Recently I saw a film on Youtube about a well known media composer who principally writes library music for a living. The only interesting thing about this was one of the comments underneath which said something along the lines of “I love this tune and have heard it lots on TV and always wondered who wrote it. I can’t believe that this guy is wasting his time writing background music”.
This happens a lot. There is a continuing perception that library music and media music is just “background” music and is therefore somehow inferior or lower quality. This may be partly because, although it written by world class composers and meticulously produced, it is inexpensive to licence and can be used by anyone. Some of the world’s best composers (including many of Hollywood’s finest) write library music. In fact this perception is so widespread this is the principal reason that the term “library music” has largely been dropped in favour of “production music”. It’s interesting that in the Youtube piece the term “background music” was almost used as an intentionally derogatory term. It could be argued that all film music is background music as its purpose is to compliment the visuals and not to detract attention from them. In other words, the music should help to drive the narrative but should not overpower the film. Hence “background music” could be said to be an appropriate term if film music is done as it should be. After all, could it really be said that John Barry was wasting his time writing “background music”? Perhaps some might say that should he not have composed the music for James Bond, The Ipcress File, and Dances With Wolves, and continued his pop career with the John Barry Seven? Or maybe Hans Zimmer should have carried on doing tunes for The Buggles instead of wasting his time on background music for Gladiator, Batman, and Black Hawk Down?
So if you are thinking that media music and film music is just “background music” you may well be right. That is exactly the job that all good film music should do. Whether we are aware of it or not, some of our best loved TV and film music is library music. So let’s love it, embrace it, and be proud of it.