Listen here: The Unsung Sounds of The Library Music Era (Mix)

For as long as budget-strapped film and TV productions have existed, there’s been a cottage industry of “stock” music libraries providing them with cheap canned soundtracks, cutting the cost of hiring a dedicated composer. While the utilitarian intersection of creativity and commerce hardly seems like fertile creative ground, at its heyday in the 60s, 70s and 80s, this niche “library music” market yielded surprisingly eclectic sounds, as dozens of catalogues competed to offer increasingly unique moods and styles for every imaginable scenario.

The promise of a quick paycheck and relatively few creative restrictions attracted musicians of all stripes, including mainstream talent like Piero Umiliani, BBC Radiophonic Workshop alumni, and even the great Ennio Morricone. Buried amidst an abundance of AM radio rock imitations and waiting room muzak are some truly inspired and innovative musical experiments: bubbling synth arpeggios for underwater exploration, cosmic electronic soundscapes for science fictions, raw and funky break-beats for crime dramas, and everything in between.

Over the years, a growing cult of adventurous listeners has tuned in to this private world of “library music.” Production catalogues like KPM, Bruton, De Wolfe and Sonoton have garnered almost the same reverence among DJs and producers as labels like Blue Note, Brain, or ESP. AFS staffer Gabe Chicoine, who moonlights as DJ Adult Themes, has put together a mix of his favorite library music sub-genre: synth-heavy, high energy compositions to soundtrack your stay-at-home adventures (and be sure to keep scrolling for a gallery of his favorite library LP cover designs).

While most instances of library music use faded along with the ephemera of the past, a few have endured, including Alan Tew’s production music used in the BBC TV show The Hanged Man, certain library cues employed by George Romero in DAWN OF THE DEAD, and more recently, Curb Your Enthusiasm has resurrected the music of Italian library composer Franco Mizallini to instant recognition.


Bonus: feast your eyes on some of the charmingly industrial library record designs.