You hear the familiar score in the background of your favorite television news program every night. Just a few seconds long, it is instantly identifiable. Hearing that music sets the tone and establishes a theme for the rest of the program. Variations on that theme are used as transitions between segments, before and after commercials, and as the coda (ending) of the show. Music is a central part of a news media company’s identity. The process of composing, securing, and paying for that music is more complicated than you might imagine. Let’s dive into the world of TV news music!
The history of the news media and music
Music in the context of television news is a relatively new phenomenon. In the 1940’s through the 60’s most television shows were introduced by the sound of a typewriter, with no music whatsoever. That changed in the 1970’s when NBC used a long symphonic piece to introduce its nightly news program. The popularity of music in an introduction grew quickly, but the songs became much shorter. Now most news programs have an introductory piece of music that is just a few seconds long, a far cry from the longer musical pieces which were popular through the 1980’s. In the last few decades, news themes have changed a lot. First and foremost, they are now significantly shorter. Long opens and closes are a thing of the past. Viewers are now hearing more and more bits of sound throughout a broadcast. These sounds are called music cues.
News music’s complicated terminology
Broadcast media, whether television, radio, or social media, have a very specific jargon that can be difficult for an outsider to understand. Terms like “stinger,” “bumper,” and “bed” are not immediately obvious unless you have been in the world of music production. Understanding the different varieties of music can help you understand the many ways in which musicians and sound editors use it. Two of the more obvious terms are “opens” and “closes.” These are the cuts of music used to introduce or end a new broadcast, and their length varies based on the type of news broadcast. General news has shorter opens and closes, while individual news shows (like Barbara Walters Presents) typically have longer ones. General news tries to get into the stories more quickly, while talent-driven broadcasts tend to take more time. “Bumpers” and “stingers” are abbreviated forms of the main opening/closing theme designed to introduce summaries of upcoming segments (for bumpers) or to introduce the new segments themselves (stingers). “Beds” on the other hand are variations on a program’s main theme used to promote upcoming newscasts.
News music branding and development
Music has been called the “silent player” of television broadcast news, creating a unifying element for the viewer and even helping them understand the newscast better. News music themes can alert the audience, letting them know that a broadcast has begun. News programs have a team of sound editors and musicians who help compose and mix the audio in a newscast. These artists are constantly balancing the music with the content to focus on the emotion and action of a story, and to maintain a dynamic product. Sound effects, music beds, stingers, and bumpers are all part of the non-dialogue sections of a newscast which help to make it a coherent whole and keep the audience informed and entertained. As a result, there is a lot of money to be made in the news music industry. The composers of the music on the show are paid royalties each time their content is used. Every time you hear the CBS Evening News theme, someone is receiving a royalty check.
There is a lot of crossover in the news music industry, with stations competing against one another to have the best quality music and the most dynamic content. This competition drives up the cost of using music in the news, as well as steadily increasing the caliber of music. News music composers continue to develop and introduce new genres of music to the broadcasts as each network attempts to make itself stand out from its competitors. The call for quality production music from established music companies like Level 77 can help meet the rising demand for new and different music in television broadcast news.