The most important part of purchasing Royalty Free Music
should be the most fun-- just listening
Set aside some time to select music. Allot at least an hour. Listen to more than 5 or 10 seconds of each prospective tune. Listen for and identify editing posts and spots that you can use for swells and releases, for example. This will pay you solid dividends and actually save time when you’re doing a score.
Soundtrack Creation Software?
In our hurry hurry, rush rush world with ever smaller budgets, we dream of a magic box that will make the right decisions for us. Software that will let us pull a rabbit out of the hat and relieve us of the work of actually “knowing” the music we use. Great sound design does not come so easily. Nor does the satisfaction of a job well done. Don’t deprive yourself of the real joy and fun of doing great sound and using great music. Re-explore the simple crossfade for example. There is no faster way to assemble a show score. And here’s another idea. Do your soundtrack first. Then cut in the visuals to the sound. You can’t always go this route but when you have the opportuntiy, the results can be amazing.
And what about loops?
If you have the time to use loop based music creation software, you probably don’t have a deadline problem or a client watching the clock. If you’re one of the lucky ones without these problems, beware of your own ego. Creating good music takes lots of time and hard work. Your creations will probably sound good to you because you have the pride of authorship. But the real question is, will they sound good to the client and not come off as too simplistic, “off the wall” or “loopy”? It might make more sense to first take advantage of the literally thousands of well crafted fully produced royalty free music tracks available today. Perhaps your time and the client’s money would be better spent crafting outstanding sound design.
Choose Music That Focuses Attention
How many times have you been admonished by a client not to let the music “fight” the narration? A “catch 22”? Maybe. But don’t do your sound design with one hand tied behind your back. Select music that’s workable and yet still motivational in character. Ride gain if you have to and/or use compression on your voice track so it will punch through. Consider using your software’s “ducking” feature or creating swells and releases to call attention to points in the script. Does narration really communicate iif nobody listens? Music shouldn’t fight the narrative, it should, along with visuals, focus attention on it.
The Client Wants to Use a Tune He Heard On the Radio?
Don’t let that happen. It isn’t right, it’s stealing. Its also very much illegal. No gray area here. You may think you’ll never get caught. Think again. Producers get caught all the time. And sometimes, depending on how deep the client’s pockets are, it can cost a pretty penny (not to mention your reputation and lost future business). Certainly not in any sense worth it. Point the client toward the many excellent sound-alike or “in the same bag” recordings available from Royalty Free Music libraries. Peace of mind is what we sell along with some very good sounds too. If you need help, call a Royalty Free Music library. We are in business to serve you. If the client is adamant, a custom sound-alike might also be an answer. No, your client’s ASCAP or BMI license won’t likely cover him. No, a mechanical license from the Harry Fox Agency won’t either. Get an honest quote from the publisher and/or record label for a master use / synchronization license for the tune the client is in love with. That should put the matter to rest quickly. Do the right thing. You’ll like yourself.
Avoiding a Needle Drop Mentality
Should you buy an entire library or download just a single tune? There is no universal right answer. Budget certainly is a factor. High selectivity is certainly another. No one in our industry can deny that we’ve come through some pretty tough economic times. Plenty of incentive to be careful with money set aside for music. But at the same time, let’s not forget that unlike a “needle drop”, “production blanket” or “annual blanket” licensing approach, music that is licensed on a royalty free basis is not really an expense but actually an investment in an asset. Oh sure, you may budget a download like a needle drop and with CDs so cheap today, its easy to “expense them” or tie them to the cost of one project. But there is a clear difference. Check your royalty free license (each library is different to a degree). Chances are your license provides you with multiple if not unlimited use of licensed music for 50-99 years (“lifetime blanket”). While you may be tempted to charge off the cost of a royalty free tune to a single show remember that your CPA would tell you that the majority of your investment should be amortized over numerous projects, bringing your average cost per use down to sometimes pennies. An outstanding value, no other way to look at it.
Choosing a Royalty Free Music Delivery Format--
What’s a Mother To Do?
The number one delivery format for Royalty Free Music is still the venerable Compact Disc. But there are others and good ones at that. Not the least of these is the single-track download. Now you can choose from literally thousands of tracks and get exactly and precisely what you think will do your job or minimally meet a client’s needs. These downloads used to be just .mp3s but now with DSL and cable modem, uncompressed .wav and. aiff files are common too. In the last two years .mp4 (AAC), a compressed format, has burst upon the scene offering quality that is indistinguishable from CDs while retaining the space saving advantages of .mp3. For those that need full bandwidth downloads, there’s 44.1khz and for those who want to trade off a little quality for a smaller file size, there’s 22khz. There are many pricing scenarios but generally speaking, you pay essentially by the length of the material being downloaded.
The argument for downloading is high selectivity and the risk of buying a CD with only 1 or 2 useable selections. But in the last year, a new concept of downloading entire CD volumes has been introduced that makes it economic to buy entire volumes. This concept relies on the absolute CD quality of .mp4s along with a lower price to compensate the buyer for his or her own time and a CD-R upon which to burn the music. End users can typically save $50 or more over conventional CDs with delivery to the computer desktop often in 15 minutes or less.
. mp4 (AAC) has spawned two other high quality formats, CD-ROM and hard drive. These, however, are clearly library oriented as opposed to CDs or individual tracks. Simple “economy of scale” economics allows library CD-ROMs with as many as 15 volumes each to be produced for far less than conventional CDs, resulting in end user prices typically more than 50% less. Furthermore, because the discs contain computer files, the importation into editing software is often made easier. If format conversion is necessary, it is often very rapid. Perhaps the biggest advantage is having a large body of musical works available without the usual clutter associated with using CDs.
Hard drives take the advantages of CD-ROMs one-step further. Even the hand held variety, can contain a given company’s entire catalog. Again economy of scale makes it possible to deliver all of the quality of CDs at a fraction of the cost.
Great sound design becomes affordable for small to medium sized producers as well as larger traditional big library users. Other hard drive advantages include portability, compatibility with other post houses, and onboard and intuitive high-speed search capability (sometimes more than one).
Deciding what to buy and how much to buy still boils down to your analysis of short term and long term needs. If you want greater control over costs and cash flow, a download plan makes good sense. After all, you have an entire company’s libraries accessible 24/7, why stock the shelves? This is especially true with some of the bulk download plans available that bring the cost of a download down to more nearly the cost per cut on a CD. But there’s a lot to be said for having a body of music available at your literal fingertips. The cost per cut is lowest and it impresses the clients, too. Compact discs are universally accepted but more and more the alternative CD-ROM and hard drive formats are finding favor. How your facilities are configured and your comfort level with various computer-based technologies will largely dictate your preference. If cost and quality are the only considerations, however, the CD-ROM and hard drive formats may increasingly make good sense.
Again, there are no right or wrong answers. What works for you is what counts. Remember, a royalty free music library is an investment in an asset. Buy this asset the way you would buy a new car. And look at the company behind the product. Check out their license terms. Look at the customer support they offer, especially if downloading. Analyze their music search mechanisms on line or supplied with music. Above all, listen to the music. Music shouldn’t be like buying a pound of nails. A pile of CDs at a good price is not necessarily a good deal. Sure, look at the number of cuts you get per volume but also ask whether they’re just “padding” the disc with a lot of mix and edit outs instead of giving you what you really need, more musical selections.
Finally. Ask a lot of questions. Call the libraries and get what you need to make an informed decision. Your investment in royalty free music is an investment in YOU!