Which Music Library is Best?

Which Music Library is Best?

This is a re-post of a previously-published interview. People contacting the site frequently ask questions about music publishing and placement, so it seemed like a great time to re-run this discussion about the some of the finer points of selecting and submitting to music libraries.

 

Art Munson is the founder of Music Library Report, a comprehensive directory of music libraries and services for composers and songwriters designed to help them make educated decisions about choosing to which music libraries they should submit their work. With nearly five decades of playing, songwriting and producing experience, Art got his start in the music industry playing guitar with Dick Dale and the Deltones in the 1960s. He has done studio and live work with artists such as the Righteous Brothers, John Lennon, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand and Paul Williams. In the 1980s he built and ran his own home recording studio where he worked with artists such as David Sandborn and Vonda Shepard. In the past decade, he has been involved in writing hundreds pieces of music for production music libraries which have been placed in a variety of films and television shows. He and his wife Robin also run their own small record label, publishing and production company called Munsong Records.

 

I recently got to sit down with Art and talk about his long career in the music industry, how Music Library Report works for composers and songwriters and how artists can choose music libraries that will be good fits for their work.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, Art. How did you get into the music industry, and what led you to start MusicLibraryReport.com?

 

AM:

 

Well, it’s a long story, because I’m a lot older than you are. I started out back in the early ‘60s playing with Dick Dale and the Deltones. He’s kind of the originator of surf music.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Oh, I’m very familiar. I’m a frustrated New York surfer.

 

AM:

 

Well, that was my first band, and I played with them at the Rendezvous Ballroom and all those places out in California. I was actually in the Marine Corps and was hanging out down there. I met him and started playing with him. After a year or so with him, one of the guys in the band said, “Come on and sit in with these two guys in Santa Ana.” And at first I didn’t take him up on it. But then I decided to sit in, and it turned out to be the Righteous Brothers. And when they made it, I was in their band. I went around and played clubs with them for a few years. Then, I moved to L.A. and got into doing studio work. I did a lot of studio work throughout the ‘70s.

 

In the early ‘80s, I built my own recording studio in a house I had in L.A. and started renting that out. And I taught myself how to engineer. Through all that, I’ve always been a writer and a producer.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Have you had any brushes with other successes while in the studio or in your own personal studio?

 

AM:

 

As a studio musician, I worked with all kinds of people, everybody from John Lennon to Billy Joel. I played on Billy Joel’s first album and John Lennon’s Rock ‘n’ Roll album. I also played with Barbra Streisand and a lot of other big names.

 

In terms of my own studio, it was mainly a demo studio. But I got a few people in there that were notable. I produced a bunch of things with Vonda Shepard on her first album. I also worked with Brenda Russell and David Sandborn. I did that for about 10 years and did a lot of producing, writing and engineering. Through the ‘90s, I started an internet business. But I’ve always been writing songs. I moved to Nashville for a while with my wife. We wrote a lot of country music down there, and didn’t really have any success. But we did write a lot of songs. We came back to California in the 2000s.

 

In 2005, through a friend, we got a gig writing for a TV production company that was looking for music. That was my first entrée into writing production music. For me, I really like it because I had my fill with playing in studios and bands. I love the concept of sitting in a room writing music and sending it out to the world. This production company was in Philadelphia. And we were in L.A. We would write the stuff and send it off to them. We made a little money off it, and we started to learn about writing for TV shows. We didn’t write for episodic TV. I’m not into writing for episodic TV, because I don’t like the stress. I like the low-key atmosphere of writing library music. You can write when you want, whatever you feel like writing. I wrote for that company, which got me into that world.

 

I started searching online for music libraries and ran across FMPro news group and learned more about libraries by reading through their materials. And I got into a couple libraries. Then, one day in 2009 I was at a yoga class, and it just hit me that there was no directory – there was no central location for all these music libraries that were popping up, nor was there one for the ones that had been around for years. I had built a bunch of WordPress sites, so I thought I could do this pretty fast. I knew a few libraries, and the gal over at FMPro gave me a list of about 80 music library sites. I put the word out on a bunch of composer and songwriter forums.

 

Musician Coaching:


I actually first came across you at Harmony Central. I post on there and check in there once in a while. And I said, “This is something I have to check out.” You had just started.

