We conclude our in-depth guide to the world of library music with an essential cut-out-and-keep explanation of the key words and phrases you’ll hear.
Over the last 10 months we’ve explored the world of library music. Also known as production music, it’s a rewarding little niche of the music industry — or, more accurately, of the film, television and advertising industries. Having had 13 years’ experience as a writer then publisher of library music, it’s been my pleasure to parcel up what I’ve learned and help you to understand how it works in case you’re embarking on this path yourself. I highly recommend that you consider it!
Most of this final instalment in the series will be a handy Dictionary Of Library Music, condensing many of the points discussed over the previous nine articles into an alphabetical list. If you don’t have all of those articles, look them up on the SOS web site and consider buying the PDFs to read deeper and get the best out of this series (see the links in the ‘Further Reading’ box). A good read of this little dictionary should help you remember some of the most important points, and will also make a useful reference if you find yourself baffled by library music jargon where, reflecting the influence of publishing, film and TV terminology, composers are ‘writers’, sub-publishers are ‘agents’ and tracks are ‘cues’.
Less common than they were, an advance is an initial payment to the writer from the publisher which is later offset (‘recouped’) against your share of royalty earnings. It’s a bit like a loan, but you never have to pay it back if you don’t earn any royalties! (See article 2 in this series.)
Advantages of Library Music
Compared to other income sources from music, library music can give you more artistic freedom, as well as better and more stable income if you write a lot of great music for great companies.
In library music, an ‘agent’ is another word for a sub-publisher: a company that represents your main publisher in another territory. Sub-publishers in some high-earning territories like the USA and Australia can earn you better royalties than the publisher who hires you. In terms of earnings, the agent takes 50 percent of mech/sync fees, then passes the other 50 percent to your publisher, who then gives the writer whatever is stated in the Writer Agreement. (See article 2.)
In synchronisation licences, ‘All Media’ is the highest price tier, and indicates that the client has paid for the right to distribute the video containing the music in all formats including cinema (theatrical) trailers, TV, radio and online.
In library albums you are often expected to hand over ‘alt versions’, such as drums only, no vocals, strings only and so on. These can be very handy for a client in a rush.
Approaching Library Publishers
See articles 1 and 9. It is recommended that your first email to a publisher is addressed to a specific person, and shows that you understand something about the company and what they do. Ideally, send a link to 12 finished tracks which sound amazing, have great titles, are available to publish, form a good album concept with a good title that would fit in their catalogue and fills a gap that they don’t have. Anyone who follows this advice will get their music placed with good companies.
There are two different classes of contract for intellectual property: a licence, where you retain ownership but grant certain rights, and an assignment, where you hand...
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