Making music easy to find, preview and acquire are all themes that today's libraries are focusing on. Powerful search engines are key in enabling users to find exactly what they are looking for, without jumping through hoops. But that's just the beginning. Each of the libraries we spoke with this month mentioned their goal of making music readily available and easy to access.
Consumers are quite comfortable with making purchases online — and without the need for any human interaction. This trend is carrying over to the business of sound libraries, where clients can find what they are looking for and download it instantly — in any variety of audio formats. For those that require guidance — or "hand holding" — library professionals offer their expertise and familiarity with their offerings, which can help save valuable time when trying to assemble playlists.
And one other trend is that toward the use of lyric-driven music, which is finding its way into reality programming, network series, cable programs and feature films. These titles are easier to license and much less expensive than those offered through major labels.
Here's a look at what's going on in the sound library space.
New York-based MasterSource (www.mastersource.com) is a Universal Music Publishing Company that specializes in vocal-based tracks. The company has been in operation for 18 years and has had a Web presence for several years now.
Josh Kessler, senior director, creative for MasterSource Music Catalog, says the site's search engine makes up in efficiency what it might be lacking in aesthetics. Visitors to the MasterSource site can immediately start browsing the catalog without first having to register. Drop-down menus help define searches and narrow selections, and choices go well beyond styles and instrumentation to include eras (say 1940s) and even language.
"We have music in about 20 different languages," notes Kessler. "If you want a French jazz song or a Japanese pop song or a traditional Russian song, you can search that way. You can also search by the key of a song. We are answering to a lot of the music editors that are working within the confines of what the composers give them, and they can search and find material relatively easily that way."
MasterSource has over 7,500 cues, all song-based. The library recently put out a Hawaiian disc full of traditional music, as well as a new gospel CD. They have a huge collection of reality TV score music, which Kessler says has been very successful. And last year, MasterSource released a CD of 1950's pop music. With each lyric-driven track also comes a full instrumental track, along with :60, :30 and :10 edits.
Visitors to the site can preview cuts and download them instantly as 192k MP3s or 48k AIFs. All of the music is metatagged, so when tracks are opened in iTunes, all attached metadata is revealed.
Pricing varies based on usage. Clients that might be working on a 13-episode reality show, notes Kessler, might opt for a blanket license, where they would pay a one-time fee and then have access to the entire catalog for the course of the series.
"It does vary substantially," says Kessler of the pricing. "It's not necessarily the magnitude of the project, it's based on the rights that somebody needs to acquire. If you are acquiring for non-broadcast industrial use and are using it in a classroom, I can't possibly charge you what I would if you were asking for all media and DVD, theatrical, in-context promotion and things like that."
The benefit to producers is the ease of licensing. "No matter what the fee is, they know they can make a call and get the song — no matter what — and we're not going to be as expensive as the major labels."
MasterSource has two songs in the film X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and another two in the Sacha Baron Cohen film, Bruno. Kessler says the company contributes to between 30 and 40 major motion pictures each year. MasterSource tracks also show up in television content, and the company's New York location helps it secure advertising work too.
5 ALARM MUSIC
5 Alarm Music (www.5alarmmusic.com) in Pasadena, CA, is one of the biggest independent music libraries in the field, representing 40 different collections from the US and abroad. At press time, the company had just returned from the annual NAB show in Las Vegas, where they introduced the implementation of SonicFire Pro 5's editing abilities within the First Degree Music library.
"We introduced it at the NAB, and what's so great about it is that it gives the user such flexibility," explains Cassie Lord, 5 Alarm Music's GM/executive producer. "If [users] get a :17 YouTube video, they just put in :17 and boom, it's scored — beginning, middle and end. If they want to take out the drums they can, and if they want to pump up the drums, they can. It's all really automated."
Users would need the SonicFire Pro 5 application, but 5 Alarm makes it available for free through its Website. And, there's a Final Cut Pro plug-in that's available for video editors looking to easily score their projects.
"We provide the software for free and [clients] just pay for what they use when they use it," she says.
Three hundred tracks from the First Degree library are now "enabled" for use with the SonicFire Pro editor. 5 Alarm's other libraries are also in the process of being enabled, but it's not a quick procedure. Lord estimates the process taking eight to 10 hours per track. That being the case, she's had four staffers trained in the enabling process.
In addition to the 5 Alarm releases, Lord says many of the other libraries she represents recognize the power the editing program provides, and are now having their titles enabled too.
The company recently took on representation for Boost TV!, a UK-based library consisting of orchestral music and sound design. Pennybank Tunes is a small library from France that Lord says has "very interesting accordion music, and things to fill in [what] I didn't have with other libraries."
Integration is also a new offering and includes tracks by the composer of the classic cartoon Tom and Jerry. And the 24/7 library is a collection from composer David Vanacore, whose music is featured in shows such as Survivor and The Apprentice.
5 Alarm has 100,000 tracks online for review. The company's search engine is powered by Soundminer, and its Website is open for browsing once users complete a simple registration form that asks for their name and email address.
"Everybody has the ability to search on our search engine," says Lord. "They just register and they're in. They don't have the ability to download until we know who they are — that they are a bonafide user and someone who would pay a needledrop fee. But, if you're a student and want to see what's out there professionally, we'll let you check out our store."
Clients can download cues in the AIFF, WAV or MP3 format. They can also send playlists to members of their production team with links to their selections. This eliminates them from having to attach song files that might clog up email accounts.
