EDITORS GUILD MAGAZINE SEPT-OCT 2010 - Music On Demand
EDITORS GUILD MAGAZINE September-October 2010 - MUSIC ON DEMAND - Online Libraries, Publishers Offer Many Options for Music Editors
by Michael Goldman
Online music libraries are nothing new, but as the Internet matures, data ascends over physical media, and markets and applications for music placement expand, such libraries have become more essential than ever before for music editors. Indeed, in addition to traditional music library services, almost every significant entity in the music business remotely interested in licensing product for media exploitation from giant labels and studios to garage bands and boutiques offers some kind of online library these days.
And, in fact, almost everybody is interested in licensing music. The licensing business in various forms has become among the most lucrative ways for musicians to make money, so there is no lack of talent or content available for libraries to tap into, and then offer to various types of productions more cheaply and efficiently than in the past. In fact, Eric Sheinkop, president of Music Dealers (www.music dealers.com), a company that represents independent artists eager to license the fruits of their labors, calls licensing a gift for musicians in an industry that is otherwise struggling it's essentially extra money for them for work they would probably be doing anyway.
Such libraries, in fact, are so productive across the industry right now that more traditional music publishers and labels are eagerly adopting the music library industry's tools and techniques to expand the reach of their artists' music.
"In a way, the terms publisher, library, and so on are becoming the same thing," suggests Bob Mair, CEO of production music library Black Toast Music (www.blacktoastmusic.com). "Publishers and record companies are now chasing the business that libraries have been doing for years. Libraries, historically, were not record companies, and they were known for offering what people called 'canned' music. But now, anyone who produces music wants to develop ways to offer at least some of it for license, and the online model has completely taken over for that purpose."
Thus, despite a challenging economy, officials at many established music library and publishing outfits report business is generally solid these days. This is largely because music of all types is simply in huge demand on television, feature films, trailers, promos and advertising, video games, web-casting - even greeting cards and mobile devices.
"There is probably two or three times as much music in productions as there used to be," says music editor Bruno Coon. "Even a half-hour show will probably have 20 minutes of music to one degree or another. It might not play a huge role, but it has to have the right flavor or color to it. An editor can't rely on something without character or that is just canned or cobbled together, and he doesn't have to. There are now far more options than there used to be."
In addition, budget-squeezing across the entertainment industry has ironically helped the music library business in the sense that its offerings are typically more affordable than typical alternatives. "Good libraries have a lot of diversity these days," says music editor Mark Bensi. "You can now find more efficiently the genre you are looking for to create the atmosphere you want, and that can save the production significant money."
Then, of course, there are market and cultural changes - the obsession, for instance, with indie music among today's young audiences. "In 2006, when we launched our company, we saw shows like Grey's Anatomy and The OC increasingly using indie artist songs as scores, where they were really featured, and not just as background pieces," explains Tanvi Patel, president/CEO of Crucial Music (www.crucialmusic.com), a company she describes as 'an independent artist-licensing catalogue.'
"The industry is now exploding in terms of how much music it uses in shows," she continues. "All networks are using indie artists and sometimes they are using licensed music as scores. That's being done to appeal to the current market - the search is on for new music."
Zach Urband, co-owner of Urband & Lazar Music Publishing (www.urbandlazar.com), goes even further, pointing out that music is now more firmly ingrained into the fabric of broadcast programming than ever before. He even calls television 'the new radio' in that sense.
"Shows like The Hills and many others on MTV- they Chyron in the music information," Urband says. "They tell the viewer the track name, the artist, how to download the track and find out more about the artist. Even video games are starting to do this. There are so many venues of artists to get discovered now. Licensing their work is a great strategy to get exposure."
Thus, online catalogue services are producing far more than the traditional instrumental underscores and packaged chunks and bits routinely used as what Patel calls 'wallpapering music' for low-budget TV shows. To be sure, that need continues, but it is now only one need among many that these libraries can service. As such needs expand, so does the nature of the companies servicing those needs. Consequently, some companies that offer library tracks call themselves boutique music publishers, like Urband & Lazar, which represents a growing roster of independent musicians. Others describe themselves as independent production companies, "but structured like a library in terms of owning and controlling rights, and making it easy to license the music," in the words of Scott Schorr, owner-producer of the boutique music production company called Lazy Bones Recordings (www.lazybones.com).
