To Soothe the Savage Beast

Gather a group of photo enthusiasts, and the conversation soon turns to digital imaging and the hotly debated issue of copyright. With the proliferation of photo cds, scanners, and digital manipulation, photographers are growing increasingly wary. Yet those same photographers have long violated the rights of another group–musicians. We all acknowledge the impact music can add to photography. Try to imagine the movie JAWS without its signature sounds or 2001: A Space Odyssey without the “Blue Danube Waltz.” Whether the equipment includes a single projector showing a summer vacation, a sophisticated multi­projector corporate presentation, or a wedding video, music has become a nearly inseparable part of the final screening. But, all too often–knowingly or not–photographers have blithely ignored the copyright of their music. 

Ignorance may be bliss, but it can also be very expensive. Consider the plight of a company in Grand Junction, Colorado. Recently, this company was fined several thousand dollars for tying a local radio station into its telephone system. Callers placed on hold were entertained with radio music. Unfortunately for the company, no music rights had been obtained.

Like a photographer, a musician obtains a copyright when s/he composes music. The legal issues become complex when that piece of music is recorded. The recording artists have rights as well as the record company producing the cd or tape. And, finally, if the piece is played in public, a performance right exists.

Before going further, let’s dispel a long­held myth: Photographers assume they can use any music they want as long as they don’t charge admission. Not true! This mistaken belief may have begun with the notion that a big record company doesn’t have the time or energy to prosecute an individual showing slides to the camera club. However, music companies are becoming zealous in defending their rights. Part of the problem is a lack of awareness on the part of photographers–a problem I hope to address here.

Let’s examine a true-to­life example:

The local camera club hears of my recent trip to Costa Rica and invites me to share my slides. Naturally, I want to entertain them as well as teach them a little about photography and ecology. I put together a two-projector dissolve show. What are my options for adding music to this program?

First, I could commission original music. Although an original score would be dynamic, I’d also need to take out a second (and third?) mortgage to pay for it.

Next, I might decide to search my large collection of cds for appropriate selections. I’m probably going to need three or four pieces to fill a fifteen minute program. I remember a perfect selection on a Fresh Aire disk by Mannheim Steamroller. I contact the record company ( in this case, American Gramaphone). A friendly employee patiently explains the process. I need a “master use” license from the record label, plus a license from the publisher, plus a license for public performance. (No wonder ignorance is bliss!)

I ask, “What kind of money we are discussing here?” She explains that the fee depends on many factors. Television use is the most expensive; radio use costs less. For my slide show, the master-use fee might be as low as a few hundred dollars. But, she hastens to add, I still need to pay the publisher. Publishers usually charge the same fee as quoted by the record label. Add this charge to the performance fee, and my little slide show is growing expensive–and all for just ONE song! (Note: churches and schools can usually use music without paying license fees.)

The subject of sheet music comes up, and I think I see my loophole. American Gramaphone publishes a variety of sheet music, including solo piano. My sister is an accomplished pianist. So, I just make a 1500 mile trip, record her playing my favorite pieces, and synchronize the music with the slides. Wrong­o! As you might have guessed, the process isn’t that simple. The only part I’ve circumvented is the master use license. I still need to obtain publishing and performance rights.

This brings me to the resource of music libraries, which provide an affordable means of obtaining licensed music. Initially, these libraries were called “needle­drop” since you paid a fee every time the phonograph needle was dropped on a particular selection. Most major music libraries are needle­drop, and the amount and variety of selections available is astounding. Sadly, I bid adieu to the lovely Fresh Aire piece and begin searching one of these libraries. I find a nice cut with a fee as low as $50. Not bad! However, this license is for only one use, and I have to report each time I present my slide show. For a small producer like myself, the obstacles are, again, daunting.

A solution to my dilemma evolved in the late 1970’s. Within the music library business, a whole new sub­industry was born–the “no­needle-drop” or buy­out library. The theory is simple: pay for the music ONCE and use it forever, whenever, and as much as you like! Buy-out music can cost as little as $30 per disk in quantity, although I usually pay $50 to $75 per disk. For that very reasonable sum, I get sixty minutes or more of royalty­free music. Since the term “forever” doesn’t carry much legal value, the license for a buyout disk normally extends ninety-nine years. (That works for me!) You may use the music in video, film, slide shows, cassette programs, multi­media, TV, radio and satellite broadcast. It’s also legal to charge your client extra for the use of your library music. If your production is broadcast, the library does ask that you notify them. If so, the composer receives a share of the fee, but this does NOT cost you anything! As for restrictions, buy­out music is much like computer software. You can’t lend, share or distribute the music. The license is granted to one individual, business or site. I specifically asked if a camera club could buy the disks and let members use them, and I was told NO.

How can buy­out be so reasonable in cost? With the computer revolution, sound production technology has made giant strides, while the price has tumbled. Quality studio equipment is within the reach of even the small producer. And the music is getting better every day. In the early days, many musicians used a synthesizer leading to a certain sameness from many small studios. The trend now is definitely toward a more lush, complex sound–much of it acoustic. Even orchestral works are being produced.

I encourage photographers, amateur and professional, to explore the buy-out method of addingmusic to still or video shows.

