Production music, also referred to as “stock music” or “library music,” is recorded music composed in a wide range of styles and genres, most commonly for use as background or incidental music online, or in film, television, games, advertising and other media. Some production music tracks have even been sampled by hip-hop and pop artists like Jay Z, Gorillaz, Ja Rule and Mark Ronson.

Production music libraries, featuring tracks which are thematically and stylistically similar, are typically marketed as part of compilation albums, with titles sufficiently descriptive of the content to assist audiovisual media producers and editors in their search for a particular musical ambience or groove.

“I’m earning more money making music, giving it to a production library, and telling them to farm it out.” – Steve Pecile of Soundminer

In the digital age, as the number of digital media channels and platforms in search of music has dramatically increased, production music has enjoyed huge growth. Predictably, with the increased demand, budgets have shriveled and production music – which is much cheaper than hiring a composer to write a customized score for a project – has been the more frequent option for producers at every level. This has opened up a world of both opportunities and challenges for A/V composers and music publishers.

“When I first started, production music libraries were pretty much low-grade, and your avenue of last choice,” recalls Steve Pecile, a composer and pioneering creator of the Soundminer Audio File Management System, which makes desktop, server and web software in varying packages for different types of users – including both music supervisors, and music consumers looking to add a soundtrack to their YouTube cat videos.

“You’d always want to hire a composer to do something original,” says Pecile. “People were used to larger budgets because they knew that when they got a program on television, the program would pay very well. But, as we live in a 1,000-channel universe, and with YouTube and all the other services, that same dollar is now split 100 times, so now you’ve got a few cents instead of a dollar to play with. I’m earning more money making music, giving it to a production library, and telling them to farm it out, than [I am] trying to get a gig to compose the next children’s show.”

Explains composer Ross Hardy: “The reason I fell in love with this market is that nobody hovers over me. I’m best in a situation where someone says, ‘What do you want to compose? Compose a lot of it, give it to me and I’m going to sell it.’”

Besides being a composer, Hardy is a former SOCAN staff member who’s worked with a number of different publishers in the production music sphere over the years. In June of 2013, he founded the production music company hard, of which he is the CEO, with partner and company president Craig McConnell, a veteran, award-winning film and TV composer, record producer and songwriter, who also sits on the board of Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC).

As an organization, the SCGC – which found in a recent study that along with TV and film projects, one third of its members work on games and online projects (35%), advertising (39%) and stock music (34%) – is not enamoured with the concept of production music. To some screen composers, the low pricing of production music undercuts that of their work directly scoring a project, and fosters a decrease in the perceived value of original audiovisual music.

The SCGC website says, “Music libraries can be a great place to find specific period music or songs which pair with a particular scene, but when it comes to the underscore, many libraries are restrictive with the choices available, and a music editor is needed to create smooth edits and transitions between pieces.”

Composers working in the field of production music should be aware of the potential danger of re-titling.

“What re-titling is about is essentially having catalogue A, which is your main catalogue with thousands of titles,” explains Hardy. “Because you’re the publishing company and you are reaping the benefit of the return of performance royalties through PROs like SOCAN, every time your works get used, you look at that and say, ‘That’s my piece of the pie!’ Now you enter in to negotiations with a network like NBC and, to make the deal, you sign over half of the publishing figuring that 50 percent is better than nothing. The incentive is there for the network to use the music a lot and the royalties roll in. You then figure, ‘I’ll make the same deal with ABC,’ but to make it work, you change the titles. The net effect of that is it denigrates the value of copyright, the very thing we set out to protect in the first place. At its very core, the integrity is gone. It creates a very uneven playing field for production music catalogues.”

CRi, aka Christophe Dubé, recently performed two concerts at the prestigious Osheaga and Festival d’été de Québec music festivals. Not bad for an artist who only started tinkering with and producing music in 2012.

After releasing a mini-album, Eclipse, in 2013, he attracted the attention of a few music supervisors, which in turn led him to begin composing soundtracks for promotional films and commercial productions. He spent most of 2014 working on his second EP, Oda, comprised of five tracks where the young artist pays homage to his influences, such as Caribou, Mount Kimbie and other stalwarts of the electronic music world, while establishing his own melodic, danceable and panoramic sound.