Still others are music library divisions of larger music enterprises, such as Opus 1 (www.opus1musiclibrary.com), which is a division of AECG Entertainment, an entertainment corporation that also owns a music production company and audio post-production facility. And these are only a small handful of examples - dozens of respected libraries dot the Web, with names like Crucial Music, Black Toast, Songs to Your Eyes (www.songstoyoureyes.com), Audiosocket (www.audio socketmusic. com), Video Helper (www. videohelper. com) and dozens more.
Search and Discovery
The trend most noted by, and useful to, music editors is technology's increased efficiency in helping them find what they need through highly sophisticated search engines and delivery platforms. Having virtually unlimited access to music at their fingertips is, for many music editors, a must in the digital world.
"I've noticed libraries finding more creative and efficient ways to make material available to editors," says music editor Nancy Allen. "Most have catalogues accessible via the Internet now. We can preview material instantaneously and download tracks as WAV, AIF or MP3 files. Prior to that, most libraries had been putting entire catalogues on drives, but for many reasons, the Internet option is preferable to editors." Indeed, editors uniformly suggest that CDs and DVDs have virtually disappeared from their library interactions, hard drives have taken a back seat -- except where editors are restricted inside closed studio networks -- and online search and delivery has essentially taken the industry over. Today's libraries thus devote extensive resources to building lightning-quick search engines - a development greatly appreciated by music editors.
"We are always under the wire on deadline," says Bensi. "It's simply impossible to audition hundreds of pieces of music to find what you are looking for. Libraries that I use have Web keyword-searchable, genre-searchable, lyric-searchable capabilities and so on. The problem in cutting music for an experienced editor, to be honest, is not so much the cutting aspect, it's the search and discovery aspect. These libraries have really helped us with that problem."
The development of quick, intuitive search engines is part of a larger technology revolution on the Web, of course, but few end users benefit daily from it more than music editors and supervisors. Representatives of music library and publishing companies insist their focus on search engine development is aimed at making life easier for editors and supervisors.
Opus 1, for instance, invested tremendous resources into its original 01 Engine technology. 01 Engine started as an integrated search tool in concert with Opus 1's earlier Digital Media Assistant (DMA) hard-drive delivery system. Over time, of course, online delivery surpassed hard-drive delivery as a priority, so the 01 Engine has been rebuilt from the ground up with an entirely new code structure, but with the familiar user interface earlier DMA users liked, according to company officials. They insist users can now speed through almost 200,000 tracks at less than one second per search.
Likewise, Music Dealers spent about two-and-a-half years developing a current search engine in partnership with a large programming company, and now the company monitors and maintains the search engine using a substantial in-house IT team that Sheinkop says "works around the clock."
"For six months, all we did was study search engines--from Google to our competitors," he continues. "Then we started incorporating various features we liked, leaving out ones we didn't like, surveying editors and supervisors to find out what their needs were, and then building something entirely new. At the end of the day, we have to be a technology company, and music is the product we push through our servers and our system, so tremendous time and resources have gone into building our search engine and data management tools."
Of course, many of the industry's top music editors work in secure studio editing bays. For years, major library services, of course, have provided searchable hard-drive systems like DMA to such entities, and most major players in the industry still make those available as needed. In recent years, though, sophisticated database search and management services have played an increasingly crucial role for editors laboring in closed and open environments alike.
Soundminer (www.soundminer.com) is one such prominent service. It offers integrated metadata management software tools in various combinations with advanced search and file-conversion technologies that are compatible with industry-standard audio production tools. Options provided by Soundminer, Dashbox (www.dashbox.com), formerly known as M-Soft, and others essentially allow tracks and data from multiple libraries to become part of gigantic search, tag, deliver and conversion networks that can plug into private hard drives and networks, as well as open networks and the Internet.
Along the way, Soundminer and others have made major inroads grappling with the thorny issue of metadata - an industry category not yet blessed with uniform standards. Its software, Soundminer officials claim, is designed to manage data in different formats, from across the industry, and make it as seamless, consistent and convertible as possible through a single server combined with software solutions, in order to improve speed and efficiency for productions hunting for tracks from different sources.
