When Mix looked at production music libraries two years ago, many houses had already instituted online audition capabilities and were anxiously awaiting the download boom. They had seen the market for production music grow, thanks to the expansion of cable networks and Internet broadcast, and were optimistic about where the business was headed.
Two years ago, the conventional wisdom was that broadband was on the way. It would be another year, some said, at the most two. Some houses banked their future on that premise, and many of those have closed their doors. Now it seems the adage that broadband is around the corner is akin to saying the check is in the mail. Production music houses are tired of waiting for broadband to become the rule of the day, for performing rights organizations to recognize watermarking technology and for producers to jump on the bandwagon.
“It seems that, especially with the current economic situation, not a lot of people are rushing out to develop a great system,” says Stewart Winter of Video Helper Music Production in New York. “It seems that broadband is still a distance away.”
Joe Saba, Winter's partner, adds, “DSL was supposed to be great, and then all the providers went out of business. That turned out to be more expensive and definitely not hassle-free.” He does see the light at the end of the tunnel, though. “I think it's a lot like digital TV. You can go out and buy a digital TV and get HDTV programming, but [broadband] will probably be one of those things that slowly creeps in over a long period of time. In 10 years, everyone will have it and nobody will be talking about it anymore, but I don't think there will be any one threshold day.”
The online delivery phenomenon is not simply limited to production music providers; in fact, several sound effects libraries — including London's sound-effects-library.com (see “Field Test” on page 116) and New York's Sonomic — have skipped the “hard copy” CD distribution approach altogether, offering all their sounds exclusively online. However, unlike production music files — which may be substantial in size — SFX downloads are not as dependent on high-speed Internet schemes, and even a simple 56k dialup connection may suffice when downloading short effects such as door slams, gunshots or telephone rings.
Broadband availability is just the first of many issues affecting download-aspiring production music libraries. Once online distribution becomes the order of the day, libraries will have to find new ways of tracking usage. Many are turning to digital watermarking companies, such as Verance. “It is a very promising technology,” says Ron Mendelsohn, CEO/co-founder of Megatrax. “It's another technology that we're going to be incorporating into our new Website. As we prepare for the digital downloads on the Website, all the music online is going to be watermarked using Verance.”
The key when it comes to issues of watermarks, says Killer Tracks library curator Carl Peel, is to make haste slowly. “There are several companies working on watermarking technologies, but the problem is that nobody has agreed on the standards,” he says. “It's a great idea, a great theory, [and] the technology exists, but it's got to be compatible. The whole point of watermarking is so the performing rights societies and the companies recognize them and are able to use them. It's very expensive to develop this stuff, so you want it to be able to be used by you and everyone who needs to be able to use it. In the long run, it will save everyone time and money.”
Randy Wachtler of 615 Music also points to Verance as the library's watermarking tool of choice. “We've been encoding with the Verance digital watermark for over a year now,” he says. “We're scheduled to convert to digital downloads toward the end of this summer. We've held off because of the issues of digital watermarking, and we want to make sure that they've worked out the bugs.” According to Wachtler, Verance completed its first round of testing in June, and, by the end of the summer, it will be able to monitor the top 50 markets in the United States. “So, any music that is broadcast over the Internet or radio or cable should be able to be captured by Verance,” he says. “Once that's up and running, this big hurdle will be out of the way.”
Just as important as tracking where music is being used is getting the appropriate credit from performing rights organizations (PROs), such as ASCAP and BMI. Wachtler reports that BMI has said it will pay for digital detections via watermarks, ASCAP is in the process of evaluating the system and SESAC will accept the Verance technology. While he understands their reticence, Wachtler says it's been a little frustrating to get the buy-in from those organizations. “It's a new technology, and, to a certain extent, they were all waiting to see how the Napster [issue] with the record industry [will be] resolved,” he says. “Also, there's the Secure Digital Music Initiative [SDMI] that was initiated by the record companies to put different kinds of information in a digital watermark. So, I think our little industry was watching what happens on the record side to see if there was some resolution. I'm sure the PROs were looking there as well. So, it's a work in progress, but we can see it moving more and more toward acceptance of digital watermarking as a much more efficient way to track music around the world.”
These days, PROs are still relying on cue sheets filled out by producers and editors working on deadlines to schedule payments. “Right now, the way things are logged in with the PROs, it's all data entry, and some things get messed up every once in a while,” observes Peel.
Another concern in the transition to downloadable music involves the suitability and choice of software. “I don't want to knock or plug anybody, but we were with Liquid Audio back in 1998, and our clients had a lot of problems using their Liquid Express players,” says Mendelsohn. One of the main issues was converting sound files from Liquid's proprietary format into the .AIFF or .WAV formats that clients were requesting. “Clients were getting bounced around between our site and various Liquid Audio sites. We finally started developing our own improved online system, which wouldn't bounce anybody off our site.” Megatrax is now using Music Source for searching and Windows Media for playing. “Interestingly enough, we did a blind listening test between all the compression formats and Windows Media came out on top in terms of quality,” he says.
