tDon’t join a popular reality show these days and you’ll probably hear a trend: songs that glorify the powerful, girlboss lifestyle, from artists you’ve probably never heard of. While the reality landscape was once graced with top 40 hits in shows like The hills, today’s content takes a different approach, relying heavily on music libraries with unnamed artists and custom scores to fill the silence. The reason? Complicated and expensive music licensing rights and a growing industry of TV tracks made for reality.
Sell sunset was one of the first to get attention for his music when it debuted on Netflix three years ago with songs creator Adam DiVello knows the internet has made jokes about “work, work, work and sell and high heels and dollar bills and earn-that -money.” DiVello, also behind The hills and laguna beachsays “it was a whole different world” who scored those shows, which ran on MTV – a network that had licensing agreements for artists’ music videos, meaning the shows could use songs without paying extra.
Cut to 15 years later — when reality shows are now little more than a TV item due to their low production costs and large audiences — and DiVello has embraced library and custom tunes, saying, “The music we get isn’t terribly expensive. There are more lesser-known artists and people trying to break in.”
Music companies such as Vanacore and Atrium work with shows to deliver these songs, offering both an extensive collection of their own music for every genre, style and mood as well as custom offerings if specific ideas are in mind. While licensing hit songs can run in the five- to six-digit range, music companies can make entire episodes for a fraction of that cost — sometimes in the low thousands or even hundreds per episode, depending on the job. The trend is to play a few big tentpole songs per season and fill the rest of the show with less expensive material.
“Hit songs have the potential to connect in such a cool and personal way and can make things really intimate,” says Vanacore vp creative services Lee Vanacore, “but with a custom score it can sometimes be a much better price to get the same emotion. Beyoncé I’m sure it costs quite a bit of money to get a license, so we could write a lot of music for that.”
The Kardashian family’s new Hulu show is going this mixed route, licensing a Bruno Mars song and a handful of other hit songs in the first season, while relying on indie artists and Vanacore’s library for the rest. The show was looking for “pop, hip-hop and indie, with a really strong emphasis on female empowerment vocals,” says The Kardashians executive producer Elizabeth Jones, who added: “The library music, there are so many for us to choose from, while licensing music would be the downsides of the price and the fact that the artists have to sign and agree. And sometimes that just doesn’t happen.”
While some cooking, competition and dating shows have always relied on music libraries, the burgeoning reality TV world has increased the need for and focus on the soundtrack — and improved technology has opened up new opportunities for emerging musicians to get their songs on screen. .
Ben Hochstein, music accompanist on The Kardashians, says he got all his show music from touring artists and bands; now it is often through musicians who create especially for TV and film and sell songs to music companies. “Sometimes you don’t even know,” Hochstein says. “I’ll play this one from Universal Records, I’ll play you a song that these folks made in their home studio, tell me the difference; often you can’t.” It works even better sometimes, he says, with the faster pace and more generic lyrics needed for reality TV.
“If showrunners or directors can’t afford a song or maybe the song refuses placement, then I’m like, there’s a lot of music, we can definitely find more,” he adds. That search is extensive; colleague Kardashians music supervisor Greg Danylyshyn says that for every 100 to 200 songs he searches, he finds one to two winners — and each episode can have 10 to 20 song snippets.
Using smaller, original songs also offers an advantage when it comes to long-term rights, which can now be seen live on streamers for the foreseeable future is a big part of the equation. However, DiVello notices that The hills was able to get their hands on top songs when they aired on MTV, all that music is off now that the show is streaming on Hulu.
“We didn’t have the music forever, we only had it for a while, so it had to be replaced,” he explains, as it aired long before the streaming wars and networks were unaware of it at the time. second life that their hit series would have. DiVello recalls a key moment on the show where Rihanna’s “Umbrella” was played, saying, “The song summed up that moment so perfectly and was so poignant for that scene and it was so emotional for me. If you watch it now, it’s it’s a very different song.”
It’s much cheaper to license hit songs short-term than paying forever, Hochstein confirms, so some shows that care only about the broadcast and less about the long-term streaming experience are willing to cut that deal.
“If I decided, ‘Hey, I’m only going to license things for three years, or network for just a year or 18 months, I could probably get five, six times as many songs for the same budget,” he adds. up. The Kardashians however, has committed to long-term rights, and with original music, shows can secure songs forever while keeping that low cost.
Atrium CEO Josh Young, who works with 700 artists worldwide to fill his company’s library for shows like: Temptation Island and Love is blindis also quick to note that sometimes smaller music isn’t valued enough, especially when compared to the rates top artists receive.
“[Networks] have a small budget of $100,000, but they don’t want to pay more than $2,000 for a music library. So they’re going to pay $80,000 for a Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga song, and meanwhile the rest of the music in the show is going to be on a super strict budget,” says Young, pointing out that at that rate, artists in the library may be earning less. than $100 per song. Some companies are even asking to use his library for free. “I think more shows are focused on the music library, because it’s easier to erase. And I see a lot more artists going to music libraries, because the quality of the music libraries improves — [but] production companies don’t want music that sounds like a music library. They want high quality music, but they don’t want to pay for it.”
This story appeared in the July 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.