Library Music

Dan Graham - How To Make A Living Doing Library Music

Dan Graham is the founder and owner of Gothic Storm, a label specialised in library music, or as stated on their website: “Epic Emotional Music”. Some of their recent placements includes: Deadpool 2, AntMan and The Wasp, Aquaman, Dunkirk, The Black Panther and the list of blockbusters goes on.

In this interview, Dan talks us through some great tips on how you can pitch to publishers, increase your musical output, things to look out for, various deals you may encounter, books that helped him and so many more useful tips that you can use.

Enjoy!

Gothic Storm’s Website

Gothic Storm’s Website

It took you a few years before you manage to make a living from library music, how were some of those early years and what made you keep going?

In my 20’s I was in a band, we had a record deal and we did well for a few years, however, we got dropped by the label and I got unemployed. When I was in my early 30’s I had reached a point when I had no money, was living in a terrible apartment, however, I had a degree and thought about giving up music completely to get a proper job. I was interested in artificial intelligence and I applied to do a PhD, I got accepted but I still wasn’t sure If I was ready to let go of my dream of making music for a living. In my head I was thinking, “Would I rather buy a Sound on Sound magazine and read about the latest gear or would I rather get a journal and read about AI?

My conclusion was, of course, that I’m more interested in music and that’s what I want to do.

So, I made a search on Google, “How do you make money out of music?” and I remember seeing different options, such as game-, tv- and advertising-music and I thought library music seemed like something I should try. I gave myself two months to try this idea out and in that time I sent out demos to as many people I could find through websites. I probably sent over 2000 emails spread over those 2 months, trying to get anybody interested. About 3 different people came back to me and one was a really good company called Boosey & Hawkes Recorded Music Library, now called Cavendish Music. They were looking for a piano album and could also give me a decent advance, which could get me off unemployment for a month. I saw this as a sign that people are interested and if I only try hard enough anything is possible.

In the first 2-3 years, I was mainly working for the advances, even though the official line is that nobody gives out advances, I found that if I was honest about my situation and they liked my music, they would usually agree to give me an advance.

It took a few years before I started seeing royalties coming in, but over the years it built and built until after about 5 years it got to a significant amount. That’s when I started to think about starting my own company. 

Dan’s band, Ooberman.

Dan’s band, Ooberman.

What were some of your early experience when starting out writing music for publishers, was it confusing understanding what they were asking for?

There are different types of publishers and different kinds of people working for publishers, and to me, the best type of person was someone who was encouraging, likes what you do, they don’t mind if it comes back a bit different to what they were expecting, as long as the quality was good.

I had some really bad experiences with people that just gave me confusing instruction that I couldn’t really understand, they used strange terms, such as, “Can you write this more pulsing?” I couldn’t figure out if they wanted the music to undulate or gated sounds.

I had even worse experiences working with TV directors because they don’t have any musical knowledge, for example, at one point a director was asking if I could make the music sound more floating. I had no idea what they meant. 

What were some of the early pitfalls you experienced and what would your advise be to people so they can avoid them?

One of my early pitfalls was working too much for just one company. They really liked what I did and did everything they could to keep me writing for just them, without giving me an exclusivity contract, instead, they just agreed to my crazy demands of advances and allowed me to pursue crazy ideas. However, because I had grown dependant on them, when the person who was my main contact at the company got promoted another person stepped in who wasn’t nearly as supportive and encouraging. He started questioning what I was doing and started rejecting ideas for new albums. However, he also got promoted but then new person who stepped in was even worse and gave me instructions I couldn’t figure out. At the same time, the company started saying that they didn’t want me to work only for them because they didn’t want composers who were too dependant on them. But since I had only been working for them for the last two years and they had met all my requirements I suddenly got pulled out from underneath and had to start looking for other companies.

For someone starting out and are looking for their first publisher, what do you recommend them doing to accomplish that first step? For example, should they have one great album or is a few great songs enough?

It depends on the publisher and different publishers have different attitudes. What suits me since we have different labels for various kinds of music, is that it can be quite useful if someone sends a link to a playlist, on for example Soundcloud, that got various kinds of music in it. Then I can place those songs on the different labels we have. It also let me hear what style the writer is good at. However, I know some publishers who don’t like that because they want to be able to pigeonhole a writer as being a specialist in one area.

The album trick that I mentioned in Sound on Sound is the idea that you send a publisher/label about 12 tracks that are free and ready to be licensed. They should sound finished, have a good title and be something that will fit on the label you are pitching to. This makes it easy for the publisher/label to listen to and decide if they need an album like that. It also creates less work for them because they don’t have to put out a brief for their current writers asking for an album like that. Also, as mentioned before, if the album is quite specific it makes it easier for them to figure out if they can pigeonhole it.

