Long loops and samples. Write your own damn production music.

A soul loop library from Sony. As Sony says, the loops rely heavily on the compositional talent of John Hobart at Scorpio Music Productions in Los Angeles, an actual composer. But please, feel free to use this almost 1GB loop library to make something unoriginal.
A soul loop library from Sony. As Sony says, the loops rely heavily on the compositional talent of John Hobart at Scorpio Music Productions in Los Angeles, an actual composer. But please, feel free to use this almost 1GB loop library to make something unoriginal.

A disturbing trend has been taking place in the production music business. Composers are getting lazier… and lazier… and lazier… So lazy, I don’t know if you can even call them composers anymore.

Sound design and sample libraries have been churning out so many loops and “construction kits” and the length of these samples keeps getting longer and longer. Some of these samples are minutes long. Minutes. And, as good as these kits sound, they’re sucking the creativity out of composition and music production.

How?

Composers (heck, let’s call them Mashers from now on, because they didn’t compose a note) are taking these long loops, adding another loop, and calling it a song, giving it some emo name, and then posting all over the internet as production music. You see thousands upon thousands of DJ’s and electronic music “mashers” calling themselves artists, with their adoring fans marveling at their creations like gold. At the same time, they couldn’t do it again if they tried. Need a live group to play it? Impossible, because they don’t have the faintest idea of the orchestration or sounds actually used in their construction kit.

It would be like giving me a fully constructed toilet to flush, and then calling me a master plumber because I flushed the hell out of that toilet, when in fact, I know nothing about the inner workings of that toilet. If I tried to build a toilet, you’d probably have to pee elsewhere.

So is this type of mashposition creative? It’s about as creative as throwing paint at a wall and calling it art.

Real production music composers have mastery of their sonic arsenal, and the musical craft. They know how to combine sounds and textures in ways that aren’t prepackaged. They take a flute sound and some string sounds and create concertos. They use loops and samples as textures or beds for departure into other sonic territory. They invent new melodies and build new harmonic progressions. Mashers, in contrast, use existing melodies and existing harmonies and put them one right after the other. There’s no skill in that. It’s more of a paint by numbers skill, really, which is why most of these “composers” turn out to be useless when you need something in another style, or heaven forbid, custom composed.

Call a mashup “creator” what you will. Their songs might be fun to dance to, but they’re not new, and they’re not original.

End of rant.

Creating Production Music? Try Korg on the Nintendo 3DS

Production music is being created in the most unexpected of places, thanks to new mobile technology being made possible by Korg and Nintendo. By turning the 3DS portable gaming system into a virtual music studio, Korg is making music production easier, more accessible, and more portable than ever.

KORGM01D - Production Music Workstation

Korg’s M01D is a downloadable production studio for the 3DS that packs in tons of music programming features into on tiny handheld system.  Based on the KORG M1, the world’s first widely known music workstation, the M01D boasts a massive 24 voice-polyphony, over 300 sounds and a complete sequencer.  Song data and MIDI data can be saved to an SD card, making the mini studio great as a musical sketchpad. Everything can be saved and exported to Logic, Protools, and more for serious music production. Additionally, Nintendo’s 3DS Wi-Fi makes it possible to share song data with other musicians and friends, making the M01D an incredible collaborative tool.

Anyone Can Cook, But Can Anyone Sell Production Music?

production music - ratatouille

It seems that every company is trying to get on the production music train these days and sell their libraries to the public. What baffles me is this: how does a major, worldwide, multimedia/electronics mega company like Sony release a production music library of fewer tracks than most indie composers have laying around as scraps? Am I supposed to be impressed by this? And if they offer 4 versions of every track, that means they really have 400 compositions total. I don’t get it. What is the point of jumping into the production music business with nothing to offer? It reminds me of the movie Ratatouille, where Chef Gusteau claims, “Anyone can cook!”

Libraries today carry hundreds of thousands of tracks because video producers don’t want the same old production music track that they used last week, or that their competition used two days earlier. These days, with the low cost of digital technology leveling the playing field for musicians of all kinds, making music production so much easier and affordable, anyone can be a production music composer. Anyone can sell their production music!

So, Sony Creative was able to throw together 400 tracks. But should they really even bother? It’s like saying, we’re here…sort of. Not that I’m challenging Sony to get it together, the production music library scene is too crowded as it is. But maybe if you’re going to jump on the library music bandwagon, at least add some value.

Production Music Affects Your Brand Perception

One of the most important aspects of music supervision (for commercial projects in particular) is making sure that the production music selected appropriately reflects, and in some cases, defines your brand as intended. Failure to properly consider the affects of your production’s soundtrack can have unexpected, and sometimes adverse, results, in turn affecting ROI and public perception.

Let’s take a look at some famous brands on the market, and their selection of production music — and the effect the companies’ music selections had on their brand perception.

