How To Make Production Music
Library music, or production music, as it known now, is a great way to get your music onto an album, which gets promoted properly, hopefully rewarding you with decent sync use, i.e music placements on film TV and radio. So how do you get your music onto a production music library, and do you use any sampled material in your music ?
Let's start with this...
Make it your own
This is very important because there are many music production companies out there. There's about 80 in the UK alone, so it's important for you to be smart and have something that will not only fit onto their library, but also sounds apart from everyone else. So be yourself and stay commercial. More on this below.
Using samples in your music? Arrgh, the horrible "S" word. Or is it? Read on...
There are many "royalty free" sample libraries out there that allow you to copy large chunks of someone else's music into your own. Don't do it! Don't just plonk sampled loops of entire music into your compositions. If everybody else including you used these "royalty free" loops as-is, then your music won't stand out from the crowd. So if you do use samples, be creative, and use them wisely.
License Free Samples - What are they?
There are really three kinds of license free samples you can purchase over the Internet these day - looped samples, one-shot samples, and multi-sampled instruments. All are available on a variety of formats, but it has to be said NI Kontakt (.nks) instruments are being made by the bundle load these days, and it doesn't look to change any time soon. (But don't quote me on that or hold me responsible if it does change. Everything moves on eventually). You can only use these samples in production music if the company you purchase them from states that they are cleared for use in library projects. They will also usually state the content cannot be used "soloed", but used only within a musical context. So check the T&C's first before you put your hand in your pocket. When you buy samples from a vendor which offers a "license free" use, that usually constitutes a license for you (and only you) to use them in a musical context in your recorded material. Once paid for, legally speaking, you cannot transfer or loan them to someone else at a later date. So this is a personal investment in your music, and not one that can bought and sold at a higher (or any other) price.
Let's have a look at each one of them...
1. Looped Samples
There is an abundance of loops out there and DAW's (Digital Audio Workstations) come packed with them too. I think when Propellerhead Reason came into existence they really helped electronic (computer based) composers with the Dr Rex player. It allows you to take loops and process them fairly easily with quick results. I used to have this installed on my computer but decided to stick with Cubase. I never found the two to integrate very well, even though it was possible to run them together. My first sampler was an AKAI S900, and I still have sitting in my studio (feeling unloved) an AKAI S5000.
Using loops in music has become mainstay in all kinds of music these days, but you have to be careful how you use them, if at all in production music. You should be aware that some music production companies don't like you using them, or will stipulate that if you do it can only be drum loops without any melodic content. And this is not because they want to test you or put a stumbling block in front of you. If you are a DJ remixer, for example, who only works with loops, there can be all kinds of legal problems ahead if something gets released and it sounds exactly like someone else's copyrighted work. So how does that affect license free loops I hear you ask? Well, these can be helpful for getting you inspired, and if you do use them be creative about it. The worst offenders, or should I say the ones to generally stay clear of, in my opinion, and sadly sometimes frustratingly, are the construction kits. These are pieces of extremely well produced tunes which are broken down into individual sections like drums, bass, guitar, synth, etc., that when played back together will make up the entire composition. It might be tempting to use an entire construction kit as the basis of one of your songs, but wait a minute these samples are probably from one of the large sample library companies, and sales of these albums must be in their hundreds and thousands, so many other people will have them already too, and perhaps using them also. So again, think about this before you go ahead and drop in five stereo tracks from one construction kit. The music consultant/producer at the other end you want to take your music to will have probably heard them before like this in one form or another, so it's not likely they will use anything way too similar that they either already have on their library, or heard before from someone else, especially if it's an exact copy of another track. The music industry is saturated with new music every day. So if you do use loops make your end result sounds unique. Try chopping them up into small pieces and reformatting them into entirely new loops. But don't just stop there. Add some different sounds to them. Delete sections and add in some one shots. Try swapping things around. Or change up the down beats, use a high pass filter and add in a different kick drum, etc, etc. Just experiment and make sure you make it your own. There's a program called Recycle, by Proppelerhead. If you use loops you either need this program or rex2 player that will play chopped up recycled loops, or similarly hardware/ software like NI Maschine or Maschine Studio will chop up your loops very nicely.
