, sometimes with underscores (less-dense passages of music that are well suited for using as a bed) and alternate vesions.

We encourage you to visit some Web sites we’ve collected on our list and hear the kinds of music you can put into your productions. Having the right music in your production can make an enormous difference to your audience.

Sidebar: Typical Genres

Production music is often categorized by genre. The following is a partial list of categories you may encounter on your quest for the best.

  • Corporate/Industrial Good for instructional videos, commercials and business presentations.
  • Sports/Action Select for dramatic action sequences.
  • Romance Typically used for wedding and anniversary videos.
  • New Age Good choice for background music that runs under narration voiceovers.

Sidebar: Be Time Wise

When considering a music library, examine the lengths of the tracks on the disc. Some libraries offer each track in multiple lengths (e.g. :15, :30, :60 and full-length versions). Others offer each song in only one length. Make an educated selection for the type of videos that you will produce.

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