Make Noise in a Library

Turn your tracks into cash with music and sample libraries. Music libraries and sample libraries are always looking for new material. You can easily write and produce tracks for these libraries in your project studio.

Would you like to hear your music on radio and TV without selling your soul to a label or touring endlessly? Sample libraries and music libraries are viable alternatives that can put some decent money in your pocket by doing what you love best: making music. Rudy Sarzo, Douglas Spotted Eagle, and Brian Tarquin are living that dream.

Rudy Sarzo is a well-respected bass player who has Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot, and Whitesnake on his long list of credits. He's an avid digital-media buff who spends his off-time on the road putting together music and promotional videos, instructional bass DVDs, and his own music projects. His signature playing can be found on Sony's popular Workingman's Bass loop library, and he's currently shopping a CD of authentic Latin music.

Douglas Spotted Eagle is an award-winning musician and producer who has worked on over 300 records and on more than 1,000 projects including the films Open Range, The Last Samurai, and Hidalgo. He works from his Native Restoration studio in Utah on a bevy of audio and video projects. He's produced two sample libraries of his unique Native American music and worked on many Loops for Acid CDs (Sony). Spotted Eagle recently completed the book, Using Soundtrack: Produce Original Music for Video, DVD, and Multimedia (CMP Books, 2004) and recorded a few dozen original loops for the book's accompanying CD.

Brian Tarquin works from his Jungle Room Studios in New York state, splitting his time between scoring All My Children (for which he won an Emmy Award last year) and writing for sample and music libraries, including full-length CDs for Megatrax, Sonoton, FirstCom, Zomba, and ABC TV's Fifth Floor Music. He also managed to find time to release an album, Electro Ave. (Roir, 2002), which he and collaborator Chris Ingram recorded under the band name Asphalt Jungle.

Since the dawning of the age of MIDI, the soundware market has grown exponentially. You can buy patches for your synths, samples for your samplers, and loops-a-plenty for your DAW. A wide range of material is available, but hungry electronic musicians are always looking for fresh ideas. Perhaps you have what it takes to produce a sample-CD volume that people want to buy.

Musicians aren't the only people who are hungry for samples and loops. “Video producers, especially many nonlinear editors, are really getting into assembling their own music beds,” explains Spotted Eagle. “Sony Vegas with Acid, Adobe Premiere Pro with Audition, and Apple Final Cut Pro with Soundtrack bring loop-based music to an entirely different audience.”


Most of the music that you hear on radio commercials and talk shows and TV is not written specifically for a particular program. Producers rely on production music or library music to provide many of the tracks that they need for their projects. Dozens of companies supply music for both broadcast and nonbroadcast use. It is possible that you have what it takes to compose, record, and deliver a library music CD that people want to buy.

So, you have decided to investigate these opportunities further. Although there are a few subtle differences between the two markets, the basic approach remains the same: research your idea, create a demo, pitch your idea, produce your CD, and get paid.


Typical sample and library CDs stick to a single theme or musical genre. The companies marketing these products want either something new or a unique spin on a tested theme. If you are offering the same old thing, you won't make the sale. Before you pitch your idea, first see if there is a need or a gap. A quick surf to a few Web sites will let you survey the landscape (see the sidebar “A Sampling of Music and Sample Libraries”).

Pay careful attention to what's already on the market, and then gauge how your idea stacks up against the competition. Don't become discouraged if you find that there's a disc already out there that's similar to your idea. Check its release date; it may have been out for a while. Rethink your approach to come up with a fresh take on the idea.

Music libraries look for instrumentals in a wide variety of music genres. Although demand always exists for knockoffs of today's hottest trends, there continues to be a need for good solid tracks in common styles: upbeat sports themes; big, bold corporate themes; ethnic pieces; and new-age ditties and other low-key tracks for use under narration.

The typical track lasts between two and four minutes. “Producers prefer one CD that contains a number of variations on a particular theme — long versions, 29- and 59-second versions, short 5- or 10-second stingers, and alternative mixes without the lead instruments,” says Tarquin.

All three musicians agree that a good sample library should have a wide variety of elements but should avoid overdoing it or getting too complex. “The loops or samples must offer tempos and grooves that are usable,” says Sarzo. “Approach it like a studio musician — playing for the song rather than your own ego. If you're just soloing and showing off, it may sound great, but will it work in the context of somebody else's song?”

“Think simply and provide material that works with other things,” Spotted Eagle echoes. “If you're going to do weird stuff, you'd better offer riffs that go with it and grooves for underneath. If you play an unusual chordal structure, provide other things that relate. Odd meter? Include drum loops or percussion to support it.”


