Why is stock music so varied in price?
The answer I’m going to give you is based on my experience running music libraries and writing stock music.
Before the internet took off it was really expensive. Stock music was known as library music back then and it used to come on CDs. So companies would get CDs sent to them and when they used the track they’d have to go through the traditional copyright collecting societies and it could end up being like 100, 200, 300 pounds. It was expensive. The UK copyright protection societies were MCPS and PRS at the time. I think they merged recently, but you can look at the website and see the kind of prices that they charge now, and it was the same sort of prices back then.
As the Internet started to pick up, a few sites appeared and this was probably in the late 90s, early 2000s. A few sites were selling stock music and there was no set price. There are no rules or legislation for these types of things, so owners of the sites would just come up with their own prices. People tend to look at the competition when they’re setting up a business. And the standard price that emerged seemed to be around thirty dollars for a track that covered business use.
At the time, business use was really corporate videos, TV programs and on-hold music, and there weren’t so many uses, so the price kind of stuck. Back in the early days of the online music libraries, or stock music libraries or royalty-free music libraries, depending on which way it was termed (all means the same thing), they were all composer owned. The focus was on composers earning a living from their music, and so that’s changed over the years.
A lot of the big libraries now are owned by big companies, and it’s all more about keeping shareholders happy and making a profit rather than looking after the composers that are supplying the music.
When we started MediaMusicNow in 2005, there weren’t so many websites selling music so we were one of maybe 10, and we sort of followed suit really. We did try originally to charge more because the composers that were supplying the music, a number of them were complaining about the low price i.e 30 dollars and so we did try higher prices, but customers just wouldn’t pay it. So, we followed suit and went with the standard pricing.
And then what’s happened is, over the years the likes of YouTube that also started in 2005 and now is really popular, and there are many platforms now where you can make a video and post it. The users of the music started to change, so we started to get people doing it as a hobby just for their own enjoyment, and they were not going to pay 30 dollars per track.
Cheaper options started to come about and new libraries appeared and created their own pricing structures. We end up now in a situation where there are hundreds of libraries and they all charge different prices.
Some now charge subscriptions and the value of the music is so degraded that it’s not worth composers working on it in many respects because the time it takes to create a piece of music it’s no good if you’re just getting pennies back for it.
It’s not like mainstream artists where you know these pennies will add up to millions of pounds. Much of the stock music that’s written gets used maybe a few times in its lifetime. And composers are just really trying to create a bulk of catalogue that will then be picked, hopefully on a regular basis and give them a trickle of income.
With the old pricing that was really achievable, but now with the new pricing, it’s not as achievable, so, it’s a tricky one. Prices are all over the place and it’s not necessarily helpful to the industry. There are many composers that are part-time because they can’t really do it full-time based on the income that’s being generated, So, that’s a problem really because we need our composers to be talented people that are progressing with their careers and working full-time.
My view as a composer and as a music library owner is that we need to charge accordingly to the person that’s using the music. So for example, if somebody’s using it for business they should pay more typical business rates really. If they’re using it for a large advertising campaign they should pay more for the fact that the music is being used in such a major way. And then YouTubers and people making videos for hobbies should pay less. There should be a pricing structure for those different users that goes from low payment to higher payment.
I think all you can use unlimited subscriptions are really bad for the composer because it means that the user pays a very low fee and uses as many tracks of music as they like, which then gives pennies to the composer for use of their music.
What we’ve done with Beanstalk Audio, which is a library that just has my music in and music that I commission composers to write for me, we’ve created some very low prices for YouTubers and hobbyists that have got a Limited License. And then there’s a number of licenses going all the way up to large scale advertisements. I think that’s the way to be fair to the composer and the user.
On our original website MediaMusicNow, the music is mainly from hundreds of independent composers, so it’s not as simple to do it on that site, but we’re looking at changing it on that site as well with the composer’s consent. So we’re trying to adapt and make music accessible for all, but also trying to make it worthwhile for the composers. Without the composers there’s no music and composers are like anyone else with a job, they need to be able to do their job and pay their bills and put food on their tables.