Licensing Your Music Ain’t Easy – Be Cool

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I recently had lunch with the founder and CEO of a popular website for independent artists. It was great to catch up and hear about all the exciting things going on with the site. On the other hand it was a bit of a concern hearing about some of what he and his staff have had to put up with recently in dealing with some of the more, shall we say, frustrated and/or unstable musicians that use his services.

On the site, artists can submit their music for a nominal fee to listings for licensing and other opportunities. As you can imagine, only a relatively small percentage of the music submitted can be accepted. There are high standards for anything that’s going to be used in film and TV and chances are that most of the submissions will fall short of this standard. Also, factor in that with licensing, it’s a bit of a crap shoot. You may have a better song than the next guy, but something about the other song just works better for the scene or they happen to have a lyric that fits perfectly for what they’re looking for. There’s no way around it – a lot of artists are going to end up frustrated.

The ones who ‘get it’ realize that you have to keep pushing forward and that you have to plant 1,000 seeds to grow 10 trees. The ones who don’t ‘get it’, in my experience, are poor judges of their own material and put too much importance on each submission. They also tend to underestimate how much work and perseverance it really takes to develop themselves to the point that they can produce broadcast quality music and get it placed. They fall into the trap of thinking that other people are responsible for their success or failure. Their minds play tricks on them and they imagine scenarios where the cards are stacked against them.

I remember when I first learned ProTools and started recording from home. I spent A LOT of time working at it. Before long I started to feel like the quality of my recordings were good enough to start getting placements. I signed up with some submission services in hopes to get some good breaks. I was sure that I was only a few months away from being able to make a living at it. WRONG! I was a lot further than I thought. My ears and brain just couldn’t tell what was lacking in my recordings. It all sounded great to me.

I remember the frustration well. I think one of the most difficult things for humans to deal with is when we can’t see the correlation between our actions and our results. I literally could not tell why I wasn’t getting the results I expected. A lot of explanations went through my head, but none of them gave me any peace. Eventually I ended up with a roommate who was much better at recording music than me and thankfully wasn’t afraid to call it like he heard it. It was painful to hear the truth at times, but I finally started to hear some of the things that I needed to improve. After several months of my roommate’s feedback I started to make money with my recordings.

Until you break through and have some success it can be a lot easier to blame someone else for your frustration. It requires a lot more effort to actually get the job done. Unfortunately, some people are so sure that their success is being thwarted by some evil-minded, greedy company or person that they will act like spoiled children and absolute jerks. This strategy only causes pain for all involved.

What I’d like for more people to realize is that when you submit your music for opportunities, the people who are screening your music are people who care, just like you and I. In most cases they’re musicians too. They probably understand and empathize with your frustrations more than you realize and they don’t enjoy having to deny anyone opportunities.

Even if you don’t understand why you’re not having the success that you believe you deserve I urge you to withhold judgement and to just stay at it and get as much honest, constructive feedback as you can. When your results in the outside world match your hopes and expectations then you’ve reached the point where you truly know what it takes and can judge your own work. Until then, you don’t and you can’t. If you’re not there yet then take 100% responsibility for getting yourself there, even if you don’t know how you will. If you have faith then you’ll have the strength to stay at it long enough to figure it out. In the meantime, be cool and treat people with kindness and respect.

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111 thoughts on “Licensing Your Music Ain’t Easy – Be Cool

  1. Licensing is not easy but betterf to be informed of the mountains you need to climb….so you can be prepared with the EQUPMENT called knowledge.  Great and more importantly an honest striaght forward article.

  2. The problem isn’t the rejection of the songs since getting songs rejected is a given, but where these companies can 1up their competition is actually giving feedback, what is wrong with the song if it was a close decision.  It doesn’t make sense if these companies want more quality submissions give specific feedback,  here is the million dollar idea, ready licensing companies? (Virtual A&R) can you imagine that? Many people are asking A&R what is that, yeah exactly my point.  Don’t be stingy you help the writers and it helps you the licensing company, this only makes sense. The feedback could be 2 sentences it’s not that hard.

