Preparing Library Music

IMG_0687 If you're fond of dabbling with recording music, and decide to produce library tracks as a business venture, you might find that it's very easy to produce music to a level that you personally enjoy, but then inconsistently take it far enough to be a quality commercial product. I share here some recommendations for increasing the commercial viability of your recorded music.

Arrange for Underscore

When "scoring to picture", that is, arranging custom music for a specific production, you can always ensure that your majestic melodies support the on-screen dialogue and action, rather than conflict with it. When arranging library music, you have no idea how someone will want to use your track. Strong melodic content can often interfere with dialogue and narration, so it is probably better to minimize the melodic component.

Short melodic motifs are likely fine, and if you really want to include a substantial melody or intricate jazz soloing, you could consider preparing an alternate arrangement of your track, while leaving the main arrangement light on melody.

Score to Something

Even though you're not scoring music for a specific production, you might still benefit from scoring to something. Maybe find an inspiring photograph on Flickr, or write music to a passage in a book, or even to a real-life experience. Preparing your library track as music that would be good for some purpose may help both your compositional creativity, and also give you a better idea of how to describe and market the track.

Prepare Multiple Variations

Since you don't know how a potential user will want to deploy your music, it's probably a good idea to prepare several options of the same basic composition. For example:

This can be one area where the joy of creating music can start feeling more like real work. But having such variations to offer to your users can make your track more appealing. You are better serving your customer, and in return, potential customers are more likely to turn into actual customers.

Prepare Helpful Text Descriptions

Probably another piece of "real work", but no matter how great your music is, customers are unlikely to find it in a library if it doesn't turn up in their searches, and searches are predominantly text-based. You should prepare a good paragraph or two of description of the piece (which may include descriptive text of how the track could be used), and also a robust list of keywords.

It can be easy to prepare this text as an afterthought, and a brief afterthought is really all that music libraries require, but the better you can do at this task, the more likely your work will be discovered by someone who really wants what you made.

Aim for Commercially-Viable Styles

Any style of music could be great art, and appreciated by listeners, but music used in commercial applications tends to flow in particular styles. There's a lot more demand for a happy pop-rock track than there is for a polka. There's a lot more demand for a driving cinematic trailer than for a string quartet. Although there is some demand for both polkas and string quartets, your time would probably be better spent focusing on more popular genres.

On the other hand, everyone else realizes this too, and thus the competition amongst driving cinematic trailer music can be intense. You can work at standing out in this category, which can be a very prosperous area to hang out. Or you could also consider, well, if driving cinematic trailer music popularity is at 10, and polka popularity is at 1... what is at 7? Or at 5? Maybe you can settle in to a genre niche that has enough demand to get sales and placements, but not so much demand that it's a struggle to even get library submissions approved.

Keep Current with Music Tools

Along the lines of working hard at standing out, it can be worthwhile to spend some time (and money) keeping current with your music production tools. Many library music composers make heavy (or even exclusive) use of sampled virtual instruments, and there are new sampled virtual instruments coming out for sale frequently

You don't have to replace your entire virtual instrument toolset every year, but if you're still using the same samples from ten years ago, it might be worth considering if there is anything new and better out there which would help you make better-sounding music.

But it can also be easy to fall into the trap of constantly buying everything. You don't need everything! It might be worthwhile to have, say, a good orchestral library recorded in a big space, and another recorded in a medium space, and another recorded dry. But do you really need five dry orchestral libraries? Maybe not.

So stay up to date with your tools, within financial reason, but avoid getting into excess buying too much that you don't really need.

Keep Shipping

Trying to improve the commercial viability of your library tracks can be harder than just recording a piece of music and throwing it out there for sale. This article is meant to suggest some ideas of more and more focused work for commercial purposes, but perhaps even more important is to keep in the flow of producing something. I have produced and sold library tracks that violated most or even all of these suggestions. Implementing these suggestions may result in more sales, but not producing anything at all will definitely result in no sales.

Copyright © 2020 Trevis J. Rothwell