Music Libraries: From Last Resort to Power Players

Film Music Magazine • June 14, 2011

This guest article was written by Bob Mair, CEO, Owner and Founder of Black Toast Music, an independent music publisher/production music library based in Chatsworth, CA.

Music libraries were once the very last resort for music by supervisors and producers looking for music placements in their film and television projects. Libraries were quite simply thought of as the bastard children of the music industry. Today however, music libraries are quickly becoming more and more relevant by asserting themselves as legitimate competition to the record labels and major music publishers. The growing force of music libraries is evident in several areas, but nothing demonstrates this more dramatically than the fact that major music publishers have been scrambling to acquire the most prominent music libraries.

Very recently, Imagem Music Group acquired 5 Alarm Music. In 2010, Warner Chappell Music, the global music-publishing arm of Warner Music Group Corp, acquired Nashville’s 615 Music, Groove Addicts Production Music Library and London-based Carlin Recorded Music Library and in 2007 they acquired Non-Stop Music. Also in 2007, Universal Music Group, which already owned Firstcom and Mastersource, acquired Killer Tracks through its acquisition of BMG. In 2009, Sony ATV Music acquired Extreme Music.

All of these acquisitions seem to indicate that these renowned libraries have something that the major publishers want and need. But the question remains– What could a music library possibly have that a company with a catalog as large and prestigious as, say Warner/Chappell, need?

The answer is certainly complicated and multifaceted, but I believe that there are three major reasons for the flurry of recent library acquisitions;

** First–Music libraries have a track record for being able to get music placements in cross media projects and are therefore currently attracting some of the hottest new, up and coming indie acts;

** Second–Due to new technology, music libraries are able to provide high quality music at lower price points making them fierce competition for the major record and publishing companies;

** And Third, and possibly most importantly, in order to provide excellent service to their clients, libraries have created catalogs that cover almost every possible genre a music supervisor might need, making them a one stop shop.

With the proliferation of affordable home recording equipment today, there are more and more unsigned bands than ever before. Due to this rapid influx of unsigned artists, coupled with declining record sales, publishers and record companies are more overloaded than ever, and often do not have the time to sift through the mountains of music to find the gems nor do they have the resources to develop and market all of these talented new artists. There is therefore a plethora of extremely talented, yet unsigned and un-published, bands and music artists who are seeking to get their music “out there.” These indie artists are now seeking out music libraries to help them market their music to film and television.

This trend to feature unknown “indie” acts in television programming actually began in the mid 90’s, with hit TV shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and “Party of Five.” As a result of the exposure in these shows, many of these bands quickly crossed over into the mainstream. Because of this phenomenon in the mid nineties, along with the decline of physical CD sales, indie bands are today more eager than ever to have their music featured in film and television. Music libraries have become one of the easiest and most successful ways to get that to happen.

Just as artists are able to create high quality music due to affordable recording technology, so, too, can libraries. Libraries which often have a vast network of songwriters, musicians and vocal artists at their disposal can quickly create high quality music at lower prices, thus allowing them to offer competitive licensing fees to diverse film and television projects.

Indeed, in today’s economy, with budgets for placing music within entertainment properties more and more constrained, affordable high quality music is more important than ever before. This allows music supervisors, producers and creative directors seeking “cool” music to come to library companies and not have to spend an arm and a leg on a “famous” song. In such a scenario, everyone wins; the indie artists get exposure and get paid, the library makes money, and the production company gets great music with less expense, and also acquires some “indie cred” in the process.

Along with being able to provide high quality music at affordable prices, a network of indie artists, and a need to stay as current as possible (to compete with the larger music publishing companies), music libraries can quickly create music with the hottest “new sound” before production companies even know they are looking for it.

Music libraries know that in order to compete, they must have music that will fit every possible use. Libraries therefore create this music before it is even requested. When they do not have a certain type of music at hand, some libraries such as ours (Black Toast Music), will even create something specifically for the project. Libraries know that their reputation for being able to deliver “anything and
Everything” that a project may need quickly and affordably is the only way to thrive in this competitive business. Coupled with their strong attention to the needs of their clients, Music Libraries have continued to become even stronger and more of a force to be acknowledged.

