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Tagged ‘music licensing‘

Ukulele Overload

When I first started seriously composing stock audio on AudioJungle last summer, many of the highest selling songs on the site featured the ukulele. Fast forward a year, and this really hasn’t changed. What once seemed like a trend has become something different…and I’m not sure what. Even this current national advertisement features a song from AudioJungle that’s over 2 years old, and has been sold over 1600 times (!). To say that the ukulele is played out and overused is an understatement, particularly in advertising. The fact it persists as the musical focal point of so many of today’s commercials either speaks to the public’s insatiable love for the runty instrument, or of a severe lack of creativity in advertising.

I found a great New York Times article on the ukulele’s popularity from over a year ago, and even then the article spoke of the instrument’s over-saturation in advertising. It also pointed out the possible origin for this craze: Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s cringe-inducing version of “Over the Rainbow”, a song I heard at virtually every wedding I did sound for while living in California (so we’re talking 50+, maybe?). The article goes on to tout the ukulele as the instrument for the non-musician, and while I’m not sure I’d go there, I will say that at this point it’s kitsch. Period.

While people may love the uke because of the warm feelings it helps generate, there is more than one way to skin a cat. A different approach will likely yield the same results, and will alleviate the risk of people tuning out at the first strum. So, please, if you have to use a ukulele, please do so in moderation.

 

Why “MIDI” Isn’t a Bad Thing

Public understanding of the term “MIDI” hasn’t progressed as far as the technology has in the last few years, and that’s a blessing and a curse. I, for one, got heavily into composing when I realized how realistic-sounding some of these new programs were, and the illusion of having used real instruments is a very important element of my work. At the same time, though, I think a little further information on what exactly you’re hearing only makes the total package that much more spectacular. 

What most excited me about advances in MIDI technology was the ability to finally be able to get realistic sounds out of orchestral samples. Most modern libraries contain samples that are performed by some of today’s top musicians at some of the finest studios, stages, and halls in the world. The amount of recorded detail is remarkable, and the fact you can alter things like mic placement is truly astounding. Throw in some high quality reverb, and you have a set of sounds that, when used correctly, will make even the most seasoned aficionado think they’re listening to a real orchestra. While these sample libraries do come at a hefty price, the things they enable a composer to do are well worth the cost.

It doesn’t stop with orchestral samples, of course. You’d be hard pressed not to find a high quality sample library either built around or including a specific set of instruments that’s professionally recorded, and exhaustively performed to include every realism-adding detail. With this in mind, it continually pays as a composer to look outside the box, and find the smaller companies that are on the cutting edge.

So, the next time you hear “MIDI” hopefully your mind won’t go directly to Nintendo theme songs or ringtones. You’d be surprised how much music you hear, specifically on television, is MIDI derived, and the technology is only getting better. However, it is important to remember that these sounds are just tools. The art is found in knowing how to use them.

Here is a Stink Bug, common to Maryland, on my M-Audio Axiom 25

Here is a Stink Bug, common to Maryland, on my M-Audio Axiom 25

 

Of Shazam and Credibility

I read a very interesting interview (which I found thanks to John Presley at musiccomposerblog.com) with Ryan Fitch, an accomplished music supervisor at a seemingly large advertising agency. In addition to giving some great links and advice, he also spoke a lot about the appeal of using licensed music almost to how I’d hear an A&R rep talk about their job. In his experience, because there is just so much music that’s already created and therefore able to be licensed, the situation that requires something original from a composer doesn’t present itself nearly as much as it used to. Sigh.

The Best Cinematic and Motivational Royalty Free Audio

Most interesting to me was a recent campaign he was involved with in which he professes to have spent hours trying to shoehorn a licensed track into a commercial, and could only successfully do so after cleverly disguising an odd time signature with sound design. After watching the commercial, I was really confused about why the track in question absolutely had to be “the one”. The music itself is a pretty nondescript repetition of a single phrase with minimal vocals, slightly modified towards the end. The song apparently didn’t naturally work, and had to be modified considerably, thus taking the time that licensed music was supposed to save. In other words, this was an easily replicable piece a qualified composer would have no problem scoring to the existing footage in a few hours. Why they didn’t go this route didn’t make sense to me. There must be something else at work here. That’s when I saw the Shazam logo.

I figured there was no better way to understand their angle than by “Shazamming” the commercial and seeing the results for myself.  After dow

nloading the app (and skipping Shazam’s many attempts to get up in my bidness), I played the commercial. To my surprise, the only thing I discovered about the song itself  was the artist and title. No link to listen to it, no link to buy it, no link to the artist’s website. Nada. There was, however, a contest I could enter in addition to other links I could follow to product related social marketing.

Get Royalty Free Music from ProgressNotesLet me state that I do not see any issue at all here with the way the music was used in this advertisement. Consent was obviously given, and I’m sure everything was above board. I do, however, understand why some artists seem to be apprehensive about licensing their music to advertising campaigns. In addition to the all-important credibility the song adds to the product, the sound of of the music itself is now tied to the product in a way that almost supersedes that simple association licensed music usually provides. The notes the artist wrote on their guitar, in this particular case, now directly link to a product they didn’t create. That’s pretty heavy.

The interview reinforced, but also shed some new light on, my view regarding why ad agencies so actively license music as opposed to having something original tailored specifically for their campaign. It’s not just credibility they’re after, but an additional way of presenting the consumer with their product. This opens up new avenues while also creating new dilemmas for the artist, some of which I’ve witnessed first hand. Ultimately, it’s good to see the power of music taken seriously, and hopefully that aspect won’t change in a constantly changing industry.