2. Multi-Sampled Instruments
The best types of samples, in my opinion, are multi-sampled instruments. Not only are they extensively multi sampled dynamic layers and variations of a particular instrument, but you can also tweak them to your hearts content. These will allow you to perform and have fun with instruments of all kinds from solo pianos, to synths, to full orchestras, and rhythm sections; all on individually mutli sampled or recorded instruments. And these allow you to come up with your own unique compositions and record them in your computer, your DAW of choice. I'm currently using Cubase 8 and this is a great way for composing music with multi sampled instruments along side your recorded audio and other plug-ins.
I watched a great tutorial the other day - Junkie XL (Mad Max, Fury Road, etc) shows us how he multi sampled six entire drum kits and military drums. Each drum was played and recorded about 120 times at different velocities, from very, very low (ppp), to very very high (fff), and he mapped each hit-note, one-by-one across his keyboard. Wow, that's how to multi-sample an instrument. And once you have multi-sampled something you have it for life.
However, this is a very time consuming thing to do at this level of sampling, not to mention, technically you need the right kind of mics, amps, and studio environment to record everything. I don't remeber Junkie saying how long it took him. But, if you are sampling on a less time-consuming scale, say your voice, for example, this could give you great results, and shouldn't take too long by comparison, whereas Junkie XL sampling and mapping out thousands of drum takes must've taken some time to get everything the way he wanted it. Sample library companies spend months of recording to get their samples sounding professional. Production music gigs have time constraints like everything else these days. You might only get a week or two, or three at most, to get them four to six demo tracks, for example.
So before you go off and multi sample your grandmothers upright piano (which is doable under the right recording environment, and may bring interesting results), think about what the project needs and if there's a sample library you need, my advice is to stretch into your pocket and pay for a good sample library. These range from a few hundred pounds/dollars to thousands for full pro orchestral libraries. If you are one of the talented lucky ones out there, the publishers might have loved your demo you recorded on a basic string sample and they decide take it up an level and record your music with an orchestra. This has not been my personal experience so far, but I am still working on it :) I will leave a link below from SOS - How to record a drum kit. The process would be much the same for you if you want to record a drummers performance and sample it. If you are only looking for the sounds, you wouldn't need as many microphones, because you would be recording each instrument seperately, playing as many nuances as required.
The draw back on using any multi-sampled instrument is your are beholden to the instruments used in the recording, the way they were perfomed, the recording environment used, and the articulations that are included. Having said that there are some blindingly great sample libraries out there. (links below). The libraries can oftern be huge in size, but with hard disc drives costing less and less, it much more affordable now than ever before.
Many sample libaries have great expression controls and tweakable effects, and some of the most recent morphing libraries even have arpeggiators built in, whilst other sample libraries only have two of three ways of playing each note, or sometimes, especially in the past, just one note with no other dynamic layers. Most are indeed multi-sampled very well these days. The old "machine gun" effect is all but in the past. Nowadays round robin samples are the standard in instrument samples.
So what is a round robin sample? One such example is if you are playing a second violin part, for example, and you are composing a section of staccato repeats of 16th note intervals, the up notes are different to the down notes, so when you play the same note twice in a row on a keyboard it plays back a different sample each time you play that note. So instead of "ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta", you get something more like "ah-ta-ah-ta-ah-ta-ah", and so on.
Multi-sampled instruments are nowadays dynamically layered, so each note will have (maybe not 120 layers as in Junkie XL's) but four, eight (as in EWQL Pianos Boesendorfer piano), or 12 sampled dynamic layers on each note, or possibly more. Whereas, JXL mapped out each sample of the same drum on seperate keys, and created drum groups in Cubase. Depending on the library you paid for, and how hard you strike the keys, will determine which (group of) sample(s) get(s) played in that range. The resulting samples are usually chromatically mapped out on the keyboard, making it easier for you to just get on and perform without the hassle of breaking your creative flow to map things out or pop in other samples, and this should give you a more realistic sounding performance. But say you want to go from that legato section straight into a trill, on some older libraries you then need to get another sample out the box and record that separately. Again most libraries these days offer key-switching to do this. This is where you press designated keys on your keyboard or controller synth to switch from one articulation to another whilst you are playing. Or if you prefer you can do this after the recording is laid down. The best sample libraries come with key mapping and expression controllers, such as cross fading between different dynamic samples, or filters controlled by your mod and, or pitch wheel, already set up, but you can make up your own expression maps in Cubase, but that's a subject for another day.