  3. I totally agree with this article. As an independent musician, I enjoy hearing feedback from producers and sound engineers of my projects. It is a learning process for every person starting on their own and we do think that our first album or albums we recorded are master works of art until we hear a suggestion for what we should try and do on the next album we record that the pros suggest. Remember that they are there to help and support you for your artistic creativity and through my experience so far, I am greatful for their opinons and suggestions. GREAT ARTICLE.

  4. Scott,

    Well said. I have a book on songwriting and included some of the problems with attitude you have discussed here. You are right on target; these guys are usually very caring and empathic people who are simply looking for the right piece of music to place. That’s all. There isn’t any malice there. They aren’t trying to stop anyone’s career. They just have a job to do and it requires them to find the right song for the project they are assigned to. Every songwriter’s obligation is to realized that as soon as you send your song outside of friends and family, you are competing with the worlds best songwriters. You have no choice but to send your very, very best material if you have any hope of playing in the big leagues.

  5. I’ve been writing songs for about 40 years. I started recording about 30 years ago in my spare time with a 4-track. I just bought a 24-track digital Tascam. All my songs have been copyrighted, in bunches, and I’m having a ball recording things the way i want to hear them, finally. My point is, the music business has changed. If you want to record, just do it. Cantact discmaker of someone else and start selling you cd’s at you events. Everything else is a waste of time, IMHO.

  6. unless you KNOW someone to get your foot in the door? Forget it. And, if you DO happen to have worth in your song? It’s gonna be changed and shared by those letting you in that door. I know, trust me. Don’t be naive until you are broke and pulling your hair out will you listen to Justin Beiber. C’mon, think about it. Just being real.

  7. “rejection sucks, but getting shot at sucks more” … nicely put Geoff! Far worse things out there.
    I think what’s important here is to find your strengths and focus on whatever they are. When I found out that I am a better performing artist then recording artist, I centered my focus around performance instead. The result wasn’t a major lift-off, but it was a modest (sometimes scraping by, but never failing) living. It was, however, a departure from the grind of side-work to support my music habit though and a great boost in my musical and performance abilities.
    No matter what road you take, a positive attitude and sense of personal responsibility take you farther then any complaining/blaming will. Besides, trying to place blame or complaining about anything does more to drag you down and make you hate what you are doing then it ever does to fix what is inherently wrong in any situation.
    Do be honest with yourself, but also understand that just because what you re doing isn’t “selling”, it doesn’t mean that it is bad or a waste of time. At the end of the day being creative with music is one of the best outlets there is for the human soul, one of the purest forms of communicating with others, and better for your health then so many other types of pass-times you might engage in.
    After 17 years in the business, I don’t think I can claim any finger on the pulse of anything and really, I don’t care anymore, I am finally able to do what I love for a living and it does make me happy. Of course the question continues to burn, “why am I in this stupid little club seeing the most amazing thing and when I turn on the radio all I hear is crap?” To this I have learned to simply be glad that that stupid little club exists within my range. Then there is that annoying phrase I am sooo tired of hearing: “well, ya know the cream always rises…” to which I gotta say “yeah well turds float too!” Just get over all of it and do your thing as best as you can; the sooner you do, the better your quality of life will be and incidentally your chance of success will increase as well.

  8. I am not sure what service Scott was using to forward his music, but I personally have used Taxi for years.
    Now here is the thing for those who did not quite understand the value of this article. I have a degree in Marketing and Management and work in an industry that is not related to music, but like many of us, the real love of my life is music. This understanding of business perhaps makes it a bit easier for me to “get it”. But let’s get to my point… it is partly about what you may consider “success”. I have never had a song forwarded and I certainly would not want Taxi to forward a song that did not quite make the bar just to please me or any other member. I feel very absolute about this because i want to know that when Taxi sends a song, any song, out to a potential buyer, Taxi’s recommendation is highly regarded by the end user and my chances of actually selling a tune are highly elevated. Now here is what I consider success… When I first started writing tunes I was getting a critique with an average rating of “6” in all categories . For those of you familiar with Taxi you know what that means. I would look forward to the critique because, even if i did not get a forward, I knew I would learn something valuable to improve my tune writing. Recently and working from the input I have received over the last few years from their reviewers, I submitted songs that received a 9 average. To me that is success, because it means I am improving and while my chances and yours of becoming the next “big thing” in the song writing world are about as good as being picked to play for the NBA, I am still having fun trying
    as well as satisfying my need to be creative musically. Moral of the story… Don’t let misdirected anger prevent you from being all you can be for it is far better to have tried and not succeeded than to have anger keep you from trying at all. P.S. I don’t work for Taxi. I am just an old guy who wanted to share my thoughts with others who may be having a hard time with this.
    Thank you.

