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Image Libraries Changed The World For Designers (Part 5)

11/22/2012 11:36:03 AM
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AUDIO HAS PROBABLY the widest appeal of any stock material after photos, and can be used in any context from a major movie studio trailer to the backing track of a podcast. The proliferation of digital TV channels and ever-decreasing budgets for small-screen commissions means there’s a bigger and more accessible market than ever before for stock music. And, paralleling the rise of digital photography, thanks to the falling cost of home recording equipment, there’s never been more music available to meet the demand.

Description: Description: Description: Widescreen 16:9 Digital TV viewed on Sony Bravia TV

Widescreen 16:9 Digital TV viewed on Sony Bravia TV

From the buyer’s perspective, if you need music for a project there’s no shortage online. You pays your money and you takes your choice. Do make sure the licence supplied with your purchase covers the track’s intended usage; it’s not always quite as simple as with royalty-free stock images. Reputable libraries will have an FAQ page which covers licensing. If the licence terms aren’t explicitly laid out, steer clear, because any misunderstandings (or, in the worst case, buying from a dodgy supplier) could create big problems for you in the future.

Many sites price ‘horses for courses’, as with video. Taking Revostock as an example. If you’re using a clip as background music for a corporate presentation or any other not-for-profit production, you need only purchase the ‘standard’ licence, costing $15-$30 per track. A ‘wider’ licence covers limited broadcast rights and reproduction. The most comprehensive ‘wide’ licence (typically at two to four times the cost of standard) includes all broadcast and reproduction likelihoods.

Of course, as long as you’ve properly licensed it, you can use stock within compositions that you’re exploiting commercially. As with other stock, though, it’s very rare that any music supplier would allow you to resell their product as your own or make it available in isolation in a developed product – for example, using a stock music drum loop in an iPad music app. Scrutinise the terms and conditions of your licence and if you’re unsure, contact the site directly, explaining your intended usage.

For sellers, as with other forms of stock, you’ll only compete effectively if you research the market. If you can be flexible in terms of genre, it’s worth keeping abreast of musical styles that are currently on trend and upcoming. Try to stay ahead of the curve by listening to the music that smaller companies use on their adverts and shows. Often it’s the boutique agencies, pedaling more niche products that will take a risk by using less familiar material in their advertising.

Don’t forget most campaigns are planned months in advance, so what you’re hearing on TV may very well already be out of fashion by the time it’s broadcast. That said, there are certain styles that always seem to be in demand. Big orchestral trailer cues, meditative piano solos and quirky plucked-string ‘Dramedy’ cues will always have their uses, so if you can handle churning out those derivative styles then you’ll find a market for them, albeit a pretty saturated one.

World celebrations and events can be planned for. For example, the Olympics saw a slew of epic motivational cues hitting the sales charts. Target regular demands by writing and releasing appropriately themed tracks ahead of Christmas, Valentine’s Day and other annual celebrations.

Amid all this commercial thinking, of course, raises the question of artistic creativity. Stock music, like photography or illustration, can be a casual sideline, but if you want to make a living from it, you can forget about being an artist for 90% of the time. Your music is your business, and as in any other business you’ll need to cater to your market to succeed. If your musical style is unusual enough to carve its own niche, you may find buyers who are willing to take a chance on your individual approach – but that’s not usually what stock is about. Almost by definition, stock is somewhat generic. So you should plan the style. Length, instrumentation ad format of your music carefully to fit the market you’re looking to sell to.

BEFORE THE INTERNET, you might have submitted your music to a library publisher who would press and sell CDs. Nowadays, you upload it to royalty-free stock sites that will host, list and distribute it for a percentage of the sale price. There are many different business models. With variable commission splits and back-end broadcast rights. The main thing to decide when choosing a publishing route is whether you’d rather earn money for each downloaded track – essentially the same model as royalty-free photography – or you’d prefer to register your music with the PRS so that receive broadcasting royalties when the music is used.

Description: Description: Description: Buy and sell royalty-free stock photos on Fotolia

Buy and sell royalty-free stock photos on Fotolia

AudioJungle, for example, won’t allow you to sell PRS registered tracks, whereas Revostock will produce a cue sheet for the broadcaster with all the information they need to pay the correct performance fees. This is explained at

If photographers and illustrators are sometimes sceptical about microstock, be aware that people in the music industry can be downright snobbish about music micropayment sites. Mass-market royalty-free sites like AudioJungle and AudioMicro are considered by some to devalue stock music, and if you sell through them you may be setting the wrong tone for your CV. Larger production music companies have been known to flat-out refuse to deal with composers associated with such sites. Don’t be put off if you think it’s the right route for you, but be aware that it may be an issue.

Besides music, another potentially lucrative avenue is sample and sound effects (fx) creation. Many of the sites we’ve mentioned also sell fx, as do Productiontrax and AudioSparx. The sale price for an effect can be just pennies, but if you’re charging for each bleep and bloop, the monthly returns add up.

Selling your fx as packs enables you to charge more gives game developers, for example, a themed set of sounds to work with, which they often prefer. (Music can also be bundled with alternative versions or ‘stems’ to make a pack that will save scorers time.) Making drum loops, synth patches and other samples for composers to use in their own productions can also be a -money-spinner through websites like Sampleism and Audiobase. They handle the financials and distribution, leaving you free to concentrate on the creative side, uploading content direct to the sites. Again, a 50% commission rate seems to be the standard cut.

As with image sales, you’ll only sell work on a stock site if potential buyers can find it. Appropriate titles, tagging and metadata are essential. Russell Bell ( advices sellers to be crafty with their tagging. ‘Visit all the biggest-selling tracks on a site for a listen, then read the tags they’ve used. If a track is selling 50 copies a month, there must be a reason. Yes, the music is good, cutting-edge and relevant, but it can help if you do hit certain keywords.’

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There are no simple rules, says Bell, ‘but don’t waste your allotted words by describing the cue in an awkward fashion. If it’s a big trailer cue, state all the words you would use yourself to find that cue. It’s epic, orchestral, action, driven, loud, movie, trailer, pursuit, chase, angry, mad, choir, and so on.

Titles are of particular importance to audio. ‘If it has a certain feel to it, try and name the track so that it tells the story in a few words. For a busy action cue you might use the title “Ready to go” or “Night pursuit”. Naming it “Go” or “Epic track 1” tells no-one anything at all. If it’s anxious and pacy, how about “Watching the Clock”?’

Be aware of your audience. Sites like AudioJungle can attract buyers with less experience and sophistication, so Bell suggests ‘dumbed-down’ titles to draw in more searches. ‘The downside to this is that you can find your music swimming in a pool of a thousand cues all roughly called “Ukulele Advert” or something similar!’ Striking a balance between the obvious and the distinctive should be your aim and that’s as good a summary as any of the whole field old stock sales.

- Image Libraries Changed The World For Designers (Part 4)
- Image Libraries Changed The World For Designers (Part 3)
- Image Libraries Changed The World For Designers (Part 2)
- Image Libraries Changed The World For Designers (Part 1)
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