Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, the ominous bass notes fill the theatre and everyone around watches the screen in a mix of trepidation and horror. Suddenly the great white shark appears and Hollywood adds another victim to the annuls of movie history. What would the movie "Jaws" be like without the rumbling bass notes as they signaled the arrival of the ominous shark? What would most of todays entertainment, educational and promotional productions be like without the strains of music behind the visuals, pumping them up, adding to their overall sensory output? Would that sizzling steak look as good without the sizzle?

Music is an incredible emotional trigger. It can enter the listeners mind and soul and enhance the message tremendously. Its effects can last long after the events details are but a distant memory. You can use music to draw attention to a product or revelation. It can emphasize points of interest or importance and can create tension and release in dramatic situations.

Producers often use music as a transitional tool to smoothly move from one point to another. The music adds a feeling of continuity and completeness to a production and often gives the audience a chance to breathe and relax before the production moves on to its next point.


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Todays video producers must enhance their programs with increasingly sophisticated music and sound effects to meet the needs of a more perceptive audience. To meet that need, commercial music and sound effects libraries have sprung up all over the country like mushrooms after a spring rain.

In this article well try to make sense out of the many options available in your search for the perfect fit between your production needs and the music and sound effects industry. Well take a look at the types of libraries available, their prices and criteria by which to determine which library will best fill your production needs.

Why a Music or Sound Effects Library?
My students and clients often ask me, "Why cant I just use music off my favorite CD or cassette?" I answer this question in three ways:you can if you have the money and pay for the proper licenses (see SIDEBAR), if you dont have the money, you can if you want to pay a $25,000 fine or more and spend a year in jail, or you can if you never show the project in public, show it to others for an admission charge or sell it. Of primary concern are the copyright laws. These laws cover commercial music as intellectual property. They protect the artistic and intellectual rights of the creator of the music. You must get permission and pay for the use of this music. Fortunately, you should find that music and sound effect libraries offer a fairly inexpensive alternative to the use of commercial music.

Sound Effects Libraries
In your search for the right sound effects and music library, youll have to take a close look at your future production needs. To meet those needs, music libraries offer a variety of licensing options as well as a great deal of variety in the types of music available. Unlike music libraries, sound effects libraries are usually licensed in the form of a buyout. You make one payment for the right to use the library and then have unlimited use for the life of the CDs or cassettes.

All sound effects libraries are not created equal. Some depend heavily on electronic sounds to simulate the real world. Others offer a vast variety of true foley sound effects that the motion picture industry uses to supplement their own sound designs. One of the stalwarts of sound effects libraries is the BBC Sound Effects Library ($549 for the complete set). This library has 1500 sound effects, each indexed and cross-referenced so that you can quickly find exactly what you need. The library includes environmental atmospheres for backgrounds, and the usual bangs, squeals, and grinds attributed to most quality sound effects libraries. If youre looking for variety or have some very specific needs, you may want to take a look at the huge selection offered by Sound Ideas. They offer fourteen separate libraries including the Series 6000 Library($1300) which features 7500 sound effects on 40 CDs. All cross referenced and catalogued using a FileMaker Pro Database that will work on either the WINDOWS or MAC platforms. They also feature ambiance series (2 sets for $420/set) as well as a Hollywood collection of catalogues from Hanna-Barbera($420), Lucasfilm($420), Warner Bros.($420), Twentieth Century Fox($495) and Universal Studios($420). If cars and trucks are a big part of your productions, their Wheels-Series 5000 Library($495) totally devotes its 3000 sound effects to cars, trucks and busses of all kinds, both foreign and domestic. This is but a peak at the sound effects libraries they have available.

Music Libraries
Unlike sound effects libraries, there are basically three types of licenses offered by music libraries. The pay as you play option is the oldest and most expensive, but offers the greatest variety. With this per-use license, you pay a low cost access fee for a set of discs. When you use a piece of music in the set, you submit a user log and a license payment to cover its use. They base this agreement on the old needle-drop means of licensing. You pay for every time the needle drops on the album that youre using or in todays world, every time the laser hits the CD or "laserdrop". The costs for this type of license vary according to the application and company offering the service. Some companies may charge around $50 per needle or laserdrop for a local commercial and as much as $120 for a national campaign.

One option that this license may offer is the production blanket. Under this option, you may use any of the music in the library, as many different cuts as you like, for one production fee. For example, if you produce a 10-minute non-broadcast program, you may pay $250. The fee will vary according to the length of the production as well as the way you use the music. If there are long passages of background music, the fee may be higher. As with the laserdrop license, you must report every use.

There are two distinct advantages to the per-use licensing agreement; access to a giant library of ever-changing music choices, and the lowest initial outlay of money for any of the music library options. If your company budgets music as part of each production, this may be the most cost-effective way to go.

