This list has been curated using “The Composer’s Guide to Library Music,” written by Dan Graham, Gothic Storm Music.

  1. What is library music?
    1. Also known as “production music”, is created mainly for video professionals for TV shows, movie trailers, advertising and more.
    2. It’s not written for specific visuals but instead written to (hopefully) inspiring album concepts and distributed around the world where it could be used in random ways. 
    3. Dominated by major labels from, 1927-2000, thanks to cheaper recording gear and the explosion of video content production, library music now has more composers, publishers, high-quality music and end-users than ever.
  2. What are the benefits of the library life?
    1. Money-wise, after 6-8 years writing 50+ high-quality tracks per year for high-quality labels, it can earn you over $130,000 per year in royalty income that keeps going long after you stop writing. As a side-line, it can also be a great way to add a stable new income stream or a stepping-stone to becoming a full-time composer.
    2. There is also usually more musical freedom than writing film or TV scores for directors with vivid imaginations but terrible communication skills, and arguably more still than being in a band where managers, record labels, band members and fans will conspire to pollute your genius with baffling demands for hits.
  3. What are the challenges of working in production music?
    1. Downsides include the difficulty of finding work, choosing the right companies to write for, a requirement for a large amount of excellent music and an epic 3-year delay while you wait for your money, which can invite pessimism and doubt from yourself and others.
    2. This is why PMA exists. To serve as a resource and community to help you navigate this industry.
  4. How should I get started in production music? (get rich slow plan)
    1. Compile 10-12 excellent previous tracks or new submissions on a streaming service like SoundCloud
    2. Research great companies and send them links with well-written, personalized emails
    3. Write 50 tracks per year
    4. After 3 years watch the cash start to trickle in
  5. Should I stick to one style of music?
    1. It depends on your strengths. If you’re concerned about the prejudices of some publishers, stick to one style on each introduction email and then later send a different intro email with a different style, as if you haven’t written to them before. Chances are they won’t have amazing memories and they’re so busy that they will forget how inconveniently versatile you are.
  6. What are some demo tips?
    1. Make it all good, not just the first 5 seconds.
      1. Extremely importantly, the ending is very likely to be auditioned by the client because they want music which ends with a proper, positive, punchy ending that will give them a good, confident ending to a scene. Weak endings are one of the most common faults with works I progress and include issues such as random echoes chattering on after the music has stopped, instruments not being quite in time on the last hit, or it just sounding like an afterthought instead of a fantastic, clean and positive final flourish.
    2. Have separate tracks, not a montage.
    3. Cover a range of styles, or don’t!
    4. Use the “finished album” trick – send a complete album of 12 brilliant finished tracks united by a genre or concept which would fit in their catalog, ready to be signed over.
  7. What should I do if several companies accept my album?
    1. Choose one and apologize to the others, explaining that it is now taken but you’d love to develop a similar album to offer them.
  8. What are sync fees?
    1. Sync fees are paid by video production companies to your publisher and split with you for the right to use your music in a current production.
  9. What is performance income?
    1. Also known as broadcast royalties, performance income is paid directly to you when your music is aired on TV around the world. 
    2. Almost all companies allow you your full writer share of broadcast royalties – it is on the sync side that publishers differ.
  10. What can I expect in sync feeds and performance income?
    1. Expect a small number of larger sync fees, and a large number of small performance income amounts, with the two income streams being roughly comparable (although you will see that this ratio highly depends on the type of publishing deal that you have, and the type of music you are doing).
  11. Must I do my own mixes?
    1. In commercial music, tracks are not usually mixed by the writers whereas this is common in the library world. Part of this is a desire by publishers to keep costs down. Personally I’ve found that so many library writers are capable of producing excellent mixes that I’ve come to rely on and expect that capability, taking over myself in only a minority of cases.
    2. However, some publishers prefer the traditional expensive way with a quality in-house mixer.
  12. What file format should I use?
    1. In the library industry the publisher will almost always want 24-bit 48kHz WAV or AIF files. 
    2. Usually they will want stereo mixes which are unmastered (no compression or EQ on the master buss during export) so they can do the master, though some might want separate tracks so they can do the mixing in-house. 
    3. Unless specifically requested don’t worry about peak or average loudness levels – as long as your unmastered tracks aren’t super-quiet or too loud (peaking or brick wall limited to 0 dB) that’s all that matters.
  13. Should I prepare cut-downs and alternative mixes?
    1. Yes, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Library publishers usually also ask for timed edits (60s, 30s, 15s) and different versions (e.g., Percussion only) and this really enhances usability by helping the tracks fit easily to clients’ needs.