When you do send that first album does it have to be mixed and mastered too?

It needs to sound like a finished album, however, it’s all up to the publisher. Some might ask for the multi-tracks so they can mix it themselves or just unmastered mixes so they can master it. However, for that first pitch and when you want to play it for someone it needs to sound finished and that does mean mastered, but mastered well and not too distorted. 

For new writers looking for a publisher/label what are some of the things they should be on the lookout for before committing to a specific label?

Do research on them, for example, are they a big company, do they have high-quality music with a nice presentation on the website, what’s their recent placements, are the constantly getting used on big things? If the website looks a bit out of date and the artwork looks a bit cheap then maybe they don’t have a good reputation.

Dan’s first library album, “Solo Piano”

Dan’s first library album, “Solo Piano”

When publishers ask for in perpetuity deals (when they have the copyright of your music until 75 years after your death) is that something people should be worried about or is that normal?

It depends on the type of company. In America it’s not common not to have in perpetuity deals, instead, you have some reversion clause in the contract, especially the royalty-free library and if it’s a non-exclusive deal, then you can take it back any time you want.

My company and all our agents that we work with around the world, use in perpetuity deals, which is more common in the higher-end of the library music market. One reason for this is that the music is often distributed to people on hard drives and if it’s not it will most certainly go on a hard drive at some point. Also, within a big company, they will have a big music server that has all their music catalogues in it. This music will either be pre-cleared so they know they can use it or they will know how much a certain company charges for a song. 

Therefore, if a composer had the right to take their music back after a certain time, you would have to go to all of your agents around the world and they would have to go to every company around the world and start telling them to delete your music from their hard drives. It’s not impossible but it would be really complicated. 

So, by having in perpetuity deals means they don’t have the uncertainty of their library music being unavailable to them. Another reason is that they will keep earning money from your music for a long, long time.

You recommended in your Sound on Sound article that the aim should be one track per week, i.e., 52 tracks a year. How does your setup/routine look that enables you to reach that goal?

One important technique I used was that for every musical idea I had I would do a rough piano sketch, I would leave Cubase running, with no click or quantisation enabled, and give myself 20 minutes to record rough sketches for each idea. In one hour I would have outlined three different ideas and if all were good, great, but if one idea was a lot better than the others I would focus on that idea. The reason is that working on the one idea that excites you will enable you to make it better and be able to finish it, so it’s a great time saver. If you would just stick with your first idea, which might not have been your best, you are wasting time, instead, if you quickly lay out three or more ideas and pick the best one to focus on, it will save you a lot of time.

When the best idea is finished, I have the whole song outlined on piano, heavily quantised and if something is too difficult to play I draw it in. The piano outline would capture the emotion, the tempo, the dynamics and the chord progression of the whole song, rather than just a few bars. Working and perfecting only a few bars is one of the worst things you can do because things end up not fitting together. For example, you might have 4 bars sounding great but it doesn’t link to the next bit. Therefore, having a great outline of the whole track acts like a skeleton that you build everything else on. This will speed up the process too.

I also have a Word document where I write down the different sections of the songs and what should happen at each point of the track. For example, I want an Obo solo here, tremolo strings there, this is where the drums come in, etc. By writing it down it becomes a to-do-list and it’s very quick to follow your own list of things to do rather than just getting stuck wondering what should come next, or what will or won’t work.

I would also have an instrument list in order of importance, so, my Word document have two sections, one for what instrument to use and the other one stating which instrument is doing what at what point. I would first imagine it in my head while listening to the piano guide and give myself 30 minutes to lay out each of the different instruments, not perfectly, but as a guide.

After you listen back and you can hear all the different things that are wrong, you go back to each section and write down on another list of what needs changing. Spend another hour fixing it and on each cycle, it will become more and more finished.

Using this method made me speed up my writing from spending a month per track to a week per track.

Does that also include having it mixed and mastered?

For me, I would always be mixing as I went along and for those companies that want me to do the final mix, it’s a case of making final tweaks. I don’t do mastering myself so that wouldn’t be factored into this. 

Dan’s studio

Dan’s studio

I saw you mentioned the book Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and how that had a positive impact on your career and business, how important has books in the self-improvement/business area been to you and your career?

It had a big influence on me because it was at a point where I found it hard to get more work as a writer for other companies. However, at the same time, my own company started making a profit and I’ve had these business books on my iPad for years, but never looked at. Think and Grow Rich sounded like a 1950s stupid thing and I didn’t think I could be bothered, however, I had a read and I found it extremely inspiring. It was written in 1938 so some of the ideas are a bit dated, for example, it’s suggesting getting into radio because it’s booming. But if you ignore some of those dated elements it’s full of really good advice. 