  9. Any licensing service that charges a fee should be regulated by the gaming commission and advertise themselves as a lottery. I now have emails from broadjam directed to my spam folder.

  10. I would copyright your music and create your own sound first. Then learn about licensing. It is weird that this article doesn’t mention anything about licensing REALLY!
    Maybe signing with BMI or ASCAP and Soundexchange is in the mix of the subject too!

  11. I read this blog thinking that I would actually get some beneficial knowledge out of it about licensing music… not the case. This was more of a recording based post. Please people… title your articles appropriately… and don’t waste others time just to get you more hits. TIcks me off.

    1. It was useful information if you judge it based on “philosophy”. You’ll need to consult privately with a recording engineer and/or a music librarian for details about licensing procedures. As Scott said, “Be cool”.

    2. Seriously, talk about not being cool.
      The title says “Licensing .. Ain’t Easy” and the article is about JUST that. Plus, it offers some very good insights.

      I particularly found the mention of the disparity between one’s actions and the results to be a very insightful pinpointing of something most people at one point or another struggle with.

      Too bad they tricked you into clicking.

      1. well it is easy to Place the Blame on frustrated Musicians, and there are those who are somewhat impatient or even unrealistic. On the other hand, they are sold a Bag of Goods by many who want you to Join their sites, telling People that there are those Making Hundreds of thousands of Dollars for writing Nonsensical Jingles!…then when you Join under that pretense, you are told you Have a Fee per song, per song, not per Listing, to punish the Artist from submitting Nonsensical tunes and wasting their A&R peoples time, For Real Player!!!!! sounds Like someone is Making a whole Lot of Money on the ambitions of needy Artist….so there is a Gimmick everywhere, Taxi is not the only one out there and perhaps others would explore that Business and the Licensing company wouldn’t be so overburdened!!!! carrying all that cash to the Bank…Lol…

  12. This is a fantastic article. I like the themes of objectivity and personal accountability which can be found throughout. Well done.

  13. Good article… One key here is about “Blaming Others for your success or failure”, I hear that WAY too often, and used to be guilty of it myself, to an extent. I’ve gotten around it by putting a bit of money and time into a full-length, self-produced album of my own songs, I know there’s more talented people out there to take the Labels attention, but I think these songs are decent and should be heard, even if it’s just by me and my friends! I guess my advice is, if you think your songs are solid and no-one’s biting, record them yourself! Who’s stopping you from doing that?

  14. Man, musicians can whine. “I’m not being recognized, and The Black Eyed Peas are playing the Super Bowl;” “I’ve gone to music school and know all the notes in an Abmaj7#11 chord, and nobody cares about all the esoteric music that I record.” Dudes, Mozart made very little money for his works, the majority, roughly 85%, of his income came from teaching. The small window of history where musicians could actually buy swimming pools has closed.

    I love recording and making records, but I continue to do so with full knowledge that its an arcane art form. Try and purchase a real mic, preamp, compressor, and you’ll see they stopped making pro gear 40 years ago. Let’s say you are savy enough to assemble a C12, neve preamp, and 1176, then it hits you: Protools is the worst recording format ever conceived, (and by the way, if you don’t know the items listed above here’s one clue to why your recordings aren’t considered for film and tv).

    The industry is a ship of fools, no one listens anymore, yes thank you very much. Now, go do something else and stop calling yourselves my peers.

