By Randi Altman
Unless your project has a huge budget for music, you likely rely on production music to find the right song for the job, and today’s offerings have huge collections with almost any genre of music for any job, and typically the quality of that music is better than it’s ever been.
They’ve also made it easier to search and buy music, offering customizable and personal search experiences. Some even offer composing services, such as MusicBox, a division of ole (a rights management company with over 40 active songwriters, including Rush, Timbaland and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler).
Steven Karpowicz is senior VP of MusicBox. He has extensive experience in the production music field — 15 years, in fact — having previously served as GM at production music library Vanacore Music and operations manager at Megatrax Production Music Library. He has also held positions at Opus 1 Music and Westlake Audio.
At ole, Karpowicz oversees the MusicBox production music website, which maintains a wide-ranging catalog of 100 percent cleared songs and the ability to create custom tracks for main themes, bumpers, custom libraries, complete film scores, etc.
We reached out to Karpowicz to find out a bit more about his background, MusicBox and how users could get the most out of the production music experience.
Why is production music so important these days?
Production music is pivotal because of the sheer volume of productions being produced on a daily basis. With new technologies, anyone with an iPhone and a YouTube account can be a producer. Everyone has the ability to stretch their creative muscles now. Production music provides a specially formatted type of music that is made to work to picture and not get in the way of dialog.
Production music provides a lower-cost alternative to the labels, although the production quality of our music is at the same level now. Gone are the days of “canned” music that made most producers’ eyes roll. Production music is an outlet for many artists and composers who have been sidelined due to the decline in record sales and the labels. Most of MusicBox’s writers had a label deal in the past.
How do services like MusicBox make life easier for editors?
We understand the tight production timelines they are working in and that they don’t always have the time to conduct music searches. We provide free supervision services in addition to online curation of our catalogs where we feature pre-made playlists for all production types and occasions. We also deliver our content via hard drives that are curated for easy import into Avid’s Media Composer or Final Cut Pro. Our drives use the Soundminer HD product, which allows for the metadata to be carried into any session.
What kind of outreach do you do, and do you make specific song recommendations based on their projects or let them search on their own?
We pitch all the time to editors, producers and music supervisors. We also set them up on our search engine so they can access it at will. We are always looking to expand our audience and make new friends in the production world.
What are some misconceptions that people have about library music, and what would you say to get them to better understand the process?
Library music encompasses many things now, such as scoring to picture and custom music cues, along with your “catalog” cues. All the top-shelf music libraries hold themselves to the same quality control that a label would. Many people in this industry came over from the labels during the downsizing of the last 10 years.
I would say that there is very high quality now amongst libraries, but there is mediocre library music, too. The quality libraries are licensed cues or songs while the lower-tier catalogs are either buyout or gratis use.
Many new music librarians are OK with only getting performance royalties, but that seems to be primarily in the TV broadcast space. They don’t realize that they are cutting off their nose to spite their face. Most companies following this practice also can’t indemnify their clients that they have the rights to clear these works, can’t quality control their music, don’t carry E&O insurance in case there is a copyright dispute and don’t have enough revenue to pay a staff to cover all the bases that are necessary in the publishing world. The Internet has made the barrier to entry very low for start-up costs in launching a library, but there are still only a select few companies doing it right.
What are some tips for editors to get the most out of production music?
I still find having an actual phone conversation to be the quickest way to understand what someone’s needs are and to get them what they are looking for quickly. Not everyone has a musical vocabulary, and many say they just want a “fun” or “happy” cue. This tells us virtually nothing about what they truly need. As a music supervisor, we need to consider the production, the audience, the brand or brands being represented, and the creative direction of the creatives on the project to bring it in for the win. It is our job to properly qualify the need and even sometimes save people from themselves when they go down the wrong path creatively.
What was it that first attracted you to production music?
I honestly didn’t know about production music when I moved to LA with guitar in hand. I was playing in many bands, gigging and working as an assistant recording engineer before I started with my first production music gig.
When Napster hit, all the labels cut everyone’s recording budgets and I took a job at a small music library because all the staff engineer jobs were going away. That direction change turned into a 15-year career. I found that the music publishing business was ideal for me and a lot more stable than being a gigging musician or freelance engineer. It was another opportunity to grow professionally.
How has your background as a musician and audio engineer informed your work on the executive side?
I believe I am a rare individual as an executive in this business because of my music first background. I didn’t get my degree in Global Business Management until I was well into my publishing career. That worked out well because I was able to relate my coursework to the music publishing business.
My experience as a recording engineer helps a lot with production and going over creative direction with composers. I can speak the language of music where most executives come from other industries and have limited musical knowledge. I have always had a head for business and this role is a natural fit with my interests and experience.
Do you still write production music? What have been some of your best placements?
I don’t have much time for composition these days. I am working full time on growing the MusicBox brand. I executive produce our new releases for the owned library catalogs, along with our production director David Bramfitt. I do hope to be able to find some time in the near future to write some new tracks myself.
What’s your favorite use of music in a TV show, movie, or other video?
We have been getting a lot of new and exciting placements in upcoming films, trailers and TV series. We have also been doing a lot in the digital space with the launch of ole Digital, our direct partnership with YouTube, headed by my fellow executive Jim Selby.
In the last quarter alone, we had music used in Chicago PD and Warehouse 13, the trailer for 22 Jump Street, Showtime’s new series Penny Dreadful and many cable television series, including Tru TV’s Ultimate Biker Challenge, VH1’s Mob Wives, Bring It on Lifetime, Ice Cold Killers for Investigation Discovery and our 10th season of Pawn Stars for A&E.