Incidental Music in BBC Documentaries

I was watching Nicholas Crane’s Great British Journeys last night, but could hardly concentrate on the programme for spotting snatches of tracks used as background music. A bit of Explosions In The Sky here, a bit of Magazine there – the ubiquitous Sigur Rós (along with Dead Can Dance and Boards of Canada, the BBC’s band of choice when it comes to natural history and travel programs). It’s fun to spot tracks, but it does tend to get in the way of the show you’re supposed to be watching at times. The music is never credited, which is infuriating when there’s something you recognise but can’t quite put a name to. The people who do the sound editing for these programmes have pretty good taste. I wonder who actually selects the music for these programmes? Presumably the bands get royalties, or are the snatches used too brief for that? If anyone has a clue to how this all works, I’d be glad to be enlightened.


6 responses to “Incidental Music in BBC Documentaries

  1. I’m very late to the blog, but still felt compelled to agree with you. This is one of the things which the BBC does very badly indeed. In he past year I have contacted a producer of a BBC programme to ask about the incidental music used in a documentary, only to find that they had no idea what the music they had used actually was. It wasn’t listed on the programme website, and it didn’t seem possible to extract the information from the people making the Louis Theroux programme I’d watched.

    It infuriates me that linking to the programme website from a radio programme often provides no more information than the title of the programme and the fact that it is available on the iplayer. Where I have been seeking to know the identity of a member of the cast, or the composer for the beautiful music, I have found empty space.

    I, too, wonder how they pay royalties for music if they don’t know what they have used, and I wonder whether composers are happy for their music to be used uncredited by the BBC. I think that credits should be available somewhere for all parts of the creative input for a programme.

    • Couldn’t agree with you more – particularly about the listing of credits. After all, if you use quotes in a book or article then you have to credit your source. Why should the use of music be any different.

  2. The system is that BBC pays clearance agencies like PRS, preordained fees for all music used in programming, presumably as a lump sum each year agreed in advance. It’s usually the offline editors who would log what music was used (just in case any needs extra clearances). The production company will sometimes give you the name of the editor and they in turn can advise what music they used in the edit.

  3. You will be lucky if you get any response from the bbc as i’ve been to the main desk and phoned and sent emails with no reply. I’ve been trying to obtain the peace of music used in the storyville program, Surviving the Tsunami and it does not matter how you use the internet you will not get any joy because of the nature of people who set up there sites and there non standard way of thinking.I have all the information for the music i’m after which does not mean a thing on the internet or to the number of people i have been in contact with. My advice is to record what you can of the program and if like me you can at least record some of the music so that you can keep it in your mind until you manage to find someone who can help. Now i have a friend who has a device in his android? phone that can reconise a peice of music. The only problem it would not reconise my original master of the Rusian Creed.

  4. An artist by the title of Bonobo seems to be used fairly regularly by the BBC. Can I recommend starting with the album ‘Black Sands’. Fantastic chill out/ electronica.

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