  15. In summary, here are 11 ways to travel on the path of successfully licensing music:
    1. Remaining patient
    2. Being polite
    3. Being committed to product excellence
    4. Being prolific
    5. Seeking, accepting and incorporating suggestions from people whose aesthetic tastes you trust
    6. Remembering that 1,2, 3, 4 & 5 are occasionally conflicting and require active choices
    7. Remembering that 1 through 5 are a means of improving but not guaranteeing results
    8. Accepting that songs are commodities to those in the music business even though you love them like your children
    9. Accepting that money, influence, connections and whorish behavior can often increase the chances of acceptance and success.
    10. Viewing rejection as an indication that the rejecter may know what makes them money but may not know what is good music
    11. Responding to rejection as a suggestion for recalibrating your effort, not as a perma-blockade on the road to the Promised Land
    Peace & Good Luck to fellow artists!

  16. It all is a craft which when applied becomes a skill.Recording is a science. It is easy to get lost in a tune because it is your creation,you are very personal to it and your friends/family like it and it inspires you to carry on.And this is good if you love it. if you are in persuit of doing it professionally everything takes a different tack and you now have to become objective about your work,and handle honest critique about it.The most important thing I believe is to have your skills as finely developed as you can.This may mean taking voice lessons.Most artists,such as myself sound their best. working with a great producer. And then patience,it may take 15 years for your catalog to be realized for it’s value.Or even good luck,and you can make your own luck in many cases,most of those that made it did do that.Professionally no matter how you look at it this is a business of connections.It is those connections that make or break an artist. And somewhere along the line you are going to pay out for services being done in your behalf.This can be monies well spent.Before a major recording artist even see’s one penny that they can call their own they have paid out for everything. In dealing with such as music licensing websites where you are going to pay out for submissions it would be discerning to check them out first.BBB complaints,their D&B rating,what artists were successful working with them?Never take a contest to seriously.The biggie here is to draw them to you.Provide all of the visibilty that you can. Have a solid personal website kicking that easily and as quickly as possible describes you.Respond to your fans when you find them,talk with them and not down at them.Make them a part of your thing.The showing of one’s ass in a negative note of malcontent is never a wise move and is going to be of no help to your cause unless you have got a valid point to it and you had better have some great music to back that up.A bitchy star is a pain in the ass,a whiny nobody is going into the “crank” files.A studied artist who is a team player is going places.I do what I do because it is FUN-remember that? Just as much now as when I was a kid! I don’t have a lot of connections now yet I do have good connections.People that I can trust who help to build what I am doing and the good can only lead to the better as long as i am on the ball.I am wishing today that one of you reading this becomes a big star and if you need a bass player you can give me call to become a member of your band.I am easy to get along with in difficult situations and fun to work with.renelabre.com Best Regards to all here and thanks!

  17. I think the article makes good points:

    At one time I was a reasonably successful session guitarist/sideman who also did a fair amount of musical directing and arranging- i.e. a full time card carrying professional musician. After nearly 20 years of that, I decided to get into production and engineering, starting with a small home setup that would be extremely primitive by today’s standards.

    It was a classic case of not knowing what I didn’t know. I was recording little demo projects for which I was making decent money, and I had some skill, so it took me a few years to realize that my work fell far short sonically and production-wise of the records and CD’s I admired.

    It was then that I started to learn to hear with the ears of a producer and engineer. Nowadays, I have no trouble recording, mixing and mastering to broadcast quality. I’ve composed national jingles, film and TV scores, and a catalogue of production library music that is licensed worldwide. But it’s been a process that was at least a decade longer than I thought it would be to get to the basic level of competence that allows me to do it.

    Also the music that I compose is conceived and executed to sell in specific categories. Much of it is created on assignment for a specific job. It is not “artistic” per se, nor is it intended to be.

    One of the things that is liberating about the new recording technology and distribution networks is that it is easier than ever for an artist to maintain integrity and control and still have a shot at selling to a core niche audience. But that does not necessarily translate into music with the sort of broad appeal to work in licensing situations.

    So I think it is a point well taken that it is not appropriate or desirable for every artist to aspire to licensing a lot of their catalog. Nor does it necessarily make them a bad artist if their music doesn’t have broad appeal.

    But for all the malaise in the music recording business, I think this is a truly exciting time, where individual artists are in many ways more empowered than they have ever been. Good luck to all of us!

