The BBC to axe background music? Less work for composers?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of

Friday February 9, 2007

There are few TV programs without background music these days, even the news. But will the BBC respond to demands to reduce background music or even axe it completely?

The British Broadcasting Corporation is biggest broadcaster in the world, in terms of audience numbers.

Even if you don't live in the United Kingdom and have never watched or listened to even a minute of the BBC's output, its influence is felt among all other major broadcasters.

The BBC sets the artistic and technical standards for broadcasters all over the world. Standards that many struggle to meet, some occasionally or even regularly exceed, but ALL pay attention to what the BBC is doing.

The BBC's output also extends to print publishing, and its flagship magazine is the Radio Times, which provides a weekly listing of all the major TV channels, and radio too.

The Radio Times has been in existence since 1923 and sells around a million copies every week.

Like many magazines it has a letters page, from which I have extracted a letter that seems not to be in the interests of music composers and recordists. You can see it above.

In this letter, a TV viewer complains that there is too much background music. In fact, he doesn't just say that there is too much - he says it should be done away with!

Letters like this frequently appear in the Radio Times, which says two things. One, that there are many people who really do not like background music and they are so strongly motivated that they put pen to paper. Two, that the Radio Times thinks it is a good idea to publish these letters.

There are two reasons why music is used in movies and TV programs. One is to enhance the atmosphere, the other is to bolster up weak areas. Clearly the first is a good use of music, the second... well if you have to do it, you have to do it.

When movies and TV programs are shot, there is no music. The images, dialog and background sounds are edited together without music.

And then someone has to DECIDE where to put the music. It doesn't get there of its own accord, which some viewers seem to think is what happens.

And the more music they use, the more it costs. So in fact there is an incentive to use less music, not more.

As far as I am concerned, there can't be enough background music. The more there is, the more work there is for composers, recording engineers and studios, and of course publishers. More money!

I still have to wonder though why news needs music.

Going back to the letter. The writer makes an interesting point that 'highly skilled sound recordists' must resent background music. I presume he means the sound engineers who work on the dialog etc.

I wonder whether they do? If you work in TV sound, do you ever feel that what you do is overshadowed by the background music?

If you just watch TV and are not involved in TV production, do you think there is too much background music? Is it too loud or distracting?

If you compose music for TV, how do you feel about letters like this?

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