Competition among sound library providers is fierce. Not only do companies have to offer high-quality music and/or effects — in HD or 5.1, too — but they also have to make these cues easy to find and deliver via well-thought out, user-friendly Websites.
This month, Post spoke with a range of providers that specialize in music — with and without lyrics — and those offering high-quality sound effects. Here, they discuss trends, competition, delivery options and new releases planned for the year ahead.
Carrollton, TX-based FirstCom makes a point of updating the look of its Website (www.firstcom.com) regularly to highlight music that’s well suited for different seasons and applications. The company addressed the return of the NBA season this winter, and when Post visited the site in late January, it featured patriotic imagery reflecting the 2012 presidential campaign season.
FirstCom uses its Website for preview and delivery purposes, as well as to introduce clients to themed playlists that are designed to aggregate tracks of a similar style.
Executive producer Ken Nelson says the company puts considerable effort into improving the FirstCom site, which can be a challenge because of the number of labels the company represents. He’s pleased to note that all of FirstCom’s music is currently online and searchable, and that represents somewhere around 140,000 music cues.
The FirstCom site is easy to use. I performed two searches for “Heavy Metal” and “Political” music and was impressed with the assorted results that were instantly returned. Also nice is the fact that I didn’t have to register in order to preview music.
“We’re trying to resist that,” says Nelson of the registration process. “There’s been some discussion that maybe getting an email address might be important. We realize that there are people who will try to use our music without paying for it.”
FirstCom has been delivering music digitally for two years now and has done away with the manufacturing of CDs. It still has an inventory of discs for those who might need them, and also offers a hard-drive solution for clients that may be working in studio environments protected by firewalls.
“We try to be very flexible,” says Nelson, adding that the company is looking into new delivery formats to benefit its clients.
FirstCom recently became the exclusive US and Canadian rep for BBC Production Music, which Nelson describes as offering “spectacular music from the BBC and BBC programming, documentaries and television shows. They have a very deep and long history of producing incredible music, and we’re fortunate to represent that catalog. It’s an excellent source for filmmakers [and] documentary producers.”
Nelson points to the 15-album collection’s environmental themes that would work well with content focused on the planet, oceans and cinematic landscapes. In addition, the BBC collection includes period music.
FirstCom also recently entered into a deal with DJ Skee and Build Destroy Music, which cultivates young hip-hop and pop artists. This expands FirstCom’s hip-hop genre and gives Build Destroy Music exposure to film and television producers.
Doug Wood is the president of Port Washington, NY’s Omnimusic, a music production library that has been in business since the mid 1970s. The company has approximately 19,000 tracks in its collection, and visitors to their Website (www.omnimusic.com) can take advantage of an easy-to-use search engine that allows them to search by keywords, style, mood, application, instrumentation and even “sound alike.” Tracks can be previewed in their entirety, without any sort of registration process, and can later be downloaded as WAV or MP3 files.
“The Web has become such an important tool for libraries and producers, and if you don’t have a Website where people can find music quickly, you’re sunk!” says Wood. “Producers don’t have a lot of time. Everybody is under a deadline and everybody needs it right away. Getting to the right piece of music quickly is key. That’s been a real challenge for the libraries, and the successful ones have found a way to make their Websites friendly and accessible.”
Wood says Omnimusic has always approached its library from a client perspective. This includes creating titles and descriptions that are helpful when doing searches. “[We don’t] just title everything with such a wide array that it shows up first in the search results. It’s not just using music terms. It’s using keywords that are more descriptive of a scene and tie tracks to that.”
Also simplifying the potential client experience is the ability to search for music without having to register first. “It’s all about giving the customer what they want,” says Wood. “The library business is very competitive and we don’t want to put any obstacles in the way. I hear from clients who say they found the perfect piece [of music], and I always wonder: if I put up a registration page, would that have discouraged them? The sales and marketing people always give me a hard time, but that’s the trade off.”
