Conference Report: Library Music in Audiovisual Media

The “Library Music in Audiovisual Media” study day took place in September 2022 in a virtual format, kindly supported by the RMA and the University of Leeds. The conference highlighted an emerging and vibrant interest in the study of library music (also known as ‘stock’ or ‘production’ music), suggesting that it is no longer wholly accurate to keep reporting a glaring oversight of this musical practice in academic research. In addition to a significant number of registrations, the conference fostered a discussion and interaction between a diverse set of agents who rarely come together in the same context: industry practitioners and academic researchers, and, among these, speakers from a large variety of geographical backgrounds (with participants based across the UK, mainland Europe, Asia, and North and South America), thus allowing for a greater breadth of perspectives that are not exclusively centred in English-speaking areas. 

The papers presented during the conference considered a wide range of topics from current day case studies to more historical perspectives. On the one hand, they examined the production and tagging of library tracks, including their use in media, with a focus on the widespread accessibility of digital tools; on the other they dealt with the “golden age” of library music from the 1960s-80s, or, going back further, with the production and dissemination of library music in cinema and television in the first half of the twentieth century. Other presentations looked to the future, examining the rise of AI technology in every step of the creation and usage of library music. In addition, the presence (or absence) of library music in academia and in the curricula of music schools was also discussed, bringing to the fore the value judgements applied to library music in different contexts. Further highlights included a thought-provoking keynote from Bethany Klein (University of Leeds), which asked “what can popular music and library music learn from each other?”, and industry contributions from composers and library music company directors.

The variety of papers presented at the conference thus broached a wide spectrum of questions relating to the past, present, and even possible future practices surrounding the production and use of library music. While this afforded an overview of what has changed in library music since its appearance in the 1930s to the present day, it is of particular interest to find that certain topicsand issues have remained central in the discussion of library music (be it by its producers or by scholars who seek to examine it), such as matters of authorship and composers’ invisibility (from the so-called “fake musicians” scandal sparked by the inclusion of library music in Spotify and the “cultification” surrounding library music from the 1960s-80s, to the growing prominence of AI systems in the creation of library music). In addition, productive tensions arise when academics turn their attention to an object that is deliberately made to not be paid attention to – after all, library music is often described as “sonic wallpaper”.

Following the success of this event, we are looking towards potential publication opportunities for the conference material and also intend to set up an ongoing network to facilitate the sharing of publications, research tools, calls for papers etc., in relation to this growing field of “library-music studies”. A wide array of topics pertaining to library music remain unexplored: there is still much insight to be gained when we actively listen to library music, or, in other words, when we frame this “sonic wallpaper” as an object worthy of attention. 

James Deaville is Professor in the Music Program of the School for Studies in Art & Culture, Carleton University, Ottawa: he has spoken and published on library music with regard to its use in trailers.

Júlia Durand is a musicology PhD candidate at the NOVA University of Lisbon, Portugal, focusing on the use of library musc in online videos.

Toby Huelin is a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds investigating the use of library music in contemporary British television.

Melissa Morton is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh, researching the role of music and sound in UK television idents—the audiovisual logos that appear between the programmes.

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