While Tarquin, Spotted Eagle, and Sarzo possess extensive industry credentials, the rest of us need to put together a demo of the idea before taking it to possible buyers. “Music libraries are very approachable,” admits Tarquin. “Research what they have already, then put together a demo of your best stuff that fills a gap in their catalog. When I worked at a jingle house in Manhattan, we had tons of demos and shelved projects that we earmarked for music libraries.”

Do you have some unused tracks, songs, sketches, or miniscores sitting on tape or disk somewhere? Don't let all that music gather dust when it could put money in your pocket. For a recent pitch to a music library, I assembled 18 music tracks on CD — some full-length pieces and some shorter ones — all in a similar style and approach. The library accepted a few tracks as submitted, made suggestions for a couple of tracks, and trashed the rest. When complete, the final music-library disc will have about ten tracks.

“When writing for a sample library, have a clear-cut project and a solid idea of who the audience is. Show the company how you can fill its gap, and compile a demo CD that proves you can do it,” suggests Tarquin. He says adding a biography and list of credentials can also help reduce any skepticism a company might have. “You don't need outstanding credentials as long as you have a good idea, can do the work, and appeal to the people you're selling to.”


Two events convinced Spotted Eagle to create a sample library. “I was getting a ton of calls from directors and producers to do flute cues. Then I heard a sample from one of my recordings used without permission in a major film. I thought that putting together a sample CD with Native American vocals, drums, and flutes would solve both issues.”

Spotted Eagle approached Q Up Arts at a NAMM show and explained his vision of mapping drum hits and velocity for samplers. “They loved the idea, and the result was my original Voices of Native America, Volume 1, for Akai/Roland samplers. Later it was optimized as an Acid loop library.

“To do an ethnic vocal library like Voices was a big risk,” he continues. “The response was amazing. Q Up has since put together other ethnic libraries, including my follow-up, Voices of Native America, Volume 2.”

Tarquin pitched his sample library idea at a NAMM show, too. “I was a fan of the Big Fish sample libraries, having used a few of their drum-loop CDs for some projects. I researched a few other libraries and saw a gap in the Big Fish roster. So at NAMM I met with them and pitched the idea for Big Fish Audio Guitar Studio. They asked me to prepare a short demo, and once they heard it, they loved it.

Guitar Studio was unique at the time because it was live-guitar performances as 2-bar loops. I tried to cover as many styles, keys, phrases, chords, picking, and arpeggios using a variety of guitars,” continues Tarquin. “They asked me to do a sequel because the first sold so well. For Guitar Studio 2 [due out in 2004], I'm using many different amps, guitars, and mics to get a variety of sounds and tones.”

Rudy Sarzo first approached Sonic Foundry at a NAMM show and expressed that he was a big fan of the company's Acid software (which is now produced by Sony). “Shortly after that, they approached me directly and asked if I would put together a bass-only library for their growing Loops for Acid product line. I agreed to do the first bass-only library, Workingman's Bass.”


If you're fortunate enough to have your work accepted, you then have to get busy producing the CD. All production costs to create a finished CD — recording, talent, editing, mixing, and mastering — comes out of your pocket. Having a well-equipped project studio helps keep your costs lower, because you can do virtually everything yourself.

Turnaround times range from two to four months after acceptance. Audio CDs or digital files (WAV or AIFF) on CD-ROM are the preferred formats. Some companies prefer a completely finished project, while others will handle the final editing and mastering in-house.

Tarquin spent four months recording Guitar Studio. “It was hard, meticulous work. I had to keep the loops quiet and avoid breath and fret noise. I recorded it all on analog 16-track, 2-inch tape and mixed it to stereo DAT. Big Fish loaded the tracks into Pro Tools for all the editing.”

It took Sarzo about six weeks to put together Workingman's Bass. “I tried every riff, groove, and one-shot I could think of in a variety of tempos and keys. Bass notes don't stretch as readily in Acid, so I had to cover more ground,” explains Sarzo. “I recorded it all in my home studio using 4-, 5-, and 6-string Peavey Cirrus basses with Dean Markley strings through a Rupert Neve preamp into a Delta 1010 interface and directly into Acid. I used Sound Forge for editing. I kept the playing raw with very few effects so the end-users could tweak it to fit their music.”


According to Spotted Eagle, “Sample libraries are usually a standard publishing deal ranging from 5 to 20 percent of net sales, paid quarterly. There may be an advance against those royalties, but usually not.” Because samples and loops are sold royalty-free, there are no back-end royalties, just the sales royalty.

