Let’s Spend The Day At The Library!

by Andrew Frame

If you’re fortunate, and your General Manager listens to you, you have a current production music library, an imaging library, and an effects library--not necessarily a big one, but at least not something fifteen years old.

Most of us remember (or are living still) the horror of having to put Yakety Sax music under everything, or editing down songs sent by the record companies that never made the playlist.

There is no reason for a station not to have a production music library. Leases are available for under thirty dollars a month. Buy-outs can be had for under four hundred, and there are barters that will give you a sizable library for one spot a day (that you can even run at night). Naturally, there are packages that will cost more than the boss’s Bentley, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re “better” for your particular needs.

The term “production library” carries with it several meanings. Ask the General Manager, and she will say proudly, “Yes, we have a good one! We bought it when we had our old format about ten years ago...came with a bunch of sound effects and those swoopy noise things, too!”

Ask the production goo-roo, and she’ll say, “Which production library? Music, imaging, or sound effects?”

On one side of the prod room, in the big rack is the production music library. This is the fat library that is nothing but gobs of music. It needs to be relevant to society, our culture. This library is either leased or a buy-out.

Then, in the smaller rack, is the imaging library. These are the couple or three or four discs that are loaded with the beds, bangs, and booms for sweepers, liners, and promos that define the station’s image. The imaging library is relevant to the station as well as society. This is usually a buy-out, but there are a few leased packages.

And, there’s the sound effects library, almost always a buy-out, and just as important as either of the others.

When working with a production house, ordering a music library, make one third of it “core” music, similar to what the station plays formatically. Make one third underscores and generic material, and one third specialty tracks for the Mexican restaurants and “Fifties Night” at the drive-in theatre.

Even though the core library is vital (why else would the soft drink, beer, and food companies ship us dubs with cuts for a half dozen formats?), only a few managers grasp the concept that a producer can not put the same kind of music under everything. And, when a producer is expected to deliver “creative,” she will spend a lot of time with the underscores and specialty sections of the music library.

The music library needs to be updated regularly to keep it topical. If you go the lease route, negotiate a deal to be able to rotate out ten to twenty five percent for fresh material in the “core” category annually. A producer may not need to worry about the underscores until lease renewal comes up, commonly in three years. And, once you’ve got a good specialty section worked out, you’ll never have to fiddle with it. Older libraries are nice for specialty tracks, tracks that sometimes will cost a producer extra on a new library. An Irish jig is going to sound pretty much the same now as it did twenty years ago. Some of these older libraries are still available from the major companies on buy-out.

The imaging library is going to be totally dependent on the Program Director. She knows what the station sound is, and she’ll be the one you take your cues from on selecting the right zingers and zoops to make “her” station fly. Some of the older library sfx/synth stuff can easily be recycled into modern promos, just watch the tempo and musical key. With today’s digital workstations, pieces can be chopped up and rearranged like never before.

And, when it comes to sound effects, the criteria is as open as a Kansas wheat field. Sound effects libraries, although needing updating for new mechanical sounds, never really go out of date. A three compact disc set of 300 sfx bought at the record store a decade ago contains typical, day to day cuts that show up in routine copy and is still perfectly useful. Acquisition of this library will likely be dependent on price.

Providers of all three types of libraries like to tout how many “tracks” they have in the set. Don’t be fooled! Ask how many “themes” are in the set. One theme can have many different mix-outs. There’s the “full” mix with rhythm, melody, and full orchestration. There are “alternate” mixes, one without the lead, one without the orchestration, and so on. Add to that, :60 and :30 versions of each, and one “theme” can quickly become five to ten “tracks”! “Themes” matter; “tracks” don’t. With workstations, you’re likely to be cutting and rearranging the music anyway.

One small company only has seven CD’s, but each CD has sixty-one different themes on it! Another company has eighty tracks on their disc, but only ten themes, each with eight mix-outs. A/V and production houses may make use of all those extra mix-outs, but in radio, it’s not a necessity. Two or three alternate mixes per theme are fine.

Hopefully, you now have a few ideas on what to look for when the time comes, and points to take to the GM to show you’re on top of your department!

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