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Out of the Film Can and Into the Music Box

In the hills above Calabasas, Joel Goodman and Dan Stein play their part in shedding the old image of production music as cheap and throwaway. Through their production company Music Box, the pair, along with a team of composers scattered around the country, give a less expensive alternative to production companies for music scores and cues to supplement the visuals of their story. In business for seven years, Music Box thrives due to technologically advanced instruments and recording equipment allowing for better sounding music to be created in home studios and the explosion of cable channels with programming that needs music. Shows on NBC, HBO and A & E; have featured Music Box’s work. “Production music has gotten a bad name as canned music with low production values,” said Stein, a co-founder of Music Box. “We’re determined to change that.” The creative side of the company composes and produces original scores and cues for specific programming and for licensing in feature films, television shows, commercials, promos and trailers. More than 5,000 tracks make up its library. The business side includes three sales people working from an office in Calabasas to work with clients. What sets Music Box apart is its ability to produce many different musical styles and its “small shop” sensibility that is hands on and personable, said Kevin Klingler, CEO of SmartSound, a Northridge music software company that licenses Music Box’s work. “If you are a client of theirs, you get a lot of personal attention that some of the bigger suppliers can’t provide you with,” Klingler said. While there are hundreds of production music companies across the country, Goodman estimated only a small number actively create new music, maintain a full-time sales staff and take part in industry trade shows. Membership in the Production Music Association based in Studio City numbers 24, including Music Box. Goodman and Stein met while at college on the East Coast. Stein moved west first, where he attended graduate school at USC. Goodman followed years later, after Music Box had already started in 2000. The use of computers and e-mail eases long distance communication between the pair, and with the approximately 30 outside composers hired for the music making. “It’s as if they are down the street,” Goodman said. Improvements in recording equipment and instruments have allowed production companies like Music Box to create more professional-sounding music. Additionally, production music evolved from pop-oriented sounds to the level of cinematic scores heard in feature films. Production music companies did not work that way, say, 15 years ago and if they did they blew their budget doing one disc every few years, Klingler said. “Now you have every library trying to produce discs just like that,” Klingler said. Television and film producers go with production music due primarily to a lack of time and shortage of money to hire a composer to write and record an original score. An online database allows producers and filmmakers to search for a piece of music. Sales staff help narrow down the possibilities. Creating original music starts with meeting the producers to discuss the type of music required. Stein and Goodman said it’s challenging when a producer comes in with no idea of what they want. “It’s not so much collaboration but it helps when a director knows what he wants the music to achieve,” Stein said. Licensing fees and performance royalties generate revenues for Music Box. About half the music they create lands in the licensing library. Original music ends up there as well, often with restrictions. For instance, the theme song Music Box scored for “The World Series of Poker” on ESPN became so closely identified with the show that it will be years before that music license becomes available. Working with licensors like SmartSound creates an ancillary revenue stream and allows Music Box to reach a different set of customers who are more technology driven, Klingler said. When the pair set out to launch their company, they had a business plan in mind but not in the traditional sense. There were specific goals in mind and an idea of where the company would be in five years. New media programming online and on mobile devices is seen as the next big opportunity for Music Box scores to reach new ears. How Music Box will enter that market hasn’t been worked out yet, as the companies creating the programming are still struggling to make money, Goodman said. “You need to be flexible and nimble and know there is something completely different around the corner,” Stein said.

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