Most of 5 Alarm Music's libraries are instrumental. Music from the library has been featured in the films The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and 17 Again, as well as in TV shows such as Saturday Night Live, In the Motherhood, the updated Biography special on Charles Manson, and Food Network's Unwrapped.
For producers looking for lyric-driven tracks, the company has an indie artist label called Rescue Records. Music from it was recently featured in the TV series The Unusuals. Lord says she is seeing a trend toward e-commerce for clients, and the company will be addressing it more with the next revision of its Website. But some still need hand holding and human interaction, and for those clients, 5 Alarm Music wants to be a "music concierge."
"The people who generally want their hand held are film and television people," notes Lord. "Post houses and people doing things on the Internet, they just want to get on your search engine and download. Film and television supervisors will call and say, 'Put in my basket some Mexican music, orchestral, drama and send it to me.'"
Sherman Oaks, CA-based AudioMicro (www.audiomicro.com) came online in June of 2008 as a Web platform that would allow content creators to upload to it and find distribution.
According to founder Ryan Born, AudioMicro's "real niche is that we have expertise in search engine optimization — showing up in Google results. If you Google 'stock music,' we are the number two organic result, which means we don't pay for those clicks. We show up organically and drive traffic to the site by optimizing for over 16,000 different terms."
Since its launch, AudioMicro has built a library of 18,000 music tracks and nearly 100,000 sound effects. And submissions come from artists all over the world, who upload directly to the library. According to Born, an AudioMicro music editor or sound editor reviews each submission based on quality and it is then accepted or rejected. "Once we accept it, it goes right into the library for licensing."
Visitors to the AudioMicro site can browse cues as 64kbps MP3 files.
"If the artist uploads an MP3, we allow the download to be an MP3," explains Born. "If the artist uploads a WAV, we have an option for it to be downloaded as an MP3, WAV or AIF. And if it's uploaded as an AIF, we have the option for it to be downloaded as an MP3, WAV or AIF."
The submissions come from a range of sound professionals. "We have independents producing their first collection or making their first few effects, looking for a place to put it and make a few dollars on the side, and we also have music publishing libraries that come to us and have entire catalogues with various composers under their wings," says Born. "We also have individual composers who do publishing and songwriting that come to us. It's all non-exclusive when it comes to AudioMicro. They are using us as an additional outlet. We're garnering traffic month after month and they are seeing us as an additional place to put their content."
Music cues range from bumpers and stingers to :30, :60 and full-length versions. Sound effects can include half-second explosions all the way up to longer soundscape-types of recordings.
"When you purchase a track from AudioMicro, you can use it over and over in your productions," says Born. "That term is sometimes thrown around as buy-out, but by all means, the person doesn't own that content."
It is royalty free, he notes, but on the music side, if a cue does make a broadcast performance, producers need to fill out that information so that artists can get paid.
Also unique to AudioMicro is its pricing and purchase policy. Credits — like in an arcade — are used for purchases. Born calls it "MicroStock."
"The pricing is as little as $1 per minute," he notes. "We price everything at one credit per minute. When you come to AudioMicro, you've got to buy credits. Credits unlock music and the sounds."
AudioMicro recently introduced an iPhone app that lets users have over 500 high-quality sound effects available at their fingertips. And the "Sneak Attack" function is a playful setting that triggers funny sound effects when the iPhone is picked up by an unsuspecting subject.
VideoHelper has an office and studio space in New York City. The company was recently at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, where it showed off its new "Modules 4" narrative sound design CD. The show was also an opportunity for the production music provider to maintain existing relationships and get a bird's-eye-view of the industry as a whole.
Connecting by phone shortly after the NAB show, VideoHelper's Joe Saba and Stewart Winter said that in addition to using NAB to promote one or two of its new discs, the team also uses it as "an opportunity to meet people, because we don't have sales people. We are probably the only company in our field that does not have a sales force. We rely only on the five to 10 ads that we run, and word of mouth."
Saba and Winter are co-owners and composers. The company also has an additional three composers who provide creative input.
In their New York office are five studios, outfitted with MOTU Digital Performer and Digidesign Pro Tools.
"We all compose," notes the duo. "We have a workshop here where all the composers get together one day a week and present stuff they are working on. We shoot down or fix things we don't like and applaud the stuff that we do like. And we shape the library that way."
To date, VideoHelper has 3,500 unique titles — some with various cut downs and others without. Each of the company's discs features representation from all five composers, providing a healthy mix for customers to choose from.
Discs are both a practical and conceptual term at VideoHelper. Saba and Winter say they refer to discs in terms of how they organize the library. And while they do offer CDs as a form of delivery, over 60 percent of VideoHelper's clients use the company's Website or hard drive offerings.
The principals admit that their catalog is not the cheapest out there, but they are forthright with their pricing — making rates public.
"We're not the cheapest," agrees the duo, "but we are competitive with the other high-end [libraries]. We don't really compete on price. On that level it's usually more about who has the more appropriate music for what the client wants. With Universal and Warner, there are these mega libraries that have 100,000 tracks. There's a lot of good music out there and we never want to compete on volume, or be the WalMart of production music."
VideoHelper cues appear often in movie trailers, including the new Star Trek, as well as in broadcast promos for ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, Sci-Fi and HBO. And, original cues have been created for World News Tonight and The Suzy Orman Show. But their music, which tends to be a bit more "in-your-face," isn't suitable for all broadcasters. The "yoga" channel, laugh Saba and Winter, would find their music "woefully inappropriate."