Stuff that occurs to me

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Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

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Monday, 3 January 2011

Is there a TV programmes 'incidental music' database?

Edit: 24 June 2013 - pretty sure I've just heard the bit of music referred to in 'Chicken Run' below in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme on problems with police, in the first segment on the Lawrence murder. 

Edit: 20 July 2015 - an enterprising person submitted an FOI request to the BBC to get information about a song used in an episode of Tracey Beaker. This is probably overkill but might work as a last resort.

There's something very pleasing about hearing a piece of music you like, or recognise, but not knowing what it is and then finding out. For me, the longest gap between hearing and knowing what something was about ten years when I finally found out that the Ford Mondeo advert featuring David Duchovny was using Bernard Herrmann's 'Prelude and Rooftop' score from Vertigo.


Every television programme I've ever seen has credits at the end for everyone involved in bringing the programme to the screen, but the incidental music doesn't seem to get much of a look in. Why?

I know that the details of (most? of) this music must get noted down somewhere because royalties might need to be paid so presumably the information exists although there may not be the will, or the requirement, to publish this anywhere.

There are quite a few ways to find out what a piece of music is, for example:-
  • Shazam - there's a free iPhone app and it's not bad at all (it solved this bit of shop-based music for me)
  • sometimes the subtitles (if you've got them switched on) will tell you what a piece of music is, especially on adverts
  • Googling - extremely effective if you want to know what an advert's music is as you've got your keywords sorted out and are bound to find a forum somewhere in which someone's asked and answered that question. YouTube's also a good source. A bit tougher if your music of interest is 17 minutes in to a particular programme though, but not impossible.
  • Twitter, obviously
  • Edit: via commenter below, thank you Anonymous. This is pretty cool - you can play a few notes on an online piano and then search for it. Clever.
People seem happy to answer questions about what a piece of music is (done it myself on several forums over the years) and they also seem happy to add their contributions about all sorts of things in a crowdsourcing way. Plenty of things on the internet where people have filled in the gaps in a slightly obsessive way, for example Wikipedia has a list of all the Midsomer villages that appear in Midsomer murders in case you'd forgotten one.

Is there something similar that collects notifications of incidental television music? It would seem to be the sort of project that would lend itself quite well to crowdsourcing as there lots of bits of music used many will recognise, and a few obscure ones that my mate Neil will probably know and everyone knows an obscure bit of music that other people don't know don't they?

Unfortunately I haven't the faintest idea how ones goes about creating and setting up such a website, and given the nature of the thing I thought it would already exist (there are several sites covering the music featuring in adverts and themes from children's television programmes etc) but I've not found it yet.

One day this database will exist and I'll find out what the incidental music was for a BBC Panorama programme about cruelty in the poultry industry called "The Chicken Run" broadcast in May 2003. It had some eerie music in the background, but Shazam can't help me as it's not on television now.

I suppose another thing I need is some sort of web-based computer app which has a keyboard that will let me record a few notes and send people a link saying "It sounded a bit like this... do you know what it is?"

------- Successfully bagged incidental music, that I obviously like --------

Incidentally (hoho) Andy of @Digitonal is pretty good at knowing what a piece of music is...

See also Music that I discovered from adverts

Brian Eno - An Ending (Ascent)

Subterraneans (Part.01). Philip Glass David Bowie Brian Eno

Elbow - Mirrorball

Philip Glass - Koyaanisqatsi (The Grid)

Philip Glass - Koyaanisqatsi (Pruitt Igoe)

What things do you hear cropping up in programmes and know what they are?


  1. Quite a lot of incidental music will be royalty-free library stuff - ie. released by the likes of Audio Network and bought by production companies and facilities houses as a job lot. Producers and directors spend more hours than they care to admit pressing 'next track' on a CD player, looking for appropriate cues to drop into the edit.

    That's the part of the process that's 'royalty-free', by the way; once the sound dub is locked some poor sap (usually the producer, but if it's not a completely cheapskate production it'll be the production coordinator, production assistant, or if they're really unlucky the post-production runner) has to pick through the inevitable scrawl and work out which track was used where. They eventually compile a list of cues, timecodes for their in-points, and durations, with all the associated publishing information off the CD.

    Those data - the 'music returns' – end up incorporated into the 'Programme as Completed' paperwork, which is the formal delivery documentation that, contractually, has to go with the transmission master tape to the broadcaster. The broadcaster then collates the music returns across all the shows they're transmitting, and via an arcane process About Which One Does Not Enquire, eventually, some poor sap of a composer receives a cheque for 87p or whatever.

    You end up doing basically the same thing for commercial music (ie. stuff you'd actually recognise), but the production company might have to foot some of the bill depending on who they are. I mostly worked for ITV broadcasters, who have blanket agreements with the licensing agencies, so I'm not sure how it works in the wider world.

    Anyway, the point is: all of this information *is* collated when the programme is delivered, it's just never exposed publicly. I guess the collecting agencies just want to know what the broadcasters have used, so there's no (perceived) value to them in revealing what was used where.

    In principle, if there's a specific track you want to know about you could try contacting BBC viewer enquiries. They ought to be able to pull the PasC data easily enough, and if you can give them the time in the show where the cue starts it's probably one of the quicker queries for them to answer, oddly enough.

  2. There is a kind of "web-based app which has a keyboard that will let me record a few notes and send people a link saying it sounded a bit like you know what it is?" and it is .


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