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DevJuice: Talking with Tim McMorris about royalty-free soundtracks

Several weeks ago, a developer sent a video as part of his TUAW product pitch. The app itself was interesting enough but I was blown away by the video's music. It was smart, it was contemporary, and it had excellent production values.

So I started to google to find out more about this music and discovered Tim McMorris and Audio Jungle. I've written in the distant past about purchasing royalty-free tracks for use in products and videos, but back then it was an expensive option with limited vendors. The track I fell in love with (Give Our Dreams Their Wings to Fly) cost just $14 to license in a video.

That's an amazingly reasonable price for nearly any software developer who's building a product demo reel. Instead of thinking of licensing music as an expensive obstacle, it transforms that decision into an "of course I can afford that" mandate.

Canada-based McMorris, currently the #2 seller on AudioJungle, writes, "I believe that the right music can make your project and the wrong music can break it." He agreed to sit down with TUAW to discuss music sales, AudioJungle, and picking the right emotional soundtrack.

TUAW: Tim, thank you so much for agreeing to discuss your music with us.

Tim: It's my pleasure! Thank you for the opportunity.

TUAW: How did you get into the royalty-free music business and why aren't you in iTunes focused on selling normal albums?

Tim: Since childhood music has been my greatest passion, even an obsession. My first instrument was a ukelele at the age of 5! Over the years however I became fascinated with the music in movies and on television more then what was on the radio. I have always been a behind the scenes kind of person and though I've played in various bands and still perform live today, my greatest passion is composing for film and TV. Before I was doing this as a career, it was simply the dream to one day write for film and television that led me to selling royalty-free content.

My first major attempt at selling royalty-free music was on the website AudioJungle.net where I began building my portfolio two years ago. I noticed at the time, that on a whole there wasn't much royalty-free music online that was accessible or affordable. Many of the production libraries that did exist were stale, dry and used sub par content.

AudioJungle, though fairly small at the time, seemed to be on the right path to changing that trend and I quickly became interested. I thought I had a lot to offer and wanted to bring the production value that you hear on albums to the royalty-free market and make it affordable and more accessible to indie filmmakers and developers as well.

The gamble paid off, and in those two years I have sold more then 11,000 commercial licenses worldwide.

While I continue to write content exclusively for AudioJungle, I am also hired quite frequently for custom work and still release a fair amount of music for non-commercial use to digital stores like iTunes and Amazon.

TUAW: How does your TV and film background influence your creative process?

Tim: My creative process has always remained the same and has been quite simple – do all that you can to inspire the listeners. While styles of music change, this philosophy doesn't so I don't believe writing for TV or film influences this one way or another.

TUAW: What is different in terms of time and energy about creating these tracks versus a normal song? Is there a different way of telling musical stories? And how do your songs escape being just "background music"?

Tim: Like any composer / producer, I have my own strengths and weaknesses. In terms of time and energy, this really depends on the style of music, the duration and how inspired I am throughout the project.

In terms of turn around time alone, it is generally easier for me to complete a folk, rock, or pop song then a full orchestral piece just because of what is involved in the recording process - however sometimes when extremely inspired I can have a full orchestral piece composed within a day or two.

For me, the greatest thing about AudioJungle is the freedom I have to write what I want to write, when I want to write it. While doing freelance work is great and pays exceptionally well, the creative process can be strained by continual revisions, tight deadlines and tough clients.

There are many different ways to telling a musical story. Instrument selection, time signature and tempo have a huge deal to do with this. Above all however, good song writing and high production value is what makes a song escape from simply becoming "background music".

TUAW: What kind of advice would you give for anyone building a product video for selecting music? How should people evaluate and choose tracks for use in commercial productions?

Tim: The best advice I can give here is, if possible, select something that inspires your audience. If the music inspires the listener they will pay attention to what your showing them whether its a commercial on TV, a video online, or a film.

A song needs to grab their attention, even if there is a voice over in your production! Yes, it really does make a difference. Also, don't be afraid to go a little outside of the box and try something new. Just because your competitor uses a certain type of music doesn't mean you need to.

Innovation is often times the greatest key to great success. I believe many video productions flop simply because they didn't choose the right type of music or take a little bit of a risk on something new.

Depending on what is needed however sometimes inspirational music (not uplifting music but speaking of any music that inspires) is not needed. For example, if you are creating a commercial for pest extermination you simply want to select music that accurately portrays your product and still gets the attention of the viewer. No need for some fancy song, just an accurate one.

TUAW: Can you explain what people are (and aren't buying) when they hit the purchase button on the AudioJungle site? What can developers do with the music? And is there a difference between creating a product video and using audio inside, say, a game or other application?

Tim: On AudioJungle.net, the most popular genre or category is corporate / motivational. Beyond this cinematic music as well as logos and indents do quite well. Sound effects also do well on AudioJungle.

While not every category is as large or as selling as the ones above, it doesn't mean that there aren't phenomenal pieces of music in the other categories. There are a lot of hidden gems waiting to be discovered there!

As for what people are not buying, generally, music with lower production values. There are (at the time of writing this) 3438 composers and producers of varying degrees of talent on AudioJungle. This naturally means there will be music of better sonic quality then others.

Beyond this, songs that aren't thought out and geared towards specific uses don't tend to do well. Some authors offer shorter versions of their songs, or loop-able versions while others do not. This can be a big selling point for certain people.

There are many things that affect sales but at the end of the day it always goes back to good song writing and high production values.

When it comes to licensing developers and content creators can do a lot with the music, however what they can do depends on the license they purchase. A regular license which goes for around $11- $14 will allow you to use a song in a single application. This application could be a YouTube video, a video game, background music for a podcast – the list goes on and on.

Songs can be altered (by the buyer) to fit your project needs. The other option that exists right now is an extended license which is needed when you plan to resell a product containing the piece of audio.

An easy way to remember things is that if you are going to be making a profit in any way from your project, you will need an extended license. The extended license is $70 for a song over 2 minutes. Reselling a song on it's own is prohibited. For all the info regarding licensing however, please see AudioJungle.net.

The bottom line is that AudioJungle.net is the place for excellent royalty-free music and sound effects at amazingly affordable prices. If you've never been there before, the content and selection is out of this world compared to the alternatives out there. If you do stop by, I hope you will look me up!

TUAW: I want to thank you again for talking with us. I know a lot of developers who read this blog will be inspired and excited about the kinds of products you're offering.

Tim: It's been fun and thanks again for the opportunity! Happy creating everyone!

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