Royalty music, production license music and copyright free music is used for theme or in the background in movies and TV shows. The market, whilst being huge, is largely dominated by the old guard of music companies that have been around for years, the only difference being is that they sell this type of music under a different name. The big boys of the royalty music market include Sony, EMI, Universal and Imagem under various different guises, so you may think you are dealing with an independent but a closer look will reveal the truth.
There are also many fairly big independents out there as well, but many of those have swollen to massive proportions and are becoming almost majors of the minors, if you see what I mean?
The advantages of being in the royalty music licensing market for these huge companies are many, but one of the main reasons is the fact that they usually own 100% of the copyright, so they can do what they want with the music without requiring permission from the writer or composer. The composers and musicians are usually bought out for a flat fee, so they never see a royalty, this is good for the companies selling the music, but also good for the production companies buying it because they can get the music cheaply and not have to pay huge royalties.
The libraries vary in size, some have 50 to a hundred pieces of music, while the bigger ones have thousands, usually in a range of styles but increasingly amongst the smaller libraries just one type that they specialize in. The libraries are often thought of as “elevator musak” but these days and even in the past this has not always been true. While there is some terrible stuff out there, many huge shows have used really great library music for their theme titles.
The money is usually made from the music in several ways, from licensing or sync fees paid upfront or performance royalties. When the production does not have the money to have a totally brand new score created, they will often have an original score written for the bigger more important scenes, and then use library music on the smaller scenes, the difference being that the owner/composer of the music retains ownership of the music and can sell it again, in-turn they compose the score for a lower rate.
There has also been a proliferation of companies offering royalty free music. While they do not charge a fee for licensing their royalty music and the buyer can do whatever they want with it, a performance royalty is paid by the broadcaster of the music. There are also some libraries that really are totally royalty free in that there is no fee for licensing the music and also no performance royalties because the music is not registered with a performance rights organization.