Bjorn Lynne's Shockwave-Sound is one of the leading portals for online royalty free music. "I became aware of royalty free music early in 2000 when I happened to come across a site that sold music tracks for Flash designers," said Lynne, "I thought that was a good idea and since I was a producer of instrumental music myself, I decided to try to sell some of my own music in that marketplace."
Within a couple of weeks he had the first version of Shockwave-Sound online selling his own compositions. Nowadays, it's a full time job managing a site with up to 40 producers and a rosta of over 3000 royalty free tracks.
Who uses Royalty Free Music these days and for what purpose?
"The vast majority of people who buy Royalty Free Music are small-time media producers. Videographers who create corporate videos, students making student films, website designers. Even wedding photographers who produce photo slide-show DVD's for the bride and groom after the wedding. Things like that. We do also have some big name customers, but that's the exception rather than the rule. Generally, itâ€™s small companies who produce media, advertising, shareware video games, Flash games, things like that."
Are TV and film producers turning to RFM as opposed to bespoke or commissioned compositions?
"Generally, no. Certainly not the 'big' production companies who produce programmes for the BBC and so on. They still use bespoke music, I guess they see it as a bit 'beneath them' to use stock music. They will of course in most cases get a better result by hiring a composer for bespoke music. And that's fine. I donâ€™t want to change that. I have no real wish to have our royalty-free music used in BBC or ITV drama productions, Sky News or anything like that."
What in your opinion makes a really good Royalty Free track?
"Our highest-selling tracks are slick, neat, sparkly pop/electronica/soft-rock tracks with a commercial feel. Often, music with fewer instruments sell more than music with more instruments, because layers and layers of instruments on top of each other tend to make the whole production 'too busy' and too dense, making it less suitable for use with visual media. Also, a track should not have very significant jumps or changes in intensity throughout. It should just be good music that will appeal to a wide audience. Pop/rock crossovers with good melodies are always popular."
With so much Royalty Free Music available will the 'traditional' composer and publisher survive in the future?
"Certainly. To be honest, I think they are entirely separate markets and I really cannot see that music libraries selling stock music will take away work from traditional media composers. The market in which we sell royalty-free music is a much lower budget market, where they couldnâ€™t possibly afford to hire a bespoke music composer, pay for studio recording time, and so on. Looking at the list of the latest 200 orders placed on www.shockwave-sound.com , I only see small companies and individuals, none of whom I could ever imagine would be able to hire a bespoke music composer."
How do the collection agencies view Royalty Free Music? Will they be facing loss of revenue as a result of RFM?
"Quite the opposite, I think royalty-free music can increase the revenue of performance royalty collection agencies. It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but actually most music in the royalty-free music marketplace is registered with performance royalty collection agencies such as PRS*. What we sell on Shockwave-Sound.com is a synchronization license, i.e. a license for the customer to put our music to video and make DVD's, etc. Public performance and broadcast royalties (as collected by the PRS) still apply to most of our music."
So how does the process of royalty free music operate?
"Let's say a customer buys a music track from us, for use in a DVD video that heâ€™s making. The composer of the royalty-free music track is a member of PRS (or any worldwide performing royalty collection agency). The customer buys the track from Shockave-Sound.com, in effect buying a mechanical and synchronization license. Having purchased this license from us, he can go ahead and put the music track into his DVD video and manufacture copies of this DVD, without any further cost. A year down the line, this video ends up being broadcast on TV. Now, the composer and publisher of the music track will receive additional royalties from the PRS. This does however not cost our customer anything, because the PRS does not collect money from our customer. They collect money from the broadcaster, in this case the TV station. And the broadcaster just pays an annual blanket license fee to PRS, so it doesn't actually cause any additional cost to the broadcaster either. The money that the PRS pays out to the composer and publisher just comes from annual blanket licenses already paid by the broadcasters."
So the composer could eventually see returns from performance royalties?
"Yes. But our customer is happy because he just paid a one-time royalty-free license fee for the music, and didnâ€™t have to pay any further fees. The composer his happy because he got his share of the sale that happened on the web site in the first place, and he also ended up receiving performance royalties from the PRS. We do not work with any composers or publishers who are members of MCPS."
You produce a large number of compositions yourself. Is it demanding to keep pace with what customers are looking for?
"I used to produce a lot of music but these days, with managing the website and the business on a day to day basis, I only have time to produce maybe 10-15 new tracks per year. When I do, I try to produce something that I like, and not just base it on what I think will sell."
As for running your own site, is it difficult for you to categorize music effectively so that customers can find what they are looking for?
"Yes, that can be a challenge. In my experience, people tend to browse for music tracks more than they search for keywords, so I feel it's important to have a good selection of music genres, and not too many different genres either. If a customer is presented with more than 100 different music categories to look through, heâ€™s just going to be overwhelmed and perhaps put off. So I try my very best to keep the number of genres down, but at the same time have enough genres to allow reasonable separation, so that you don't get music of wildly different styles bundled together into a single genre. It's difficult. With 3,000 tracks online now Iâ€™ve had to resort to an "Other/Unclassifiable" genre where I put everything that I just can't find a place for anywhere else."
What other problems are associated with administering a RFM site?
"There is a lot of tough competition out there, so always trying to get a good balance between good/reasonable prices and competitive prices is always a struggle. Also, not that it's really a 'problem' but I spend a lot of time emailing with customers and potential customers because there are always people with 'special requests' and proposed uses of our music that doesn't really come into any of the license categories. People who want discounts, people who ask for special licensing deals, people who just canâ€™t understand how to use the music they've purchased, people who canâ€™t find the download link, and so on. A lot of my time goes to dealing with just everyday customer and potential customer communication."
People may argue that the established composers still use the traditional methods of publishing, therefore Royalty Free Music will be produced by inferior composers. Do you agree?
"That may be. But there are exceptions. I feel that some of the music - not all, but some - that we sell on Shockwave-Sound.com is of such a high quality that it can easily compete with the 'established composers'. By this, I assume you mean composers who either write pop songs for the mainstream pop market and composers who write bespoke music for TV and media. I guess there is some truth the suggestion that Royalty Free Music is â€œinferiorâ€� in some cases, but with so many thousands of tracks, good and bad, being used in media every day, you canâ€™t really generalise."
Are more established producers migrating to Royalty Free Music as a more instantaneous source of income?
"I see some 'established producers', coming to us and wanting to sell some parts of their catalogue as stock music, as a means to add another additional source of revenue for their music. Which is fine. Some are accepted, but the vast majority is rejected. We are simply overwhelmed by too many music submissions, and we couldnâ€™t possibly take onboard everything."
What will happen in the future and what is the next step for Royalty Free Music?
"I think the market will just grow. There are more and more 'small-fry' video producers, slideshow producers, website designers, people who make videos purely for YouTube, and so on. I've seen some worrying signs lately that prices are being pressed down, which is unfortunate for the whole market. The market has existed for many years with prices generally around US$ 30 per track for a 'small license' and US$ 75 per track for a 'bigger license'. But some new sites have come up lately, selling royalty-free music for a pittance frankly, from $3 to $6 and so on, and this worries me. I think it's unnecessarily cheap and it only serves to lower the perceived value of music, royalty-free music, and music composers. I just hope that respectable composers will stay away from those places."