Artist Spotlight, Pro Tips

Dick Dale Band Member Art Munson on Making It in Production Music


What do Dick Dale, the Righteous Brothers, Paul Williams, David Sanborn, John Lennon, Barbra Streisand, Cher, and Billy Joel all have in common? Meet session guitarist, audio engineer, and songwriter Art Munson. For more than 30 years, Art and his wife Robin Munson have been holding court in the behind-the-scenes music game. Their work has appeared on numerous TV shows and networks including The Today Show, The Voice, Oprah, ABC World News, and more. Art has been a Pond5 contributor since 2009, but has obviously been in the game much longer. As he’s fond of saying, “I’m really freakin’ old!”


A Musical Family

Art is a living, breathing, musical love story. His dad played square-dance/society music in a band, his mom sang, and the two of them hosted a radio show in Connecticut. “I was brought up in country music,” explains Art. “I would go to my dad’s dances at five years old, and that’s how I started playing guitar.” When he got older, Munson joined the US Marine Corps from 1958-1962, stationed in the Philippines and later LA. “I was just always in bands, anywhere we were stationed,” he recalls. “When I got to LA, I was home. Sunshine all the time. Robin and I moved to Nashville for a few years in the 90s — it was a great time, but we still decided to come back. Now we’re close to the ocean.”

Happy Hip Hop – Dnb by ArtMuns

When Munson first got to town, the local legend was a guy named Dick Dale, who we now know as the godfather of surf rock. “There was a ballroom that had been closed for years. He got it re-opened. The parties were full of surfers, and his style of playing just became the sound of surf music. He played left-handed, upside down, did the tremolo thing, and it just resonated with everyone.” Munson joined Dale and his band on tour and in the studio for a few years, which opened doors for him to meet other players in the LA scene, including the Righteous Brothers, with whom he toured for three years.

Animation for Cartoon Critters by Art and Robin Munson

He also tried his hand as a frontman in a local band for about a year, but eventually gave it up in favor of gigs as a studio musician. He played on records with John Lennon, Billy Joel, Barbara Streisand, Leonard Cohen, Phil Spector, Paul Williams, Peter Criss, and more. And when that got old, he opened a home studio and began recording demos for music publishers. “The offshoot of that was selling blank cassettes to them,” he explains. “That morphed into selling selling DAT tapes to Dead Heads through newsgroups on ARPANET, the forerunner to the Internet. The company was called Cassette House. Through it all, though, Robin and I always wrote and recorded our own music.”

Quirky And Playful by ArtMuns

Art is also quick to give credit to his better half. “Robin is a better musician than I am,” he says. “She’s got an incredible ear. She made a living playing in clubs, but always wanted to have a day job. She was greatly influenced by Laura Nyro. She comes from a whole different world, musically. I don’t have what she has. But we have a great relationship — we never fight. It’s a great thing.”

The Value of Production Music

“In today’s world, you need to have as many income streams as possible,” says Art. “Even when I was playing music and making a living, I was always looking for as many other revenue streams as possible.” Art’s website Music Library Report is a go-to resource for anyone trying to get into the business of production music. “I started MLR in 2009, because there was no place for production music where people could go to learn about it,” he explains. “I was in the middle of yoga and the idea came to me. The buzz around production music started before then; there were a ton of libraries out there, but it’s like anything — some will become the Amazons and some will fold.”

Music written and produced by Art Munson

According to Munson, it’s an evolve or perish environment, and he’s continuing to submit music to libraries but in a much smaller capacity than in his younger days. “There were a lot of libraries out there with connections, whose draw was to get your music into shows,” he remembers. “That worked well until the market was saturated and all the libraries had the same music — sometimes with different titles, different prices, different licenses. That put the brakes on the whole non-exclusive music biz that had relationships with companies.”

Of course, musicians are a sensitive breed, working hard to make sure everything is perfect, every emotion carefully conveyed through the exact right sound and lyric. “Back when I was getting into it, people who called themselves ‘real musicians’ wouldn’t lower themselves to production music,” remembers Art, “but now, everyone is trying to make money. I get why musicians are precious about it, but the stuff that gets placed the most for us is the stuff that we didn’t write to be like anyone else.”

Americana Morning – Bed by ArtMuns

“Sometimes I do find myself writing something like what’s sold best,” he adds. “That kind of works, but it seems like I’ll never achieve the numbers those tracks are getting. So what Robin and I have gone back to is writing whatever we feel like within the structure of production music. We write what we feel because we want to stay true to who we are, but in an acceptable format for shows. For those musicians who are worried about letting go, it doesn’t have to be your precious stuff. Look at what’s selling and practice making stuff like it. I can’t just knock out 20 cues a day, I have to think about it. That way I’m always happy with what I do, whether it sells or not.”

Explore Art Munson’s full Pond5 portfolio for tons of additional clips »

Art Munson Collection

Top image: Hands of man playing electric guitar with red pick closeup by Morganka