The production music sector is thriving on the back of digital technology, higher quality and creative catalogues. Indies are striking deals to cash in, reports Adrian Pennington

The internet is widely assumed to be the enemy of the commercial music industry, but not so in the business-to-business sector, where digital platforms have made music libraries more accessible.

“We don’t have to rely on the post to deliver CDs any more, and you can put together playlists quickly in response to fast-turnaround programming,” says Simon James, co-founder of Repertoire, which did just that for Mentorn’s BBC3 doc about Hurricane Sandy, Superstorm USA: Caught On Camera.

Web search facilities are becoming more sophisticated, enabling producers to identify concepts by instrument or mood. Cutting Edge Group even has a sonic search function in which users can drag and drop a ‘liked’ track from iTunes to fi nd similar pieces.

Companies such as Australia’s Harvest Media have emerged to provide back-end for digital music distribution services. PRS for Music and MCPS, through their Independent Production Company Licence packages, have made life simpler by providing blanket access to all registered libraries under these schemes.

Upping the game

“There was a perception that production music was naff, but our industry has upped its game,” says Sarah Pickering, senior music consultant and promotions manager at EMI. “We’ve employed better producers and artists, and have tie-ins with commercial artists. At the same time, commercials and TV producers no longer have the budgets for commercial music. The combination of lower cost and better quality means many more people are now open to production music.”

Audio Networks has grown 40-50% in the past few years, driven by overseas expansion. “We see that expansion continuing, as more formats are distributed and versioned around the globe,” says European broadcast manager Nathan Leong. For UMSI, international sales division of NBC Universal, Audio Networks created a cobranded website to share in revenues from production music used in the distribution and reformatting of NBCU programming.

“The site houses a mix of title tracks, beds and stings used in NBCU shows such as The Real Housewives or Minute To Win It, as well as around 80 tracks from our library,” explains Leong. “It’s an audio toolbox to help local producers reversion formats for their market and, at the same time, keeps revenue from music royalties within the NBCU group.”

More producers are seeking secondary revenues from music sourced or composed for their programming, with several striking deals with publishers. EMI manages the Juice Music label, a 50-50 venture with ITV. While EMI retains rights, ITV takes home royalties for music published on ITV Studios productions such as Come Dine With Me, or on tracks sold through Juice.

“I have regular meetings with ITV to learn what type of music it needs for future programming and then we produce albums based around those themes, which are licensed through Juice,” says Pickering. EMI also represents Shine Group’s library, and collects performance royalties on behalf of its production houses. The deal includes a joint venture production music library, in which the two commission and produce soundtracks for Shine and third-party productions.

Options open
Six months ago, True North and fellow Leeds-based music production company Organiq Music established a music publishing firm, Pitch Music. The joint venture has secured a deal for Universal Publishing Production Music’s 800,000-strong library and all music specially composed for True North’s UK and international series to be available to download or license via Bruton Music’s BTV label.

“It’s about trying to keep all options open,” says True North creative director Glyn Middleton. “The dilemma for producers is how to create or find distinctive music when everyone wants to spend more time and money filming and editing. You can pay a music library £4-5,000 a year for a blanket deal, but by prioritising our own music, that doesn’t become a line on the budget.”

It’s not all rosy though. Where budgets are pressured, it’s not just the negative on-screen impact that gives some cause for concern. “Cost-cutting has given rise to a new breed of music provider who themselves cut costs by reducing the royalty flow to their writers,” says James.

“Anybody with a laptop is potentially a film composer these days, but I worry that writing music for TV and film is disappearing as a career option. “Along with PRS for Music, we are battling to preserve a realistic but respectable price point for professional music licensing, and making sure our writers receive their fair share.”

Case Studies:
Settling the score

Bank Of Dave
A search of Audio Networks’ library for something that would “capture the mood of a quirky documentary” led Finestripe Productions’ producer/ director Ian Lilley to discover The Ruse by Paul Mottram, a tune described on the website as “mischievous and mysterious”.

Although a number of other production music tracks where used for the Channel 4 two-parter, Lilley wanted to use Mottram’s piece as the programme hook. He asked the composer to rework the track, which Audio Networks helped package into around 50 variations, including stems, solos, opening and closing titles and underscores.

“We combined existing production music with a fresh approach to a key track to help give the show its own signature,” says Lilley.

Animal Front Line
Having made three previous animal docs, including Michaela’s Animal Road Trip, True North Productions wanted to make its latest 10 x 30-minute series for BBC daytime stand out from the pack.

“We wanted to brand the show as strongly with music as with the graphics,” explains creative director Glyn Middleton. “We didn’t want to use anything that you felt you had heard before, which can happen with production music.”

Bob Bradley, co-owner with True North of Pitch Music, composed original stings, punctuations and title music to a brief reflective of the show’s investigation into animal cruelty. “Through Pitch Music, we own all rights cleared for worldwide use so we can also earn at the back-end from international sales,” says Middleton.

Top Gear, The Apprentice and MasterChef have used film scores to dramatic effect, a creative choice made easier through Cutting Edge Film Scores (CEFS), which has a catalogue of 200 soundtracks including The King’s Speech, Drive and Looper. Film music also pops up in recent episodes of Hollyoaks. “We set a lot of scenes in nightclubs or pubs, so as a general rule we use a lot of commercial- sounding music from Audio Networks or Sentric Music Services’ Masstrax,” says Kate Finn, music supervisor at Lime Pictures.

“We typically use CEFS scores for bigger storylines shot on location to lend weight and to enhance their filmic feel, although we tend to use them in an understated way, not as a big orchestral piece.”

A recent Dublin-set story featured scores from the films Columbus Day and The Grey. “The costs are the same as for commercial music so we use film music sparingly – but that only heightens its dramatic effect when we do.” Cutting Edge managing director Phil Hope adds:

“Previously, it has been difficult to reuse film scores because you needed the permission of the publisher and the owner of the master recording rights, which might be a studio that isn’t interested in licensing its soundtracks. We control the master and publishing side and make sure our material is available under a blanket licence agreement.

“Film music is often used for building temp tracks with which to build an edit. If the final choice is to go with production music then the temp track needs replacing, but in our case the soundtrack is licensable, so there is no need to swap it out and start over again.”