    2. A 30-second version needs to work on a 30-second TV ad and therefore the file needs to be EXACTLY 30s long. That means the final hit might happen at 0:28 with a 2-second fade to silence, or 0:27 with a 3-second fade to silence.
  14. What are stems?
    1. This is approximately 5 to 10 full-length stereo mixes which are in sync with each other, and added together will sound like your finished mix. 
    2. Each stem should be a major instrument group such as brass or guitars. 
    3. With drums and percussion, it’s important to keep cymbals and low, middle and high pitched sounds on separate stems to help video editors have plenty of control.
  15. What are the main sources of income for commercial music?
    1. Synchronization (sync) income on one side and performance (broadcast) income on the other. 
    2. Sync money is made when a video producer pays to license your music for a project-in-progress and ‘synchronizes’ the music to the video. A share of sync is more common in the UK and Europe, and that share is often 50% but sometimes 25%
    3. Performance (broadcast) income is paid much later when your track is aired on TV and paid by the TV network to the performing rights organization.
    4. Your publisher will usually pay you your share of sync income twice yearly (March and September) and the performing rights organization will pay you 4 times a year, usually larger amounts in April and October and smaller amounts in July and December.
  16. What does the income amount depend on?
    1. It depends on the type of music (for example Hollywood trailer music earns more sync and less broadcast than more TV-friendly music) and your publishing deal (if you’re on a 50% split of sync/ mech income it will twice as much as a 25% split). However, a good rule of thumb is that performance income will be roughly equal to synch income if you’re on a 50% split.
  17. What are neighboring rights?
    1. This is broadcast royalties (paid by broadcast networks when the music is in something that is aired or streamed) paid not to the songwriters and publishers for the composition, but to artists and record labels for the recording (the Master).
    2. For example, assuming Beyoncé hasn’t written a particular hit song of hers herself, she WOULD get Neighboring Rights royalties as an artist, but would NOT get ‘Performing Rights’ royalties as a writer.
    3. As a library music composer, in theory, you are in the position of having BOTH performing rights (writer) royalties AND neighboring rights (artist) royalties owed to you, because you are both a writer AND performer on your own tracks.
    4. However, unlike the more globally widespread Performing Rights royalties for songwriters and publishers, these “Neighboring Rights” are patchy for library music: they are not collected at all for library music in many countries including the US and UK, they are not paid by anyone anywhere to US composers (because the USA didn’t sign the Rome convention on copyright) and although library music publishers do collect their publisher’s share, they are not allowed to collect it on behalf of the ‘artist’ – you.
    5. So who does collect this for you? The answer is no one – you have to collect it yourself in each country that pays it. 
    6. Since most library composers don’t do this, there are millions of dollars of uncollected royalties sitting on the books of worldwide neighboring rights societies.
    7. If you’ve been writing a lot of library music for a few years, you should get yourself a specialist broker. 
      1. NRG in the Czech Republic (NRG-agency.com) and Rident Royalties in the USA (ridentroyalties.com) are global Neighboring Rights brokers who work on a small percentage of whatever they find for you. 
    8. If your ARE from the USA, although you are supposed to be excluded, if your library publisher was non-US or the music was recorded outside the US you still may be eligible so it’s worth looking into.
  18. Who is a publisher?
    1. Your library music publisher commissions your music, and their sub-publishers are foreign publishers who market your music in their territory as an agent on behalf of your publisher. 
    2. Their job is to promote your music to the decision-makers via sales reps, high-quality online search platforms and trusted working relationships, and then collect sync fees when your music is used. 
    3. The foreign sub-publisher keeps 50% and forwards the other 50% to your publisher. Your publisher then pays your split – if your contract gives you one!
  19. What are the two biggest determinants of royalty amounts?
    1. The age of the tracks (tracks older than 2-3 years earn more because of income delays – in that newer tracks have yet to start earning money), and the number of tracks that the composer has in a catalog
  20. How do royalty-free libraries function?
    1. The customer buys a license for one track and they can use it as many times as they like, but outside this narrow definition the term ‘royalty-free’ is a misnomer that has come to mean a particular category of company that sells online licenses to a large general market, whether they are technically royalty-free.
    2. Royalty-free sites cater to smaller video producers that do not have a large budget to work with.
    3. A note of caution: every royalty-free library has different deals so check the small print: some allow non-exclusive tracks that you have elsewhere (sometimes in return for a lower royalty rate), some don’t, and some don’t allow you to be a member of a performing rights society which ought to rule out any serious professionals – your PRO (e.g. ASCAP, BMI, PRS, SESAC, etc) will be your lifeline and pension.
