How to License Music and Actually Succeed
Music licensing is the hot thing right now. There’s good money in it and artists who do it can still create the music they want to.
But knowing where to start is the big obstacle for a lot of musicians.
That’s why I’ve written this lengthy guide on how to license music and succeed at it.
In our discussion of how to license music, we’ll cover:
- An Introduction To Sync Licensing
- How You Can Make Money From Licensing
- Sync Fees And Sync Royalties
- Pitching Your Music To Music Supervisors And Licensing Companies
- The 6-Step Process On How To License Your Music
An Introduction to Sync Licensing
Sync licensing is when you allow someone to use your song in a TV commercial, show, movie, video game, or other visual media. You’re then paid a sync fee in exchange.
The songwriting and publishing rights stay with you unless you co-wrote the song or signed a publishing deal. So the licensor — the person using your song in visual media — doesn’t own your song. You’re just allowing them to use your song in exchange for payment.
Before you start licensing out your music, you need to register the songs with a Publishing Rights Organization (PRO), like BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. After your song is written, recorded, mixed, and mastered, you’ll want to register it with a PRO. Not only is this proof that you wrote it, but it’s also a way for your PRO to collect royalties for you.
When your song is licensed, it may generate royalties.
Your song will generate royalties from sync licensing when it’s played in a TV show or commercial.
If you’ve written and recorded the song yourself, you own 100% of the copyrights. The copyright (and subsequently the royalties) is split into two halves: the songwriting half and the Publisher’s half.
The Publisher’s share is the thing you can transfer to other parties, whether on an exclusive or non-exclusive basis.
But with sync licensing, the biggest payout is typically the sync fee.
How You Can Make Money From Licensing
There are two main ways you can make money from sync licensing: sync fees and sync royalties.
A sync fee is simply the amount the licensor pays you for permission to synchronize it with their visual media. The amount of a sync fee can vary widely, depending on many factors.
Here are some things that could affect the payment:
- The project’s budget
- The size of the company
- The type of visual media
- Whether you made a custom track or if it’s one of your existing songs
- Whether the license is exclusive or non-exclusive
- If you’re handing over the songwriting rights (which you shouldn’t do)
- If the song will be featured in the project or if it will be in the background
So a sync fee can range from $10 or $20 (via smaller libraries) up to hundreds of thousands of dollars (if the licensor is a corporation, like Apple or Google).
But your song can get licensed an unlimited number of times to an unlimited number of clients. So, theoretically, the income ceiling for sync licensing is unlimited.
A PRO will collect sync royalties whenever a piece of visual media with your music in it plays publicly. This includes:
- On TV
- On a video streaming platform, like Netflix, Hulu, or YouTube
- In a restaurant or a bar
- In a gym
I can’t say how much you’re paid each time someone watches a show or commercial with your music in it. But I can tell you that BMI and ASCAP pay their artists 88% of the royalties they collect each quarter, split 50/50 between Songwriter and Publisher (you may be both).
Pitching Your Music to Music Supervisors and Licensing Companies
If you really want to succeed at licensing your music, you need to make the right kind of music. And people have different ways of going about this.
Some people will listen to the songs in commercials and use those songs as outlines for their own songs. Essentially, they try to copy that song in their own way.
The other way (my preferred way) is to create whatever music resonates with you. When you hear a song in a TV show, it’s usually not cookie-cutter music. It’s original. It’s unique. Plus, you’ll find it more rewarding.
How to Pitch Music to Sync Licensing Companies
Most licensing companies have a clear process for submitting music. Companies like Musicbed, Marmoset Music, or Music Vine have clear directions for music submissions.
You might hear people use the terms “sync library” and “sync licensing company” interchangeably, but they’re slightly different. Musicbed, Marmoset Music, or Music Vine are technically sync libraries — they license songs for a flat amount and allow anyone to pay for the use of your song on the spot.
Companies that are solely sync licensing companies — like Crucial Music or Bank Robber Music — are not libraries where anyone can license the songs right from the website. Usually, a filmmaker or Music Supervisor would contact these companies for a specific request, then the company curates a select handful of songs for them to choose from.
Both sync libraries and sync companies have clear submission directions if they’re accepting new music.
How to Pitch Music to Music Supervisors
Then use this email template created by Ari Herstand:
Subject line: “sounds like (popular artist), for (TV show currently working on)
Body: I’ve been watching your show and I saw you do _____. My music sounds like ______ (this type of music and maybe these bands). I own 200% of these songs.
