Who is your favorite artist at Monty Python

Production music: The songs that you almost know by heart without knowing them

Beyoncé's “Woman Like Me” samples a piece of production music

Behind the rampant wilderness of popular music lies an even more chaotic world, one in which you will likely never hear the word "artist"; one that journalists dare not enter. Dragons lurk there and loads of anonymous producers who write 86% of the music you come across every day. I talk about the music you hear on movie trailers, your favorite series, and even on the radio. These are the songs that the TV producers crave for cheap, catchy songs; we're talking about production music.

Production music - also known under the name Library Music - originated in England in 1927 with the De Wolfe Music company, which emerged in the course of the establishment of the sound film and the resulting problems with the copyright in the use of sounds. Each production music studio owns full rights to the songs it has in its collection, due to the fact that almost every composition there is written on a stand-alone or contract basis. For comparison purposes only, publishers of popular or classical music usually do not own more than 50% of the copyrights. The rest belongs to the composer.

Of course, this is a practical solution for the media companies: The production music studios license songs in their catalogs at reasonable prices, which allows the licensee to avoid the exorbitant fees charged by composers of well-known songs.

As the oldest of these studios, De Wolfe has amassed over 80,000 such songs — they have to serve as background music for Doctor Who, Monty Python, Dawn of the Dead, Brokeback Mountain, American Gangster, Top Gear and many others contributed; De Wolfe's music has even been used by studio artists such as Lily Allen, Gorillaz, Beyoncé and Ja Rule. The crux of it all is the fact that production music sounds and feels like something you've heard before - like it's in the shoes of your favorite artists. That is exactly the point.

Fulford, right

John Fulford is a humble, youthful looking guy: if he walked past you on the street, you wouldn't notice him. That also fits very well with what he does for a living. John is a full time production musician. He toiled in a shadowy realm, but you've probably heard his work before: He has music for Glee, Breaking Bad, Catfish, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Teen mom written.

While we talked on the phone, John tells me that he first heard about production music in 1998 — he was still in high school. "To cut a long story short, I was working in a recording studio in Florida and one of the technicians there who used to live in L.A. told me about it," he recalls. “At the same time, we were working on a Miami bass project for a Miami record label, and then I got the music on a TV show called it Making The Video: Britney Spears belongs."

He moved to Los Angeles in 2006 to become a producer and work with studio artists - but by that time John had built such a large network in TV (MTV, to be precise) that he never really made the switch. “The first show that used my music was Road Rules Challenge on MTV, ”he says. "When a season of a show is finished, the music department often works on another show on the same station."

Because John's music is in demand - and because of the speed of TV productions - his daily routine looks something like this: Seeing if any of the TV shows he is serving directly needs something (most use between 50 and 100 pieces of music per Episode, so there is a huge demand); When they don't need anything, later in the day there is usually a phone call from a major network “saying they are doing a rap song for an episode Grey's Anatomy need or for an episode Breaking Bad or Glee. ”If he doesn't have what he needs in his catalog, he goes to the studio to record a bespoke song upon request — music, lyrics, vocals, mix. “Television is very fast,” he tells me. “The fastest thing I've ever done was a Russian rap song in two and a half hours. You used it. And the song was really in Russian. I do not speak Russian. I had to find a Russian rapper to rap on the song. ”That was for the show Nikita and those two and a half hours of work paid him three months' rent.

Needless to say, music (of any kind) is difficult to make a living from. John, who taught himself almost everything, has done this pretty well so far and has made his niche in the industry. “I had my last job as an employee in 2007 and it made me $ 10 an hour,” he says. “One day I came home - it was the same day my friend left me for my roommate - and got a check from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) for $ 5,000. So that was it for me. The day that changed my life. In more than one way. "

I consciously got to know production music for the first time a few years ago through the excellent, one-hour 2011 mix on Radio Soulwax, “Librarian Girl”. There is also a video: In it you can see a woman with large, round glasses and fingernails painted red - the supposed librarian from Radio Soulwax. She drinks tea, makes notes on a pad, carefully inventorying an entire room full of records. When I watched the video for the first time on the broken display of my iPhone, the idea of ​​the almost infinite possibilities came over me; there are millions of these tracks out there, more or less carefully created for this one purpose, to let their melodies come and go unobtrusively. Indeed, there are artists like Belbury Poly who take advantage of this seemingly endless catalog.

Listening to John's music takes me back to the Limewire days of downloading songs and suddenly hearing something completely unexpected while playing them. Take, for example, the song he's most proud of, "Get In My Car," which appeared for the first time on an episode of CSI: Miami 2008 was heard. On the surface, the song seems familiar - it has all the rhythmic claps, hi-hat fills, and synthesizer sprinkles of a popular radio rap song from six years ago. However, John is proud of him for a completely different reason, as he wrote to me in an email:

I got a call from in 2008 CSI: Miami. They wanted me to send them a few songs on CD by 7pm that they wanted to include in an episode they were working on. When I was on my way to the drop-off point, this woman drove into my car and caused a total write-off. The airbag gave me a good cut from my wrist to my elbow. To put it briefly: I made it to the music office of CSI: Miami, handed in the CD and was accepted. That was the first time my music was played on Network TV.

John's life has improved immensely since his early days. “There were times when I didn't have a refrigerator, no bed, no furniture, not even internet. Now I have all that, can work with great artists on great projects AND am also interviewed, ”he wrote. "It couldn't go better !!!"

With this story in mind, would you pay more attention to the background music in television and cinema? As for myself, I'm not so sure.

Whether we like it or not, production music is a constantly changing image of our culture, a record of the zeitgeist, if you will. The subjective value we ascribe to art depends on its context. A pile of rubbish on display in a gallery demands attention and intensive occupation; but the same pile of rubbish on a street corner is ignored. You can't say what people will think about production music or anything like that in a hundred years. Culture evolves quickly — it is the vanguard of human achievement. That means only one thing for production music: there is just too much of it and that is exactly what is great.

Bijan Stephen is a precocious young scribe and lives in Brooklyn. He tweets (also precocious) at @bijanstephen

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