We chat to Scott Doran from Altitude Music to discover what works and what doesn’t in the labyrinthine world of library music publishing.
Altitude Music is a bespoke sound service based in east London, whose clients include TV production companies, ad agencies, broadcasters, digital agencies, design teams, radio stations, game companies and film production firms.
Since 2010 the company has provided music for for the likes of FIFA and blockbusters including Gladiator, Da Vinci Code and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Here, Scott talks us through some of the challenges and opportunities his company faces in 2014…
You’re a relatively new company in the publishing world. Can you tell me a little about your background, why your company formed and what you set out to do?
After years in recording and touring bands, I was in Eskimo Disco and Caspar Headrillaz, we teamed up as ad composers, specialising in pop, dance and indie music. We did a few jobs that involved orchestral composing which lead to us to writing the FIFA World Cup 2006 theme music and then collaborating with FIFA directly for a few years.
We worked with a lot of global brands as well as composing music for advertising agencies and TV production companies. We were asked to make a ‘library’ album for one of the production music houses, not knowing that library was considered a lesser option to commercial music.
We just made the record in the same way, months of writing, then bringing in the best musicians we could find. We made a chill album with known musicians from bands who actually make that music. We realised later this wasn’t the norm for library music producers generally. And although production music had come a long way, we knew we could take it a lot further by incorporating our experience of working closely with editors and how they like music arranged, as well as our commercial music background.
You have more than 30 composers on your books. Can you pick out a couple of the more notable ones and tell me a little more about them?
Tim Oliver – you’ll hear his music all over TV, he’s a great writer, but he also tours with the likes of Lady Gaga and Neneh Cherry. He can turn his hand to most styles, yet be authentic because he has first hand experience playing many styles.
Jim Dooley is an Emmy Award winner who’s worked with Zimmer on Gladiator, Da Vinci Code and Pirates of the Caribbean. He’s done loads and his Trailer Music for Must Save Jane Catalogue is incredible.
Chris Lewis has written three albums we call the Hand Drawn trilogy – it’s all rustic acoustic goodness. People always request Chris’s music, he’s brilliant.
How is Altitude challenging the traditional library and production music publisher remit, if at all?
We’re a genuine full-service music agency offering high quality production music, bespoke music, commercial music supervision, and sound design. We’re blurring the lines the lines in music to respond to the blurring of media that we see more and more across content for events, digital and TV content.
One production can have multiple music requirements, and we have experience and understand how they all work. We also present music in a way that is clear, easily accessible and free of any incomprehensible music speak; editors and producers seem to like that about us.
The old library model is like, ‘Here’s our catalogue, if you find something that works, then good, if not, sorry’. We’re more like, ‘What are your music needs for the project, where do you want to go with this?’
What are the benefits for music supervisors/brands/music users to opt for bespoke music rather than well-known pieces? When do bespoke pieces work best?
The problem with commercial music is it’s usually been chosen because an advert/TV producer or creative is just personally into a track, not because it’s a good fit with what we’re looking at. A well-composed bespoke track can bring film to life on a deeper level and is individual to that campaign and that client’s requests.
The other thing is, if the viewer is thinking, ‘Oh I like this song, I heard it on the radio’, then they’re not concentrating on the narrative of the film. Bespoke music is more dynamic.
Do you have much of an international presence? If so, where, and how important are those markets to your business?
We have sub-publishers in every major territory – all of Europe, the US and across Asia. We’re in constant contact. We recently launched Must Save Jane, our sister trailer music label, and that’s definitely brought Los Angles to our attention. It’s exciting hearing your music on a blockbuster, but it requires a lot of homework as to what LA supervisors are looking for.
What is your largest revenue stream?
Advertising. When there’s a strong brand identity, it’s so important to get the music right. That’s our strong suite and it’s where we do well.
Can you tell me more about your stem pack system?
Stem packs are our USP. You can download all of our tracks as instrument group separates, usually four to five stems in a pack. If it was a rock track it could be drums, bass, guitars and vocals. The editor can then re-edit the track any way they choose, that could be a simple muting of a part, or a complete re-edit to fit a film better. It’s like the main version of a track is just a suggested possibility of the composition.
Does your stem system allow clients to create the music they want themselves?
They can do anything with them, so long as our composer gets paid! It’s exciting for us and for the client to explore new musical avenues with the stems.
I actually think the industry’s waiting for a big new trend to get excited about. We need a few people to take some risks…
How have you seen the library and production music publishing world change since you started out in 2010?
The biggest change is that clients are realising that production music is now, on the most part, very high quality. When a creative disses library music it’s a sign they’re stuck in the past and probably gonna ask you if you have anything like Moby, or maybe Coldplay.
What are the biggest trends in library music in 2014?
I actually think the industry’s waiting for a big new trend to get excited about. The last was dubstep. I’ve not seen anything to get that excited about recently. We need a few people to take some risks, and then something new will come out of it.
Music that builds is still important – authentically made but modular in how it builds and can be edited easy.
What are the biggest challenges facing your business in 2014?
I think the biggest challenge is what to do with all the CDs we printed during the first three years…
Some companies now have in-house composers and their own libraries, this trend can only be bad for music companies.
Some music companies are worried about the buyout catalogues, the non-MCPS ones. But I just see them as cheap and nasty. We’re the organic free-range music that got produced sustainably by healthy happy composer bods. There’ll always be a place for the good stuff!