Music libraries, on the other hand, have many different methods of payment. Some composers may get a royalty based on sales, but that's rare. The usual deal is a one-time, up-front fee ranging from $200 to $1,000 per song. However, the composer keeps 100 percent of the writer's share of the publishing and may get a piece of the sync fees. In addition to the initial fee, you can potentially earn even more. For example, if a TV show uses one of your tracks regularly, you would see ongoing residual income (see the sidebar “The Back End”).

One excellent reason to get involved with sample and music libraries is that they handle all of the promotion and sales. That means you can concentrate on your music. If you've ever just wanted to compose, record, tweak, and mix without most of the hassles of the music business, this side business may work for you. Tarquin says, “Big Fish and the other companies who purchase my music handle all of the marketing and advertising. I just compose and play.”


If you want to take on a heavier workload, consider putting together your own music or sample library and promoting and selling it yourself. For a sample or loop library, record your ideas from scratch or edit them from existing performances. Make sure that you provide enough material to fill a CD and keep buyers happy.

For a single music library CD, you should have at least ten full-blown tracks. As with writing for other libraries, you can use music that you've already recorded or you can write something new. It is best to either provide a mix of popular music styles or stay in one genre. Sell the library as a nonexclusive buyout, which allows you to make money by licensing the same CD repeatedly to different buyers. If you haven't already, you should join a performance-rights organization (see the sidebar “The Back End”) and tell buyers who use your library to indicate your authorship and affiliation on cue sheets. That way, you'll get paid your performance royalties.

Put together a demo with short snippets from each track or give away a few samples to encourage people to try before they buy. Market your demo on CD or from a promotional Web site. Put together the promotional material you need and start getting the word out to music buyers (video production houses, radio stations, advertising agencies, and so forth) and musicians. Finally, you need to make and sell the library. With a color printer and CD burner, you can manufacture your library CDs on demand or a few copies at a time. You could even offer your libraries as downloads.

“Libraries are a great way to get performance income,” summarizes Brian Tarquin. “You may even do better than commercial radio.”

Jeffrey P. Fisher's book, Profiting from Your Music and Sound Project Studio, details ways in which to make more money with your gear. Find it and other resources



Big Fish Audio tel. (800) 717-3474 or (818) 768-6115; e-mail; Web

EastWest tel. (800) 969-9449 or (718) 932-6328; e-mail; Web

Ilio Entertainments tel. (800) 747-4546 or (818) 707-7222; e-mail; Web

M-Audio tel. (626) 633-9050; e-mail; Web

Q Up Arts tel. (800) 454-4563; Web

Sony Pictures Digital Media Software (Loops for Acid) tel. (608) 256-3133; Web


FirstCom Music, Inc. tel. (800) 858-8880 or (972) 446-8742; e-mail; Web

Fresh Music tel. (800) 545 0688; e-mail; Web

Killer Tracks tel. (800) 454-5537 or (323) 957-4455; e-mail; Web

The Music Bakery tel. (800) 229-0313 or (972) 414-0313; e-mail; Web

Omnimusic tel. (800) 828-6664; e-mail; Web

VideoHelper tel. (212) 633-7009; e-mail; Web


When writing for music libraries, you keep the writer's share of the publishing. Therefore, any publishing money collected by the library gets split 50-50 between the publisher (the library) and you (the writer). Because you won't sell sheet music and people won't “cover” your songs, your money comes from performance and synchronization rights.

Songs publicly performed on radio, TV, or in a restaurant or club earn royalties. These royalties are administered by three major performing rights organizations (PROs): ASCAP (, BMI (, and SESAC ( PROs collect money by issuing both broadcast and nonbroadcast licenses. The broadcast licenses include the major television networks, public television, cable networks, local TV stations, and all radio stations. These media provide logs, called cue sheets, of all music played. Nonbroadcast licenses include orchestras, concert venues, restaurants and bars, and other public entertainment locations. Nonbroadcast performances are tracked by issuing blanket licenses. Money collected from these licenses is distributed to the song's writer(s) and publisher.

Performance royalties for music played on network TV can be substantial. Smaller stations and cable TV pay significantly less. Additional money, however, can be earned through reruns and syndication.

Although more rare, the writer may get a portion of the sync rights, too. When a song is used in conjunction with images in a commercial, film, or TV show, the song earns a royalty. Fees for synchronization rights are negotiated by the library and based on the song's use. These monies are above and beyond other royalties earned. In other words, the song still earns performance rights when a TV show also licenses the sync rights.