Libraries have been working steadily in this business for many years, but because of their status, they have had to work harder and faster, and usually under the radar. However, clearly today, this hard work is paying off. The fact that the major music publishers have recently acquired so many of the top music libraries demonstrates that libraries have something that the publishers cannot duplicate and therefore must buy. This reinforces the premise that Music Libraries have not only “Arrived” but have today become “Power Players” within the entertainment, advertising and broadcasting industries.

Over the past 20 years, we at Black Toast Music have been fortunate to have had a good deal of success placing our music within TV shows, films and ad campaigns. Our placements have included songs in multiple episodes of HBO’s “The Wire,” “True Blood” and “Treme,” as well as FX’s “The Shield,” Showtime’s “Dexter” and many more. We are also proud to have our music play a part in almost every episode of the new show “Glory Daze,” and we are also excited about our most recent commercial placement in the new national ad campaign for Domino’s Pizza.

ABOUT BOB MAIR:

Bob Mair is the CEO, Owner, and Founder of Black Toast Music, a leading, independent music publisher/production music library based in Chatsworth, CA. Since its launch in 1990, the company has placed music in hundreds of television series, specials, promos, and TV movies, and dozens of high profile motion pictures, along with videogames, Internet advertising campaigns, and numerous, multi-media presentations.

Among the hit TV shows to which Black Toast has provided music are: “True Blood” (HBO), “Dexter” (Showtime), “Treme” (HBO), “The Shield” (FX), “The Wire” (HBO), “The Life And Times Of Tim” (HBO), “CSI” (CBS), “America’s Next Top Model” (CW) “Prison Break” (FOX), “Sons Of Anarchy” (FX), “Modern Family” (ABC) “Burn Notice” (USA),”Cold Case” (CBS), “Everybody Hates Chris” (CBS), “My Name Is Earl” (NBC), “Nip/Tuck” (FX), “Dark Blue” (TNT), “The Young And The Restless” (CBS), “General Hospital” (ABC), and “Access Hollywood” (NBC).

Comments

By Greg Boutin on June 15th, 2011 at 6:31 am

Great analysis, Bob. It raised a question in my mind. You wrote that “publishers and record companies are more overloaded than ever, and often do not have the time to sift through the mountains of music to find the gems nor do they have the resources to develop and market all of these talented new artists” and that “Indie artists are now seeking out music libraries to help them market their music to film and television.”
My question: aren’t libraries in the same boat as publishers and record companies when it comes to finding the gems among unsigned artists? Do you go differently about sifting through all the requests?

I am the co-founder of a new music service called Zamplify, that will be out this summer. Our objective is to make it easier for the public and music industry leaders like you to find good music, by crowdsourcing the detection of the best new music and providing an effective way to assess the velocity of new artists (by genre).

We have received good feedback on the concept and got a small following in the hip-hop community already (see http://facebook.com/zamplify) My co-founder is a wiz coder who just won a facebook app competition and i’m a stanford business grad. I’d love to connect if you are interested in sharing your experience with us.

By Arun Sethi on June 15th, 2011 at 9:02 am

Some great points here Bob. I would add a fourth point to your list of why libraries add so much to a catalogue. Certainly here at Imagem Production Music, we create music that is built to work for synchronisation. So not only do we have a great existing range of music and a roster of brilliant composers, but we can guide them to writing music in a way that it works in exactly the way that our clients want. This is something that many commercial works lack – so in essence you’re getting cheaper music that works better to picture.

By Bob Mair on June 17th, 2011 at 10:27 am

Greg, I’d be more than happy to discuss and answer any questions you may have in regard to your business model and how it relates to the music library business. I’d be curious to hear how your business model compares or differs from a company like TAXI.

All my best,
Bob

By Greg on June 18th, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Thanks Bob, I really look forward to a chat. Could you perhaps email me at greg AT zamplify.com and let me know how to reach you?