    Jon Gordon
    Jon Gordon Music Production
    NYC

    http://www.jongordon-music.com/

  18. I think a lot of music is passion & perseverance, I am in a place where I never think my music is good enough, but I am also happy with it at the same time, I take an artist’s approach, it’s all about the evolutionary process, don’t think about the money, think about the creative process, being unique will set you apart from the cookie cutter crowd, it is the the truly unique & innovative musicians the are remembered, not saying that you can’t make a decent living producing background tracks, for me I’m in the game for my own selfish reasons, not how someone else can benefit from my passion.

  19. Just a reminder………….There’s a reason it’s called the “Music Biz”! If your making REAL music for the money, go & get a day job. For the rest of us, we do it because it’s what we are. It’s what we HAVE to do! Real musicians seem to get paid by accident. If your the Black Eyed Peas”, it’s just another day of business, without a lot of thought to the music. Be trendy to make the cash.

    BTW, You don’t always have to have great recordings to get placement in a film, like if 20 seconds is needed for background coming through a car radio. And for companies that want submissions that are uncompressed at 48k, I challenge them to hear the difference between WAV @ 48k, & MP3 @ 320k. I know they can’t!

  20. As always your articles are very informative and I love receiving them and use them quite often for reference. They also get passed out to my clients that need the info. Keep up the good work.
    Bdominguez
    Twin River Recording

  21. I managed to secure a publishing deal through one of these services. No money ever eventuated as a result. If you want to make a living out of your art, I’ve found the old fashioned way most effective. Get out there on the front line, perform, shake hands, kiss babies.

  22. I never gave a red cent to a licensing company to have my music heard. I marketed my music locally first, sold all I had, made more copies, sold them, and then along came a guy who was program manager at a jazz station who gave me extensive airplay. What more could I have asked for? I believe if your music is good enough, people will want to hear it a second time. Just keep it simple, stay within your talent level, and let the music do the rest.

  23. PS: i have the phat VINYL collection…first Beatles- VHII and even some Chess Blues in between~
    yeah OK!
    that and three-bucks gets me on the Train…
    lemme know if u don’t get it!
    “gotta do ur own work around here homey” 🙂

  24. The Industry and the moguls set the rules, and congress said that you cant sue them. What.!?

    Music is politics, and as a record owner I am doing something about it. No, I’m not going to congress, and I’m not going to challenging the record industry. I feel that if any artist want to sign with them, they dont know about the music business, period.

    But with SAN: Starving Artist Network, 2011 we will re-invent the wheel.
    All of our artist that we sign are train in contracts, and percentages so they
    can see the value of what SAN has to offer. In this way they value our efforts.

    Here is what our signed artist said. Diamond i was not aware of all of this information, and I appreciate you for being candid with me to help me see the whole, instead of half. I’m down 4 life.

    SAN: will be the platform of the future for all artist. Music and other wise, and it will be the only Artistic & Music platform of it’s kind. Promise.

    for more info on SAN: Starving Artist Network, than go to myspace.com/starvingartistnetwork
    and go to our blog player and enjoy some quality Internation music from SAN Internations Libraries.

    Also, this year the largest music call in the world by SAN. Music visionaries.
    —————————————————————————————————————————————–

    How can a person who had 10 #1 hits not collect a royal check, ever. Most young people are living a fantasy, and this is churned by multi-million dollars contract which is designed to intice you, and only to find out that it is really just a loan.. We should be looking up vocalist or professional singer file bankruptcy. Diamond

  25. This article (more so the responses) dumbfounded me. Good music sells itself. stop insinuating that everyone is capable of great music just to get a bunch of interest…and business. It doesn’t matter how good or bad your recording is! yeah, take it in. What matters, is that you have a good product. Most artists do not! Live with it and accept your destiny. I do not care about commercial music. if you want to fit that scheme. do it! It’s no different than other. a good product sells itself. if your wondering what a good product is, then give up and realize what a great pastime you have!

