Library Music: The long-term investment for writers and composers

Library music may not be the most glamorous genre, but for a writer or composer it’s another effective way to top up your income, says the Musicians’ Union

Composing library music may be a realistic income source for you, says the MU

Composing library music may be a realistic income source for you, says the MU

Library music is the incidental music that you hear on TV and radio. It rose to prominence during the 60s and 70s, in the ‘golden age’ of British TV. Ever heard of ‘Approaching Menace’ by Neil Richardson or Alan Hawkshaw’s ‘Chicken Man’? They’re better known as the theme tunes to Mastermind or Grange Hill, and both started life as library tracks.

What Makes A Good Library Track?

Library tracks exist to provide underscore, a musical bed upon which images and dialogue can be laid. Background music may be a term of abuse in the world of commercial music, but there couldn’t be a higher compliment when it comes to library.

Of course, trends come and go – in the 60s and 70s, library music was synonymous with easy listening mood music. In the 90s it was difficult to switch on your TV without hearing library trip-hop. These days, though, it’s worth thinking outside the box.

How Do I Start?

Do your research. Have a look around at what the libraries are releasing. Think about the sort of music they need, and any gaps they might have in their catalogue. Think about how to make your music appeal to libraries through words. Give your tracks titles that instantly conjure up memorable images. Have a concept. Use the opportunity to explain what the music is like. Try to make your music timeless. Think long-term. A track that sounds bang up to date in 2014 might not be used in five years’ time, let alone 20.

Get your contract checked. Most libraries hold the copyright of a track for perpetuity and split royalties 50/50 with the composer. So-called royalty-free or copyright-free library music, where the library pays a flat fee up front to the writer, has grown in popularity. But many in the industry feel that this represents a bad deal for all concerned. Get in touch for advice on what constitutes a fair deal.

When your track has been accepted, the best thing you can do is sit back and forget about it.

That’s the thing about library – it’s very much a long-term investment. You’re unlikely to become rich overnight from this kind of work. But, if you’re patient and prolific enough to build up a substantial back catalogue of tracks, it can become a nice little earner.

It’s Getting Recognition

October 2014 saw the inaugural Library Music Awards, celebrating library music and the composers and companies involved. “It illustrated the importance and value of library music to the music industry. It’s great that musicians are getting the recognition they deserve,” says Ben Jones, national organiser for recording and broadcasting at the MU.

A companion day of seminars also took place at BAFTA under the title ‘Tune Up’. It was a really interesting day of talks for composers, including an MU masterclass from Adam Goldsmith giving an insight into his experience of writing and performing library music, and how he undertakes remote recording sessions.

If you’re an MU member and interested in library music, or have questions on any other aspect of your career, get in touch via

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