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Old 01-21-2005, 06:00 PM
Philip Colmer
Thoughts Media Review Team
Philip Colmer's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 599
Default American Music Company - Licensed Music Reviewed

Product Category: Licensed Music
Manufacturer: American Music Company
Where to Buy: American Music Company
Price: Depends on usage
System Requirements: Internet access and one of QuickTime, Windows Media Player or Real Player

  • Wide range of music themes;
  • High quality recordings;
  • Flexible pricing.
  • Business to business only.
The American Music Company creates and sells music under license for use in video productions. Their Website provides full access to their library and they offer flexible pricing schemes that fit your usage.

Read on for the full review!

Using Music
There is no doubt that music can make a huge difference to the way a viewer interprets a film or TV programme. The music itself sets the tone - you know whether you are supposed to laugh or cry. Without music, the images don't have as much depth.

Unfortunately, we aren't all talented enough to compose and play our own music. I know I'm not . Instead, we turn to other sources. There is a tendency, particularly when making a home video, to use commercial music from CDs that you've bought. The trouble with that, though, is it's illegal - perhaps slightly less so in the US where there are fair rights laws, but, once you start giving your video to someone else, you've broken the copyright laws.

To stay on the right side of the law, which becomes even more important if you are making a video for sale, you either need to licence the music or purchase royalty-free music. There are a number of libraries of royalty-free music available and they vary immensely in quality.

For this review, I'm going to look at the American Music Company - a supplier of music available for licence - a subtle but important distinction from royalty-free music.

The Library
The basis of the American Music Company's service is a collection of themed albums. At the time of writing this review, they had 56 albums available, covering a very wide range, including:
  • Christmas;
  • Rock;
  • Horror, suspense and mystery;
  • Quirky.
For a few albums, there is a second album set that contains underscore versions of the originals. These have had the main instruments removed whilst keeping the main melody in place. These underscore versions might be used in a sequence where you've got a narrative going on but want to keep the theme going in the background.

Each album contains approximately 13-15 tracks; the total library currently offers nearly 1000 pieces of music! If you are looking for a number of tracks with a consistent theme, the easiest way to do this is by browsing the catalogue. This displays the album number and title, plus a short description of the music within that album.

Figure 1: American Music CDs.

In order to make it easier for you to find a track to meet your needs, there are a few ways that you can search the library. The first, and probably the easiest to get started with, is to search by style or genre. A list of the genres is available from a drop-down menu ... and it is a long list!

Figure 2: Available styles and genres.

If you've used music from American Music Company before and you are interested in finding more music by a particular composer that they use, there is a drop-down available to help with that search.

Figure 3: Composer choices.

Other search options include searching by CD catalogue number, CD title, track title, tempo and "Style-A-Likes". This last option has a lot of potential. For example, if you were working on a production and you wanted a piece of music that sounded as if it had been written by John Williams, you can enter his name here, do a search and tracks that potentially sound as if they have been written by him are returned.

You can enter any group, artist or concept and the database tries to match it. It might be useful if American Music Company gave some examples on the site of what works in this field. In addition to John Williams, I tried "Madonna" (which returned two tracks) and "Britney Spears" (which didn't return any). For concept, I tried "wedding" and "encouragement", both of which failed to return any results, so I'm not really sure what is intended by "concept" or what concepts are understood by the database.

Once you've found some music, either by browsing or searching, it is time to listen to it to decide whether or not it is going to meet your needs.

The Music
With the exception of AM034, Production Elements, all of the CDs have tracks that are between 2 and 5 minutes in length. Those tracks are also available in 60 second, 30 second and 15 second versions.

If you haven't registered on the site (more on this below), you are limited to listening to the 30 second MP3 clips. On my system, this opened a new window and launched a QuickTime plug-in. If you are browsing a lot of clips, it doesn't take too long before you've got a heap of browser windows open. This has the potential to be annoying, but can also be useful because it means you've got a means of comparing different tracks and also your computer will have cached those clips. One downside, though, of the way the clips are presented, is that the browser window doesn't have any title information - it literally just contains the QT plug-in. This can make it rather difficult to remember which track was which. You have to work it out from the clip number referenced in the URL that is displayed in the browser title bar.

Your experience may vary depending on how your browser is configured to play MP3 clips. However, I couldn't actually see why my browser was using QuickTime when Windows Media Player was configured as the player of choice for MP3 files :-(.

I also found it frustrating that the search interface doesn't allow you to search for the track number. So, if you lose your place in the web pages, it doesn't seem possible to readily locate the original track information that might go with that track number. A solution to this would be to extend the "track title" search so that it accepts the number as well.

The 30 second clip is not an extract of the full-length track - it is a specially composed version designed to fit within 30 seconds. That way, you actually get a feel for the whole tone of the piece rather than a short extract that might change later on in the full version. To access other lengths or the full-quality WAV files, you need firstly, to register with American Music Company.

When you register, you are contacted by a representative of American Music Company to allow them to find out a bit more about yourself, the project you are working on and any other information that may allow them to assist you in the process. They will then activate your online account and you can start accessing the full catalogue.

Figure 4: Searching for romantic pieces.

Once you've logged into the site and you've found some tracks that you want to pursue as possible matches for your production, you can download a track or save it to a project. Clicking on Download takes you to the Download Center, as shown in Figure 5. Each track that you download is listed here, which makes it easy to keep track of the actual downloads you've made but can make the web page quite long as you add more tracks.

Figure 5: Downloading tracks.

To make it easier for you to manage your downloads, particularly if you are working with multiple clients or productions, the Website provides the concept of a project.

Figure 6: My project.

Managing your music in this way is a great tool and it is easy to then download individual tracks in a project.

The quality of the music is superb and very diverse. Some tracks have got vocals, either for lyrics or for added atmosphere. All of them are high quality in sound and recording.

The Fees
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that the music on this site is not royalty-free. American Music Company offers two different ways of charging for use of their music, with both schemes further sub-divided into the scope of usage.

What do I mean by scope of usage? The company differentiates between, for example, using their music in a national TV programme and using it in an in-house training production. The usage varies and so does the cost.

The two schemes are an annual music subscription and an A La Carte licensing scheme. The annual music subscription entitles you to use any amount of the music in any number of productions for one year. The cost goes from $500 for an educational institution to $2,450 for worldwide broadcast clearance.

The A La Carte scheme, by comparison, allows you to pay per use. The full price list is available on the Website but the prices range from the bottom end of the scale of $35 (telephone on hold), $50 (non-broadcast production), $65 (local broadcast) and $75 (one home page on a Website) up to $1,150 for an unlimited number of tracks in a single 90 minute worldwide broadcast production. The pricing here is extremely flexible and seems quite reasonable when you consider the larger cost involved in the productions that are being covered.

That said, there do appear to be areas that American Music Company pricing doesn't appear to cover, namely not-for-profit productions and home videos. I could quite imagine being able to use some of the music in their portfolio for a holiday video but there isn't a category that my private-use video falls into and even the non-broadcast category, at $50 per track, would be too expensive for me.

If you are working on video productions that have a budget assigned to them and you are looking for music, I would definitely recommend spending some time on the American Music Company Website, trying some of their tracks out.

If, however, you don't have a budget, or the budget is extremely limited, you may consider the prices to be too high. Maybe American Music Company will consider extending their licensing terms in the future.
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