Television has taken on an entirely new look and feel, even in the past decade. What was once an industry based on three major networks with very limited programs in the 1950’s has erupted into many major networks and thousands of cable channels available throughout the world in every imaginable language. Television has truly become a three-dimensional experience for producers, directors, project coordinators and other professionals in the industry, not to mention a multi-dimensional experience for viewers. With a variety of genres and styles of programming available, from news programs and specials to different types and lengths of commercials, sit-coms, dramas, reality programs, game shows and countless others, being someone involved in television production is both wrought with opportunity and teeming with challenges.
Finding inexpensive background music and production music for television programs can be much more difficult than finding it for other types of media projects because the medium is so diversified and so societally pervasive. As a director or producer of television programs looking for ear-catching television music for your show, you have to be very cognizant of not only your target audience, but also what you are up against in your allotted time slot. Sometimes whether a show succeeds or fails has nothing to do with its quality. Success in television programming has more to do with what you are up against and the time and day your program airs. If you are producing a talk show, for example, you might be on at the same time as more than five or ten other talk shows. Or your program might conversely be when no other talk shows are on television, but at a time when typically people are more likely to watch news programs, Sit-coms or other types of programming.
Still, choosing the right television music can certainly help you make the most out of your particular project. Again, because of the diverse nature of television, there are many different types of production music and background music to choose from. There is music for commercials, music for dramas, music for news programs and specials, music for sit-coms and many others. As a producer of a television show, you probably also will have to consider how your music will blend in with the music of commercials that might air during your broadcast. Because the line between commercials and programming has been blurred, starting in the 1960’s commercials have become an integral part of all television shows, sometimes not only on network television but also on cable television. Before the mid-1960’s, commercials used to have to be signaled in all television programs by an announcement that they would begin. Similarly, announcers were responsible for signaling the return of the regular program. Now, there is not always any clear sign where the show ends and the commercial begins or vice versa. It’s all about the timing.
Because Copyright Law has become stricter to account for the proliferation of diverse recorded music, finding and affording production music and background music for television programming has been further complicated. Before the 1980s, music in commercials and even on many television programs was limited to jingles and transitional music, most of which was instrumental or with very brief and simple vocals. Occasionally lyrics to popular music would be changed to fit a particular product or the theme for a show, a phenomenon that would not work easily or cheaply under today’s copyright standards, and didn’t come inexpensively then either. Still, while some pop and rock songs were re-recorded for television programs and commercials, the cost of licensing original recordings was very daunting until the late 1980s when it became more doable.
Today commercials use many popular songs as background music and production music, and many programs, particularly those geared towards young people use popular music regularly in an effort to promote burgeoning music groups. Television has become such a cultural phenomenon and a showcase for music that many shows, including “Dawson’s Creek” and “The O.C.” have even gone on to put out music compilations based on music heard in episodes of the show throughout specific seasons. Previously, songs were often used without artist consent, but thanks to stricter Copyright Law this is no longer a possibility. Still, most artists are willing to accept often high payment for use of their songs in popular television programs and enjoy the exposure they get as a result to very specific markets made up of people that will buy music they make in the future.
Using popular music in television programs and commercials can be incredibly expensive for the typical producer and director. Whether your show is a hit with a large budget, or a smaller show just starting out, you want to make an impact musically at minimal cost, as there are so many other elements to consider in the production of television projects. Fees for use of popular music can total thousands of dollars, and when you multiply that by how often you will probably use songs as themes, production music, background music and other incidental elements, the numbers can add up quickly. But, even though you want to save money on television music, you certainly don’t want to skimp on quality.
What are your options when it comes to production music and background music for your television projects if you want to build a collection inexpensively and still honor the spirit of your project?
As a producer or director of television programs, you most likely travel in circles of artists and musicians. You might know some good composers or bands, or people you know might know some that would be happy to help with music for your project. Because of the almost culturally invasive nature of television, most struggling musicians or composers would not object to helping you out with your project in exchange for exposure and the chance to work on something beyond the norm. Many bands have been launched when their song was chosen as a theme song for a television series, and many composers have broken into the film, television and music industry after working on scores for television programs.
Finding under-appreciated talent in your network is a good option and often one that could help get you a deal on production music or background music, but it is by no means a simple solution, nor one that is long-term. If your show is a hit, or your theme song or the band that sings it is a hit, you will be morally, if not legally obligated to pay more for the music you are using. This either leads to the same problem you had before of expensive music or back to square one, looking for inexpensive television music.
Another option for inexpensive production music, and one that more producers and directors are choosing every day, is royalty free music provided by reputable music companies. Choosing royalty free music allows you access to a catalog of music in varying styles and can be downloaded directly from a centralized royalty free music company website online. Well-known companies such as Royalty Free Music.com give you music libraries with songs you can add permanently to a collection. This means you can build your own store of production music and use it in present and future projects. And because of the nature of the music, you just pay a very low upfront fee to satisfy all aspects of Copyright Law.
Television production gets more complex as time and technology progresses, but directors and producers will never lose the ability to control what production music and background music fits best with their projects. Television music is critical to keeping a program or a commercial at the top of its game, and helps communicate important themes to viewers. As a producer, director or project coordinator, the musical choices you make are some of the most important decisions.