From the spare bedroom of a modest Studio City apartment in 2011, Jonathan Parks set his music dreams in motion. He wasn’t looking to the stars or seeking any kind of spotlight. He had no desire to “get famous.” To this day, Parks will tell you he doesn’t actually care who knows his name.
What the talented musician and self-proclaimed data geek dreamed about was disrupting a part of the industry quite used to playing in the shadows… outside the quintessential limelight drawing swarms of starry-eyed artists to LA like moths.
Parks dreamed about creating well-crafted music that could be licensed for high-level, professional projects. He dreamed of disrupting library music.
Yes, you read it. I wrote it, and here it is again: Library music… otherwise known as production music, royalty-free music, stock music, sync music, background music. You get the idea.
On that day nearly 12 years ago, Parks was ready to shake up a business where being in the background is not only embraced; it’s essential to success… where you might not get the glory surrounding top-charting artists, but the music you license becomes the unsung hero for countless productions, promos, commercials, videos and podcasts. He had a vision for creating a library of licensable music at a quality on par with any film score or pop act, and he didn’t need any fanfare.
Having worked on the label side of the industry for several years before going out on his own, he was also keenly aware of both the challenges that awaited him and what he needed to do to reimagine library music and give it a much-needed overhaul. Parks had been listening. He was always listening, something that became a personal motto and one of the driving forces behind his company.
When Parks launched ALIBI Music, he was a one-man band, so-to-speak, competing with some of the same label-owned giants he had played with earlier in his career. He was pretty much a cat juggler in those first couple of years, supporting his music library by building a metatag-rich database and simultaneously forming partnerships with talented composers and artists from all around the world.
But his keen ability to listen to clients and identify what was missing in his industry had also armed him with a fresh, intuitive vision for curating and licensing the music used for film, television, advertising, video games and social media. This is something Parks instilled in his team as the company grew beyond its humble beginnings.
“It wasn’t just the answers to pointed questions that we listened to. We also paid attention to the indirect feedback, learning that certain client requests actually spoke volumes about what we could do to make our library that much better,” he explained. “In the beginning, it was the requests for single instrument stems. Quickly it became clear to us that this had to be an important part of our offering.
ALIBI then started getting requests for drones or tracks based on key, and began adding those keys to all of its tracks so that people could find them easily. When video editors asked if tracks could be sped up by 3 BPMs in order to match their edits, ALIBI found a way to make that happen. For years, the company would either use Pro tools to do it for them or go back to the composer. Today, ALIBI’s site gives editors an easy way to do it themselves.
“My point is what each of us heard, we downloaded and discussed,” he added. “By listening to each other and broader industry trends, together we determined the best way to implement customer feedback – direct or indirect – into new ideas.”
Parks and his team disrupted library music by developing a cross mix of search mechanisms (including negative search and tap tempo) that made finding tracks easier. He also created robust customization options by making stems and alt versions part of every track release, and he kept ALIBI’s music fresh and inclusive by offering world music and instruments. They had figured out a way to make the library equal parts useful and searchable.
But it was more than that. Having spent years listening, watching and absorbing that symbiotic relationship between video and music and its impact on film, television, trailers, promos, commercials and video games, he knew that emotion was at the very heart of what his company was doing.
“I often tell people that we’re really in the business of creating emotion,” he said before describing the how ALIBI has infused this into the very structure of its music. “Ideally, production music tracks are like mountain ranges structured with emotional peaks and valleys, natural resting points and numerous options where the journey can end.
“And isn’t that what storytelling looks like? If you picture the classic, three-act story structure of setup, confrontation and resolution translated as an audio wave, you’d see an arc. Add in numerous build options and edit points, and you’ll see a mountain range,” he continued. “Whether cutting a program or a promo, feature film or trailer, videogame or commercial, that mountain range sets you up for highs and lows, breaks in the action, climax and conclusion.”
While the emotional structure of ALIBI’s tracks has certainly been a major appeal to its film, television, advertising, video games and indie content clientele, it also seems to have resonated directly with fans, who have actively sought out the music for personal use.
Describing one such experience, Parks recalled being overwhelmed by requests after viewers of the pop-culture hit series “Outlander” latched on to a moving ALIBI track that had been used in one of the show’s trailers. “Fans couldn’t get enough. For months, we fielded requests from people wanting to download the song or simply know more about it,” he said.
They had shown that library music could be as badass as any commercially released music if the heart and quality were there.
In response to this unexpected demand and other similar occurrences, Parks made the decision to publish radio-edit versions of ALIBI’s tracks on streaming platforms, allowing the music to breathe and thrive beyond its initial purpose.
Today, ALIBI has an international staff working with some 350 composers and artists who have embraced Parks’ vision. And while ALIBI Music may not be a household name, nearly every household has heard its music in everything from the campaigns for blockbuster feature films and TV series to major commercials, video games and indie content (see work here: https://alibimusic.com/work.)
ALIBI Music’s ability to push the boundaries of production music challenges the notion of what it means to exist in the background.
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