|Offering a continually expanding selection of quality production music and sound effects, sound libraries have largely moved online where their user-friendly Websites and innovative licensing and payment options make shopping for just the right track or sound effect easier than ever.
AUDIOSPARX'S BROAD MIX
Thirteen-year-old Audiosparx (www.audiosparx.com) in St. Augustine, FL, started as a sound effects library but now features a broad mix of content: 186,000 sound effects, about 63,000 music tracks and approximately 82,000 beats and loops. With both royalty-free and needle-drop offerings, it represents the work of more than 2,100 independent musicians, producers and publishers.
“As we’ve moved more and more into the TV and film marketplaces we’ve developed a very strong database of music that works well for feature films, TV programming and advertising,” says Audiosparx executive VP Lee Johnson.
“Our dramatic music catalog is especially strong, with over 12,000 tracks. It’s our best seller. We have more tracks in one genre than most of our competitors do in their entire library,” he reports. “We sign 50 to 100 new artists every month. Max DiCarlo, the iconic Italian virtuoso is relatively new to Audiosparx. He does a lot of writing for Disney and Lionsgate. Dan Radlauer is also fairly new to us although he has produced music for films, TV and commercials for years.”
Classical music is also much in demand; Audiosparx offers over 3,000 classical compositions from 90 composers worldwide. The library is also known for its world music offerings, with over 7,000 tracks from 126 countries.
Audiosparx can meet clients’ seasonal demands as well. “Our focus right now is Halloween, with over 1,500 horror tracks and sound effects,” Johnson explains. “We’ll soon be heavily in the Santa Claus mode, with over 1,000 Christmas selections.”
Many artists produce full tracks, 60- and 30-second versions, stingers or loops and even ring-tone versions, he points out. “Our artists can group related cuts together so clients can pick exactly the right cut.”
Although the company still sells royalty-free music CDs, that’s just “a small part of the business today. Our primary focus is all about online access,” Johnson notes. The Website has seen a 39 percent gain in traffic since March and is “getting over one million visitors a month.”
Since Audiosparx was founded by software engineers, the company is especially keen on making the online experience as comprehensive and user-friendly as possible. “We’re continually using new technology to enhance operations and implementing new features for clients that give us a big advantage over our competitors,” he reports. “To handle the growth in traffic we do cluster hosting, on multiple servers, so the Website always stays up and running. We also do realtime offsite back-ups for security purposes.”
The Website has strong search capabilities with 17 filtering options. The latest Flash player technology enables quick auditions and studio download privileges have been recently introduced for busy production clients. “Select clients can now download high-resolution, non-watermarked tracks to try in their productions,” Johnson explains. “If it works, they’re already there, they don’t need to re-edit. They just have to license the tracks.”
Although Dallas-based Prolific Arts Music (www.royaltyfreemusiclibrary.com) launched at the beginning of this year, its co-founders, Brian Beshears and Scott Meath, were responsible for creating Studio Cutz Music, Blue Fuse Music and NoiseFuel Sound Effects, which are now the property of Getty Images.
Their new royalty-free library offers three exclusive catalogs of music, available by individual download, downloadable CDs or physical CDs. Royalty Free Music Revolution is a 90-plus CD library encompassing all genres, styles and applications. “It’s our meat-and-potatoes library,” says Scott Meath. “If you’re going to purchase just one library it would cover all your needs.”
The Radical Music Library is a 46-CD catalog with an edgy, dramatic, even “over-the-top” approach to broadcast music, he notes. Many of its orchestrals were recorded in Europe. The Mojo Music Library represents a broad diversity of musical styles on each of its downloadable CDs.
Within the Revolution catalog are all-purpose music beds that are “very underscored in nature. They don’t lean heavily on one mood or another,” notes Meath. “They can be used in anything and don’t fight narration.”
The company has innovated most with its multiple licensing options, available at www.prolificartsmusic.com. One option offers customers pre-paid credits with each credit worth one song download. “The more you buy, the cheaper they are,” Meath explains. “It’s an opportunity to get the best value for your dollar because you can buy credits now and use them as needed; they don’t expire. We’re still rolling out pre-paid credits, but the flexibility of the system is proving to be very popular.”
Monthly subscriptions are also offered to customers with fairly consistent music needs. They sign up for a minimum one-year subscription, payable annually or on a monthly basis, and are entitled to 10 , 25 or 50 song downloads per month. “The larger the package you purchase the lower the price,” says Meath. “If you’ve got a particularly heavy period of usage, you can purchase pre-paid credits to supplement your subscription.”
Prolific Arts Music groups and includes all of the edited versions of a song for one fee. “At a lot of sites you pay a fee for the full-length track and pay again to license different versions,” Meath points out. “We group the full-length track, any alternate versions and the broadcast edits all for one fee.” In addition, “all licenses are lifetime synchronization licenses. You can use the music today and six months from now for a different project and owe no additional licensing fees.”
Having gained experience in online design from their previous libraries, Meath and Beshears feel they’ve “hit the nail on the head” with the search options for their new Website. “Customers search from an established and controlled set of keywords, which guarantees they don’t end up with a dead search,” says Meath. The search system also shows the other relevant keywords, which further helps narrow their search based on the catalogs’ content. “It funnels you toward the results you’re looking for instead of frustratingly directing you to a dead end with zero results.”
FREEPLAY’S FREESYNC & MASTER MODEL
New York City’s Freeplay Music (www. freeplaymusic.com), an online production music library spanning all popular genres, started in 2001 with 300 tracks and now boasts over 10,000.
