Will Free Production Music Benefit Composers?

Got an email today highlighting the launch of yet another free production music service that allows professional productions, namely big name TV studios and production companies, to license production music for free in exchange for filing cue sheets. Seems to be just another way for producers and studios to tell musicians “the check is in the mail.” Sure, I’ll file a cue sheet, tell me where to sign!

The lure of making thousands and thousands on residual checks must be huge for composers and musicians, but the reality is that they might see a few pennies if they’re lucky. A very small handful of composers make most of the money (like in any industry) from residuals. Giving away their music for free (or in this case, in exchange for an empty promise) isn’t going to help them any, ether. Facts are that few production companies these days even know what a cue sheet is, let alone know how to file one. So are these sites just empty promises for a few website owners to make a couple of publishing dollars from your music through a PR gimmick? Honestly, I’m yet to benefit monetarily from anything I ever gave away.

The bigger issue, in my opinion is how this applies to the on-going free vs paid content debate. The web 2.0 world wants you to think that free stuff equals big business. The model is make money from your content through advertising and other non-related deals by generating buzz and traffic around the stuff you give away for free. Give your production music away, they say, and in return get more exposure and land a big contract. Give your band’s music away, and get more fans so that someone important will notice. Meanwhile you starve and struggle, and the payoff at the end, if any, is minimal for most. Better luck playing the lottery.

What if musicians just actually licensed their music, for a fee. An easy, one time fee. Want to use my production music track in a tv show? Pay me up front and then go do what you do. There’s a novel idea. A musician getting compensated fairly for the product they produce, at the time it’s brought to market. A musician feeding his or her family because of their work, and not scraping together pennies from complicated contracts and residual royalty agreements set up to benefit a few guys in suits.

Residual contracts, publishing contracts, royalties, and free content are for lawyers, not musicians. Stop living off of scraps, convincing yourself that you’re eating filet mignon, and make a fair honest living from the product you create.

Production Music Education and Degree Programs

Whether you’re a musician who creates production music or are looking for a new career in audio and video, there are many great programs out there to hone your skills and give you the qualifications you need to be successful in the production music business.

It’s important to figure out where your strengths lie, and what aspect of production music you want to get involved in. If you’re a composer, then electronic music, music technology, and theory and composition are great places to start. If you’re an audiophile, and can’t get enough studio gear, maybe you want to get more into engineering and mixing and mastering. If you’re creative, but don’t play an instrument, and get a little uneasy around a mixing console, you might want to consider a more administrative career path or music supervision.

There are a lot of online programs these days — the music for media program comes to mind, which is a self-paced distance learning course which provides a certificate and hands on mentoring in production music composition for film and television. Similar certificate programs also exist from US-accredited colleges and universities, such as Berklee School of Music. Looking for more than just a professional certificate? You can get your hands on associates degrees at your local community college, or bachelors degrees in music production, audio engineering, and even music composition and film scoring at any major university. For the best educational experience, I personally recommend seeking out production music programs at universities in major film music markets like Los Angeles or New York. Vancouver and Toronto are great choices in Canada, and there is a thriving production music community in the UK and all over Europe as well. Many for-profit univerisities are also now creating electronic music programs, offering varying degrees in production music-related fields.

In future posts, I hope I can list a few valuable resources for training, professional development and degree programs in production music.