Those seeking music can preview a track in its entirety, which serves a number of purposes, Wood explains. “Some are just looking for an introduction — that first :10 to :12 that sets the tone. Others are looking for that big finish. You can drag the scroll bar down to the end and listen to the whole thing.”
With 2012 marking an election year, Wood says political themes are definitely on Omnimusic’s radar. “Candidates want to drape themselves in the flag. There is a lot of call for stirring, orchestral, Americana, sweeping track,” he notes. “Then, of course, there are the negative ads: ominous, foreboding, danger. Both of those, I’m afraid, are going to be used heavily for this election.”
Omnimusic also has plans to release a new library in April titled LA Edition. “It’s music written by Hollywood composers,” explains Wood. “Some of it has been used in films, others are tracks that have never been used, but they all have that cinematic quality to it. Film music, by its nature, is a little different than tradition production music. Production music creates and sets a mood, and has a clear beginning, middle and end. It doesn’t take too many left turns. Cinematic music is different because it’s written to picture, so in the middle of the tension, something dramatic happens. It’s fun, it’s interesting and has a lot of drama. We’re really excited about this library. For editors working on reality programming, it’s going to be really great for them.”
The company offers different pricing policies. An a la carte plan allows clients to pay as they go. Many of Omnimusic’s clients take advantage of an unlimited use blanket policy, giving them unlimited access to the company’s library for a specified amount of time.
“It’s a flat fee, and they can put it in their budget,” says Wood, noting that it’s not a buyout arrangement. “It really gives them tremendous flexibility because they don’t have to worry about paying for every piece. They have unlimited downloads and usage.”
MusicBox (www.olemusicbox.com) has been around since 2002, and in October of 2011, was acquired by Ole, making it a division of the production music provider. The company has offices in Hollywood and Toronto, and represents 26 different catalogs. The production music provider can also offer personalized services, including music supervision and custom composition for clients with special demands. The deal with Ole gives MusicBox a strong infrastructure, music supervisory guidance and access to Ole’s pop catalog of 45,000 songs.
Jonathan Firstenberg is senior VP at MusicBox, and says one of the company’s strengths is its offering of 100 percent pre-cleared music. MusicBox got its start composing music for documentaries and commercials. Over the years, it has grown through strategic partnerships with outside libraries.
“We hear music that we know we’ve had requests for, then we bring that catalog on and go into partnership with them,” explains Firstenberg. “It’s a 50/50 agreement. We represent that catalog and the catalog receives 50 percent of the sync fees and royalties. You have to know what your clients need. You want to cover the whole spectrum of music. That’s the reason behind music libraries — you always want to say, ‘Yes.’”
A trip to the MusicBox Website showed a simple-to-use browser that allowed visitors to quickly search for music cues based on a number of parameters, including instrument, catalog, mood, tempo and keyword.
“MusicBox Live is public — anyone can go to that site and search by keyword, library, composer, the whole search parameter that all sites offer,” says Firstenberg. “It becomes a question of how fast it comes up and how fast it plays. That’s always a big competition among libraries. Ours is proprietary. It was built for MusicBox. No other is exactly like it.”
When the client finds something they like, they can set up an account. “As soon as we find out they are a legitimate business needing music, then they are able to download music directly.”
On occasion, a client may find a single piece of music and might need a number of similar tracks. In that case, a MusicBox music supervisor can put together a project folder for the client to review.
MusicBox has practically done away with the production of CDs. These days, they are delivering WAV, AIF and MP3 files through its Website or on hard drives. Only those working in Japan and parts of Germany seem to require CDs, says Firstenberg, so the company “produces low amounts.”
Their Website is also scheduled for an upgrade that will allow for direct licensing, with the user selecting a track, the territory it will be used in and the rights they need. They’ll be able to make final payment using a credit card. Music publishers will also be able to access their account online to gain realtime status of licenses, use, etc.
