Fred Woods describes himself as a “busker”. It’s something of an understatement from the man who has cornered the world’s kids’ production music market. “I don’t have formal music training, although I was a competent musician. But I also had something that many creative people lack, and that’s business sense. I realised that there was money to be made in the production music market if you just look at where the gaps are,” he says.
Targeting a niche market
That gap lay in production music, also known as “library” or “mood” music, which is written specifically for use in broadcast media. It was just before he returned home after a stint in Australia, that a friend asked Woods to take back and represent his library of kids’ music in South Africa. “I had all the connections in the music industry here already, so I brought the library back with me and started what is today Red Igloo Music,” relates Woods.
In spite of his connections, however, Woods was definitely the new kid on the block and Red Igloo was up against international big name competitors such as EMI and BMG. But he carved out a niche for his fledgling company, developing close relationships with leading music publishers and producers internationally and obtaining exclusive local rights to some of the most innovative and exciting music available. Today, Red Igloo Music is the biggest independent publisher and distributor of production music in the country, representing around 53 different international labels from the small to the very large.
A simple business model
The business model is a simple one. “You source various libraries of music, import them, distribute the CDs to broadcasters and production companies and then hope that the music gets used. As publisher you carry the cost of shipping, insurance, warehousing and distribution of the CDs and there’s no guarantee of income,” Woods explains. When music is used by a broadcaster, 50% of the royalty fees go to the composer and 50% to the publisher, in this case Red Igloo Music, which shares this portion with the companies that supply Woods with library music. “But here’s the thing,” he says. “The publisher only gets paid once for the music, even if the TV programme is aired 20 or 30 times. The composer, on the other hand, gets paid every time the music is broadcast. They are the ones who really score.”
Seeing a second gap
Woods saw a gap to increase the business’s income significantly by composing his own production music, focusing on the childrens’ market.“Initially I approached a number of libraries to do a specialist kids library but I got a lukewarm response. They all told me the same thing: that there was no money in kids’ television. But I knew this wasn’t the case – just look at all the TV channels for children in South Africa alone,” says Woods. Firm in his conviction that the kids’ production music market held untapped potential, Woods started his own production music library, Cute Music in late 2006, doing much of the composing himself.
With five CDs in hand, he set off for Midem, the musical equivalent of the Cannes Film Festival. The response was phenomenal. “By lunchtime of the first day I’d signed up six countries who wanted to use the music. By the time I came home I had signed up 18,” he says. “Why was nobody else specialising in children’s music? I don’t know. To me it was so obvious. The people who are in kids TV are making money so there was money to be made in supplying that market with music for kids TV.”
Scaling up to take on the world
Woods was now in the enviable position of being both publisher and composer, effectively doubling the business’s income. But he realised he’d need to quickly scale up his kids’ music operation if he was going to see real returns. “A library takes a long time to get going,” he explains. “You send CDs off and wait for people to use the music. It might take six months before someone uses your stuff and it’s only when the programme gets broadcast that money is earned. It can be two to three years before you see an actual return.”
Even though Cute Music is, to Woods’s knowledge, the only publisher focusing exclusively on the child market anywhere in the world, a large range is key to getting noticed internationally. To this end, Woods has added seven additional CDs to the collection, and has signed up sub-publishers in countries across the globe, which are responsible for marketing and managing the use of this music. “Fortunately, kids’ music translates well across cultures and production music even more so because it’s all instrumental. It also has a long shelf life – people have been singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star since the 1800s,”
Nevertheless, it’s important to keep evolving. “Children change a lot between the ages of two and 13. Cute Music originally aimed at pre-schoolers but I’ve been edging it up the age groups to cater for a wider range,” Woods says. “I think what’s been key to our success is the fact that we focus on quality. Kids know the difference between good and bad, and we make sure our stuff is
Player: Fred Woods
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