Choosing The Right Music For Your Production

Best Practice Series

Production music versus Commercial music.

Did you know that there are two very different types of music? Choosing between them is a crucial step in ensuring you get the most bang for your musical buck when figuring out which tunes will most benefit your project.

Let’s get back to basic principles: Once you’ve decided that music is going to be a part of your project, you’ve determined the appropriate balance between music and voice and you’ve ensured you’re respecting copyright, it’s time to get familiar with the two key types of music:

  • Commercial Music is content that was originally written, produced and marketed to the general public. It’s can then be repurposed - typically through licensing agreements - for any number of commercial productions like TV and radio commercials, corporate videos and documentaries.
  • Production Music is composed and produced expressly for audio and audio-visual projects. Unlike commercial music, which is sold directly to consumers, production music is sold on a business-to-business basis. Consequently, you won’t find it in a record store, in iTunes or on a streaming service like Spotify. Instead, it’s typically sold through a production music library.

Commercial music’s advantages include choice - there’s a virtually limitless number of songs and collections available - and the speed with which titles can be selected and the rights to use them commercially can be secured. The broad availability of content also makes it relatively easy to match tone and structure to the theme of a given production.

A significant downside of commercial music revolves around the fact that it isn’t exclusive. Anyone can arrange to use the same music you’ve chosen, and you run the very real risk of another project sounding very much like yours as a result. Similarly, in the case of a particularly well-known song or artist, consumers may have already formed a separate relationship with or impression of either the work or the musician. This can divert attention away from your brand, which defeats the original purpose of your marketing collateral.

Once a commercially produced song is chosen, it also can’t be customized to fit the subtle nuances of your project. While producers can usually edit around the particular structure of a song - not to mention adapt their scripting, shooting and animation - the additional effort adds to the workload and doesn’t always align with the brand message.

Additionally, although using commercial content from lesser-known or independent artists can keep costs in check, the bill can skyrocket in the case of well-known musicians.

Production music’s advantages are many, starting with the fact that it was produced with the specific intent of being used in a production-based capacity. So in the case of a movie trailer, for example, a production music library would provide ready-made choices that perfectly fit the 2.5-minute window of the typical trailer. The approach is much the same for music to underpin 15-, 30- and 60-second radio and television ads.

Music composition and production are also optimized for the purpose: It’s a lot easier to build a bed of music under narration using expressly-built production music rather than a commercial offering that was never composed or produced with this use case in mind.

Costs are also kept in check thanks to the economies of scale that large-scale music libraries bring to the business. With commercial music, licensing costs must be negotiated on a case-by-case basis, which can drive budgets up.

Disadvantages of production music revolve mostly around knowing where to go to find the right music for your project. Not all music libraries and sources are created equally, and you’ll need to invest the time to ensure you’re choosing the right one - or ones - for your needs.

Research supplied by Epidemic Sound suggests about 80% of music heard on television today is production music, with only 10% coming from commercial sources. The remaining 10% is custom-made.

Whatever musical choices you make, be sure to consider the needs of your brand, the voice of your brand, and the tone of your brand before deciding which type of music makes the most sense for you.

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