Time to Refresh Your Production Library?

by Andrew Frame

Music Directors do it every week. They pore over the charts, take schmooze calls from record reps, and then after (hopefully) listening to the new crop of just-released songs, adds the precious few that will mean as much for station ratings as it does for the record companies bottom line.

Production people get to do this very same thing—to a greater extent, but fortunately, not every week. I’m talking about refreshing the music in the production library.

Production libraries, both music and sound/imaging effects, come in three basic flavors.

The Barter: Not always the best quality, but you can trade avail time for it. Some older libraries were (in)famous for their synth-cheesy sound, while a few of the newer ones are on par with their cash competition—really good stuff, and quite a few discs, too. Contracts continue as long as you use the material. Barters can come as a one-shot library with everything in it sent to you in one fell swoop. Other packages arrive with updates on a regular basis—for example, new material once or twice a month. (Barter imaging libraries from the major syndicators take this approach, too.) Barter libraries appear “free” to the uninitiated, but they do take avails, and those avails have a dollar value, especially when logs are full. A barter library trade may require two minutes of avails a day. For example, if your (medium/small) station sells time for an average $35 a spot, that’s $70 a day. Multiply that by 365 days, and that “free” library costs the station over $25,000 a year. Not so “free,” but, if your station has the avails and zero cash, it’s an option. Try to negotiate to be able to keep the library after the contract expires.

The Buy-Out: One price, one shot, you own it—a preset package of discs, which you literally “buy” the performance rights to use. Like software, you may not be actually buying the music itself, just the rights to use it. There may be limitations on whether your group stations can use it, or only the one that signed the check. Buy-out libraries are a source of excellent, current material, and once the disc is in your CD player, you can use it till the laser dies. Some buy-out libraries are “unlimited use”—whatever you want to use it for, wherever, whenever, it’s all yours. (You can’t repackage and resell the music, though.) I know producers that haggle with

buy-out companies on older libraries and come away with multiple packages for the original price of one so the company can dump their mini-warehouse full of CDs. Careful auditioning can yield tons of useable material. Buy-outs are not known for market or format exclusivity, so you may have the same package as your competition!

The Lease: Why does the concept of leasing give so many people a rash? People lease cars, lease homes…if you stop and think about it, you’re leasing cable TV, power, phone service, almost everything. You don’t ever actually own these things, but your “lease” gives you access and usage to them. (Technically, you “lease” software, too. Read the “licensing agreement” that you skipped when installing it.) Leasing a production library is not a bad thing. It does require cash flow, because there is a lease payment going out each month. Pay in advance, and I’ve seen lease costs over the life of the contract slashed by a third. Leasing gives you the opportunity to refresh your library at no additional cost. This way you stay current. You only pay for the physical number of discs you have. Your “refresh” can be once over the life of the contract, it can be annually, or at will. It can cover a certain number or percentage of discs, or it can cover them all.

Whichever route you take, there are good and bad points. It’s up to your individual situation to figure out what works best for you. At the group I coordinate (Country, Urban Oldies, A/C, and N/T, we have at least one of each type.)

Some things to keep in mind when ordering a new library, or refreshing your old one: There is a difference between “cuts” (or “mixouts”) and “themes.” Shoot for the library with the most “themes.” With digital editors, it’s a few cursor points and clicks to turn a :60 cut into a :10, :15, or even 1:45. “Cuts” are nothing more than someone else doing the editing for you, whether it’s the musicians or the producer. “Themes” are the uniquely different musical compositions on the disc. Look for discs that contain complete mixes and “underscores.” An underscore is a mix with the lead stripped out or muted. Think of the complete mix as a “foreground” piece of music, and the underscore as a “background” piece. “Mixouts” are variations on a theme, adding or deleting instrumentation to achieve different textures and intensities on that theme. (An “underscore” is a “mixout” of a particular “theme.”) For example, I have an Alternative Edge CD that I use the bass, percussion, and rhythm mixout from, since the complete mix with the lead guitar is too overpowering for my particular writing and voiceover style—or that of most of the air talent that does voiceovers

Side note on libraries and writing: Copy can be written so it flows with the music, or fights with it. If you write the copy for your station(s), and you don’t know your library intimately, grab a few CDs from the pile, audition them, and find a cut you’d like to use. Then write to it. If this isn’t enough, you may have to direct the talent as to how you wanted the read to go, so they don’t do a rip-n-read and blow the whole creative out the window. The level of quality of what gets on the air is up to you.