Our model is different from taxi. We are a social discovery engine that helps surface the best new music and artists, not a fee-based placement agent (nothing wrong with that, and maybe those four words don’t do justice to Taxi, but the point I’m trying to make is just that: our models are different.) I can explain further when we talk.

By Jesse Turnbow on June 19th, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Great job. A brief, concise and to the point perspective.

wly?

By Greg on June 27th, 2011 at 8:41 am

can you ask bob to send me his email address at greg@zamplify.com? I have no way to reach him… Thanks!

By Stacey Powells on September 5th, 2011 at 10:21 am

Bob wrote a well constructed and informative article about music libraries. Being in the music clearance and cue sheet business for over 30 years, I LOVE going to music libraries and have always known that Bob Mair and Black Toast Music were top notch. You rock Bob…and Amy!

By Leslie Harlow on November 7th, 2011 at 12:42 pm

The Park City Film Music Festival is working to become a destination for film composers, aspiring artists and filmmakers. I am hoping that the music libraries will become sponsors and help us grow this industry.

contact me if you are interested: Leslie Harlow, director Park City Film Music Festival

By Ed Smith on November 12th, 2011 at 8:47 am

Great points and very informative, Bob. Keep up the good work.

By Henrietta Charach on April 18th, 2012 at 8:19 am

Being an independent music songwriter and singer, I would love to place some
contemporary pieces for television and movie production. Music libraries appear to be a wonderful way to categorize different types of music, but with the similar concerns as music publishers. The cost diffential appears to be a very positive result of the music libraries although, with the end result being how I can place my music out there to be heard. Black Toast appears to be a significant force in the contemproary Music Industry.

By sam on October 12th, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Greg Boutin,

I went to your site, heard your music, now keep in mind that I have hundreds of credits since 1992, and I have to say that your users music choices is very bad, they have “no professional music ears” they just destroyed your site’s reputation

your business model is all wrong, do what taxi did, hire pro anr guys to review your users choices, then put them at the top,

todays music libraries are of excellent quality,

when I started out in this racket in 1990 I could walk into any tv studio, movie studio and pitch my tracks / songs and sell all of them,

then I got lazy and retired, obviously I should have started my own library back then, I could have made millions by now,

as a matter of fact, those that I was working with from mgm, nbc, cbs and abc encouraged me to start my own library, I dunno why but I did not want to be bothered with it,

back then I was young, dumb and a hard core partier, I worked hard and played very hard then in a few years I retired, big mistake,

I ran out of money in 2007, so I got back in the game and I was in for a harsh reality,

I came to find out that there are at least 500 PROFESSIONAL libraries with millions of songs/tracks for me to compete against,

they are all dialed in with the studios, all started by former pro’s with deep pockets in the areas of production, anr, publishing

I was lucky to sign to 10 of the top 40 libraries but I am making barely 16k a year,

I just got to around a 1000 new tracks in the system, all exclusive to the respective libraries so my income will go up another 300 percent in 3 years but will I still be able to survive until then ?

ironically I do not party any more, I work my tail off, I put out over 20 tracks a week, I have no social life, and I am making a fraction of what I used to make, :(

shoulda been an actor, probably would have been a far more exciting lucrative journey :)

By stuart livingston on December 2nd, 2012 at 9:55 pm

Hi Bob,

A friend just sent me this article which I hadn’t previously seen. You pose the question and suggest answers to “what do these majors want and need from music libraries”. I think you’ve missed the main reason for the proliferation of production music library acquisitons by the “majors” in recent times. As I see it there are two main reasons. 1)It’s the 50% retain on royalty splits! Also, the fact that more and more “performance” only deals are being offered to composers making this area of music publishing even more attractive to them. 2) By comparison to “core” catalog acquisition costs, generally production music libraries are cheap buys. Bottom line – nothing more, nothing less!

By Jack Vaughan on May 26th, 2014 at 2:03 pm

What I’m really interested to see in the future is how these libraries start indexing, cataloguing and archiving the wealth of music (good & less good) that they have.

Already nowadays, online libraries suffer greatly from the massive mix-up of quality content with irrelivant stuff.

Thank you for the article Bob.

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