The explosion of new media all around the globe – things like Netflix – has brought about a real change and growth in the production music industry over the last half decade.”
So proclaims Ross Hardy, a composer, former SOCAN staff member, and music publishing executive, founder and CEO of the production library/label hard, established in June of 2013.
“Ten or 15 years ago, you’d probably have to search through 5,000 tracks of music before you could find one that would have a vocal on it,” says Hardy. “Nowadays, production music companies and labels, like ourselves, represent very real and powerful opportunities for artists who are composing, or writing. There are new models out there in the production music industry that service artists almost like an A&R/management team. Production music is essentially becoming the new record-label model.
“In essence, every production music company is a record company and publisher in one, that’s what makes them so effective. It streamlines our licensing to film and television and other media, and allows us to control the masters and to control the copyright. The uniquely-themed compilation albums we produce are really no different than any other albums. The main difference is that the main driver of our distribution is solely the media and not the mainstream music business.”
This is good news for SOCAN’s #ComposersWhoScore, as well as for “crossover” writers, artists, and producers looking for another revenue stream, and a way to diversify their creative offerings.
In some ways, the current vitality of the production music business is the silver lining to the storm clouds which had hung menacingly over the careers of many film and TV composers. “Five or six years ago, after doing lots of reality and factual entertainment television, I started to notice cues from production libraries popping up on cue sheets, and I started getting fewer calls from clients,” explains hard partner and President Craig McConnell, a veteran, award-winning film and TV composer, record producer and songwriter, and Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC) board member. “This was now something I had to compete with as a composer, and I decided that I needed to start my own production music library. Innocent thought at the time, because I had no idea what was entailed.”
That dilemma was solved when a mutual friend at ole – where Hardy was working to build their first production music catalogue, MusicBox – introduced the two of them. When Hardy departed ole – he refers to it as “ole university,” given how much he learned about the music publishing business while he was there – he decided to start a label. He’d been a composer for so many labels over the years, had amassed a huge catalogue of music, and gained a wealth of knowledge about the business. One of the first calls he made was to McConnell. Within the first year, hard released 12 production music compilation albums and had distribution in four major territories.
“Once we started talking to people about it [hard’s all-Canadian roster], ears really began to perk up. That’s when APM Music came forward and said, ‘We control the market share in Canada and we have very little Canadian music!’ says Hardy, referencing the fact that APM – a worldwide, Hollywood-based production music library player and custom music house – recently signed a deal to add hard’s repertoire to its catalogue. “The fact we’re 100 per cent Canadian resonates in the global market,” Hardy continues. “As a side story, it was always a contentious thing for Craig and I that the majority of the music from production music libraries used in Canada, even at our major networks, mostly originates with composers from jurisdictions other than Canada.”
“Three years later, we’re up around 50 albums, and a roster of close to 50 artists and composers with whom we’ve worked, all of them Canadian,” says Hardy.
Though most of the artists are well-established – the company has worked with six JUNO Award winners – hard still leaves the door open for emerging talent. “We’re really becoming an artist-driven label which supports new talent,” says Hardy. “We’re a record company and a publishing company, one and the same. We take pride in the fact that we have an offering here for artists who may not – or will not – see the type of market exposure that we’re offering. Their product could benefit from our distribution into more than 80 countries around the world, and placement into media productions to which they could only dream of being exposed. We tell our artists, ‘We’re not going to pigeonhole you. You give us what you do best! You have a blank canvas.’”
There are some technical parameters that have to be adhered to. To work with a company like hard as an artist, you have to have the ability to record your own works, professionally produced and mixed. “Twenty years ago, it was a tall order finding that kind of situation, but not so much anymore,” says McConnell. “You look at a guy like Skrillex. He makes his records on a laptop, from a tour bus. There are a lot of people out there like that, and not just in the EDM world, who have the technical expertise, with their computer set-up, to make world class sounding recordings. Those are the people we want to work with.”