Production Music

Part 1

Article Preview – An Introduction to Production Music

The business of TV and film is changing fast, and production or ‘library’ music is becoming ever more important. One of the UK’s most experienced production music composers explains how to get your foot in the door.

Full article published in  Sound On Sound February 2008

What we now call ‘production music’ has been through various stages of evolution. Its origins are probably in silent movies, when cinema pianists and organists would watch the movie and supply a live accompaniment. At first, they would use bits and pieces of music, either from memory or collections of sheet music, but very soon volumes of specially composed or arranged incidental movie music were published, with cues arranged and categorised to fit the various screen actions or moods. Perhaps that is why this extract from Krommer’s Double Clarinet Concerto is such a well-known tune!


Very soon, music became available on discs, and with the advent of TV in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, there was a large demand for readily available music, which was known as mood music, atmospheric music and, of course, library music. Much of this was of extremely high-quality orchestral and jazz, though with the proliferation of synths in the late ’70s it gained a reputation for being cheap (but not necessarily cheerful). Originally an American term, ‘production music’ is now in general use here in the UK, as producers have wanted to promote a newer generation of library music that has shed the old image.

Production music has traditionally been distributed on vinyl or CD but it is now also available via download. A production music company is basically a publishing company, or a department of a publishing company, that specialises in marketing, licensing and collecting royalties for production music. The end user is usually a film, TV or radio production company — but tracks can also be used for computer games, web sites, live events and even ringtones. Users choose tracks they want to include in a programme and can license them very quickly, through MCPS in the UK or other licensing agencies worldwide, at a set licence fee per 30 seconds of music. Very often this is cheaper, quicker and less complicated than commissioning a composer.

Much of the TV music of the ’60s was jazz-oriented; composers such as Henry Mancini and Elmer Bernstein set the standard in this respect. Library music producers followed suit, and could corner some very good jazz musicians in touring bands who were happy to supplement their meagre club fees with a couple of sessions.

Today, a much larger proportion of production music is pop or rock. This is due in part to a demand from modern TV producers, but another factor is the digital revolution. The production of convincing pop music is no longer exclusively the realm of companies with big budgets for large studios and vast swathes of session musicians. The standard still has to be high and the use of real musicians wherever possible is definitely a bonus, but it is now possible for anyone with the talent and a decent DAW to compete with the big boys.

The recent proliferation of television channels has inevitably thinned out the viewing audience for most individual channels, thus causing advertising revenue, and therefore budgets, to be slashed. Apart from the few at the very top, TV and film composers have had to get used to working on lower budgets. Often — but by no means always — this has resulted in either (at worst) lower-quality commissioned music being produced or, sadly, fewer live musicians being involved. Seizing an opportunity, the library music companies stepped in with a new generation of music having much higher artistic and production values, which could be licensed easily.

The full article is available here on Sound on Sound, at all good newsagents & booksellers, by logging in to a Sound on Sound eSub account or via PDF download (99p, approx US 1.75).

Part 2

Article Preview – Library Work – An Introduction to ’Production Music’ Pt 2

Last month, we explained how the business of production music works. But if you want to get into it, you’ll need to learn how to make stings, cut-downs and the other elements of a usable library track.

Full article published in  Sound On Sound March 2008

OK, so you have been briefed to write some production music, or you want to write something as a pitch to a production music company. “What makes good production music, then?”, you ask yourself. The answer is almost anything, as long as it’s good. As I said last month, in addition to a good tune and very high production values, a spark of originality will often help.

Usually I start out to write a track as if it is destined for a top-selling CD. At this stage I don’t worry about specific timings and usually write something about two and a half to three and a half minutes long. I often use a standard form, which introduces a theme, follows it up with variations or solos, then restates the theme, sometimes with a breakdown either after the first theme or before the last.

Last month, we saw that it’s crucial to be able to offer versions of your tracks that clock in at exactly 10, 20 and 30 seconds, and most of the technical issues that are specific to production music stem from this requirement. However, at the composition stage, I won’t worry about making the tempo suit specific length versions. I’d rather concentrate hard on making the music have the best feel. I have found that if you set a tempo purely to make the 30-second or 20-second version easy to edit, you can end up fighting to get the right groove. The mood I’m in when I first compose a piece plays a large role in determining the tempo, and I find this emotional rather than purely technical connection with the music can really pay off in the long run.

I like to think of myself as owning several hats that I can put on as required; in fact, this approach is good for any kind of music production. So sometimes I have on my trained musician/composer/arranger hat and will be concerned with performance technique, intonation, orchestration. Before too long, however, I will put on my ‘bloke in the street’ hat and ignore all the rules about music I was taught at college, or all the production techniques I’ve gleaned from books (yes, even Paul White’s  Recording And Production Techniques, which is never too far from reach). This hat comes in very handy for indie, pop or folk but it also can work well for jazzy stuff, especially, which benefits from unexpected or out-of-the-mainstream elements. I have arranged a few covers of classical tunes, and once again this approach can result in something a bit different to the vast stock of classical music that already exists in production music libraries. (There are some example tracks on my web site at — the one called ‘Nutty Crackers’ is a good illustration of this.)

That’s all for now…

The full article is available in February 2008 Sound on Sound, at all good newsagents & booksellers, by logging in to a Sound on Sound eSub account or via PDF download (99p, approx US 1.75). Click on the button below:
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