 

AM:

 

That’s right. By putting the word out, a lot of people started coming to the site and suggesting libraries to put up there. It’s been building over time. It’s reached a plateau in terms of the number of people that visit. I’d say for a while the average was about 300 unique visitors per day. I turned it into a subscription site for just the music library part, so it’s dropped down about a third. It probably averages around 200 people per day. But that’s fine. I tried putting advertising on it and tried donations. It’s not that I’m looking to get rich off this thing. It just started to bug me that people would come, take all the information and never contribute anything. So, I set it up so people can earn access to get to the library listings – and a lot of the site is still free and will remain free, like the general information sections. But, people can earn access to the library listings or they can pay a fee for a week or a month. I actually give away a lot to people that get on and comment a lot and contribute. I have no problem giving people access. But my biggest gripe was that it felt kind of thankless. There were a lot of people saying, “Atta boy! Great job.” But I didn’t like people coming on there and not contributing. I would like people to be involved and stay involved. And if they do that, I have no problem letting them have free access.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Are you still writing music for television on your own? Is that your primary business?

 

AM:

 

Yes. It’s not something I really need to do. But I love writing, and if I can make some money at it and get to the point where it can be a “living wage,” I’d be happy with that. But it’s not there yet. A lot of it is that I’m not into writing weird, quirky stuff. I’ve done that in years past. I just write mainstream stuff. And there is a lot of stuff out there.

 

Musician Coaching:


What have you discovered about modern music libraries while witnessing thousands of people congregating to talk about them?

 

AM:

 

There are hundreds of libraries out there, and there are more coming every day. And there are a few dying every day too. You have to break it down. There are two or three different types of sites. If you’re talking about getting music into film and TV, there’s the aspect of being an artist and getting your song – you as an artist singing – on Grey’s Anatomy. I’m not really interested in that, because my approach to music doesn’t fit in there. I’m interested in production music. So, now you have libraries that are placing instrumental music. And you have the ones that are concentrating on placing instrumental music on TV, and then you have the royalty free sites. That’s kind of a misnomer because they’re not really royalty free; you pay a one-time sync license fee to use the music. But when it goes to broadcast – generally speaking – the client is expected to file cue sheets, and then whoever broadcasts it (the network) has to pay the performance rights organizations.

 

There are a few royalty free sites that basically say, “You buy the music, you can use it anywhere.” But it gets a little tricky there. If someone goes to a royalty free site and buys the music, and it ends up on any network that has a deal with BMI or ASCAP or any of the pros, they’re going to have to file a cue sheet so the writer can be paid performance royalties. It’s just that they will not have to pay a sync license fee again. Lots of times, license fees run for a certain amount of time. And then if the client wants to reuse the music, they have to repay the license fee.
And royalty free music libraries cater to people who are doing corporate videos, wedding videos and other videos that will probably never get broadcast publicly. Although, sometimes they do get broadcast. I had one that was purchased on a royalty free site and showed up on ESPNU, which is the college sports network. And they didn’t really have the rights to use it. Because I have a Tunesat account, which detects music that is being used 24/7, I discovered it. I went to them and said, “Hey, you’re not allowed to use this music like you did. Pay me.” And they did.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Do you recommend getting a Tunesat account?

 

AM:

 

I do. But it doesn’t make sense if you don’t have a lot of stuff out there. That one fee I got was $1,500, which paid for a couple years of Tunesat. It was well worth it from my point of view.

 

Beyond royalty free libraries, you have music libraries that are just trying to get music placed in film and on TV shows. In my opinion, if you work for the royalty free sites, you’re never going to make much money out of it. One of the guys on MLR is the #1 seller on one of the bigger royalty free sites. He said that last year he made $21,000 for a year’s worth of songs. It’s a huge site, and they have hundreds of thousands of tracks. And he’s the best-selling artist on the site. It’s nice to make that. But that’s not a living wage. And he has a lot of other music in a lot of other places. That’s really how it works:  You have to have literally 1,000-2,000 tracks out there in a few different places working for you before you can really make money. There’s another guy on Music Library Report (MLR) who said he made $160,000 last year. And he has 2,000 tracks spread all over the place.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

I know a lot of people say, “Don’t spread it too thin, because you don’t want your one piece of music pitched for multiple opportunities.”

 

AM:

 

And that’s what I was going to say. To a point, you want it spread out. You don’t want it over-saturating the market so that everyone is hearing it and says, “I don’t want music from this person, because they are everywhere.” So, to a point, you have to pick your libraries you’re going to work with. And as this one person has said, he gives different libraries different types of music. What he’s learned over ten years of doing it is that there are certain libraries that work well with a certain type of genre, and that’s what they get from him.