So the best libraries in my opinion come with things like round robins and key-switching already built in, where you can go from spiccato to glissando, or legato notes just by pressing a designated key on your keyboard as you play. You can also reassign these key-switch commands quite easily if you want to. There are times where you may still wish to do this, of course, depending on the type of music you are making. You can also record in a basic part and then using your DAW adjust any expression controls or key switches afterwards.
I find these kind of sample libraries the most interesting to work with.
3. One-shot samples
So I'm just going to take back what I just said about multi samples being the most fun. Single shots can often be the most creative way of using a sample creatively in your music if you do it right. I use NI Maschine and it's loaded with all kinds of sounds from single shot 808 kick drums to whacked out synth notes and sound effects, and can even play all the sounds from my synth libraries, like Massive, for example. Each sample is a single sound like a kick drum, snare drum, hi-hat, orchestral hit, vocal phrase, etc. The list is endless. You play the samples back via your midi controller or keyboard. These are really fun to use, and it doesn't take too long to build up a basic drum pattern rhythm, which you can tweak and keep tweaking, then loop, tweak some more, and create new patterns from. The beauty of individual samples is you can effect the smallest details very easily. A basic example of this would be to put reverb on your snare drum, whilst not affecting anything else. Yes, you could create a bus for this on your mixing desk, but there are so many other things you can do to one shots, which also include editing the wave forms, applying other effects, chopping up the loops you've created (as mentioned), and designing new one shots from multis you've created. Just keep experimenting with your one shot samples and you will be amazed at the results you get in a very short time.
Create your own samples and loops
This is the "money shot" if you want to make it in music using samples. Using other peoples source material for loops is one thing, but making your own great loops is the real deal that will get you noticed if you get it right - and you can if you try. One of my favourite loops I created is on my 2001 Pop Odyssey album. There's a track on there called Human Touch, which has a deep house quality to it (with a difference). I wrote this track in 1999. It was published in 2000 and went onto my album 2001 Pop Odyssey, published by EMI (now Sony/ATV) Music House (MH 80) I still think it sounds great today. So do other production companies, because it is still being used in media today.
Human Touch - Example of creating a loop in music
The main body of the track was a loop I created on my Roland JV-5080 and JV-2080 synths. I made up an 8-bar section of drums and music consisting of a bass riff, a brass section, drum kits, and weird kinds of percussion, and then I fed it all through my AKAI s5000 sampler and added a sweeping filter envelope to give it its deep quality and then routed it back to Cubase via midi on my keyboard which I played in and recorded on a seperate set of tracks. I set up a follow on envelope so the harder I played the more brighter top end you hear, giving it a stab kind of effect. I added another filter where if i held a note down softly it would sweep up over time. I recorded the bass with the kick drum and open hi-hat, sampled that and put a lowpass filter on it to just hear the sub bass detail. I added other tracks, such as the brass section from the JV-5080, sampled them too and manually filtered them on another track. I recorded some vocals and piano, and strings to the end result. I layered different multi tracks into the recording and used some eq to filter out clashing frequencies, especially in the bottom end, where I had a few tracks by now with kick drums in them. But I didn't want to loose all that yummy bottom end so I tried to be quite sublte with it.
I've made a tutorial video, which you can see here how I did it...
Is Production Music all about samples?
