Library Music

To the majority of the music listening masses, the term 'Library Music' is unfamiliar but some of the music itself may be very familiar. Here is a quick beginners guide.

What Is This 'Library Music' That They Speak Of?

Unlike most music which is recorded with the aim of making it commercially available to the general public, Library music (also sometimes called Production music) is written and recorded with the sole intention of licensing it for use in television, films and commercials. For example, take a low budget film which needs incidental music and maybe even a theme tune but doesn't have the money to hire a composer to write music specifically for that purpose. The producer can go to a music library (i.e. record company specialising in library music), find some music that matches their requirement and pay a relatively affordable licensing fee to use it. This also goes for television shows and commercials.

This type of music is still being made and issued today utilising digital formats but the focus of this article are the records produced during what is generally considered to be the heyday of Library music which spanned 1960s to 1980s.

Considering the reason for their existence, it is not surprising that library tracks were almost always instrumental and they came in a wide range of genres including jazz, funk, rock, electronic, classical, experimental and novelty. They were put onto albums which were sometimes themed and the tracks would often have a description such as 'Cheeky, up-tempo', 'Big romantic string theme', 'Funky, humorous' and 'Weird violence - vigorous and dramatic'.

Highly Collectible

Some of the best known record libraries are KPM, Chappell, DeWolfe and Bruton. The records which they produced were not available to the general public and were produced in small numbers with some of those being unceremoniously dumped during the onset of the digital age, meaning that most are now quite rare. There is a relatively small but enthusiastic following for this music and collectors are willing to part with many hundreds of dollars for a very good and highly sought after album. The last few years have seen the reissue of some of these rare and expensive albums by specialist companies catering for the Library collector market and, although die hard collectors will still seek the originals, those who want the music but are unwilling or unable to pay for an original are quite content to pay $30-$40 for a brand new reissue.

Take A Sample

A few well known composers and musicians have dabbled with writing Library music, for example John Barry and Vangelis, but the vast majority of Library composers are not household names. Nevertheless, some of them have forged very successful careers in music and, as well as their Library endeavours, they have worked as writers, arrangers and musicians for some very successful artists resulting in impressive CVs and a lot of respect in the industry.

In addition to the regular income received from the themes of long running TV shows, a new source of income has appeared over the last two decades with the emergence of sampling. Major artists such as Drake, Jay Z, 50 Cent, Kanye West and Logic have all used samples from Library tunes and, although these are sometimes only a matter of seconds in length, they often repeated over and over to form the main rhythm or melody of the song. The income from these big selling songs has provided a nice little earner in the later years of these composers' careers as well as greatly increasing their credibility in the eyes of their grandchildren.

What Has All Of This Got To Do With Singapore?

It seems that there was a market here for this music and I have been fortunate enough to find a good number of records here, mainly from just a few music libraries who seem to have targeted the Singapore broadcasting industry. Looking at the notes handwritten on the back covers of a couple of records (the writing of broadcast notes on these records is not unusual), I can see that they were used by a radio station for advertising spots for the following:

  • C.K. Tang Special Price Tag Spot 11-7-73

  • Lim Seng Soon Electric Co. Spot 5-10-74

  • Hong Kong Tourist Association Spot 28-7-78

  • Mirabelle Restaurant Spot @ 45rpm (which is interesting because it's a 33rpm record!) 2-2-1977

and one which will probably be a lot more recognisable:

  • Harpic Lavatory Cleanser Spot 31-5-1972

Normally writing on a record cover would be a bit of a turn off but notes such as these give the feeling that you are holding a bit of history in your hands. Speaking of history, C.K Tang founded the Tangs department store which is still trading in Singapore, and he died just 9 days short of his 100th birthday in 2000.

Further Listening

If you are interested in learning a bit more, there is a short BBC radio documentary which goes into a bit more depth here -

A group of Library composers and musicians from the KPM music library have performed a number of concerts where they play Library music live and you can hear the latest concert from October 2018 here:

And finally, if you are British and of an age where you remember 1970s and 1980s television, you might recognise these, which all make use of Library music:

And to finish off, a brilliant live version of a 1970s sporting classic: