Archive for the ‘op-ed’ Tag

Why I Will (Probably) Never Be a Stock Music Library Composer   Leave a comment

Awhile back, a contest was posted that called for composers to write variations on a theme, and one (or maybe a few? I don’t remember) would be chosen for a job writing music for a stock music library loosely associated with a prominent film composer. Several friends sent the contest my way, and while I was very grateful that they thought of me and my interests, I pretty immediately decided against partaking in the competition.

Why would I cut myself off from a potentially lucrative career option by choice?

The short answer is, I’m just not interested in making generic music.

For those of you not familiar with libraries of stock music, composers write pieces of music that convey a particular emotion, mood, genre, or energy; sad, action, drama, horror, upbeat, funky, epic… you get the idea. Filmmakers, marketing agencies, television shows, and whoever else can then pay a flat rate to use these pieces of music to use in their TV shows, commercials, movies, games, or other purposes. It can cut production costs significantly, as there’s one less skilled crew-member to pay. They also know exactly what they’re going to get… but it comes at a bit of creative cost.

By definition, this stock library music is generic. That’s why people purchase it. Clients want music that they can choose from a long list of tracks that will convey the atmosphere they’re looking for (or at least get close enough). These libraries tend to reflect popular music and soundtrack trends; dubstep and Hans Zimmer knock-offs are probably the two most common tracks one would find. While there are near-infinite variations on these tropes and others, this method of “scoring” takes away any potential distinctive character that a video or what-have-you might have were it to be given a totally original score. The composer’s agency is nearly completely denied and replaced with a prerogative pre-determined by set genres and moods. Composers hired for specific projects often have to follow directions of clients rather than follow their creative whims, but in most cases they still are given the opportunity to use more of their own voice than is often allowed in stock music libraries; it’s why their client hired them rather than buying stock music!

This isn’t to say that all stock music or the composers that write it are inherently bad, or that the filmmakers who utilize it are cheap or lazy. Stock tracks can be very effective (see the popular indie game Braid, which utilized only stock library music), and the practice is inherently similar to the use of licensed tracks by established artists used on soundtracks (see Guardians of the Galaxy for an obvious, recent example), and many composers for these libraries are extremely talented. Still, I see it as more of a personal decision than a judgment on those that partake; it’s just not something I can see myself doing effectively or happily.

Now, I say “probably” up there in the heading because I like to be in the habit of never saying never. I might very well change my mind at some point as my values and the industry change. But at this point at least, I’d rather work at a(nother) day job and make the music I truly want to make for the projects I really believe in than make cookie-cutter music made to fit into whatever narrow little genre-box clients are looking to fill.

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