Music Editing 101 – Library Music and Re-Use

Lisa plays violinI just received a question via twitter from user @cook879 asking, “What does the (Lib.) mean” in the music spotting notes? Rather than reply privately, I thought I would answer with a brief blog post.

“Lib.” stands for “Library” and once again, we’ve encountered a term with two meanings in my biz.

In the music spotting notes “Lib.” means that I will spend some of my editing time searching through our library of recorded cues to find one that can be re-used rather than Alf having to compose and record a new one. This can be a great time-saver for Alf’s writing schedule as well as on the scoring stage. Even a three-second cue can take anywhere from two to five minutes to record depending on various performance and technical factors. When you have to finish all the recording in only three hours, every minute counts. We only re-use cues two or three times in an episode for very brief, generic cues. By generic I mean cues that don’t have a recurring motif or theme in the episode and are not driving the story. A good example would be a single, sad chord when Bart slumps his shoulders at the end of a scene, or a shocking chord when Homer shrieks.

There are strict musicians’ union rules regarding this practice. We are entitled to re-use a cue for no additional fees if it was recorded during the same production season. So, a season 22 cue can be used in any other season 22 episode. Although, for viewers, season 23 will be premiering in eighteen days, technically we are still in production on season 22 (episode numbers starting with NABF). If we were to use a cue from a different season, the orchestra contractor would have to pull out the paperwork for that specific episode to find out which musicians originally played that cue. Then they would all receive a payment equivalent to a 3-hour session (the minimum call for a TV or film session) as if they had actually been present to re-record the cue. Unfortunately for those musicians, we would never do that. If there is a cue from a previous season that the producers really want in a current episode, we’ll just pull the score and parts from that episode and re-record the cue as part of the current scoring session. There is, however, one time a year when a group of musicians receives a very nice bonus surprise in their mailbox from THE SIMPSONS. The orchestra members that recorded our Main Title and End Credits cues get a re-use check every year because A) it was a very large (65-piece) orchestra – much larger than our 35-piece weekly group; B) the recordings are of excellent quality and took many hours to record and mix – we don’t want to record new versions knowing that they would sound slightly different from year to year. We have re-used the same versions of these cues since 1991 and FOX simply repays that orchestra each new season.

Okay, the second meaning of “library” means that the music comes from a pre-recorded, packaged collection of cues that were created for the sole purpose of licensing them to a studio or production. There are numerous music libraries available to music editors working in Hollywood including APM, 5 Alarm Music, Point Classics and Extreme Music just to name a very few. These companies compose and record cues by the hundreds or thousands in all genres, all tempos, and in durations that run from three minutes or more down to versions pre-edited for commercial lengths like 15, 30 and 60 seconds. We use these music libraries quite sparingly on THE SIMPSONS because Alf Clausen has proven himself to be a master at attaining just the right sound or mood needed for any scene. But every once in a while, the producers like to throw in something that sounds totally different and unfamiliar. This is when a music library can be quite helpful. When I work on a TV movie with a tight budget, a music library can be a big money saver. If the score calls for a chamber orchestra but there are one or two source cues that need a rock band, then it’s more cost-efficient to pay an inexpensive license fee than to hire four or five musicians for a three-hour minimum plus the extra studio time it would take to record them. I know any studio musicians reading this are cursing me out right now, but that’s the economics of show biz.

Sidebar: In a previous post I explained that there are two license fees involved when we obtain the rights to a recording of a song performed by a popular artist, and these fees can (and often do) total well into the tens of thousands of dollars. When licensing a cue from a music library, there is only one fee and it is often only from $500 to $2,000 depending on the particular library and the cue’s use.

I hope this gives you another, deeper look into my world and I invite you to keep the questions and comments coming.

6 thoughts on “Music Editing 101 – Library Music and Re-Use

  1. Reblogged this on Fonetical Sounds and commented:
    This article is a good read (the blog itself is quite interesting and informative) for anyone that wants or is curious about the behind-the-scenes music business of a TV and film producer.

  2. Thanks Chris. It totally makes more sense re-recording small cues each season – it’ll just encourage the same musicians to work for you again. Those who worked on the originals must get a nice bonus indeed – 40 odd uses a season must equal a lot.

    • Let me clear up something in your comment. The musicians for our Main Title orchestra receive one re-use payment each year. The constant re-use throughout a season is covered by that one payment. Thanks for your question!

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