The company consists of three parts: a production music library featuring instrumental tracks with new offerings posted daily; an indie artists’ portal for artists looking to get airplay on radio and TV; and a sound effects library composed of 16 collections available for purchase as individual sound effects or in albums.
Freeplay Music lives up to its name by connecting broadcasters and production companies seeking quality music with the composers who create it via its Free Synch and Master model. “Before Freeplay Music existed, the majority of production music required an upfront synch and master license. Freeplay changed all that,” says licensing manager Mark Brinker.
“Instead of most broadcast customers paying us master and synchronization fees upfront, we focus on the back-end performance royalties as the publisher,” he explains. “It’s a dual incentive for producers to use our music covered under the BMI, ASCAP and SESAC blanket licenses and for composers to submit music to us for inclusion in the library for back-end performance royalties. It’s truly a win-win for everyone.”
Brinker emphasizes the “no hassle, no negotiation” nature of Free Synch and Master. “It’s quite a burden for producers to go after clearances for each song they want to use. Freeplay simplifies things. Over a hundred US broadcasters are using our music now, including NBC and Fox. And we believe the Free Synch and Master idea is the way of the future, especially as new fingerprint technologies like Tunesat are able to monitor the use of music in broadcast globally for more accurate accountability for royalty distribution.”
Most recently Freeplay Music rolled out its Master Classics collection of orchestral and classical arrangements in the public domain, including the National Anthem and contemporary pieces. “We have introduced about half of the collection and hope to finish by the end of the year with about 6,000 tracks online,” reports Brinker.
The company is also offering more “innovative sports volumes,” consisting of 10 to 20 tracks each. “Our earlier music geared for sports was more synth heavy and electronic,” he notes. “The ongoing trend in sports is for more organic sounds, especially for featurettes in shows. So we’re now incorporating more organic instruments and analog recording methods for a more band-type feel.”
In addition, “we have been introducing some masterfully-produced and captivating world music and contemporary jazz volumes, as well as traditional rock and alternative selections, all catering to the needs of our broadcast clients,” he says.
Freeplay Music will debut its new Website design this fall. “It’s going to set the bar real high. It will give users the ability to register and create custom playlists, much like iTunes,” says Brinker. “All the current functions will be maintained, but our search engine will have greatly-enhanced functionality while remaining simple. We’re adding plenty of new features and capabilities for a more intuitive way to quickly find exactly what you’re looking for.”
Freeplay Music also takes pride in its customer service, Brinker notes. “Staff members are available by phone to help advise on the best music selections for specific projects. We have a quick turnaround for music searches, quotes and licenses and, if you send us an email, you’ll get a timely response tailored to your needs.”
MAKING ONLINE SEARCHES ENJOYABLE
When it launched online 11 years ago, Seattle’s Soundrangers (www.soundrangers. com) was dedicated to creating sound effects for videogames and interactive media.
“As a user of CD libraries over the years, I was frustrated about never being able to find the appropriate audio content for our production, so we decided to build our own online library,” recalls Barry Dowsett, who founded the company with Kevin Tone. “The idea was to be able to find the appropriate sounds quickly and without committing money upfront for stuff you may not use. Now all traditional libraries have come online, but we’ve been there since the get-go.” Soundrangers is also actively involved in custom sound design.
Since its launch, the company has added production music to its offerings. In fact, “in 2009 we have tripled the size of our music library,” Dowsett reports. The collection has grown to meet clients’ demands, especially for tracks suitable for interactive media. “Instead of sweeping orchestrals, rock, and techno, we’re seeing an uptick in the smaller catalogs,” such as Big Beat, Break Beat, World Beat-Latin hybrids and modern pop/R&B, he says.
Music is available in full-length, 60- and 30-second versions, and two-minute loops. All is broadcast quality, Dowsett emphasizes, and used by TV and film producers in addition to those developing games, Websites, YouTube videos and iPhone content.
Sound effects tend to be added more randomly, he says. Some are real-world sounds while others are designed, especially those for user interfaces. “You can’t always collect or Foley sounds for videogames,” Dowsett notes. “If you need the sound of a wizard waving a wand, we have a team of sound designers who can make it.”
Underwater sound effects are among the newest in the Soundrangers library. “We took remote recording gear and spent a couple of days recording underwater movements that can be repurposed as the sound of torpedos or fish, for example,” Dowsett explains. “There are a lot of parameters around how sounds can be used in a game, so we keep that in mind. We recorded 200 variations of underwater bubbles so we have enough material to choose from and vary during game playback. That adds an extra layer of complexity to the recording.”
While the trend is certainly to offer content online, Dowsett observes that “a lot of what’s offered is not up to par in terms of professionalism. Soundrangers is not a community portal for music and sound effects. We are all professional musicians and sound designers actively working in these media. Our team builds all the content, so we have really good quality control and continuity across all our offerings. And for those concerned with rights management, all of our material is legal and safe to use: There are no hidden issues. We own all the rights.”
Soundrangers has invested a lot of time in developing a Website where “it’s easy to find what you’re looking for and check out,” says Dowsett. “Since we don’t have CDs or DVDs our Website has to work really well.” Users can manage their content by creating a soundbox of sounds specific to a project, which can be shared with clients for approval purposes. Users compiling a number of sounds are entitled to volume discounts on their totals.
Soundrangers tries to make the online experience enjoyable, too. “We gave the Website a retro ‘50s sci-fi theme,” Dowsett notes. “It’s not your typical corporate Website. It’s colorful and fun, something we’d like to use!”