Music to my ears... - part 1 of 1

by Tom Lee Published 01/11/2008


For years now, the problem of incorporating music into slideshows has been the bane of many a photographer. The moral conflict of putting mainstream recording artists' soundtracks to your clients' image files has caused many of us to shudder at the thought of someone doing the same with our own work.

There is always the temptation to think 'what are the chances of me being caught?' All it takes is a disgruntled client to report your 'shoddy work' to the authorities and the floodgates will open. We take great care over trying to protect our own work so why should we do it to anyone else?

Enter AKM Music, a British company based in Warwickshire with links to film, television, video and now photographers. Established in 1995 their background was in producing music tracks specifically for use with commentary or voiceovers and includes prestigious clients such as the BBC and Sky TV. Whilst great for documentary-style shows, it tended to be a little repetitive for social photography purposes. Although having produced several discs with photographers in mind, the company were aware that they were entering a different market and needed the advice of a photographer already using music to great effect.

Always seeking to improve the range of music, their director Anthony McTiffen asked for my help and I was only too willing to assist. Having bought over 15 titles from their extensive range previously, I was already well acquainted with the style of the tracks they produced. Their music has always been cost effective but in my opinion I could only find one track from about 10 that could successfully be used by the modern wedding and portrait photographer. Knowing the task ahead of us, we sat down and went through hundreds of titles to select the tracks that I would like to see in a single collection, suitable for weddings, portraiture, mood and fashion.

The result is 'The Photographers' Selection'; a 12-track CD that you can mix and match depending on the effect that you are trying to create and easily compares with the quality of mainstream artists' soundtracks at a fraction of the cost. There is little in the way of lyrics with the soundtracks (although some have chorus lines or accents) and this is a conscious decision. If a soundtrack has lyrics it could restrict its use across different projects.

01 - All There Is (3:45) a moderate beat with piano accents
02 - Electric Cruise (3:17) driving rhythm with bluesy guitar
03 - Soul Groove (5:09) moderately pacey soul beat
04 - Fill My Cup (3:27) moderate pace with acoustic guitar
05 - Get On Up (3:29) foot-tapping dance with electro chorus
06 - House (3:31) pacey electro catwalk stuff
07 - I Feel (3:43) atmospheric guitars for easy listening
08 - In The Rain (3:51) soothing melody for lovers everywhere
09 - Innocence (3:24) tear-jerking solo piano
10 - Systems (4:0) moderate techno driving beat with piano
11 - The Future's Bright (2:12) light and airy tune to relax by
12 - When You're Young (3:18) jaunty foot tapper with piano and chorus

I'm so pleased with 'The Photographers Selection' that I keep a copy of it in the car just to listen to when there's nothing on the radio! The tracks offer great diversity whilst still being able to be used together in a single presentation or on their own.

The disc retails for £40 and is made right here in the UK. The best thing is that there is no restriction on usage once you have bought the collection. You can chop, mix, voiceover, fade to your heart's content and do almost anything you like with it. The disc works out at less than £3.50 a track so even if you don't like the entire collection, it's a cost-effective solution to your copyright woes.

I recommend that the packing or CD/DVD also contains a copyright disclosure such as the following:

All rights of the producer and owner of the recorded work are reserved. Unauthorised copying, public performance, broadcasting sale, or hiring of the programme is strictly prohibited.

There are, however, other companies offering royalty free music. The Music Bakery is a web-based download site from the US and has hundreds of themes, styles and genres to choose from. Although collections can be bought, the most common method is to trawl through the soundtracks (as a low-quality MP3 or WAV file) and make individual track purchases. These commonly range from around $30 (£16) per track. Another good source is Triple Scoop Music, again from the US, with individual tracks ranging from around $60 (£35). Quite an expense if you require several tracks to mix with your slides. Triple Scoop also produces collections by wellknown photographers that partially fit the bill, however, the cost is in the region of $299 (£160). The cost of the music is always a concern to us poor photographers and can vary considerably as can be seen above.

Even copyright-free music is purchased with a licence, but the licences can contain pitfalls that may not be obvious to the end user. The most common one being that the music must be played in full and not truncated or spliced. The terms will be clearly stated on the purchase agreement, but how often do we read them? It's comforting to note that none of these restrictions applies to the AKM music stock.

The only other resolution is to purchase a dubbing licence that covers individual photographers for copying mainstream performers' work. These are available at who act for the recording artist and their studio, collecting revenue on their behalf. The problem is that the licence needs to be bought in advance and covers the production of CD/DVDs for a private commission, and can only be sold to people involved in that commission. In the case of a wedding this means bride, family, guests, etc.

The other stipulations are that the music shall be dubbed at an equivalent standard to the original recording and must be copied in full. In other words, it cannot be spliced with another music track or have voiceover.

Apart from the dubbing (and playing) restrictions the correct form is not easy to find from their website. It's not that you can't record the tracks, it's that they don't really want you to in the first place and they are intent on making it as difficult for you as possible. You should also note that if you show your slideshows at a bridal fayre as samples of your work, you will need a Public Performance Licence to stay the right side of the law!

The Photographers Selection' will be available from January 2009 at the SWPP Convention. Tom Lee will be available to demonstrate the use of music on the AKM Stand 10. Contact AKM on 01926 864 068 or via the website

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1st Published 01/11/2008
last update 07/04/2022 09:14:30

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