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Stock Music (and why you should reconsider)

Updated: Apr 15

You (hopefully) wouldn’t dream of using a stock photo with all of its generic visual clichés and nonsense as a major part of your brand’s visual identity, so think twice before you throw yourself into the trap of doing so with your sonic branding.


A forced marriage

Stock music, also known as production music or library music can be defined as music which is recorded and composed with the intentions of being used in commercials, tv, radio, youtube or other relevant media.


The history of the phenomenon interestingly starts around 1909 in early cinema. Silent films were accompanied live by musicians and this made a Dutch musician named Meyer de Wolfe create a sheet music library for this particular use. This was the founding of his company De Wolfe, which in 1927 began to use the new recording technologies of the time to set up the first production music library. The music didn’t fit the rhythm of the films (or anything else, but the overall mood for that matter, e.g. comedic, sad, ominous et cetera) because it was precomposed.


It worked because of what famous french film theorist and composer Michel Chion has given the ambivalent name forced marriage—The sound and image is ‘forced together’ in our perception: It is almost always possible to create amazing points of synchronization (regarding rhythm or meaning) or comical juxtaposition when sound and image is presented as an entity. Obviously these points of musical sync or effect are aleatoric and therefore not suitable as a branding strategy.



Be unique - or buy stock

Today there are dozens of stock music libraries available on the internet. The easy accessibility and inviting price range makes the music widely distributed. Because of the business model quantity over quality is king which logically results in a very generic product. The most common libraries, which are royalty-free or non-exclusive, come with the actual risk of a competing brand using the exact same music as you.


You should also be aware of the fact that we—as consumers—have now acquired a high standard for, not only synchronization, but also musical quality. Stock will almost always sound like stock. Exclusive libraries do exist (with higher price tags of course) and they might offer a slightly better quality and you will be buying the music exclusive for your brand only, but the music will most likely still not be able to do much more than establish a mood. It is straight up a lost branding opportunity.


If you are still not convinced that we should have a talk about your brand’s sonic possibilities you can at least watch this quite funny video to cheer you up.