There’s a category of music that’s heard worldwide more than any other category of music.
Every commercial production or commercially-marketed production worth seeing or listening to has what we call ‘music under’ or what some folks call ‘background music’. This music (if chosen correctly) sets the tone and the pacing for the piece, and serves the production by reinforcing the mood and giving the listener the correct framing for the material being presented.
In the above statement is something that’s seldom taught anymore in Media Production classes. And the reason I call it Media Production is that this genre includes everything from podcast to radio to television to commercial television to television commercial production; in order of importance, production values, and monies spent on the production itself.
In all these soundtracks, there are hard-working studio musicians and production companies who operate in every mode and means; whether from a shoestring to elaborate production companies with full-time score writers and performers. The score quality of these companies ranges from consistently good to consistently mediocre; and for the program’s Producer it’s always a balance of cost against score quality. Of course the very best scores are movie scores, where the score is a part of the story; an easy example of this is Star Wars. You can work your way down from there to the low-budget stuff where you can actually hear the scratches in the old Corelli-Jacobs records.
As you may remember me saying before, I was part of a production team for a very large electronic instrument maker; we were a small and very busy team, and we had no less than ten different full music libraries at any one time upon which to draw for our production work. Those days are long past (coming up on 14 years), and I do other things now. But that doesn’t mean that those days are any less a part of who I am.
Some of the old Library names were DeWolfe, Network, Columbia… Other, newer ones at the time were outfits like Atmosphere (used a lot of them!); and the list is insanely huge if you should ever choose to Google ‘Library Music’ or ‘Stock Music’.
Some of the stuff was so great that we couldn’t use it in productions, because we simply didn’t do stuff that required that kind of feel. Instead, we’d copy it over to an audiotape and listen to it in the car on the way home… and try to figure out a way to use it. Some of the stuff was knockoffs from current commercial hits, like The Verve, and so on. But when done for a commercial production, the music makes a basic 10-to-45-second statement up front, then the energy eases back past that point for a music under; allowing you to keep that same energy for the production’s narration and visuals.
But for today, I want to give my ‘Best Library Score’ award to Food Network’s Pioneer Woman program. Guys, whoever you are, you’ve done a fantastic job. There are two tracks in particular that are used, not on every show however, which are impressively good, and worth turning up the volume just to hear the music under. Both involve an acoustic guitar lead, with a simple rolling rhythm, and are uncluttered by too many extra flourishes or added instruments. The simple joy and wonder of the music itself shines like the prairie sun. Guys, I know you’ll never get any commercial acknowledgement or awards, (just like us other guys producing industrial programs), but you have my respect and my ear.
From a guy who’s heard an awful lot of music when choosing a background for a production, that’s quite a complement. Even more so when I tell you that I wish I could own a CD of that work. Yep, it’s that good.