 

I work with a couple libraries that pitch to TV, and they are doing a decent job for me; music is getting on the air constantly. And I know this because of my Tunesat account. There is stuff every day on there – 10-50 uses. I can see it’s building. Then I have two or three royalty free sites that sell okay. I’m not going to get rich off those – maybe a couple hundred bucks per month. On some of these sites, I’m probably up to, on average, a couple hundred tracks. I’m far from 1,000-2,000 tracks. I’ll probably die before I get to that point. I write every day at my own pace.  I’m at an age where I’m not consumed by doing this. I’ve been the consumed person who lived and breathed music and had to get up at eight in the morning and work until midnight. I don’t do that anymore.

 

But I’ve learned from MLR that most people who are doing this spend about 10-15 hours working on a cue. There was a thread that popped up about that, and the consensus was that people spend anywhere from 10-15 hours on average spread out over a few days. If you’re producing something really orchestrated, it’s going to take longer. Maybe you work four-five hours per day over three days. And that’s about how I work too. And it was good for me, because I didn’t know where I was, but it confirmed I was in the same place. That’s the great thing about these forums:  People are talking about how they approach their music, the success they’re having and how they work.  I cruise through it for three or four hours every day, and every few days, I get a new cue.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

As someone who has been a successful working musician for decades, is there anything you did correctly that a majority of people that didn’t make it didn’t do?

 

AM:

 

It’s a lot of luck. It’s being at the right place at the right time. I have witnessed tons of incredibly talented musicians that just don’t get anywhere. I’ve told Dick Dale this many times:  “If it wasn’t for you, I would’ve never been in this business.” I was from Connecticut, I joined the Marine Corps. I didn’t want to be stationed in California; I wanted to stay on the East Coast. They made me come to California. And I was stationed in Santa Ana, which was an air facility that has since closed. When I got to California, I said, “This is heaven. I love this place.” I started driving around and ended up in Balboa, and I saw this Dick Dale playing in an ice cream parlor and thought, “Wow. This is really cool music. I’ve never heard anything like this before.” I used to go and watch him at the Rendezvous Ballroom.

 

I’d always been in bands. Even my dad was in a square dance band; they stayed together for 50 years playing. And my mom was a singer. Before I started playing with Dick, he had opened a record store where I was staying on the Balboa Peninsula. And I would go in there – and I’m pretty shy – and I would walk around and not say anything. I knew who he was. One day I got up the nerve and said, “I play a little guitar.” And he said something that changed my life:  “I have to go play at this club tonight. My guitar player is under age. Do you want to come play?” I went in and played with him, and he said he wanted me to be in the band. And he said, “My dad says I can’t pay you.” And at that point, I didn’t care. I just wanted to be in a band.

 

I was still in the Marine Corps, sneaking away from the base. I was going AWOL so I could play shows with the band. And then they shipped me overseas. And at one point Dick said, “Let’s break your leg so you won’t have to go over.” He was going to run over my leg’ we were seriously considering it. But I decided I really couldn’t do that. I came back from overseas, and Dick said, “I still can’t pay you.” Eventually I got back in the band, and he did pay me.

 

I was in the right place at the right time, caught a wave. And that’s just often how it happens. Another example of that is that I was planning to move to L.A. and playing with Bill Medley. I was still living in Orange County and playing with him in San Francisco in 1979, and Paul Williams came into the club. And Paul said, “Call me when you move to L.A.” because he had just started having hits as a writer. He wrote a whole bunch of hits for The Carpenters in the ‘70s, like We’ve Only Just Begun. Paul said,  “I’m going to start to play in L.A., so when you move there, look me up.” I moved, and about a year later, he called me. I became his guitar player for about five years. And that’s how I worked on the Barbra Streisand film A Star is Born and also played on her album and did a couple movies with Paul. And it started because I was with Bill Medley in a club in San Francisco, and Paul Williams just happened to walk in.

 

So, a lot of it is luck. And of course you have to have a little bit of talent. But there are better guitar players out there than me now, and there were then too. And it’s about showing up at the job too. I was never into drugs. I always showed up and always showed up early.

 

Musician Coaching:


I certainly don’t have your track record, but I was a working bass player on and off for a few years. When people asked me how, I said, “I showed up sober and on time.” And even if all I could do was pedal eighth notes, that’s all there was to the gig.