One music company that tries to tailor their music libraries to their customers needs is Network Music. They offer needle-drop rates based on the length of the music used. This can run from $60 for under a minute to $425 for under an hour. They also offer competitive rates for small as well as large market producers. Their licensing fees may run from $22/ month for small markets to $3000/year for larger clients. Music producers base this license fee on the type of use, size of the market, and number of discs in the library. Currently they have 142 discs that cover the music spectrum.

The second form of music use license is the annual blanket license. If your company does a high volume of work, this might be the most cost-effective alternative. Under this license, you have unlimited use of all the selections in the library for as many productions as you wish for one year. Some companies offer licensing agreements that may last up to three years with free updates of the music selections throughout the license period. Most libraries ask that you log your use and report that use at a specific time during the agreement. Depending on the size of the library, this type of license may cost anywhere from $800 to $3,500. Network Music offers a variety of blanket licenses ranging from 1-3 years and varying in price as well as in the number of CDs needed. Another favorite, Sound Ideas, does not only offer sound effects libraries, their blanket fee library($1200) includes over 68 CDs and a Filemaker Pro II(PC&MAC) reference catalogue.

The annual blanket license offers two advantages to the videomaker; continuous updates of new music every year or even during the year and the ability to use the library without the hassle of reporting to the music company every time you use a cut of music.

The third form of music library license is the buyout. This license offers you the rights to the library for the lifetime of the CDs or cassettes. You can use the music and sound effects included in the library as many times as you wish and for as long as you own the disc. You dont have to report the uses to the music company and there are no licenses to renew.

The buyout is an inexpensive alternative to the other two forms of licenses. Todays buyout libraries are very high quality and offer a wide range of alternative music types for a relatively low cost. They do however have one distinct disadvantage that you should keep in mind when deciding which license type to go with; what you have is it, there are no free updates and the library will not grow with your company. If you do your research with this in mind, you should be able to find a buyout library that will fit your needs for years to come. As this is the largest and quickest growing style of music library, we can only point out a few of the many excellent buyout music libraries available.

Canary Productions Music Library offers an outstanding buyout library. This set of 25 CDs($895) offers a vast variety of styles, and boasts at least 15 themes per disc with the typical :30 and :60 second beds as well as longer (3-5 minute) themes. The music is a fine mix of acoustic and electronic orchestrations and offers a theme to meet any need. The cost of the set is also in constant flux in that they offer specials throughout the year.

If volume and variety fits your needs, take a look at Creative Support Services Music Library. They offer a huge buyout library that contains 124 CDs. The entire set sells for $3995 and the per disc fee ranges from $35/disc for volume sales to an average of $75/disc. This library offers a variety of clean, imaginative professional acoustic/ electronic orchestrations. Each disc offers an average of 15 themes from :30 and :60 second beds to longer themes. One popular disc, Max Trax offers long 5-7 minute themes. Once you own one of Creative Services discs, you can access their telephone demo service called Tele-track. All you do is look up a certain track in their 40 page catalogue, call their number and dial in the 5 digit code for that particular track. This comes in handy when looking for specific styles of themes you may not currently have in your library. If the theme is what you want, you can then order that disc and have it shipped to you.

Gene Michael Productions produces another popular buyout library. The complete library offers 32 CDs (and this number continues to rise) with a variety of styles and music lengths. The library costs $75 per disc with good discounts for volume purchases. The entire set of 32 discs is $1600. You can preview the entire library for thirty days to determine which discs you wish to purchase. They also offer discounts for educational institutions as well as payments plans. Another service offered by Gene Michael Music Library is the ability to create your own custom music library. For $3 dollars a minute plus a $75 format fee and $8 handling charge, you can choose from their complete library any cuts you want and they will record them on CD for your own custom library.

Whether you decide to buy a laserdrop license, an annual blanket license or a buyout library, ask the music library representative if there are any discounts associated with their product. Often companies will offer discounts for educational institutions and those companies that are producing only non-broadcast materials. The size of the library will also affect the price. Expect to pay more if you are producing nationally distributed programming or want a large library of CDs.

While many companies still offer their libraries as cassettes, youll find that CDs offer the greatest flexibility during production due to their advantages: instant access, indexed cueing, digital sound quality and non-contact reproduction. These advantages make them well worth the slightly extra cost.

The types of music offered by the music libraries currently on the market should be able to satisfy any of your production needs. Most libraries offer the standard styles of music such as pop, rock, country, contemporary jazz and easy listening. Some of the larger libraries offer specialized music formats such as period pieces; 40s big band, 20s ragtime or 50s rock. They may also include rap, blues, bluegrass, and music from all over the world. One type of music that has become quite popular is called rockalikes. These cuts duplicate the sound and rhythms of famous rock bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, ZZ Top and others. Whatever your music needs, you should be able to find it in one of the many music libraries on the market.

