Now 35, FirstCom looks back at its production music beginnings
August 20, 2015

Now 35, FirstCom looks back at its production music beginnings

DALLAS — The 1980s were known for a number of music firsts — the Sony Walkman and the evolution of the music video for example — but it also marked the debut of FirstCom Music (FirstCom Broadcast Services). In 1980, the company opened a tiny office in North Dallas with a staff of four, where they began offering production music libraries, advertising sales libraries and ID packages to enhance radio stations’ and their advertisers’ images. Back then, music was pressed and distributed on vinyl record.

“It’s hard to believe that I began my production music career selling albums from the trunk of my car,” recalls Carol Riffert, VP/GM for FirstCom Music. “From vinyl to CD to digital downloads and streaming, FirstCom Music has evolved to meet the needs of changing technology. This evolution was vital to our clients, who used our music to build brand loyalty and create unforgettable television and movie moments.”

In 1985, the company made a bold move by introducing broadcast producers to a new era of innovation with the release of one of the world’s first production music libraries on CD. At the time, many studios did not have compact disc players. To close the technology gap, FirstCom Music offered their clients CD players as part of their music service. Thus, the production industry was propelled into the digital age.

Manny Kallins, Gotham Music; Cecilia Garr (former FirstCom Music CEO/founder); and Ken Nelson, FirstCom SVP/executive producer

By 1990, FirstCom Music had become a leader in the business. Zomba Enterprises, one of the largest independent music publishing companies in the world, recognized the potential of production music and snapped up the company. The company’s growth continued with high demand by producers for superior music and one-stop licensing.

The Internet was quickly recognized as the new frontier for expansion. FirstCom Music embraced the technology and was among the first in the industry to make it possible for users to download production music from the Web. This leap offered the production industry greater flexibility and a crucial time-saving tool.

The introduction of the Master Series was yet another benchmark and blurred the lines of stock music with the star power of the pop music industry. The series incorporated and promoted the contributions of Grammy-winning artists like Nine Inch Nails’ Charlie Clouser and Bush guitarist Nigel Pulsford within their libraries.

The success of the Master Series lead Zomba Music’s Clive Calder to initiate the Zomba Writers Program for FirstCom Music, using Jive Record’s pop writers to contribute contemporary songs to FirstCom’s Film/TV catalogs. This was followed by a series of acquisitions and ownership stakes by the company, starting with the OneMusic Library in 1997, which enabled producers to “remix” to their specific needs. The OneMusic Library would later enlist the talents of Breed Music, specialists in music for national television campaigns, sonic branding logos, broadcast/cable television programming, mobile apps, feature films and shorts.

The 1998 launch of the Gotham Music Library, in partnership with New York producer Manny Kallins, brought a one-of-a-kind music style from a circle of Big Apple musicians and writers. Among these was Chieli Minucci of contemporary jazz group Special EFX.
“June of 2015 marked the 25th anniversary of becoming a FirstCom client,” notes Manny Kallins, Gotham Music executive producer. “At the time, I was the music director for Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous. I was one of the first music directors to use FirstCom as a main music source for a weekly series. Today, I am dedicated to delivering a one-of-a-kind music style for television, film and promotion.”

Jose Luis Rodriguez, Castaño-Mexican Music Library; Carol Riffert, FirstCom VP/GM; Cristy Coffey, FirstCom Marketing Director; and Antonio Garcia Issac-Mexican Music Library