  26. I like this article. I think that a lot of people, especially young adults, come into this business thinking it’s going to be easy or fair. That they’ll play one show and get “discovered” and “signed” and be “famous”. It doesn’t really work like that (unless you’re Justin Bieber or one of those other teenagers). The best things you can do for your career are LISTEN and WORK. Take the feedback you get when being rejected and use that to turn things around. Don’t sit around waiting for people to come to you, go to them or MAKE them want you. Market yourself and your music. The other day, a young man sent me some of his new music. I suppose he wanted a pat on the back for it. He had very high goals for this music, but it was demo quality at best. When I asked him when he planned on recording it in a real studio his answer was “When someone pays me to.”. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t really work like that. If you’re making music in hopes that it will be your career, you need to involve yourself in the business side of things, learn how it works and how to handle it. Put your best foot forward on your own and people will respect it. The artist side of you should always be longing to grow as an artist anyway, so consider the feedback you get to be part of that process and keep working.
    It’s not easy, but what fun would it be if it were?

  27. Boy did Scott open up a can of Worms (so to say).I found out as I’ve made my way in the Music BIZ that you have to remember that if your going to SIGN on to any thing like TV or a Label that you will be giving away either some of your publishings or copyrights.And it has nothing to do with how good your song is.I turned down signing with a Company early in my life (and I’m a better song writer now then I was Back Then).And did every thing from then on by my self ( paying for,recording and putting out).3-45’s,2-EP’s,2-LP’s,1-tape,1-CD and a down load only.I’m also working on New music.Just DIY…DO IT YOURSELF.Some one will like it and if the stars line up it will find a place to land.But remember what ever you put out it will OUT LIVE YOU.Jimmi RITZ Reitzler

    1. Signing a contract does NOT mean that you are giving away publishing or copyright to your work unless it specifically says so. For anyone who needs a great deal on a contract review, I recommend you contact Professor Pooch (http://professorpooch.com). He’s been in the biz for 30 years and teaches entertainment law to attorneys.

  28. Submit your music for a “nominal fee”. This premise is big smelly Cow Dung. Can you say “Pay to Play”? It’s the same thing. An independent artist shouldn’t pay money, on top of whatever cost you incurred to produce your music, for the “privilege” of being considered. There is far too much of this because the reality is that a very small number of entities control the cash and thus, the industry. You are better off finding people in your town/city who do independent work, such as indie films, or indie productions, or even local schools who have courses in production, then go and meet these people – face to face – hand them a copy of your stuff. Tell them you’re looking for opportunities to get your stuff licensed – or even just heard for that matter. Then – stay in touch with these people. Repeat this process daily. Be persistent without being annoying and you will get a “break”.

  29. This is a great read! I here a alot of crap on the radio and i say to my self, i got songs better than that.

  30. make sure as a starter and financial backer , to get ppa documents signed. i created,started a band with friends, and including expences for studio time, equipment,space,advertisors,etc. i was fired from my own band. the condoit i created for the band, catopolted them to a awesome place. my work hours to pay for it, diminished the bond,as a band. but none of it would be possible, had i not wanted or loved music.

  31. I’m not a music exec, I’m just a guy who makes $10.50 an hour as a maintenance man but likes to play and write tunes. What this article probably should have addressed was the fact that most independent artists should develop some “critical listening skills”. For instance, let’s take a look at some common musical terms that every musician should look at/listen to critically. Intonation . . . did you hit the pitch clean when you started the tune or did you “slide” into it? Tempo . . . as James Brown used to browbeat his sidemen, “You gotta know where ONE is!” and keep ONE where it is supposed to be throughout the tune. Phrasing . . . you’re telling a story with music folks, it better damn well flow like a story. Diction . . . listen to Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole, or Frank Sinatra . . . you understand every single syllable they sing, and better yet, with all three of them heavy smokers they used their diction to sneak in breaths to support their tremendously GREAT phrasing! Listening skills . . . Sinatra decided he needed to develop better phrasing skills by listening to Tommy Dorsey play his trombone (and Arturo Toscanini told the RCA Symphony Orchestra that the brass section needed to be able to phrase like Dorsey). . . now isn’t that a helluva way to develop a better vocal technique?! Are these tidbits going to guarantee that your music will be licensed? Hell no! But if you develop yourself into being a better musician, maybe your music will be the stuff that people drink to AND think to, and that might be the determining factor if your music should be chosen to be licensed. In the meantime, play/write music because you love to . . . for me, living out here on the Great Plains of South Dakota, THAT’S what it is all about!

