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Behind the Scenes: Music

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008
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Thirteen blogger: Emily Lee, Coordinator, Thirteen’s Music Services

As the coordinator for Thirteen’s Music Services department, I am excited to give you a behind the scenes peek at how the music part of production works.

At Thirteen, we have a three-person team dedicated to providing music support to all the programs produced here. I am in charge of preparing music cue sheets (logs of all the music that is in each program), researching publishers and record companies for identification and clearance, and selecting sound effects.

In public television, we face interesting challenges that do not always arise in commercial television–smaller budgets probably being our biggest hurdle. The Music Services department is unique to our station. The commercial world tends to have various people working on a project-by-project basis, whereas we have a whole department servicing the clearance, selection and research needs of most projects produced at Thirteen.

Let’s begin!

So you’re sitting there on your couch watching the latest episode of NOW. You’re probably absorbed by the election coverage, or amazed by the profile of a courageous whistleblower, or discussing the failing economy with your loved-one sitting beside you. But what you’re probably not doing is paying attention to the music.

And that’s exactly what the Thirteen music department is hoping.

A lot goes into scoring a program ­ matching the right tone for the picture, making sure the piece starts and ends correctly, pulling the correct sound effects for the image on the screen ­ but if it is all done well, you should never even notice it’s there. It should blend right into the background, providing support and propel the program forward, while not rearing its head and taking much of the spotlight.

For example, take the opening from the show, Curious:

If you play the beginning of the clip without sound and then compare it with the sound up, you can definitely see the difference. The lighthearted music sets a tone and helps to segue one image to the next. But when you watch the segment, your mind shouldn’t separate the music from the image. This music was specially composed for the program.

In the music library, we deal with three different types of music. We may use commercially released music that anyone can buy in a store or online. We may turn to our production music library. Here we have music that is composed and primarily licensed for use on TV, film, radio, etc., but is not commercially available. Or, we will have music composed specifically for a program. We also have a large sound effects library.

In addition to our music resources, the head of the music department has been at Thirteen since before PBS was created! But that’s another story.

Stay tuned for more Behind the Scenes: Music posts, where I’ll try and get into these things more specifically, I’ll give you a peek inside what it takes to put music in a show, and you can get to know the people behind the music at Thirteen.


  • Stan Munsey

    This sounds like it could be an interesting blog series… Keep up the good writing.

    Stan Munsey
    Shenandoah