To get started, call several of the companies listed on my reference sheet and request their demo and catalog. Listen carefully to each demo. Evaluate the number of different themes in each library; looking for a variety of styles. Note the cost per cut. A typical disk has eight to twelve selections, each cut ranging from two to five minutes long. Often, these cuts are accompanied by sixty, thirty, and fifteen second versions. Obviously, the longer cuts are intended for radio and TV commercials, but I find them useful as introductions, exits or transitions.

Look for music which augments your style of photography. While the choice is subjective, for my nature and landscape programs, I prefer a combination of new age, light jazz and classical pieces. I want the music to complement my slides, not compete. The process is much like matting and framing a photograph. You want to enhance the photograph without calling attention to the frame. I usually avoid music with lyrics.

When producing a program with several cuts, vary the music style. Don’t put several slow cuts in a row or you’ll lose the audience. Start with an up­tempo cut. Sandwich slow cuts between more lively styles. It’s also a good idea to vary the screen time for each slide–five or six seconds is probably optimal, but try both longer and shorter times. Don’t drag the dissolve times out too long. A one-second dissolve is usually more effective than a three or four second one.

Buy­out music has been very exciting for me. I can now produce slide shows with good music, at a fair price, and without violating any copyright laws. Besides record companies taking an increasingly dim view of unauthorized use, the three public performance companies are monitoring music use. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC all exist to represent the rights of the music creators. They are not “music police,” and they take no joy in fining a violator. But they will all prosecute where appropriate.

Last year I attended a photo conference. One of the speakers gave a program on putting together more effective slide shows. He had several good ideas and thoroughly discussed the value of music. But he never once mentioned copyright issues. Thinking he knew something I didn’t, I waited until after the program and asked him how he dealt with the difficulties of copyrights. His face instantly clouded; he glanced around, lowered his voice, and assured me that since he never charged money for his programs, he was well within the law! Ironically, in spite of his own lack of responsibility, I suspect he would scream the loudest if anyone stole his images.

If we as photographers are to preserve, protect, and–indeed–demand respect for our photography rights, it’s mandatory that we respect the rights of others. Only then does everyone win.

Special thanks to the following for their help in preparing this article: Jack Waldenmaier, Music Bakery; American Gramaphone; BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.)  

See Steve’s web site at

Buy-Out Music Reference  Compiled by Steve Traudt

Music Bakery 7522 Campbell Road, Suite 113­2, Dallas,TX 75248 (800­229­0313)
Cost is $48 per cd. Releases several new disks annually. Has about 20 cds now. Call forcatalog. Free audition privilege. (I have 6 of their disks and find them well done anddiverse.)
Fresh Music Library 80 South Main St, Hanover, NH 03755 ( 800­545­0688)
Has 25 cd library. Cost is $45 for one; $99 for 3 disks; $195 for 6 disks. Ask for demo cdcalled Quick Shot Directory. Fifteen day trials. Some of the disks which should be goodfor slide shows: New Age Pop; Textures; Cool Grooves; Orchestral Maneuvers; and DesertSchooner. 
River City Productions Box 750786, Memphis, TN 38175 ( 800­755­8729)
Disks are $59 each–plus $5 shipping. Has 11 disks now; plans to release several more. Theyhave a Nature volume as well as a Weddings one. Call for demo cd. 
Canary Productions Box 202, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010 ( 800­368­0033) 
Over 15 buy­out disks. Prices are $99 or less, depending on quantity requested. Call fordemo cd.
Dimension Music & Sound Effects Box 992, Newnan, GA 30264 ( 800­634­0091) 
Buy­out music & sound effects library. $100 each or buy a ten cd set for $400. Ask fordemo. Has a two cd set called, New Age Christmas. 
Energetic Music, INC Box 84583, Seattle, WA 98124 (800­323­2972) 
Various buy­out disks. $59.95 each. Titles include: Travel & Leisure; Wedding & QuietTimes; Sports & Action. Call for catalog and demo.  
Gene Michaels Productions 1105 N. Front St, Suite 29, Niles,MI 49120 ( 800­955­0619) 
Has over 25 cds. $75 each; any 3 for $195. You can audition the library free for 30 dayswithout risk. Very high quality; large variety. Has several closeout cassettes for $25 each. (I have four of their volumes.) 
E.L.S. Productions 882 Walden Meadows Drive, Murray, UT 84123 ( 800­927­3472) 
Large variety. Can buy a cd demo for $5 which includes some tracks you get to keep anduse. Have a $99 package special of 3 cds, featuring 40 long themes. 15 day money-backguarantee on the package. (I have 5 of their disks and they’re very good.)
QCCS Productions 1350 Chambers St, Eugene, OR 97402 (503­345­0212) 
22 Cds, $49.95 per cd. Entire web catalog now featuring a meg3 demos of every song in the library online for review at: 

The following companies were also reviewed but they were higher in cost and seemed gearedmore toward larger users:

Creative Support Services: (800­468­6874) Soper Sound: (800­227­9980) Production Garden Music: (800­247­5317) Omnimusic: (800­828­6664)

Other companies not reviewed but , perhaps, worth a phone call: 

Davenport Productions: (800­951­6666) DeWolfe Music Library: (800­221­6713) Promusic Inc: (305­776­2070) Signature Music Library: (800­888­7151)

(Note: The companies above are not listed in any particular order. All phone numbers, addresses and prices are accurate to the best of my knowledge at the time of going online. However, this is a dynamic industry with frequent change. Always call for current information.)

by Steve Traudt

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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