  21. What are exclusive libraries?
    1. Libraries who only do exclusive contracts, which is one where music goes only to them so you can’t offer the same tracks elsewhere. Exclusivity only extends over one album so you can do other albums for other publishers.
    2. The majority of large libraries are exclusive
  22. What are non-exclusive libraries?
    1. Non-exclusive libraries allow you to retain ownership and offer the same music elsewhere. 
    2. Internationally, exclusive libraries dominate whereas the picture is more mixed in the US. There are rising technical problems for non-ex libraries caused by the growth of automatic tune-recognition software which scans broadcasts and internet videos and creates clashes between rival claims over the same music, keeping non-exclusive music away from high-end clients.
    3. Non-exclusive libraries will generally allow you to take back your music any time whereas large international exclusive libraries will want to keep it exclusively forever.
  23. What are re-titling libraries?
    1. Re-titling libraries are a subgroup of non-exclusive libraries that will represent music that you have elsewhere but only if you give your tracks new unique titles. 
    2. This helps them avoid the problem of clients seeing the same tracks elsewhere. However, re-titling is hitting the same technical hurdles as all non-exclusive music but worse as software detects the same music with different titles causing conflicts and confusion for clients.
  24. Should I do non-exclusive or exclusive business?
    1. Non-exclusive libraries are commonly preferred because your income can be more reliable and you can retain control over your music, however, if you do your research and know that your exclusive company has excellent quality control, a good history of earnings, a healthy market and a good international distribution system, the odds are on your side.
  25. What’s best, buy-outs or sync-splits?
    1. It depends on your situation. A buy-out giving you no sync fees is great if they buy you out for a lot of money and you have none, and you earn great long-term broadcast royalties on top. 
    2. But if you’re a few years into the game, growing your royalties with no expensive debts, then you don’t need the buy-out cash and sync-splits sound better. 
    3. But even that depends: if your buy-out company is doing great in broadcast royalties by giving the music cheap to big TV shows, then sync amounts are small anyway so not important. 
    4. If on the other hand the publisher only markets to Hollywood movie trailers where syncs are 90% of the income, you’re better off with a sync-split deal. 
  26. What should I consider when deciding to work with a library?
    1. find a small set of companies that you enjoy working for, who look like they know what they are doing and who need and appreciate the music that they enjoy making. 
    2. If you have some rejected tracks lying around, offer them to large online exclusive or non-exclusive companies just because you might as well give them a chance to earn some money.
  27. What’s the difference between library music, commercial music and commissioned music?
    1. Library music – tracks are pre-cleared and organized according to genres on online music search engines
      1. Library music has the most pros out of the three – it saves time and money, is pre-cleared, well-formatted, easy to find, inspiring and flexible.
    2. Commercial music – anything released by a record label for the general public
    3. Commissioned music – also known as custom music and bespoke music where a composer is hired to create specific music to a brief
  28. What should be considered when deciding what libraries to write for?
    1. If the library’s main market is TV, you need to check that they have deals in place with broadcasters and production companies. 
    2. If their main market is advertising (and movie trailers are a form of advertising) there are fewer restrictions.
  29. What’s the role of a publisher?
    1. Library music publishers play many essential roles to help you earn money including giving you feedback to improve your mixes, marketing via promo videos, good sleeve design and catchy album concepts, hiring sales teams, managing international agent networks, registering your music on search sites with track descriptions and keywords (metadata), registering them with royalty collection agencies and other mountains of admin.
  30. What is metadata?
    1. Also known as tagging, is the information embedded in every audio file. 
    2. It includes keywords (to help search engines), track descriptions, composer name and performing rights society details, publisher name and more. 
    3. Clients on deadlines quickly scan through track descriptions for clues and throw words into the search engine like ‘fast skipping dogs puppies sunshine happy’, hoping something great turns up quickly and saves their lives.
  31. Who is a music supervisor?
    1. A gatekeeper who not only suggests what tracks to use, but controls what music goes on the internal network servers that can be accessed by the editors.
  32. Why should I join?
    1. Simply put, joining the PMA can fast-track your production music career. We work with you to identify potential partners, cowriters, mentors and more within the space in order to create opportunities for all of our members. We’re also advocating for your rights daily, working on industry solutions and ensuring fair payouts from PROs and networks. Our Association is centered around our members, and we’d love to add you to the family.
  33. How do I get the most out of my PMA membership?
    1. Get engaged! If you have questions about the industry, reach out. If you’re unsure about which library would be best for you, reach out. We’re always here to help you, and the more you are around, the more people you get to meet! Networking is such an important part of this industry and the PMA is a great resource to build your own community of composers and publishers.

*List curated using “The Composer’s Guide to Library Music,” written by Dan Graham, Gothic Storm Music.