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.