  32. Wow, we’re all so passionate about it! money, music, attention, sex… i mean success

    it’s seems we’re living in the time of American Idol where pop rules the charts … a lot of corporate music, written by teams of writers and producers …… that so much of it sounds the same…

    Personally I like music that doesn’t sound like anything else, innovative …. it’ll be great when we break out of this, into the next phase …. kinda like when grunge hit and turned everything upside down

    We could use more artists that write their own stuff, and are not cliche like guitar / pop / rock …

    …. but of course they have put in the time and perfected ‘their own’ sound, not someone else’s

    Cheers and have a Beauty day! chris

  33. Like the author of this article, Scott James, we had NO idea how difficult and competitive the film/TV music licensing business really was when we started out 8 years ago. It’s also very political and extremely subjective.

    A publisher friend of ours says it’s all about “making music in the money business.” Thousands of people can write good music, but it won’t go anywhere. What’s the difference? Three things: 1) getting helpful, honest feedback; 2) improving what you do after getting the feedback; and finally 3) marketing the heck out of it — probably the scariest of all these steps for most of us.

    We’d been full-time, professional musicians for many years and were quite successful, but making the transition to being composers trying to get our music into film & TV was unbelievably tough! There were so many times when absolutely nothing was happening, we weren’t making a dime of income, no one would return our phone calls and emails, and we couldn’t even get arrested. Those were dark and depressing days, to say the least.

    But, as Scott says, you have to find someone who will give you straight-from-the-hip, dependable feedback. And when you get that feedback, you have to sometimes swallow your pride and invest even MORE money into: your samples, computer and recording equipment; improving your musicianship; taking classes, etc.

    The bottom line is: you won’t find ANY work if your music is sub-standard and you’re a jerk. Bad combination! We’ve heard this story from fellow composers: “because I was kind to this person, they ended up using my music in their show when they went from being ‘gopher’ to ‘producer’ five years later.”

    Cream rises to the top, and if it’s ice cream, well, that’s even sweeter for everyone. Be patient, be confident, be persistent, be talented, be open to criticism, but above all…be nice.

    ~ Tracey & Vance Marino

  34. For a long time, I felt like I was at a point where I felt like my recordings were good enough for placement. I would constantly wonder why my friends always felt like my songs were good but not good enough. I internalized a little bit of resentment when one of my roommates called one of my songs amateur.

    After thinking about it critically and asking my friends with more experience, I realized he was right. One of the things that makes artist successful is having a close-knit group of people who are willing to tell you the truth. When you’re working on a project, you usually hear your best version of the project. Your friends, and strangers who have never heard the work are the ones who will be able to pick out the flaws and tell you where you need to pick up the slack. Having a lot invested in a song is good but it amounts to nothing if your work isn’t near perfection.

