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By the late 70s, and certainly the early 80s, sources for instrumental music had virtually dried up in Europe as well as in America. Radio programmers were faced with the problem of how to keep their formats fresh with new music in order to be contemporary. While they had many versions of, say, Begin the Beguine that they could play, the perception was that the stations would be dated and unable to attract younger listeners without being able to air instrumental arrangements of current rock and pop songs.
What to do?
The answer was to hire arrangers and commission orchestras to play and record tunes that broadcasters wanted and in the styles that fit the format. According to Phil Stout, programmer extraordinaire at Schulke Radio Productions (SRP), the very first "custom" project was commissioned by SRP. Phil has provided a very interesting description of the project and a song list, which we present in a very special EasyListeningHQ.com In the Spotlight feature (click here).
The next documented project was arranged and conducted by Bill Loose in 1975. Bill was largely doing commercial background and musical cue music for Capitol Records at the time. His productions for the Good Music Company were exceptional, having been recorded in Europe on multi-track tapes, mixed down to two-track and purveyed to broadcasters on vinyl records. (Click here for a Bill Loose Song Listing in PDF form.*)
Visionary Jim Schlichting of Starborne Productions produced the next project on a grand scale by commissioning Frank Chacksfield to record dozens of tracks that Jim also pressed on vinyl and licensed to syndicators. While those who licensed the music from Jim squealed about the rates, they were in for severe sticker shock when they began to produced and record custom music themselves. They soon found that the musician rates in the United States were too high, and that forced most of the recordings to be done in Europe where the music could be produced more inexpensively. Hence, one finds that most of the projects were done using European arrangers. (Click here to view a PDF* list of custom Frank Chacksfield recordings produced by Jim Schlichting of Starborne Productions.)
Another factor that drove the custom music projects was an association that Jim Schulke had formed with the BBC. He was able to sign a contract that gave him exclusive broadcast rights to certain BBC material. Not to be outdone, Bonneville hitched up with Reddifusion in Europe and was able to license exclusive rights to a large amount of material from the Reddifusion background music library, identified on their service as the "Buckingham Strings."
Back in America...
Stung by their inability to get the rights to the Schulke and Bonneville material, and because those two companies together were fiercely fighting to be "King of the Mountain," the smaller companies and independent stations banded together and formed the "International Beautiful Music Association" (IBMA) and collectively put their money into a pot to record their own sessions with an agreement between them that neither Schulke nor Bonneville would be allowed to license the material.
The first sessions recorded by the IBMA were with John Gregory in London and Ben McPeek in Toronto. The IBMA also licensed many cuts from Jim Schlichting which were arranged and produced by Sven Libaek. Not to be outdone, Bonneville hired Lex de Azevedo and the IBMA hired Nick Ingman, John Fox and Johnny Arthey. Then Bonneville hired John Fox, Pat Valentino and Nick Ingman. And the IBMA used Geoff Eales, Simon Park and John Sbarra, and the list goes on. Throughout it all, several other projects were also done independently then cross-licensed, such as the Fantasy Strings, Nicky North, Perry LaMarca, Anita Kerr, Dave Patt, Bill Shepherd, Fairfield Strings, etc.
The recording, licensing and use of custom music became quite competitive. Some syndicators would try to embellish what they had in their libraries or would resort to made-up names to try to conceal what they really had in terms of titles and arrangers. In fact, Schulke put out a memorandum to clients about this very subject--you can read the text of it here. Some of the fictitious orchestra and arranger names survive to this day on the want lists of faithful fans who heard neat arrangements of songs they liked...and have been searching for the impossible-to-find ever since!
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