The book also talks about how to build a team and how no one has ever been successful alone. Instead, reach out and find other people who are experts in an area you are not and share the profits. For me, that was a big revelation because I had always done everything myself. 

Many people who set out to, for example, make a living doing library music, making 52 tracks per year, etc., don’t do it consistently (year after year) as yourself and many other successful people have done, therefore not reaching their goals. Is being consistent something you worked on?

Yes, you have to be consistent. Not only will it make you earn more money since the more music you consistently do the more royalties will come in, and for a longer period of time. Also, the more music you make the more people you are reaching out to and the bigger your network grows. You get to collaborate with more people and you will learn a lot more by staying consistent. 

Have you had any moments where you thought, "Damn, can't believe I’m doing this, I reached my goal"?

I never had a moment where I thought I reached success and that ’s because I'm always thinking about what’s happening in the future. So, something can go really well but it’s more of a relief because there’s still another 1000 problems I need to care for. I have appreciated certain moments, for example, when I had a meeting at Walt Disney Studios and as I walked through the big doors into the studio I saw these big statues of the seven dwarfs and Walt Disney. That was a really nice moment.

Looking at the other side of the coin, have you had any experiences where you wondered, "How can I get out of this mess"?

Honestly, It’s not an exaggeration to say that I'm in a permanent state of having a mess to get out of. I'm expanding things really quickly, with new labels and new albums and that’s very expensive, tens of thousands of pounds is going out every month. I need to be able to cover all those costs, including salaries, fees, etc. There's always a sense of what could happen in three months or if we have a few bad months, could we cover our costs? I feel like I'm only ever a month away from disaster. 

Also, there are always things going wrong, for example, wrong names being put on projects and I got a legal letter from a composer from a few years ago saying that I hadn’t successfully promoted his material. He only had a tiny amount of tracks and earned a bit of money, but I still got a legal letter stating that I hadn't fulfilled my part of the contract by exploiting his music. I had to send a full list of all the websites where his music was available, saying sometimes people don't use it and, unfortunately, his music didn’t succeed. Sometimes people accuse us of copyright infringement, artwork infringement, there’s always something stupid coming in.

Now, let me know what you think in the comments below, are there anything you will apply to your own career or anything you would do differently?

Making Library Music With Gareth Johnson (BBC, Sony, Audio Network, BMG)

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4 Steps To Start Making Money As An Audio Engineer

Learn How To:
- Get Your Foot In The Door
- How To Find Opportunities And Work
- How To Find Artists To Work With
- How To Price Yourself

In today's interview, we have the very talented, producer, engineer and multi-instrumentalist, Gareth Johnson. Gareth has his own studio at the famous Metropolis complex in London where he runs his music production company, Stand Alone Productions (http://www.standaloneproductions.co.uk).

Gareth has made music for BBC, Sony Entertainment, Audio Network, Sony PlayStation, Toyota, BMG, Def Jam and worked with artists such as The Who, Them Crooked Vultures and Noel Gallagher to name a few. 

So, without further ado, here is Gareth. 

1. How did you find your way into making library music?

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After playing in bands through my teens with a group of mates, I landed a record deal and began recording EPs with producers. It was whilst spending more time in recording studios watching them work that I developed the bug for music production. This led to me developing my skills to a point where I was able to start exploring lots of different areas across the musical spectrum. I always found writing music really easy, so as my production chops improved I was able to realize my musical ideas without relying on booking time in studios and having other people engineer my stuff. I soon realized that I didnʼt want to be solely focused on playing in a band format and saw a future in developing my writing and producing. A few years down the line I was lucky enough to begin releasing my solo work alongside my work in the band. My work was getting noticed and eventually, a friend put me in touch with the founder of a music library who was interested in hearing some of my work. Iʼll admit at the time I didnʼt really understand how the business worked as I had been working in commercial music up to that point. As soon as I grasped the business model and realized the exciting opportunities available for my musical output, I jumped in with both feet.

2. What made you start your own music production company, Stand Alone Productions, in 2000?

Iʼd began working with a range brands, artists, record labels, publishers and library companies in a range of different areas and felt that sometimes the perception of a company providing music, rather than an individual was helpful. Sometimes it helped me take on bigger jobs from bigger clients, without them feeling like I was a small outfit. Often Iʼve found that corporate clients and brands, in particular, feel more confident to put their trust in another company rather than an individual. In an ideal world it should all come down to the music being good enough, but sometimes people need a little help to understand that. Also, having a company allowed me to work in lots of different fields without being pigeonholed into one particular type of work. Iʼve done library music, movie trailers, mixed 5.1 concerts for huge bands, released records under artist names and provided games soundtracks. Sometimes the company name helps with being versatile.

