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All About Library Music: Part 2

The Business
Published June 2017
By Dan Graham

We saw last month that library music can provide composers with a good income. This month, we explain how that income is generated.

Last month, we explored the benefits that can be obtained from composing library music (in a nutshell: money! artistic freedom!), and offered guidance on getting started and finding work. This month, we’ll go further into the business side of things, looking at the different types of library music publisher out there and the different types of contract that they offer.

Sony/ATV, BMG, Warner/Chappell, Universal and fast-growing newcomers ole own many subsidiary library music labels between them.Sony/ATV, BMG, Warner/Chappell, Universal and fast-growing newcomers ole own many subsidiary library music labels between them.Let’s start from the assumption that you make lots of great music and are reasonably good at selling yourself (see last month’s article for tips, but the upshot is: write a lot of short, polite but confident emails written to a name, not “hi”, containing links to 12 excellent streaming tracks). If you do have good music, then you are a talented creator making high-value goods, and you deserve a good publisher you will enjoy making music for, who will pay you well. The question, then, is not ‘Who will have me?’ but ‘Who do I want to work with?’ This menu of options will help you decide where to focus your efforts.

The Big Beasts

In terms of money and power, the library landscape is dominated by big corporate beasts with crazy ownership chains. For example, many libraries are owned by BMG, which is mainly owned by the Bertelsmann Group. The Bertelsmann group is 77.4 percent owned by the non-profit Bertelsmann Foundation, whose laudable activities include promoting European unity and transatlantic cooperation through academic research. Meanwhile, Warner Chappell is ultimately owned by an international conglomerate with interests from hotels to Russian aluminium mines.

Large library companies who are themselves subsidiaries of majors include Extreme, Cavendish, 5 Alarm, KPM, EMI, Bruton, X-Ray Dog, Altitude Music, Killer Tracks and Must Save Jane.

Thanks to gigantic, high-quality catalogues and large teams of salespeople and music supervisors, these big beasts have good relationships with large broadcasters. This can be good for their writers because of the serious broadcast royalties, and can make it harder for smaller companies to compete. On the other hand, huge catalogues can mean the extra money gets spread more thinly between more writers, potentially leaving you no better off.

The Independents

Large independent library publishers share the benefits of majors: they have good relationships with big-spending clients and have great sales teams. They also share some of the majors’ pitfalls, such as having larger catalogues that can mean your albums getting less attention. Compared to majors, you might find that being independent they can be more viscerally invested in their company’s success, meaning they work harder to make money for you.

West One, De Wolfe, Position, Audio Network and Megatrax are some of the many large independent library publishers in the UK and US.West One, De Wolfe, Position, Audio...

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Published June 2017