The Great Music Search
Nothing can be more daunting than wading through the stacks of demo CDs and tapes you received when you called the 800 numbers of the hundreds of music library companies out there. One way to avoid turning cross-eyed and feeling like your headphones have become a permanent part of your ears, is to listen to the music in brief sessions. Use your search for a library as a break from your daily routine.

During your review sessions, take notes as to the styles found in the library, the variety of lengths of the different themes, the overall number of different themes per CD and the available license options. Some libraries may seem as they have a great deal of music but after closer review, you find that they have only a limited number of themes in various lengths.

Keep in mind the type of productions you do. If you primarily produce commercials, youll need a library that has themes that are :30 and :60 seconds long. If, on the other hand, you use the music to enhance the scenes in a drama or corporate presentation, you may need themes that last three or four minutes. If you find that you often use the same theme throughout a production, many libraries have a series of remixed versions of the theme that will enable you to maintain continuity throughout without using the same exact cut over and over again.

Review the music with an ear for quality. Synthesized sound and sequenced MIDI controlled music has finally reached the point of commercial acceptability. However, this also means that a lot of mediocre talent has access to these powerful tools. Listen for lackluster composition and sterile arrangements. Theyll not be hard to spot.

Good quality music libraries offer a blend of acoustic orchestrations and synthesized sounds. Music library publishers often hire studio musicians to play their compositions or may even hire entire orchestras. Listen for recording quality and clear, clean sound. Dont just settle for music that almost sounds right. If youre going to invest in a library, make sure it sounds real. There is nothing worse than a client refusing the project because the music sounds "canned".

One final consideration when reviewing music and sound effects libraries is its ease of use. Does the library have easily understood CD labels and is there a logically arranged catalogue. Can you easily identify the themes and are they arranged into music styles. Some libraries offer computer software that enables you to find the cuts you need and then plays the digital samples on the your computer. Network Music makes the search for that perfect cut even easier with its CD-ROM, TrakFinder. This CD-ROM based catalogue plays 30 second samples of any cut you access. Theyve arranged the database for easy access with keyword searches using music style and descriptive words.

A Final Note
Never has there been more music options available to the videomaker. Most of todays music libraries offer high quality, sophisticated compositions that blend well and provide the sound environment for a powerful video production. However, you must do your homework and choose the music library that best meets your budget and production needs. Once you have made your choice, enjoy your library and create that next audio and video masterpiece.


Making it Legal
We all have worked with clients who insist on using a hot new tune that fills the airwaves or a golden oldie that would melt the most ruthless hearts. There are two things your client must take into account when asking for these favorites; a song or lyric that is recognizable usually takes over the message and the audience goes away humming the song, not remembering the product, and, it can get a little pricey. Depending on how youll use the production, the number of people who will see it and whether you sell it commercially, the price for music clearance can run from a nominal one dollar to thousands of dollars per needle drop.

To attain music clearance, you must start the process early, during the preproduction stage. This process can take up to a few months to complete. There are two licenses you must obtain to cover the public use of a piece of music, the performance rights and the mechanical rights.

Performance rights give you the right to perform or play the music in public. These licenses are usually granted from a performance-rights society as a blanket license covering an entire library of songs (this is what broadcast stations usually buy) or on a per-use basis covering only what the producer needs. The major performance societies in the United States are: the American Society of Composers and Performers (ASCAP), General Licensing, One Lincoln Plaza, New York, NY 10023, (212)595-3050; Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), Vice President of Licensing, 320 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019, (212)586-2000; and the Society of European Stage Actors and Composers (SESAC), Vice President of Licensing, 10 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019, (212)586-3450. These societies grant licenses, monitor usage, collect fees and distribute royalties to the publishers.

The form of mechanical rights most important to the producer is the synchronization license. This gives the producer the right to perform a specific work in synchronization with the video or film image. If your tape or filmed production is for future use, you will need a sync license. The most prominent and perhaps expedient place to get a sync license is the Harry Fox Agency in New York. You can write or call; Harry Fox Agency, Synchronization Licensing, 110 East 59th Street, New York, NY 10022, (212)751-1930.

When calling about a license, know as much as you can about the piece of music you are requesting to use. You should write down the title of the song, music composer, publishers name, record company, producer, and copyright year. You can find this information with the CD, cassette or album.

Remember, this process, though a bit of a pain, is protecting the rights of the artists and creators. Youll appreciate the same protection for any video or film project you may produce in the future.



Music & Sound Effects Libraries

Canary Productions
P.O.Box 202
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

Sound Ideas
105 West Beaver Creek Road, Suite 4
Richmond Hill, Ontario
Canada L4B 1C6
(800)387-3030 (USA) (800)665-3000 (CANADA)

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.