PRO SOUND EFFECTS
Founded in 2004, Pro Sound Effects represents several catalogs, including Blastwave FX, Sonopedia, BBC, Foundation, Soundrangers and Hollywood Edge. At press time, the company had just launched a new Website with over 100,000 sounds that could be previewed in their entirety.
According to Laura Sinnott, library and communications specialist at Pro Sound Effects (www.prosoundeffects.com), the aim of the new Website is to make the online experience as convenient for pros as possible. That was achieved in two ways, she notes. One is through her efforts as a curator of the library. Sinnott herself is a sound designer who works on features and has an understanding of how pros think when looking for the right cue. Her job includes eliminating redundancy between submissions so the library’s content remains strong.
Their site uses metadata, something that often doesn’t appear on CD and DVD libraries. Sinnott works with the company’s partner libraries to make sure appropriate metadata is given to each track. As a result, every one of the cues found on the Pro Sound Effects site has metadata that makes them searchable in a way that is geared toward the way audio pros think.
The use of metadata also makes the entire Pro Sound Effects library compatible with popular search software, including Soundminer, Netmix Pro and Basehead. Avid Pro Tools and Apple’s Final Cut Pro can also read the metadata.
Pro Sound Effects offers several different formats and price options. In addition to 24-bit/96kHz, 16-bit/48kHz and 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV files, the company also offers MP3 files. Approximately 20,000 sound effects are available as Ogg Virbis files for those working on games or mobile applications.
Visitors to the site can download a single sound effect for $5. Those who might have a higher need for sounds can create an account for $50 per month, which would allow them to download 20 sound effects. A third option offers 50 downloads per month for $100, and the company can work with facilities or schools that might have higher demands. All usage is royalty-free.
Pro Sound Effects is offering Post readers a chance to download 5 effects from their library for free! CLICK HERE for details and use CODE:
Ric Viers is the founder/owner of Detriot’s Blastwave FX, an “HD” sound effects library that’s been around since 2006. Blastwave FX records all of its own original sound effects at 24-bit/96kHz, and Viers says nothing but corrective EQ or processing is applied to their elements, allowing sound designers to work with effects in their purest form.
Blastwave FX (www.blastwavefx.com) has close to 500 different products available, including Blastdrive 2.0, a hard drive with over 42,000 (470GBs) sound elements. Purchase of the drive ($4,799) entitles customers to free updates for life, and Viers says new elements are added three to four times per year.
At press time, Viers says the company had a number of initiatives planned for the upcoming year, including the launch of a pro Website that would allow for the purchase of individual downloads in high resolution formats. He is also looking into a consumer/iTunes-type model that would offer lower-resolution and lower-priced MP3 files to consumers searching for sound effects.
Blastwave FX also regularly produces “video diaries,” which show Viers and his team on location, acquiring sounds. The videos serve as a form of “edutainment,” detailing the company’s work and building interest for upcoming releases.
For a more detailed look at capturing sound, Viers is currently focusing on writing a new book that’s set for release this fall. “The Location Sound Bible” will detail the specifics about recording dialogue on-set for film and television applications.
Megatrax, based in North Hollywood, has launched a new Website (www.megatrax.com) that represents the culmination of over two years of research and development. The new site is designed to provide a positive music search experience thanks to its easy-to-use interface. Director of marketing Jonathan Weiner says it also avoids unnecessary bells and whistles, like Flash technology, in order to be able to work across all platforms.
Visitors to the site can create custom playlists, quickly search for music with just one click, and participate in live chats. Genre filtering helps visitors find what they are looking for more quickly. The site also makes use of improved project management and account management features.
Weiner says February saw the launch of a new catalog called Sound Adventures. The catalog features cinematic scores, including those from the Vienna Symphonic, the Vienna Boys Choir and top Hollywood talent. The catalog is divided into three concepts: Movie Matrix, which includes theme-related composition groups; Underscore Tools, containing intros, outros, transitions and versions; and user-friendly Trailer Tools.