Ben Burtt, a sound designer at Skywalker Ranch who has worked on all six Star Wars films, notes that libraries have increasingly become a source for temp scores and character shadings. "Certainly, [music libraries] act as a guide track for the composer in conversations with the director and editors about the kind of music that will eventually score a film," he says. "It then gets replaced by the original score. But there are more and more different kinds of library music to choose from now. What that does is give everyone involved a new vocabulary of ideas to choose from. We may not always have the words to convey our musical ideas, but we now definitely have the music to do so."
Skywalker itself has built up a significant library from its many projects- new Star Wars films often derive their temp scores from earlier ones, and recurring characters like Darth Vader have musical signatures that provide continuity from film to film. However, Burtt also uses San Francisco -based Kaleidosound, which specializes in period music, for highly specific needs. "We got a lot of the music for the Young Indiana Jones series from them," he says. "In those cases, it’s not unusual for a piece of music originally considered temp to become the final piece. We just get a license for it."
Jay Richardson, music editor at Modern Music in Los Angeles, which does feature films, finds regular uses for library music as source music tunes emanating from within the visuals, such as background radio and television audio. "In that sense, it’s as much a sound effect as it is music," he explains. "The libraries become a good source to find period songs" and other kinds of music that subliminally drive the narrative.
Sometimes, though, libraries end up being sources of more than just music, an example being the recent SpongeBob SquarePants feature film. " SpongeBob the television show uses lots of library music," Richardson says. "After a while, the music editor noticed that a lot of the pieces they were choosing from libraries like Sonoton were by the same composer, Gregor Narhalz. They ended up hiring him to score the entire film."
Richardson further notes that library music in films tends to undergo little editing or other manipulation. "Generally, you want the particular piece because of all of its elements -tune, melody, sound, etc.," he explains. "Most pop songs are based around eight- and 16-bar structures, so that also tends to limit the editing they can get. What little we do is usually to weave them around dialog."
At Los Angeles Fox affiliate KTTV, VP for On-Air Promos Mamie Coleman and Music Supervisor Steve Celi will often do multiple versions of a project for broadcast, home video, theatrical trailer and multimedia. Celi says layering various pieces of music over the main theme provides a fast and cost-effective way to customize music for various applications and still focus on a central theme. Coleman sorts music from a central library holding cuts from Mega-Traxx and other companies by using keyword searches. "The faster I can find what I’m looking for, the more likely I am to use that library," she says.
Made For TV?
Television is still a vast customer for library music. At Alan Ett Music Group in Los Angeles, music supervisor Ryan Neill uses dozens of libraries on cable shows like Modern Marvels, Mail Call, Forensic Files and Biography. Many of his music selections come from sister company Opus One, but Neill notes that the demand for musical diversity means no one library can service every request. "Television tends to go to the larger libraries for exactly that reason- the need for diversity, and lots of it," he says.
Neill says the economics of library music favor paying for blanket licenses rather than individual cuts, which allows companies to keep workflow moving faster and avoid delays waiting for clearances. However, there’s another economic component that Neill says has to be considered: the proliferation of libraries in general, and looped music in particular, has created the potential for copyright infringement. "A lot of the sample-based music out there doesn’t come with clearance to use it in broadcast," he says. "That’s something that our clients, like History Channel and Court TV, absolutely demand. It’s a touchy area and we have to be careful about it. We haven’t had any issues with it yet, but I’ve definitely heard about [clearance rights problems] happening in some cases."
The propagation of music in libraries has put a premium on their management. David Jaunai, sound designer at Creative Group in New York, points to the facility’s self-designed database, which is networked to all suites as well as to iMacs stationed at each producer’s desk. It allows any sound editor or client to call up any of the half-million-plus music snippets they have compiled from scores of libraries and audition them quickly. Jaunai, who has edited music for shows including Turning Point, This Century with David Jennings and What Not To Wear, estimates he can scroll through 30 cuts in less than two minutes. The database creates the equivalent of a preferences dossier for each client, providing another tool for narrowing searches across hundreds of thousands of cuts.
Jaunai uses the nickname "DJ." Following a growing trend among remixers called the mash-up- taking two individual songs and combining them into a completely new entity- he often mashes two music library cuts to create a third, a technique he used extensively on the Scream Channel’s Ghost Stories. In fact, says Jaunai, the huge amounts of music now available, combined with this technique, are quickly redefining both music underscores and sound effects.
"The [library] composers are starting to write themes with effects in mind," he adds. "You’ll hear a piece and suddenly you’ll hear [stings] in there that sound like sound effects, yet they’re part of the song. And sometimes I’ll pull a [sting] or other element from one song and lay it into another instead of using a synth to do that."
The overload from so much music can induce an effect familiar to Web surfers: with billions of Web pages to choose from, the instinct is to limit oneself to a few familiar selections. "That’s why management has become as important as the music," Jaunai says. "There’s music for days out there."