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How To Make Up to Six Figures Licensing Your Original Music for TV: Part 2

In Part 1 of this two-part series, we talked to Production Music Writer Art Munson and Production Music Library CEO Erik Jacobsen about how Composers and musicians can build a potentially lucrative career in writing music for production libraries. They shared their thoughts on the type of person who’s most likely to succeed in this field, why contributing their tunes to a production music library is a bad move for bands, and how to flourish by identifying your strengths and weaknesses as a writer/performer. This time around we’ll be getting advice from Munson and Jacobsen on how aspiring Production Music Writers can educate themselves — whether you’re looking for college advice or want to skip this route and learn on your own. We’ll also discuss the mistakes which can help you improve in your career and the ones that can stall it.

Read on for our biggest takeaways on how you can break into the world of production music libraries.

You’ve got to know your stuff.

Although a college education with coursework in composition, performance and recording technology will give you the foundational skills to compose for a production music library, it’s equally important to be passionate about music and possess an understanding of musical genres. In regards to training, Munson says, “It all helps but you will find there are Composers with and without formal music education and varying degrees of skill and experience. In my years as a musician, Studio Player, Producer, and Engineer, I’ve worked in many genres so that helps tremendously. [My wife] Robin comes from a whole different background, so together we can cover many musical bases. I know a lot of folks suggest sticking with what you know but, personally, I like challenging myself with different genres. We have some Latin tracks that have done quite well for us, but I have never played in a Latin band. There is another track that is sort old school hip-hop that gets used constantly on TV and sells consistently on royalty-free sites. We’ve done some very retro early ‘50s, big band, rock, country — you name it they all make money.”

“A mistake can sometimes lead you to something better.” — Art Munson

Jacobsen adds, “Good, experienced, well-rounded musicians generally makes the best Writers/Producers, in my experience. For example, there are a lot of guys who listen to a lot of rap and they know what it sounds like and know that genre; they’ve never been to school but they’re very good at doing what they do. Most of the time good musicians have played in bands and have spent countless hours practicing their instruments, copying their favorite artists, playing those artists’ solos. They know song form and musical technology, which is not necessary but it’s very helpful if I say I want a four-on-the-floor bass drum disco beat.”

Jacobsen says this demonstrable knowledge of music is integral to getting accepted into his library. “The number one thing I look for if I do anything else with a song, is does the song do what it’s supposed to do?

In other words, I can put out a request for a rock song that sounds like whatever artist. If I ask for a minimal new age song do they send me that and have a handle on that? Is the song really strong, strong enough to beat out other songs in its class? I’ll get a request for a soundalike so it needs to sound like say, Kanye. They’ll have a Kanye song in the rough draft of the show and they want to replace it, so if I send this out there and you send me something that sounds like somebody else, no. It has to be able to stand on its own.

The next thing is does the production sound professional? Are the instruments in tune? Is it mixed properly? Are the cymbals too loud and sticking out, or are the vocals too loud in the mix?

The last thing is, does the Writer or Producer understand that genre? I’ll get calls for bossa nova. Do you have the bossa nova sound?”

“Do your homework on the library and see what shows they do so you’re not sending opera or stuff they can’t use.” — Erik Jacobsen

You’ll make mistakes.

Munson says, “A mistake can sometimes lead you to something better.” He cautions, “Generally, though, don’t sell yourself short or your music cheap!”

If you’re considering submitting your tracks to a production music library, be sure you’re not committing some of these cardinal sins of composing. Jacobsen says, “We delete more songs than we keep, so it really has to be on point.” Here’s his advice on what you can do to keep your tracks from getting dragged into the trash.

Avoid:

  • Submitting songs with long intros. You have to understand writing for television is a craft. It’s not like writing for your album — though it should sound [quality-wise] like an album. You have to listen and watch the show and be aware of what’s happening.
  • People will send score music, which is really more for the Supervisor on the show. People will send soundtrack-y music, which isn’t really what we do. Do your homework on the library and see what shows they do so you’re not sending opera or stuff they can’t use.
  • [Sending] sonically weak songs. Songs that were done on a keyboard and are just horrible. You have to understand you have guys who produce songs in multi-million dollar studios so you can’t step up with weak songs that won’t even compete. You can’t all of a sudden have a sonic drop in the middle of a song where you can’t hear it and it’s all fuzzy.
  • It’s a matter of taste, but boring songs are a big no no.
  • Out-of-tune instruments and Singers. I get that more than you can imagine. I don’t care how great the song is, no one is going to use it on a show if you’re out of tune anywhere on that song.
  • Endings that are cut off. Have an ending on your song. If I have an instrumental and it has a nice ending, I know they know what they’re doing. If it’s just a fade out or a cut off that’s not professional.
  • Out of date sounds or old beats, like if you ask for a modern song and you get a ‘90s beat. [Or a track that’s] not really a particular genre. It could start out being a minimal song, then it’s a rock song, then it’s a swing song. Not knowing what your song is keeps my delete button in business.
  • Not putting your name on every single file they have. If your song is called “I Love My Dog,” put your name on it like “Sarah_Smith_I_Love_My_Dog.” So her name is on that track now and no matter where it goes her name is on it. I’d go a step further and embed the name into the file and if there’s any kind of artwork, even just your name on a picture, embed that into the file so the name comes up and the picture comes up in iTunes or whatever. That says they know what they’re doing. I like seeing that.
  • Not being a member of a PRO [Performing Rights Organization] is also not good. If you send me a song and you’re not a member we don’t want to deal with it.
  • Having a zillion Writers on a track with all different percentages is a real pain, especially if they’re all with different PROs. Keep the Writers to a minimum of two maybe, three max. I mean, if I love the song, I will deal with it, but you know, I have songs with seven Writers and one guy has got a 5% writing credit. You want 5% of .0001 cents? That doesn’t make sense. What are you doing?”

Feeling inspired to start writing music for TV, film, and commercials? Once you’ve got your own library of tracks and are ready to submit to production libraries, you can use Art Munson’s Music Library Report site to glean further advice from working Production Music Writers and read reviews of the different libraries out there. As a courtesy to our readers, he’s offering 20% off a site subscription with the code CIM2016.

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