"The idea is to create metadata tools that let content creators create data and send it out efficiently, and let users control what is coming in, and how it comes in," says Steve Pecile, Soundminer's co-owner. "We want to let publishers and users control files in different formats from the time they are created until they finish being used in an Avid or ProTools system. This brings hundreds of boutique libraries into the real estate that used to be owned pretty much by three or four major publishers."
Opus 1 officials report that they currently have about 63,000 tracks tagged in the Soundminer format, for example, and they routinely code new tracks both for their own database and for Soundminer's database. Many music libraries therefore put great time and resources into meta-tagging tracks in their system multiple ways for multiple databases and search engine options.
These days, multiple download delivery options for editors seeking licensed clips exist as lengthy download time limitations largely recede into the past. Thus, whether projects require MP3, WAV, AIF or some other format--compressed or uncompressed --more often than not, editors can acquire those files and have them inside their ProTools system at speeds that, at a minimum, are far more efficient than a few years ago. "The transfer rates have gone up so dramatically; it used to be unthinkable to send a couple gigs to someone online, and now it isn't," says music editor Coon. "That is particularly good news for editors."
Of course, the issue of compression and file quality is another ongoing industry debate. Many editors say a project's specific needs determine the method of transmission and compression acceptable for library clips. As with all else, it's relative, the editors suggest. For very prominent, high-end usage, some still want particular files to be occasionally delivered by CD or DVD.
"Most libraries offer music in different formats, with MP3 being one--but even with MP3, there are different quality levels," says music editor Bensi. If I'm using it as a piece of music in a background to create an atmosphere, a good MP3 usually works fine. It is coming to me compressed, but then again, the bottom line is that we are going to compress it and futz with it even more for background use. If I want the piece to be featured, I will request WAV or AIF and we can discuss how to get it to me. A good library will offer you various flavors of files."
Sound editor Jen Monnar adds that the larger confusion over what is, or isn't, acceptable file compression in the music world is a big issue for editors, and she urges peers to be cautious. "Where confusion comes is with lossless compression," she says. "That leads people to believe there is no loss of sound quality, but that's not true. 'Lossless' means no bits are lost during the compression process, not that there is no loss in sound quality. The file still needs to be taken apart, squashed and reassembled in order to be a small size. People argue about this, but there is a difference in sound quality. I can hear the difference.
"So, if I request something from a publisher or library, I specifically request a WAV file, and they send me to a private server to download it at proper quality, or send me a CD," Monnar continues. "The thing that concerns me is everyone thinking they can get the exact same quality through downloads as on a CD, and therefore, they don't request masters. Or if they do, sometimes they get an argument because people don't understand that there is a difference between a compressed file and a master. The marketing argument is that these files are CD-like, but CD-like is not CD-quality."
Still, music library services are now crucial to editorial creativity on productions large and small. Their options to experiment, temp, mix-and-match, sample and rapidly finalize or update cuts of all kinds have improved dramatically, without a doubt. And prominent libraries and publishers are certainly eager to help further that trend.
But with this ease of use coming in an era of restricted budgets, some editors wonder if the simplicity with which he or she can utilize library product is a double-edged sword. Sometimes, music editors are a library's direct client, but more often, they are the end user - collaborating with a music supervisor and/or producer to procure what's needed.
These, and other issues, are bound to crop up in a universe where technology has so dramatically democratized important pieces of the process for musicians, libraries, music supervisors and editors alike. That said, industry professionals insist human interaction remains a crucial factor.
It's the human factor," says Ryan Neill, vice president at Opus 1. "We need that conversation - not only for licensing and negotiating fees and budgets, but also on the creative level. If you want a surf-rock tune, that might be easy to find in a search engine. But if you need to be more creative, then we need to have a conversation, and maybe we need to create more music for you."
Michael Goldman is a freelance editor and writer who has long covered the art, science, and trends behind cinema, broadcasting and other forms of media. The longtime senior editor of Millimeter, he is also a regular contributor to American Cinematographer and other publications, and has authored four books. Visit his website: www.holly wood-scribe.com.