The human touch: sound libraries need to make searching and downloading easy without being impersonal

The human touch: sound libraries need to make searching and downloading easy without being impersonal – Industry Overview

Edmond M. Rosenthal

“Music is emotional — and on a search engine, all of the personality goes away,” surmises Russell Emanuel, CEO of London’s Extreme Music. That’s why his music library is hedging its bet on the future of online search and downloading of sound. While it’s following the trend of fully automated service, it’s also one of the first to offer a compromise, and other libraries are expected to to follow suit.

The new option is Instant Music Search (IMS), which puts the client live into a chat room with one of four music supervisors that are on duty at any given time. Emanuel says the supervisor can play tracks and download files while chatting with the customer. Thousands of music searches are being done each week on IMS, he notes.

Emanuel is not alone in the realization that a human touch is still in demand. Randy Thornton, president of Non-Stop Productions and partner in Non-Stop Music Library in Salt Lake City, reports the next step in his company’s online evolution will be chat rooms for customized searches. Beyond that, he expects to offer the ability of a client to deliver a 30-minute program to his library when Non-Stop is called upon to do the music supervision.

His conclusion is that a library can’t go exclusively in either direction: “You need to have the convenience of the automated search system, backed up by a knowledgeable customer-service team.”

Standard online search now represents about 30 percent of client search activity, according to feedback at North Hollywood’s Megatrax. Composer Ron Mendelsohn explains, “You still have to have a human being behind a search system. A lot of our customers will always want to speak to someone, and we have a 10-person customer service team that knows the library inside and out.”


For its traditional search-and-delivery mechanism, Extreme Music has a joint effort with the three libraries of EMI and four of Zomba. The total of eight libraries are accessed via the Play search engine, either via Extreme Music’s Web site ( or directly through Keywords and categories are offered in English, German, French, Italian and Spanish — with Portuguese and Japanese soon to be added. Clients can download MP3s or order discs.

Emanuel says the online service is typically used by major advertising agencies, film music supervisors and post production facilities. “Some of them just leave the online system open with us 24 hours a day,” he notes.


Meanwhile, Gerd Leonhard, founder/ president of License Music (, asserts, “The biggest change in the industry will be providing subscription-based services where the user does not have to take physical possession of the music.”

LicenseMusic recently went through a change of its own: it was acquired by Charly Acquisitions of Guernsey, England. Shutting down its San Francisco operation for four months to reorganize, it was relaunched in England on August 1. It is offering more than 30,000 precleared tracks online. Central to the new set-up is a subscription service with an annual fee, allowing the use of any track over the course of a year. Generally there is a separate license for each medium used by the subscriber, but there are also package prices for those involved, for example, in feature films, TV series and commercials.

Leonhard notes an independent film producer would pay an annual fee of $1,000, while a corporate user could pay as little as $500.The more popular songs in the library are not part of the subscription service.

The company’s automated search mechanism allows use of some 3,000 keywords, ranging from “ballgames” to “Pacific Rim native folk styles.” Leonhard says it usually takes about 12 minutes for a customer to find a song, license it and download it. For a CD-quality recording, it takes approximately another 15 minutes for downloading, provided that the client has a good Internet connection, such as DSL or T-I. On a standard modem, this takes about an hour and a half.

He says many clients opt to download the more-quickly-delivered MP3 file, generally used as a temporary track or for previewing. The CD-quality is 70MB, while an MP3 file is 4 MB. He estimates half of clients download in MP3 and are sent a CD for production. Those downloading CD-quality are largely motion picture and TV producers, who generally have powerful Internet connections.

LicenseMusic is in the process of engaging a new service provider in Europe for hosting the site and providing the audio.


Ron Mendelsohn claims Megatrax ( was one of the first to digitize its library and put all of its titles online. All of its approximately 10,000 tracks are accessible using the MusicSource search engine, provided by UK-based Counterpoint Software. The search criteria is laid out by genre, style, instrument, tempo, composer, keyword or any combination thereof.

As of September 1, clients were expected to be able to audition tracks, stream them online and download them in the Windows Media format. This was also to involve saving them in CD-quality as WAV or AIF files. Mendelsohn points out, “Windows Media is a compressed format but the difference from CD-quality is not noticeable.”

Clients can license the music online by filling out and submitting an online form, so long as they are registered as clients. Mendelsohn comments, “Most of our clients already have the CDs on their premises and just use the Internet for online search and licensing. But even some of those who have the discs find it more convenient to download the tracks directly into their workstations.”

Because Megatrax is a member of, its clients can simultaneously search the libraries of the four other members — 615 Music, VideoHelper Manhattan Production Music and Omnimusic.


At Non-Stop Productions (, music goes into the search engine as soon as it is completed, and is searchable by a wide range of keywords and categories. Beyond this, there are a number of options. If there are 50 cues that match the description, the client can print a copy of the three that are desired and then go to his library where the supplier’s CDs are stored. Or he can request a CD in AIF,WAV, MP3 or any other format — to be e-mailed, posted on Non-Stop’s FTP site or on the client’s FTP site. Another option is having the provider print a custom CD of the cues that were found and overnight it to the client

President Randy Thornton estimates 30 percent of its customers are downloading in AIF. He elaborates, “These tend to be customers working on Avids or hard-disk-based editing systems. They’re more likely to have T-I, DSL or high-speed cable modems and tend to be more computer savvy.”

The company recently combined its original-music and licensed-library services, providing Al F-files for the national TV campaign for the film Spiderman.

RELATED ARTICLE: Another option: a human catalog

SAN FRANCISCO — While there has been a move toward sound libraries combining their search abilities on a single Web site, the broadest of searches still require human help.

Neither using nor offering Web search is Kaleidosound (415-543-0531) in San Francisco. A consultant and clearinghouse since 1978, the company has more than 100 libraries to cross-search for clients, then assisting them with licensing. Owner Forrest Patten has developed his own notation and indexing system, which he maintains as new CDs come in.

Kaleidosound handles such libraries as Promusic and learns which of its own and represented libraries have the textures needed for a specific job. The knowledge of these libraries is combined with that of others when clients state their needs.

“By talking to a customers directly,” Patten says, “we can uncover more of what they are thinking about.” He adds that fast turnaround is also a major concern: “In a lot of commercial projects, music is the last thing they think about, so they need to find something right away.”

Edmond M. Rosenthal

Simple search for simple needs

ELIZABETHTOWN, PA — “Online search sounds like a great technology, but it works better for me to go through my CDs really fast,” contends Jim Bowman, owner-editor-videographer at Bowman & Co.(”I can usually pick something appropriate in short order.”

A video production and post production facility largely serving industrial and nonprofit accounts, Bowman uses only buyout music. The owner explains, “For me, it’s not worth the cost of the record-keeping and reporting involved in needle-drop.” He has buyout music from Music Bakery, Music2Hues, Fresh Music Library and Flying Hands. He notes that searching their discs is simple enough because of their categorization.

Bowman holds, “Online search means you have to go through the business of downloading and tying up your Internet connection. I want to limit my search by what I have in my rack. For me, the music is a loss leader. I doubt that I ever make back the money that I have in my discs. Sound is the last thing I consider. It’s not the bedrock. It’s just in a supporting role here.” — Edmond M. Rosenthal

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