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Dr Jamie Sexton / Dr Nessa Johnston
Northumbria University / Edge Hill University
Research Project Grant

Anonymous creativity

Investigating the production and use of library music in film and television in Britain, France and Italy – Jamie Sexton and Nessa Johnston’s project will highlight its importance to audiovisual media and track its subsequent cult status

Image reproduced by kind permission of SonyATV/EMI Production Music.

Library music – sometimes referred to as stock music or production music – has long been used within a variety of different media, including film, television, radio, advertising and video games. Whilst largely used in low budget and often reasonably obscure media, it has also featured in more popular media, particularly within television. In the UK, for example, a number of popular television programmes – sports programmes in particular – have used library music for their title themes, including BBC coverage of snooker, Grandstand and Wimbledon. 

In this project we seek to extend understandings of library music and screen cultures in the 1960s and 1970s. We have chosen these decades as they tend to be the most celebrated in terms of their musical qualities by the small groups of people who express enthusiasm for library music. In recent times, many library records – which were pressed in very limited vinyl runs and not designed for the commercial marketplace – have started to become prized collector’s items and sell for substantial sums on second-hand markets. Despite this niche interest in library music, lack of scholarly research into the subject means that information about it remains difficult to get hold of for many and exists only in partial form. 

Our research project will investigate this period of library music across three primary countries – Britain, France and Italy – which in this period produced a huge output of library music. We will look into a number of issues, such as: the ways that library companies were run and how library music was produced; the range of films and programmes that have synchronised library music from this period; the issues central to the production of library music, including copyright and relations with music unions. We will conduct significant archival research and supplement this with interviews of library musicians and others with specialist knowledge of library music (such as record label owners and DJs). The final stage of our research will explore the increased cult status of some of the library music produced during this period, looking into the factors that have led to the celebration of music that was produced largely for functional purposes by anonymous musicians.

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