 

AM:

 

That’s right. A lot of times, it’s not really required you play very much, especially on pop songs. You just have to be able to read a chord chart. And I never learned how to read music. I could read chord charts, but that was pretty much it. A lot of times it wasn’t required. Unfortunately, I did get into some scary situations. One of the gigs I had was a double album with Burt Bacharach and the Houston Symphony. He called me for a few sessions. And his stuff is pretty difficult. He writes in a lot of weird time signatures. He had the cream of L.A. as a rhythm section. We had a horn section, percussionists, and we rehearsed here in L.A. for a couple weeks. I was learning the parts. And we went to Houston to record with an 80-piece symphony. And I felt really out of my element.


Finally, there was a contractor who used to call me for movie dates. And that was the worst one, because they used to just throw the music down and say, “Okay, let’s record.” And I finally stopped taking those, because they just stressed me out. I wanted those easy gigs where you do one song every three hours and get to go over it ten times before you record it.

 

I think, as you said, it’s about showing up and being sober. And also I think having a good attitude is more important than anything else. And also being able to deliver a certain amount of goods is critical.

 

Also, you have to be able to get out into the scene a little bit. I know when I was living in Orange County, I used to go sit in at clubs. And you’d go out, sit in, and people would see you. You have to be out in the scene. I’m not going to be doing that at my age. And it really pays to be in a major center like L.A. or New York.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Your perspective is a very unique one because of Music Library Report and all the work you’ve done throughout the years. In a general way, if you can sum it up, how do you recommend people source the music library aggregators that are right for them?

 

AM:

 

I don’t think there’s any way to really tell that. Check out all the music libraries and listen to what they have. And send some an email introducing yourself, and maybe try to present something they don’t have in their library. If you have 10,000 tracks of hip hop, sending more hip hop tracks is probably not going to get you very far. But you might have some other genres they’re looking for. You can email them and say, “Is there anything particular you’re looking for?” And when you contact these sites, I think you have to have something to show them.

 

Another thing that comes up on MLR is that people say, “Write in your strongest genre.” I don’t buy that one. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a lot of experience playing in a lot of different bands. But, I want to do Latin music, I want to do surf, country. And I do it. Thankfully, my wife comes from a different musical background, and one I would consider to be a more legitimate than mine; she comes from Broadway and really has those chops. So, we get to write all kinds of stuff, from ragtime, to Broadway-ish stuff. I might not be able to do it as well as people who are really trained in it. But I love the challenge of it. And I’ve been able to do different styles. There are really no hard and fast rules to it.

 

Maybe the best thing I could say is, “Write what you really love to write.” And there are some parameters to follow with library music. You should have editable music, so the music editor can make really clear edit points. It might be a nice, strong intro that’s no more than four-bars long so you can get right into it. Or, when you have an ABA or an AABA section they don’t really need to be longer than a minute and 30 seconds – two minutes. Some guy on the boards was making a point and said, “If you listen to some of my intros, they’re not very musical, but they’re very editable.” Let’s say you had a clean break at the end of the A section; you wouldn’t have that in a regular song. But in terms of library music, that gives a clean transition into the next section if they wanted to use it. Or maybe your lead-in to the next has an editing point that’s so strong, it can pass as an introduction to that section.

 

And I fight with that editable point too. Because I want to write songs that are musical and have a nice flow to them. And there’s a place for that also. As I said, there are really no hard and fast rules. But I do try to pay attention to really strong edit points, so that music editor can get in and out cleanly.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Is there any advice you have for people that just have their original work and aren’t looking to compose for film and TV?

 

AM:

 

There is certainly a place for those too. Many of the libraries will take that also.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Are there certain conditions that specific libraries are looking for that aren’t the norm that you would recommend artists avoid?

 

AM:

 

I’m a firm  believer in never giving up anything. And I’m also a firm believer in not signing long-term contracts. I wouldn’t give anything away in an exclusive agreement unless they’re going to pay for it. But, the couple times I have done it, I put a clause in there that it’s not any longer than two years. There’s a reversion clause that it comes back to me if it hasn’t earned a certain amount of money within those two years. My rule for production music – and I’m not talking about artistic music – is $800 – $1,000 for a piece of music. If it hasn’t earned that within those two years, then it comes back to you. And should set it so it just automatically revert back to you, so you don’t have to send them a letter asking for it back.

 

To learn more about Art Munson and his work, visit Music Library Report. You can also read more about his label and his background on the Munsong Records website.