So before you start thinking recording music for library is all about using samples, it most definitely is not. Music publishers love authentic recordings, played by real people. If your in a band and have made some demos, forward a link to some PM companies. If you are not in a band, and you haven't already, learn at least one instrument, and use this as the basis for some if not all of your recordings. My main weapon of choice is piano, yet you wont always hear piano or anything like it in some of my recordings, because one of the great things about learning to play piano is it gives you access to a multitude of other instruments, which, wait for it, yes back to samples again, allows you to play like someone else on another instrument. So the games up gov, I play piano but I also play cello, violin, flute, tuba, trumpet, contrabasoon, and a whole host of other instruments using my keyboards. Thing to remember here is if you are like me and love playing piano, remember other instruments aren't played like a piano. Listen to how these are performed on other recordings and try to imagine you are playing that instrument for real. In saying that, experiment too, as I said earlier. But you can't beat realism; if you have friends that can play these instruments for you then you can always co-write your tracks with them, or pay them a fee for their work in return for their recording (and a signed release form). I very rarely co-write these days, unless I'm asked onto someone else's project. It's much easier for contracts, and less arguments. Joking aside, the less people on your music the more investment you are making to your business, and the easier you are to work with as an individual when you don't have to speak to four other people before you can make a decision. But you still have to be realistic about your goals and what you can achieve on your own. So if you really want a live cello performance it might be worth cutting someone else into the deal. Sometimes two people work better together, because you can feed off each others creativity, and so on. But most of the time I work alone, unless I have a visiting director or producer who wants to discuss their project. One aspect of samples I haven't covered is using commercial music samples in your music. My advice is stay cear of it. You need to get permission from the original publisher, who you might not hear back from. And that's after you've spents weeks on a recording and, like me, I decided to use a Leadbelly vocal sample which I spent ages carefully removing his vocal from the guitar he was playing using a program called Izotope RX5. I then spent a month recording the track, and then and only then did I start to ask if I could use it. And guess what - I haven't heard back from anyone and that was three months ago and a few emails later. So unless you are friends with a music publisher who is happy to offer you a license to use music they own, don't even bother. Especially do not use unlicensed commercial music in your own tracks as it could lead to a hefty legal action against you.
Sound unique, but stay commercial - Make it fit
If you want to work in production music, the chances are your tracks won't get chosen if they sound too left field (unless they are looking for that kind of thing). So it's worth while checking production music companies out, and listen to the kind of music they make. (I will leave a link below to EMI Production Music). You will notice that everything is categorised into genres and styles. Your music has to fit into one of those boxes, so if you want a spot on a production music album, think about specific genres your music fits nicely into, and submit these tracks only. Most music production companies have easily accessible players on their websites.
If in doubt leave it out
It's a cliche, but yes, if you are not sure that something works in your music, and find you are spending way too much time going round in circles listening to the same section of 8-bars, 16-bars, 32-bars, or even if it's a track you've laid down that takes up a majority of your song, and you really not sure about it, take it out entirely, and compare the song with and without it. Maybe you need something else in it's spot, and maybe you don't. It's possible the song sounds just as good without that extra guitar riff in the choruses, for example. Try to be as objective as you can, yet still make your track sound great.
Sound like someone else? - Shazam it
There are composers out there who are particularly good at coming up with finished tracks that sound like other commercial artists. Sound alikes are used in library, but only when the music is not a carbon copy of the original. It could have the same use of instrumentation, for example, or a riff that sounds similar but not an identical melody with the same arrangement. Your music still has to be original, it has to sound different from the original artist, and have different melodic structure, if melodies are used. You have to be careful here. If you want to sound like someone else, don't just be them. Try to imagine an artist you like and come up with what they might do next. Again I keep saying it - be creative about it. And if in doubt, Shazam your own music. This won't be 100% accurate, but if your Beyonce sound-alike number Shazam's as Beyonce, then you've probably gone too far. All digital music leaves a footprint these days and it's much easier for music publishers to spot copies now than ever before. My album 2001 Pop Odyssey on EMIPM Music House is based on a Moby type of thing, yet it isn't Moby.
