Filmmaking 101 – What is Production Music?

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Filmmaking 101 – What is Production Music?

Initially created to serve budget-conscious filmmakers, the democratization of technology has allowed production music to become an artistic and sophisticated space of its own.

Production music, also sometimes called “Library Music”, is produced by songwriters specifically to accompany the visual mediums of TV, Film, Advertising and Web content. This non-exclusive, non-custom arm of music production sprung up to serve budget-conscious audio-visual producers, but with the democratization of technology, has become an artistic and sophisticated space of its own.

If you are creating a video for a local brand or a web ad for a national one, the cost of licensing a known song or creating a custom piece of music likely exceeds the budget for your entire project. Production music sprung up as publishers like Ritual began to invest in producers, hiring them to create specific pieces of music to be used in audio and audio-visual mediums. With its roots in radio, tv, and film, we are seeing web ads dominate in this medium and create a special opportunity for producers to earn a living from their craft.

A Short History of Production Music

Production Music as we know it today can be traced back to the “Mood Music” and “Atmosphere Music” of pre-1960 in Europe, but it’s roots extend right back to early 20th century Silent Film. Originally provided as suggested incidental music in the form of sheet music throughout the early 1900’s, the 1930’s saw several publishers begin to produce and distribute records of “mood music”, marking the transition into professional recording of non-exclusive material available for theatrical, radio and film productions. In order to avoid the runaway licensing costs demanded by the musician’s unions during the early days of TV, this work for hire model, or the publisher owning the content, became a workaround to control licensing costs on repeat broadcasts.

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The Big Shift

The big shift in production music, or stock music, happened at the turn of the 21st century. As producers became self-sufficient, technology became readily available to everyone, and union musicians were rejected for the hyper-modern, DAW-centric production, the sound of popular music changed. What used to take a world-class recording facility with musicians being paid at scale, could now be done by a young talented producer in Kiev with the same tools as a veteran with a budget in Los Angeles. The gulf between stock music and popular artists that existed until the 2010s was narrowing.

The Importance of A&R at Ritual

Once a downplayed industry, the creation of production music today is a legitimate means of income to supplement publishing deals and support the artistic development of the next wave of up and coming record producers. Since our genesis in 2016 we’ve had contributors go on to get major label record deals (Ocean Park Standoff), win Grammies, sign publishing deals and climb to the top of the Hype Machine charts (Tyzo Bloom) and work alongside major label artists in production roles (Catacombs w. 30 Seconds to Mars). Although our team started small with better-known producers and friends contributing, we are excited by our role in identifying, supporting and nurturing this new crop of artists.

For more filmmaking inspiration, check out our articles on Location Scouting 101 and Music Licensing in Film.