Though it seems that 44.1 stereo should be the order of the day when it comes to digital downloads, just about every house reported that's not necessarily true. At least initially, clients are asking for MP3 files even though audio quality suffers. “You lose the real highs and the lows,” Winter points out. “I guess in a crunch it helps, but the real audiophiles I think will always be suspect of delivery over the Internet unless it's a huge file and they've got a fast enough connection to support it.” Video Helper has provided MP3s to movie trailer clients in a pinch.
615 Music will be providing MP3s mainly based on storage issues and client demands. “We've researched quite a bit and asked a lot of our customers if they have to have uncompressed .WAV or .AIFF files as compared to one of the better MP3s,” says Wachtler. “Most of them don't make a distinction; only the super high-end users are going to say they have to have 44.1 CD uncompressed.” For larger uncompressed files, clients can visit the facility's FTP site on a case-by-case basis. The same is true of Video Helper.
Surely, the one group that's most encouraged as the kinks are worked out of the current system is the composers. According to Mendelsohn at Megatrax, there are no particular issues between libraries and composers when it comes to online delivery rights. “As with any production music library, our music gets used in all different types of productions and all different types of media,” he says. “So, when we acquire a piece of music from a composer or when we commission a composer, we obtain a full grant of rights from them to do whatever we want with the music. We also assure them that, wherever the music is broadcast, that they are entitled to collect their share of the performance income.”
Composers, he adds, have accepted that. “It was never really an issue that we addressed,” he explains. “We've been working with our core group of composers for close to 10 years. So, our contracts have always addressed all media in all forms, whether existing or to be designed in the future. So, we didn't have to renegotiate any deals with composers for online distribution.”
Even as the online delivery issues are being worked out, music libraries are busy creating new offerings. Megatrax and Killer Tracks have released 5.1 surround music discs. Megatrax currently has two 5.1 discs available. “Movie Showcase, Volume 4 and 5” is a double disc recorded with the 80-piece London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. “Spectacular Themes” was recorded in 5.1 surround, and the DVD includes Dolby AC3 files and high-resolution .AIFF files for direct digital audio workstation loading.
Video Helper's latest addition to its Noise Generator line was created with an eye toward Internet content creators, explains Winter. “We delivered the sounds not only as audio files, but also as data discs on duplicate files. So, people who are working in those areas have access to the sounds in any format they want in the way that they want them. We have these very quick sounds that are great for Flash. So, we're taking steps to acknowledge all the new content creators with our products.”
After all, CDs through the mail or via overnight delivery are still easier for some producers and editors to handle. In fact, there are times when perusing a physical library in a studio is still faster than scanning through a virtual catalog, downloading a piece of music and then converting it into a useful format. In addition, edit rooms don't always offer Internet access. “I think I'm probably one of the few dinosaurs who actually believes that online delivery will never surpass having a disc in your hand,” Winter says. “People are not always going to be around the Internet. I know producers who listen to discs in their car. I feel sorry for the producers who listen to production music in their car, but there are some that do.”
Online delivery, Winter continues, will be a convenience, but not the end of physical libraries. “You know it will work when you walk into a production room as opposed to trying to connect to the Internet. You know how it's going to sound with a disc. You know there won't be any screw-ups,” he says. “When you're paying $500 an hour for an edit room, you don't want to have to sit around and toy with the Internet. It's convenient, yes, and it will work in an emergency, but I still don't think it will replace the disc in the next five or 10 years. I could be really wrong. I thought the Edsel would last.”
The bottom line is that the future is bright for production music libraries. Megatrax, for one, is going through an administrative and studio expansion. “One of the reasons we're going through this huge expansion right now is not only because of the current business, but because we see really great potential for the future,” explains Mendelsohn. “Once online delivery starts to live up to its promise over the next three to four years, we're going to be delivering music online and through CD. There's going to be more and more productions that use library music.” That list, he reports, includes everything from traditional broadcasting and corporate AV clients to Internet streamed media to DVD productions, multimedia productions, video games, and satellite and cable networks. “There are a lot more media outlets and distribution channels than there were five or 10 years ago,” he says, “and they will only continue to multiply. That spells good news for production music libraries, and especially for the top-quality libraries that are putting out the really high-quality music.”
Production Music Library Contacts
Although the online delivery gold rush has slowed, production music libraries are finding their way to the Internet in droves. Below is a list of some that we found online. By no stretch of the imagination is this a comprehensive list, so do your own search, audition the tracks and find what works best for you.
Accent Music Productions
Chase-Rucker Productions Inc.
Chestnut Mills Musicraft
The Hollywood Edge
Manhattan Production Music
Metro Music Productions Inc.
Gene Michael Productions
Non-Stop Music Library
OGM Production Music
Partners in Rhyme
Production Garden Music
River City Sound Production
Techsonics Production Libraries
TRF Production Music Libraries
Video Helper Music Production
Who Did That Music?