This really should have an entire page written about it but I'm not going to pretend I went to music school and have a degree in music, even though I learned to read music when I was taught piano as a child and sung for the Scottish National Orchestra choir. So what I will say about classical music is about ten years ago I spent time writing loads of classical pieces, but only one has been picked up on - my Grampian News theme, Newscast, which is a dramatic piece I made for TV, and one I really wanted to have recorded with live musicians, but was told by the TV production company it was being made for, that there was no budget for it at the time. I loved listening to Shostakovich being performed live at Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall and Jerry Goldsmith's film scores, and this was my attempt at writing something classical on a large orchestral scale. Even my beautiful piano scores have never been used in production music. But if you are a classical composer and you can score music for an entire orchestra, be it chamber or a full 88-piece orchestra, then there is a large section of all music libraries that utilize classical music. Even soloists can make it onto library if their music sounds interesting enough, and your music is a bit different from other classical artists out there. There are loads of orchestral sample libraries too, that where you have an score composed on Sibelius, for example, you could transfer it to VSL or Garritan's personal orchestra, or many others. This should be good enough for a Music Exec to hear. You will need a music score, though, if it's going to be recorded by other musicians at this level, so you would need to prepare yourself for that. Or if you can't they might help you out with a copyist. A production music company that wants to go ahead with this type of recording would pay all necessary upfront costs of studio fees and other musicians involved too. But if you have a bunch of friends and you all play live instruments, why not record a demo or two yourselves and submit it. This could be all it takes to get your foot in the door. And this applies not just to classical music but all kinds of live music. And when I say live music, I'm not talking about a live gig recording. That's unlikely to go to library. Remember what I said earlier, the more unique and real your music sounds the better, so long as it fits in with current standards.
So how do I get paid for production music?
Well, I can only discuss my own personal experience here, and it's not something I generally talk about or ask other musicians about. I'm way too polite for that! But you may receive a small upfront fee per track if you are involved in making any kind of music with a production company, and they will register your music with PRS and MCPS (and PPL too if its a record company). PRS is the UK's largest royalty distribution company, and in the US it's ASCAP. There are societies in most of the western world that are affiliated with each other, and therefore pay out mechanical royalties back to the source, i.e your publisher. You will also be asked to sign a contract with the production music company who publishes your music - it's usually 50/50 for production music companies. Royalty distributions are made April, July, October, December by PRS. If your music has been picked up and used in film TV radio broadcasts, and Internet broadcasts like Youtube, iTunes, etc., and you will receive royalties for those uses. And how much you receive depends currently on which stations, i.e.. Regional or network, the latter being far more lucrative. You should also be aware that there are blanket deals done to allow the free flow of music around the world. Whilst this gives your music an even better chance of success, the payments are diluted somewhat by the time you receive them. You will have no control on who uses your music, but why should you care anyway, so long as people hear your work, right!?
How do I submit my music?
Most, if not all, publishers have for a long time not listened or accepted unsolicited material. That means don't send in CD's, or include attachments of your music on email. The only time I will send in actual tracks is if requested by the publisher. In saying that, there's really no need to send tracks anymore, because online services such as Dropbox or Soundcloud are great for getting your music online and listened to.
Drop a short email and explain briefly who you are. Say that you would like to be considered for submission and leave a link on your email to your Soundcloud, or wherever else your music is. A direct link to the actual track is best, as this means one click and they can hear your sounds. A plus would also be to say you've listened to "such-and such" an album of theirs and you feel you have something suitable that is similar in style. If they like your track(s) they might add it on to one of their existing online albums, or keep you in mind for one of the next projects they are making. Sometimes they will tell you what it is, but more likely not. Follow up with another email in a weeks time if you haven't heard back. And after that if you still haven't heard you probably didn't make the cut this time. But don't worry these guys make loads of albums all year round. So pick yourself up and try again.
Don'ts - Don't send attachments with music. Don't use sampled loops of whole music sections in entirety, especially not soloed. Don't try to be so different that no one will understand your music. Don't send links to loads and loads of tracks. Pick out the best three or four. And don't pester the music consultants too much - the larger companies probably have about two thousand composers on their roster. If they like your music they will get back to you.
Do's - Be original. Send links on short and polite emails. Follow up in a weeks time. Do stay in touch - call from time to time to keep your name in their head. Be friendly and don't take it too hard if it's a refusal, there's always a next time.
Good luck in your musical journey. I hope this has been of some help for you towards reaching your goal.
All the best,
Paul's Music on EMI PLAY