Monthly Archives: July 2013

The future of library music

I have a hunch.  I’ve had many over the years, some have been right, and I’ve forgotten about all the ones that were wrong, so I’ll continue.

Library music (or production music) is still big business, judging by even my PRS earnings, let alone those of the numerous composers I know.  And library music publishers are still commissioning new music.  Yet as digital technologies evolve faster than I can play semiquavers, and everyone is acquiring multiple creative and media skills, library music is still delivered in a pretty un-mashable way.  Sure, music users (I’m talking people who create and edit pretty, moving pictures mostly) are given alternate mixes, different length versions and even stem packs to remix, but couldn’t the music be more flexible, user-centred and re-writable?

In contemporary art and pop music the concept is already being explored by Bjork with Biophilia – an interactive album, released as an ipad app,  and Brian Eno’s app, Scape.

And in library music, not surprisingly, it’s already happening too.  Extreme Music are using Ujam’s songcruncher tech to offer production music you can customize in a web browser, so you don’t even need music software, though I’ve not been able to try the tech myself.

Music that can be remixed (or re-constructed) needs to be written in a different way from linear music.  It should be loopable and stackable, made up of individual ‘cells’ or music phrases that can interlock in a variety of ways, with minimal rhythmic and harmonic clashes.  I imagine it is nigh on impossible to cover every possible mash-up of component parts but at least getting close to that ideal has to be the goal.

That’s the musical challenge, the next tricky one is meta data – the key here is keywords, and ones that both have a musical and a descriptive meaning.  Sometimes our vocabulary does both; ‘rising’ has a clear musical meaning and one that will make sense in a non-musical, or emotionally descriptive way.  But other keywords will need expanding – ‘driving rhythm’ suggests musical devices to me, but the emotional result is explained by words such as ‘energy’, ‘movement’, ‘pushing forward’.

And the challenge that will be most contentious, is the rights issue – who gets the royalties?  If the user has a creative input in remixing and re-positioning the musical elements, is the end product a co-write with the composer?  That’s the elephant in the room.  Library music publishers and composers naturally have an interest in maintaining the status quo, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t face up to the question.

And what happens to the current licensing model? If the user becomes a co-writer, who pays a licence fee to whom?  I don’t have answers, but I don’t want to avoid questions!


I’m coming at this with some history: construction kit loops packs, modular composing and an idea for an app and art installation based or user-constructed music.  So my next challenge is to produce elements that can be re-positioned, layered and re-mixed by a music user in a way that warrants co-authorship, and the resultant shared rights.


A great job came my way a few months back and the tracks have just been released on Soundcloud.  Emmie is a singer after a record deal, with songs co-written and produced by Dave Bethbell.

Studio2_Strings_033I put string arrangements on 8 of the songs, most recorded at Abbey Road.  It beats working.  For string arrangements, these songs were a dream; expressive, intriguing melodies, emotional chord sequences with passing harmonies and tensions, plenty of implied dynamics, and sparse production that left space for every element.

One of my favorites was a track called Wait For Me, I confess I’m not usually a lyrics kind of bloke, but these are immensely powerful.

And the score is here.