“Everyone uses that library in town!” I use one of the more well-known lease packages, and I hear that a lot. And I work with my provider to make sure I have a unique library. He has the disc list of what I have. He also knows everyone else in the market using his product, and he has those disc lists, too. So, I ask him to make sure that nothing on my list is duplicated on someone else’s. We have a pretty good Production Director’s guild in our market. We go to lunch monthly, we talk shop, and we compare notes. We all want the same thing, a unique set of music for our stations. The last two refresh periods have seen our library move away from their main “name brand” line and into their newer acquisitions, meaning newer tracks more in line with contemporary tastes.

Libraries need to be refreshed. If your library has a copyright date prior to 1990, find a new place to work! Seriously, get to work on a new library. Has your library been refreshed in the last two years? Get on it! Check the contract and find out how many updates and refresh periods you are entitled to, and utilize them!

So, it’s time to place the order. What do you get? Depending on the number of discs you order (hopefully, at least 50, with at least 10 themes each), here are some suggestions. Plan 25% of your library to match your core format sound—Country, Hot A/C, NAC, whatever is on the air. Watch your intensities, and make half of the material up tempo, a quarter mid tempo, and a quarter down tempo.

Do you do car dealer spots? Bars? Nightclubs? Sports? News? There’s another 25%. Hard-sell, dynamic music for the l-o-u-d car dealers; rock & roll for the bars, and dance for the nightclubs. Fanfares and driving rah-rah for sports and news. The extent to just how hard and intense these discs get is, again, dependent on format.

We are in the business of being creative. Clients consider creative advertising to be clever voices, vignettes, or humor. So, load 25% of your order with novelty and specialty discs. This includes holiday material. You’ll go through Christmas music like Christmas goes through your credit card. Get international cuts, Irish, Chinese, Indian, Caribbean music and the like. Get humor and kiddie tracks, and thematic material—a 1940s detective theme, rinky-dink silent movie piano, and the like. I do so much creative, almost a third of my library is specialty material.

After finding a few discs for imaging—the sweeps, beeps, and zings—and culling a sound effects library, the remaining percentage of music selected comes from the “gut.” What do think you’ll need? Do you have a particular style that you prefer? Are there ethnic considerations because of the part of the country you live in? Mix-and-match, and fill out the balance of your order. (Complete imaging libraries are really another creature—and one I’m not going to address with this particular dissertation.)

Selecting and implementing a production library is a heavy process for one simple reason. You are trying to second guess what you’re going to have dropped in your lap by your salespeople and Program Director for the next month, six months, year, or longer. You are spending a lot of money. And, unfortunately, even though you are part of the process that manufactures “the goods,” most managers will look at you and your department as “outgoing money.” You are something to be cut as close to the bone as possible to “avoid losses.”

Oh, what the hell, let me get on my soapbox here...

You are not outgoing money! You are manufacturing. You design and build the car. You create and implement nebulous, intangible thoughts and ideas, manipulate them into reality, and present them in a way that will not only create awareness for the client, but will hold the ratings ground as well. Yes, ratings! You are responsible for ratings, too. If you are running 9 to 12 minutes per hour, you have a direct influence on one full quarter-hour ratings point. Go ask your Sales Manager how many stations didn’t “make the cut” in your last ratings, and see how many of them lost it by that quarter hour share!

Remember, salespeople don’t sell commercials, they sell airtime. If they sold commercials, there would be no aftermarket production industry. Radio stations would control the manufacturing process like a junkyard dog. You are competing with the aftermarket production industry, those houses that exist specifically to create and manufacture great sales messages. They aren’t piddling around when it comes to a production library. Perhaps you can convince your General Manager that you shouldn’t either.

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