Yet another EP should be forthcoming before the end of 2015, which will no doubt help to consolidate his status as someone to watch on the Canadian electronic scene. Several live dates here and in the U.S. are expected in 2015.

The upcoming movie Le Mirage won’t be what it is only because of Louis Morissette’s screenplay or Ricardo Trogi’s direction. Frédéric Bégin’s score will also strongly contribute in creating the atmosphere of the comedy-drama. “Ricardo had already placed two pieces of 19th Century classical music in his editing, Strauss’ ‘The Blue Danube’ and Bizet’s ‘L’Arlésienne’,” sats Bégin. “They’re very well-known pieces, but he used them in counterpoint. It also feeds into the aristocratic side of the characters who come from a moneyed environment.” In order to meet the needs of the director’s editing, Bégin re-arranged the classics and recorded them with the 69 musicians of the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
Le Mirage
He then composed a few additional piece,s also imbued with that classical feel. Says Bégin: “I wanted to respect Ricardo’s initial musical intentions, and the result is that when you hear my compositions, they sound like you’ve known them all your life, yet…” Bégin explains that as the movie evolves, there’s increasing silence to create drama. “As a composer, you have to keep your ego in check in order to remain aware of what the movie actually needs. We have a back-up role, a bit like the rhythm section of a rock band. We’re there to back the ‘singer,’ which in this case is the movie.”

The musical needs of movies are diverse as the movies themselves, just as working with the same director for years doesn’t mean that any kind of routine has set in. Quite the contrary. Bégin met Ricardo Trogi just after graduating from Université de Montréal, where he earned a degree in Music. He composed a jingle for an ad Trogi was directing. A few months later, Bégin won the pitch that ensured they worked together again, this time for the music of a TV series titled Smash. This proved to be a defining moment for the composer. “Trogi’s first series was my first fiction project,” says Bégin. “You could say that experience was my birth as a composer. I sourced my writing in all those anonymous creations, themes I composed as a teen and young adult. Smash allowed me to get rid of all those piano riffs that had been haunting me for a long time.”

“We have a back-up role, a bit like the rhythm section of a rock band.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Trogi and Bégin collaborated on further TV series such as Les étoiles filantes and Le berceau des anges as well as on movies such as L’horloge biologique, 1981, 1987 and Le Mirage. But Bégin has also scored other films, notably Jean-Philippe Pearson’s Le bonheur des autres and Nicolas Monette’s Le journal d’Aurélie Laflamme.

The Trois-Pistole native now works in his home studio as well as at Studio Apollo, and says he likes being involved early in the creative process. “I know it’s a luxury,” he says, and cites the recent example of Interstellar, where Christopher Nolan tapped Hans Zimmer over coffee, asking him to start composing music for a movie about a father-daughter relationship. Nolan never mentioned that the movie was going to be a science-fiction one.
Le Berceau Des AngesWith Trogi, Bégin often has the opportunity of reading the screenplay long before a first cut is made. Such was the case for the TV series Le berceau des anges: Bégin started composing immediately after reading the scenario on the topic of baby theft. He was very moved by the story, especially since he was about to become a dad. “That was one of my more inspired sessions,” he says. “I wrote for two months before seeing even one image from the series. Surprisingly, everything fit perfectly. I was super happy, especially since I earned two nominations for that work.” The winners in those two categories will be announced this fall during the Gala des Gémeaux.

Bégin loves those moments of creativity that happen without a safety net. Currently, he’s working on stage music for a show celebrating the 100th anniversary of the presence of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland. The show is directed by Olivier Dufour, an artist from Québec City world-renowned for his multimedia creations. Bégin is on board to underscore the narrative aspect of this performance music which tells the story, without words, of the parallel between a solo musician and an Olympic athlete. His music will be played over skating, fireworks and video projections. This challenge perfectly matches his constant desire to surpass himself.

“This music must intensely suggest, transport and punctuate without using any words,” says Bégin. “Operas had the same kind of goal and took years to compose. With this, I only have a few months. It’s a unique experience, but it’s so demanding that I realized I need composing for movies to reach a certain balance that is vital for me.”