In the body of the email, include links to your songs where the Supervisor can listen and download, like Box.com, Dropbox, or Soundcloud.
Here are some general dos and don’ts of submitting to Music Supervisors:
- DON’T attach MP3s unless they specifically ask you to
- DO include links to both the original and instrumental versions of your songs
- DON’T send more than three songs
- DO make the headline catchy and include what other famous artists you sound similar to
Your song can get licensed an unlimited number of times to an unlimited number of clients. So, theoretically, the income ceiling for sync licensing is unlimited.
The 6-Step Process on How to License Your Music
Here are the general steps I took to get my music in Crucial Music and Music Vine, get placements in podcasts and YouTube videos, and get the attention of Music Supervisors and other sync libraries/companies.
These six steps are meant for someone just getting into sync licensing.
Choose About Five Songs for Licensing
I think every artist who’s learning how to license music doesn’t have much confidence at first. Are your songs good enough? Is it the type of music that fits TV shows, commercials, and films?
But the thing is, you won’t know until you try.
The first step is to choose 3-5 songs for your initial library of songs. When choosing the songs, here are some very important tips:
- You’ll need both the original (with lyrics) and the instrumental versions
- If you want to go a step further, create 30- and 60-second versions of each song
- Do not use other artists’ samples — only royalty-free or public domain samples
- You should have a signed agreement from any co-writers
- If you have a publisher or label, check with them to make sure you can reach out for licensing opps
As for the technical aspects of the tracks, here’s the formatting they should have:
- 24 bit
- At least 128 kbps, preferably 320 kbps
- 44kHz is totally fine, but some libraries/Supervisors/filmmakers may request 48kHz
Make Sure Those Songs Are Registered With a PRO
If you’re not registered with a Publishing Rights Organization, you need to be. Even if you don’t plan on licensing your songs, you should register them with a PRO. It’s another layer of proof that you created the song.
A PRO collects the royalties you’ve earned when one of your songs gets played on TV or a streaming platform like Netflix. In the United States, the biggest ones are BMI and ASCAP, SESAC for in Canada, and PRS in the UK.
Just pick one and register your songs with them. Without doing this, you won’t get the sync royalties your songs deserve.
Metadata is uber important, especially if you’re submitting directly to Music Supervisors. What is metadata?
It’s information you add to the actual MP3 or WAV file of your song. So if you double-click on the track or right-click and look at the details, you can see the following info:
- Track title
- Artist name
- Album title
- Release date
- Your email address (you can put this in the “additional information” or “comments” section)
You need to add your email address to the metadata because a Music Supervisor needs to know how to contact you if they want to use your song.
They get so many submissions and probably have a huge library of songs they may want to use. If your contact info isn’t included in the metadata, they’re not going to go hunting for it. They’ll move onto the next song that could work for their project.
I think every artist who’s learning how to license music doesn’t have much confidence at first. Are your songs good enough? Is it the type of music that fits TV shows, commercials, and films? But the thing is, you won’t know until you try.
Create a Spreadsheet
I have a spreadsheet on my Google Drive that helps me keep track of everywhere I’ve submitted music and where my songs have been placed.
In the far-left column (titled “SONG”), I have a list of all the songs that have been accepted into a music library or with a sync company, or songs that I’m trying to get placed. The other columns are:
- Release date
- Sounds like…
- Master ownership
- Link to the lyrics
- 30/60 second versions?
- Current library(ies)
- Exclusive or non-exclusive?
I’ve found it extremely convenient to have this spreadsheet handy, especially if I’m submitting the same song to more than one library or if someone inquires about licensing a certain song. I can easily see if the song is under an exclusive agreement, if I have alternate versions, and what genre and mood a song is.
Make a List Of Music Libraries, Sync Companies, and Music Supervisors
Next, Google “sync music libraries,” “sync licensing companies,” and “Music Supervisors” and see what you come up with. Pretty soon, you’ll be finding contact info for people or “Submit Your Music” pages on library websites.
Start making a list of all these sites and Supervisors and include their contact info or a link to a music submission page.
Make sure the libraries, companies, and Supervisors actually need your music. For example, if you make hip-hop, don’t submit your tracks to websites that mostly have cinematic, ambient songs.
Once you’ve got a long list of places to submit your music, set aside some time each day — even just 30 minutes — to email or submit your music to these places.
For companies with clear submission guidelines, follow every step. For Music Supervisors, use the email template I included above.
It’s a bit time consuming, but if you want to succeed at licensing your music, this is how to do it.
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