To address the needs of evolving music trends, Velocity Music was created in 1999. And later, as current music continued its mashup of hybrids and genres, producers Ehkomusic jumped on board in 2006, bringing with them artists such as Adrian Quesada (Groupo Fantasmo, Spanish Gold), Goodwill & MGI (Pitbull, Twista, Radical Something) and Symbolyc One (Eminem, Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco).
The turn of the new millennium would be the springboard for groundbreaking technology from FirstCom. An example is the introduction of the first music library designed to create and mix new music for Surround Sound, distributing mixed media double-sided DVDs that included pre-mixed music in 5.1 formats and the components for the producer to create their own surround mix.
Technology was evolving at rapid speeds and so was the music industry. In 2003, FirstCom Music was acquired by Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) when they purchased Zomba Enterprises, LLC. Four years later, the acquisition of BMG Music Publishing by Universal Music Group spurred the creation of Universal Publishing Production Music (UPPM).
Under the umbrella of the production music powerhouse, FirstCom continued to grow their robust catalog via the acquisition of popular music resources, such as MasterSource, which was founded by well-known musician Marc Ferrari, who achieved acclaim with major label bands Keel and Cold Sweat.
FirstCom’s dedication to writers and artists remained the foundation of their diverse catalogs. The creation of Roadside Couch Records in 2006 provided a home to indie artists, baby bands and singer-songwriters. RCR is an artist and performer driven catalog distributed through FirstCom Music. The label’s more notable artists include Holiday Mountain, Saint Pepsi, Nikki Kelly, Nadia Fay, and Kaliyo.
In 2011, the BBC Production Music library came on board, and brought the BBC Orchestral Tool Kit, which enabled editors to easily build custom music scores by re-creating the legendary BBC documentary music sound in their own editing suites. Once again, FirstCom Music demonstrated its commitment to adapting and delivering music according to the needs of music editors and producers.
This was followed by an exclusive deal in 2012 with Mannheim Steamroller to create the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Collection. The collection features music by Chip Davis, founder of the group Mannheim Steamroller and American Gramaphone Records. Davis and his multi-platinum group have sold over 28 million holiday albums in the US.
Continuing to add depth and variety to their catalogs, the Mexican Music Library was released in 2013 to fulfill the growing demand for authentic Mexican, South American and Caribbean music. Celebrated composers, arrangers, musicians and sound engineers from Mexico City collaborated in this musical effort.

Later, FirstCom Music would enter into an agreement with Universal Music Group’s world-renowned classical label Deutsche Grammophon to represent their production music catalog. Recognized as the world’s leading classical music label, Deutsche Grammophon has been producing, marketing and distributing recorded music of the very highest quality for over a century. This catalog rounds out FirstCom’s international music offering that includes Chappell, MusicHouse and Galerie.

DJ Skee; Ken Nelson, FirstCom SVP/executive producer; and Ryan Tomlinson, Build Destroy Music

The introduction of Build Destroy Music (BDM), which was incorporated into its Chronicles of Hip Hop catalog, marked another step for authentic, artist driven music. BDM is produced by DJ Skee, a highly-regarded producer/DJ. Skee rose to fame as the first DJ to discover and play superstar artists on the radio, including Kendrick Lamar, Justin Bieber, Akon, Lorde, and Lady Gaga, amongst many others.
Today, FirstCom Music offers a full range of creative music solutions including music supervision and bespoke music. They are known throughout the world for their expertise and music quality. This is punctuated with the win of both Best Jazz and Best World Music categories in the 2014 International Library Music Awards held in London.
Their music can be heard in commercials for Audi, Nissan, Nike, Pepsi, Intel, Visa, McDonald's and other top brands. Popular TV placements include: Good Morning America, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, The Walking Dead, Orange is the New Black, Justified, Breaking Bad, and Saturday Night Live. Plus, blockbuster films such as Woody Allen’s Irrational Man, Iron Man 2, Silver Linings Playbook, Foxcatcher, Rango, Still Alice, and Captain America just to name a few.
Responding to the need for quality, easy-to-access sound effects and production elements, FirstCom Music teamed with renowned sound editor Rob Nokes to give producers online access to more than 50,000 sound effects with the addition of FirstCom SoundFX. The company also signed Jonathan Elias — founder of Elias Arts — to an exclusive production music deal.
Most recently, FirstCom launched the FCAnimated series in response to the music content and format needs of digital media and game producers. The series features music heard in Madefire Motion Books app and Website. FirstCom is also keeping step with some of the top audio mixing and mastering studios. Their latest long-term studio and creative space investment makes evident the art lies in aligning great music with superior quality audio.