Brands must stop choosing library music based on price and convenience

Composer Kris Macken details how the oversaturation of library music has resulted in brands misjudging and misusing a wonderfully powerful asset.

Over the last decade, easier, faster and hassle-free access to a growing bank of library music has benefitted advertisers, production teams and composers alike. However, the growing supply of library music, coupled with an increasing inclination to choose it over bespoke music services is exploiting the world of composition and production and leading brands astray.

A commanding force

Music libraries have been around for ages. However, upgraded internet capabilities and advancements in music production have served to spark a boom in content creation.

Worldwide, library music is now a commanding force in pop culture and media. Alongside the spectacular surge in track numbers, independent publishers are popping up like boy bands. Entities such as Audio Network and Extreme Music have become synonymous with library music, bypassing the traditional copyright societies as licensors, to provide an alternative pricing structure for their services.

Music libraries are fantastic resources, where composers can offer a huge range of music genres with generally high-quality production values to the global market. Highly accessible, they also provide a crystal-clear chain of title (although some publishers are walking a very fine line when it comes to sound-alikes).

But the real value of library music is time; it’s available off the shelf, bypassing time-consuming negotiations and agreements.

Something’s gotta give

The relationship between composers and music libraries is tenuous and set to turn toxic. Large numbers of new publishers and an over-supply of tracks mean the production of library music is saturated.

Distribution is no longer easily obtained, and publishers are overwhelmed with door-knocking composers wanting in on the action. While supply edges up, rates for the licensing of production music have fallen in real terms.

Given that this is where the demand is, composers are throwing their resources at library music production, instead of bespoke services. Inevitably, it’s a race to the bottom.

To produce library music, highly creative and specialised composers are being commissioned to write for a nominal transaction fee – effectively, zero upfront payment. Rather, most agreements simply offer a share in the potential future mechanical and performance royalties as payment.

Now, it seems this music library-equivalent fee structure has crept into the composition of bespoke tracks for branding projects. These fees are often groundless and significantly lower than the resource costs involved in production. While this gamble may prove worthwhile for some, for most, it’s a painful, insecure and financially unrewarding process.

The new status quo points to a narrowing scope for creators paired with an oversupply of content. This has the potential to lead to ‘deadweight loss’; or, the social cost of a market failure. This happens when the price of production music doesn’t account for the social cost of producing too much music. The casualty is a contingent of independent composers functioning largely on speculative outcomes with little to no job security.

One-size doesn’t fit all

While music libraries can yield excellent matches for all sorts of uses, brands should think carefully about the value and role of music in their identity. The strategy underpinning your brand’s use of music and sound has to infiltrate every point of contact; consistently, distinctively and repetitively. It goes way deeper than jingles and mnemonic audio tags; it speaks to the soul of a brand.

By blindly selecting library music based solely on price and convenience – you’re just adding to the wall of homogenous sound commanding consumers’ ears. In doing so, you’re also missing a wonderfully powerful brand asset.

Kris Macken has worked as a composer and audio branding strategist for over 15 years.



Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.