3. What would you identify to be the three most important things to focus on to start your own music production company and make a living doing music today?

Donʼt stop learning: Keep your production chops up. Learn new techniques. Work in areas that will challenge you. Youʼll take valuable lessons away from each project you work on. Theyʼll all work together to feed into your other work.
Be Organised: Keep your backups and drives safe. Iʼve often had to go back to a track I worked on years back to grab some stems or do a remix for someone who loves one of my tracks, but needs a bespoke edit for a campaign or movie. Sometimes a great opportunity could be lost just down to a missing multitrack. This also applies to timekeeping, keeping your contracts safe, invoicing people on time, replying to emails and just keeping your studio in some sort of order. Trying to find a working patch lead or effects pedal for a specific sound when youʼre in the middle of a creative burst can be a total vibe killer.
Work Hard and Be Nice to people:
People like to work with people they like. Be nice. Collaborations can be great and fruitful for all involved. However, bad attitudes, flakiness, rudeness can ruin a vibe and mean that people donʼt offer you opportunities. If you are lucky enough to have some successes along the way, share the knowledge and also give others help and encouragement. Theyʼll remembers it and reciprocates somewhere along the way. Iʼve been lucky enough to have been offered some great chances and opportunities over the years and have worked hard to deliver the goods.

4. Do you approach making music for films such as Elle the same as for video games?

I honestly just make music I love personally and hope that others connect with it too. The approach is just to write something you enjoy listening to. I usually write having no idea where the music is going to be used. Often, the sync a track gets has more to do with itʼs emotional impact than anything else it seems. If itʼs a fast energetic piece with lots of impact, it may be sports or action. More introspective pieces may find their way into movies etc.
This is not the only approach, but it is mine. Some people work very well with detailed briefs etc. Iʼm just not that kind of writer personally. Iʼm much more of an instinct-driven writer. Iʼll go into the studio with no ideas of expectation and see what comes out on the day.

5. Do you have a routine or any technique you follow to maintain your creativity to keep writing music?

Try not to get caught up in the production side of things too early in the creative process. It will kill your creativity if you get bogged down in the sound of a kick drum for 2 hours at the beginning of a session. I am a firm believer in getting ideas down quickly, even if you make mistakes when recording as this is the best way to capitalize on capturing the moment of inspiration. Often your first ideas will be the best. Once the initial idea is down, I can then get into arranging things and tweaking parts etc. The production and mixing elements come last. Try to separate your brain and your sessions into those parts. Get down a raw killer Idea, then refine it and polish it.

6. What advice would you give your 20-year-old-self today, having gone through setting up your own company and writing all that music?

There is no shortcut. It will be hard work, you will have to motivate yourself to continue. You will be broke for longer than you hope. You will want to give up. You will doubt yourself and revere your awesomeness on a daily basis. It will take a while to break through to get an opportunity to show the world what you are capable of. You will recognize the opportunity when it comes and you must be ready rise to the challenge. Youʼll think that it is beyond your capabilities and will probably want to turn it down. Donʼt. Say Yes. You can do it. It will be worth the wait. Youʼll be on cloud nine for a short amount of time. Then youʼll realize that you need to do it all over again. It gets less scary over time. Keep writing. Keep improving. Donʼt spend all your time locked away in the studio. Some of your best ideas inspiring moments will come from just living life in everyday situations. Go!

7. Instrumental music or vocal music? What do you focus on?

Both. Good Music is all that matters.

8. How important is it to be able to write in many different genres or is it better to be an “expert” in one?

Gareth's amazing studio, Stand Alone Production.

Gareth's amazing studio, Stand Alone Production.

Iʼm no expert in any area, but Iʼm always learning. Know where your strengths lie and put those front and centre in your work. However, try to improve on your weaker areas and also try new things. Iʼm a guitar player first and foremost, but Iʼve learned bass, drums, keys, programming, strings and a touch of brass. And percussion! Tambourine and shakers are so important! I have grade 1 in piano but Iʼve written and recorded with full orchestras. Theory is great for some people, but Iʼm self-taught and I write by ear. It doesnʼt matter what your level of expertise is if the idea is good and the will is there to make it happen. I believe in musical osmosis, so ideas from all areas feed into my work.

9. What tip would you give someone who wants to land a deal with a publisher?

Send them no more than 4 tracks, which showcase the absolute best of what you do. Write what you know, write what you love. People will connect with it. Also, check out the kinds of stuff they are already publishing. If you feel what you have is better than what theyʼre currently representing then get stuck in. If not then find somewhere else that you feel you can stand out. There are lots of places your music will find a home.

What Would You Like To Know More About Making Library Music? Let Me Know In The Comments!