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10 questions to choose music catalog

Many companies in the market specialize in a "niche", so they are only able to provide music for a single specific application. Other companies seem to have a wide selection, but this one lacks depth or quality in certain genres. 

By Ron Mendelsohn*

There are many different types of production music companies on the market. Since there are different business models and offerings, it's important to do your research before deciding which company you're going to work with. Below are 10 important questions to ask before deciding who your provider will be:

1. Does your music production company commission new, original or pre-existing music?
In general, there are two types of production music catalogs on the market: companies that "add" pre-existing music and companies that order new new music. Why is this important?

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Traditionally, production music catalogs hire composers and singer-songwriters to write new and original music. Commissioning artists in this way ensures that the material is timely, current and original. In addition, quality control is easy to maintain and they are confident that the material is commercially viable, so as not to infringe any existing copyright, and to be in line with the catalog production standards. 

There are, however, many companies on the market that simply "add" pre-existing music. These companies use the Internet to solicit a virtually endless stream of content from a large number of songwriters or songwriters.

There are a number of problems with this approach: 1) Quality control may be lacking when you get an existing product created by anyone who simply owns an internet connection; 2) It can be difficult to determine whether music can be used (i.e., licenses); and 3) As the music is pre-existing, it may consist of old material that is already obsolete at the time it is downloaded into these aggregators.

Be sure to ask the companies you are evaluating if they produce and commission their own music. It matters.

2. Are music licenses exclusive or non-exclusive?
Many of the aggregators described in question #1 operate non-exclusively. This means that they are not the only distributors of their music. The same (exact) songs they represent may be available through other providers. 

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We don't have to look outside the music world to see how confusing the term "new title" can be. Beyond the confusion, it could be a problem for you. If the same recording is available through multiple sources, you may have difficulty determining where a particular music track came from. This can cause not only internal confusion, but also lawsuits from the competition—which can expose your company to legal liability. 

Performing rights societies such as ASCAP, BMI and SESAC may have difficulty keeping track of "retitled" compositions, as these recordings have identical audio fingerprints. This means that composers and publishers may not be adequately paid for their work.

3. Does your music production company staff trained and dedicated music directors?
In music production you have to be able to effectively curate large amounts of music and quickly find the right track for your needs. Some companies have professional music directors on staff to serve customers in this way, other companies simply send clients to their websites and ask them to search for themselves ("self-service") without any live help. In other companies, sales representatives are in charge of music searches in addition to their sales functions.

To ensure that you will get an efficient and fast service, insist on working with a provider that has dedicated music directors and professionals on staff.

4. Does your music production company offer live chat with a music director?
Not all companies offer this feature. When you're under pressure and can't find the song you're looking for, won't you appreciate the convenience of being able to chat instantly with a music professional who can help you quickly locate the right track? If you have a hectic production schedule this should matter to you. Be sure to ask about it.

5. Does your music production company have an extensive selection of tracks in all styles and genres?
This is a no-brainer. Many companies in the market specialize in a "niche", so they are only able to provide music for a single specific application. Other companies seem to have a wide selection, but this one lacks depth or quality in certain genres. And other companies appear to offer variety and selection, but closer inspection reveals that all or most of the songs were written by the same composer or group of composers.

If you need an extensive selection of tracks in all styles and genres, don't just ask – check the selection and quality through the company's website.

6. Can your music production company compose a song for me if I can't find exactly what I'm looking for in their catalog?
Even in the most extensive catalog of production music, there is no guarantee that you will find exactly the right track all the time. It is for this reason that it is important to know if the company you are considering has music commissioning capabilities. 

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The ability to offer personalized music demonstrates flexibility and is a sign that a company has control of its resources and creative assets. Ultimately, it is more convenient to work with a company that can handle both your music production and your original music needs. You never know when you might need this service so be sure to ask about it.

7. Can your company alter a track for me, if it's not quite perfect?
In the course of working with a production music catalog, sooner or later, you may find yourself in a situation where you find a track that would be perfect, except that you really need it without bells. Does your music production company have the ability to do this for you?


Some companies have this capability and others don't. In order to provide this type of service, companies must maintain a session file of the "stems" (or "stripes") for each track. 

8. Does your company use professional mastering engineers? 
Mastering is the final stage of the audio process through which tracks are finished and collected on disc. This is often the extra step that gives tracks the impact and refinement associated with professional commercial recordings. 

There is a wide range around the quality of mastering production music – from companies that use professional mastering houses to others that don't, in order to reduce costs. 

9. Does your music production company sometimes give away music?
Believe it or not, some production music catalogs actually give away their music (i.e. zero licensing fees) in an attempt to get the back-end running rights. Giving something for free is an act of desperation and a clear indication that no one would pay for the privilege of using these sellers' music. 

Keep in mind that these companies don't just offer a "free trial"; they offer their products for free permanently. Engaging in this type of unsustainable business practice deprives companies of the funds needed to hire professional composers and singer-songwriters, create quality content, maintain a dedicated staff, and offer a high level of customer service.

Worse, some companies that give away music may actually be involved in a scam operation where they later sue the production company after they have made their music available free of charge and without a license. 

10. Is your production music catalogue a member of WFP?
The Music Production Association (PMA) is a trade organization that has set standards for product quality and ethical practices in the industry. Companies that are members of PMA have agreed to adhere to certain core principles and values that protect both music users and copyright owners. Make sure the music provider you choose is a full member of the WFP.

In short, the advent of the Internet has brought with it the creation of all kinds of questionable business models, illegal practices and scams. The music industry is no exception. Unfortunately, a lot of music on the Internet is distributed illegally or pirated, and using this type of music in your productions could lead to serious liability issues for your company. 

Many customers may tell horror stories about using music from questionable sources or unlicensed music. There is no need to go through these potential headaches when there are providers with very good reputations.

Take due precautions when asking the following 10 questions and you can be sure that you will choose your next music production provider with confidence.

* Ron Mendelsohn is co-founder and CEO of Megatrax. Ron is also an accomplished pianist and composer, is a founding member of the Music Production Association (WFP) and has served on the PMA board since its inception. Ron is also a member of numerous professional organizations, including the Society of Composers and Lyricists, Vistage, and ASCAP.

Richard Santa, RAVT
Author: Richard Santa, RAVT
Editor
Periodista de la Universidad de Antioquia (2010), con experiencia en temas sobre tecnología y economía. Editor de las revistas TVyVideo+Radio y AVI Latinoamérica. Coordinador académico de TecnoTelevisión&Radio.

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