Around 1995, I started composing instrumental music cues for production music libraries. Unlike a work-for-hire, production music libraries have music that is available for a wide variety of applications and is non-exclusive. TV or film producers can peruse the selections and make use of all or part of your compositions, for a fee.
DSM Producers was the first production music library to license some of my music for programs that appeared on HBO. Over the years, I’ve expanded my reach to include other production music libraries based in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and London. There are pros and cons to doing this type of work as a composer.
Because the music is not commissioned by a particular TV or film producer, you don’t know up-front whether anyone will use it, or when. You don’t see the fruits of your labor right away. You may wait months or years before finding out that a cue has been selected to appear on a TV show or in a film. You normally don’t know that has a cue has been used until you receive a royalty check, unless you’re watching all the TV channels, all of the time. Sometimes you never know the exact name of the show where your music was used. Smaller companies don’t track this type of information. You only know that you’re getting paid for “x amount” of a song that was used, for instance in China or Poland or Sweden. ASCAP (Performing Rights Organization) is better at reporting details about where and how your music has been used.
Still, however, you can make some decent money composing this type of music — if you are persistent, self-disciplined and have other income streams on which you can rely. And it’s awfully fun to learn where your music cues pop up.
In the last couple of years, my music was featured in 18 episodes of Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food.” Since I happen to be a fan of the show, that was an unexpected treat. As well, my music has appeared in 14 episodes of PBS’ “History Detectives” and 11 episodes of Travel Channel’s “Extreme …” series. And other successes have been all over the map, from “The Oprah Winfrey Show” (Harpo Productions) and “Barbara Walters Presents” (ABC) to shows on VH1, MTV, Cartoon Network, Science Channel and many more.
My full-time composing/audio design gig at IGT keeps me busy and happy, but in my spare time, I hope to continue writing material for production music libraries.