1) United Airlines. United Airlines ran a lengthy, multiyear (-decade?) campaign on television and radio with their ads featuring Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue. This classical piano work is known for its complexity and technique, and its refined and sophisticated sound (especially when compared to the rest of George and Ira’s huge catalog of show tunes). The resulting commercial production gave the United brand a sense of sophistication and class, refinement, and luxury.

2) Apple. Apple continues to pair their sleek, simple, everyday-meets-crazy-sci-fi-like-technology video imagery with catchy, simple pop tunes by previously unknown bands. Their commercials are known for catchy melodies that make you think, I KNOW that song! Or… wait… The genre of Apple’s production music selections is definitely pop — and makes Apple’s brand seem fresh, new, and relevant — while the style is simplistic, catchy, and familiar — making Apple seem approachable and friendly. Makes me want to buy a new MacBook.

3) McDonald’s. Lately, McDonald’s has worked to appeal the working class, and a younger generation of Big Mac eaters. To do this, they’ve turned to hip-hop based tracks, their ever popular “badabopbopbah I’m Lovin’ It” slogan, and other street-savvy tunes to appear hip and fresh. They’ve turned chicken nuggets into fast food with a beat — young and popular.

What can you do with production music to help define and develop your brand? When considering how you want your brand to be perceived by the public, consider these commercial characteristics of different musical genres to aid you in your music selection process:

Classical Music — sophistication, elegance, refinement, class
Pop — familiar and fresh, 2.0
Electronica — cutting edge, technological, business savvy
Swing, Blues — dated, senior-friendly, familiar, sophisticated yet comfortable
Other Jazz — sophisticated, but cool, sexy
Rock and Metal — teenager-friendly, mid-life crisis
Opera — refined, but somewhat cliche
Country — down-home, family, relaxation
World — travel
Childrens Music — children and family
Hip-hop, Rap — street cred, city, middle-class, tough
R&B, Soul, Funk — sexy
Gospel and Religious — religious

Good Reads on Video Production

If you’re looking for some interesting reads from a qualified author on the subject of video production, check out Nicholas George’s new project at http://www.filmandvideoproduction.net. George is the author of Film Crew: Fundamentals of Professional Film And Video Production, a book which has been used in many video production courses across the country as part of their curriculums.

It makes sense that this will be an invaluable resource for those of you in the video production industry, whether you’re a hobbyist, or a seasoned professional, as George provides insite on his new blog into film making and simple techniques to help people interested in video production learn how to make a movie from shooting and equipment to adding production music and sound. George has recruited several LA-Based pros to help out with creating content and tips for mass consumption, making it easy for anyone to get professional insight into any type of video project, whether it be a YouTube video, or a major indie production.

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.

Using Production Music in the Classroom

Whether you teach elementary school or astrophysics, you probably want to inspire your students and make them excited about your subject. If used appropriately, production music can be inspirational, enjoyable, and even educational. Productiontrax.com is a great way to find appropriate and legal royalty free music for the classroom. Their enormous catalog includes music from all different time periods and parts of the world, and the searchable database makes it easy to find the perfect tune for your lesson.

One great use for music in the classroom is at the beginning or end of class. If students enter your class gradually over a period of time, playing music can keep the class entertained until class begins. One college professor let her students suggest songs to be played before class, and created PowerPoint slides for each with the song title and the artist. Soon her students started getting to class early to listen to the music and see if she’d play a song they submitted. The end of class is another wonderful time for music. Similar to the end credits in a movie, music can extend the impact of your presentation for a few extra minutes, and force the chaos and bustle of normal life to wait until students are outside of your classroom.

For an educational experience, finding production music that connects either historically or emotionally to your lesson can give your students another kind of connection to the subject. A history professor teaching the U.S. Civil War could find marching brass band music from the 1800’s. A writing professor introducing Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” could use British classical music. A math professor could use Arabic music while teaching algebra, and ancient Greek modes to accompany trigonometry lessons. A finance class on modern accounting could use upbeat, corporate-style music.

Quiet work periods in class are ideal for background music. In fact, many studies have shown that when students study with particular music in the background, they will perform better on a test if the same music is playing in the background than they will if they take the same test in silence. Some researchers have suggested from this that music can be used as an environmental memory cue to enhance learning. Finding music that matches the theme and tone of your lesson will make these quiet work periods resonate strongly with your students.

Licensing your production music from a music library guarantees you the right to use that music in your classroom. While playing a CD in class may not seem like a legal issue, it can actually get you and your institution in legal hot water. When you purchase a CD, the music on that CD is still owned by the copyright holder. You own the CD case, the liner paper, the plastic disc, and most important, the right to listen to the music “for personal use”, such as by yourself or with friends. Playing that CD for a large group such as a class, a business presentation, or a public event requires purchasing a public performance license from the composer’s performing rights organization, which can be both expensive and a hassle. The larger your school, the more likely it is for performing rights organizations to pay attention to whether you are respecting their artist’s rights. If this is an issue for your school, you can be secure that an educational license from Productiontrax gives you the right to perform your music in the classroom.

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.