  35. Thanks Kellianna, Adam, Franco & Nate. I soooo appreciate your comments. I gleaned something “positive” from each of your comments. Recently I was going over my “musical” career, which has spanned over many “decades”. My brothers and I travelled across Canada, the U.S., Europe and yes, even India, looking to “make it” in the business. Are we talented? That answer lies in the eyes of the beholder ( and their ears). Did we ever “make it”.? No, not according to the standards set by others (the multi-national big labels). We had a measure of success, where our music was instrumental in receiving the Gold Camera Award, in Chicago, Ill. for a documentary film entitled: “Alberta on the Northside”, (Alberta, Canada). And receiving a best “original music score” for a documentary film entitled: “Time of the Tarsands”, also Alberta, Canada. For years and years, we clung onto the hopes of “being picked up” by someone big, however, my natural born “sense of business”, always pointed me the other way, away from the sharks, and exploiters of people, especially musicians. After many “accolades” and experiences on the road, sacrificing family etc., I hung up my musical spurs and concentrated on bringing up my family. I spent 30 years in the “financial planning” industry, where I became very successful, trained a lot of other representatives, who in turn also became very successful, even today. Lots of courses, licenses, and lots of hard, hard work. But I accomplished my goals and brought up my family the way I wanted. Then around 2002, I started to write my music again, in a little shed attached to the house where I lived, and slowly my dreams to record my music came back. In 2004 I was able to purchase the Digi002 with Protools, not realizing that this was a very complex program. But I’m not one to EVER give up. I then managed to record an entire CD with my brothers, which I released in 2006. However, I was not satisfied with my engineering skills, and decided to take the engineering course with Berklee School of Music, which now has at least allowed me to record the music that I write. I’m a one man operation, and if something goes wrong, I BLAME MYSELF! I have loads more to learn on Protools, but “a thousand mile journey is achieved by taking the first single step”, which is what I constantly keep in the forefront of my mind. So now I’m recording my music, editing it, mixing it, AND the mastering is the one element, which I will entrust to either Discmakers or Universal Music.
    Here’s my point. At the same time I was creating my music, I EDUCATED myself on the Busiiness of Music. I read books, by Moses Avalon, Donald Passman, Todd & Jeff Brabec (Music Money and Success..a must read to understand licensing and the traps you can get into unkowingly). I WISH I could have had these books at my disposal 30 years ago. Another great book, by Richard Stim, entitled MusicLaw is an excellent book, with every contract imaginable available to you. When I was making a living as a musician, years ago, we did NOT have the Internet. NOW WE DO, and we can take charge of your own destiny, your own career, retain your own creative control over your own music, your own website, your own internet marketing, and being able to submit your music to people YOU CHOOSE to send it to. I too was approached by A&R select, but declined, since I CAN DO EVERYTHING MYSELF. Check out Jeri Goldstein at:jg@performingbiz.com or Jango Airplay.com or CD baby.com or Hostbaby.com or Airplay Direct.com or MusicXpress.com or ASCAP or BMI. IndieConnect.com in Nashville, with Vinny Ribas, Elizabeth Edwards and; askdebrarussell.com (excellent webinar I listened to last week through Elizabeth Edwards, There are many more, but these are people WHO ARE IN THE BUSINESS and provide FREE WEBINARS, and other business tools for all of us THE INDEPENDENT MUSICIAN. One more person BOB BAKER, with his book called Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook, which is my invaluable tool how to set up MY SPACE, FACEBOOK, and many other gems, which all help you eventually sell your music. My website is still under construction, and hopefully this week I’ll have it done with the help of those GREAT folks at Hostbaby.com. MY WHOLE REASON for writing this is that YOU CAN DO IT ALL YOURSELF AT ANY AGE!! But it has taken me years to develop my skills, my knowlegde, in an industry rife with the “soul exploiters”. I haven’t made any money from my music endeavours as yet, but the opportunities WILL COME, if you’ve prepared yourself for it.
    Thanks for all the other comments! Have a great day and KEEP FOCUSED on YOUR dreams!

  36. Thanks alot for sharing this article. Just came in at the right time. I’ve been approached for a licensing opportunity for my music – and it has been so difficult to decide but as I was reading your article I learnt something new that I wasn’t seeing before and now I’ll know how to proceed. Many thanks!

  37. @Steve My whole point was that this article *DOESN’T* give any advice to help musicians improve. Not 1 about engineering better mixes 2 about performing better pieces or 3 writing better songs. It doesn’t even give names of contacts who can help you do that. If disagreeing with the point or tone of the article is an ego-problem for you than you have a problem. And you are an ass for assuming that people who play what they like first and “what will sell” second aren’t treating music like a business. You aren’t even an artist if you don’t get that the whole point is ideally ‘if it is good it will sell’. It isn’t about making music that makes people on a cruise want to buy a bisque.

    1. @Adam, this post was not about how, technically, to make your music better or about whether or not you should make music for art or any other reason. It was about frustration and what we choose to do about it – set in the context of submitting music for licensing opportunities. I think you missed the point.

  38. This is a great article. Everything in it is true and should be taken seriously. But if the CEO the author was talking to is the CEO of Broadjam, the website deserves some of the blame for reactions of it’s members who never get a licensing deal. The website endlessly promotes licensing opportunities — it sends 4-5 e- mails a day – and makes it all sound exciting. It further induces members to send in submissions by frequently having half price sales. While occasionally the site has suggestions on how to get accepted ( such as getting your music mastered), it basically makes it sound easy. Thanks for the article.

  39. I’m in a metal band so success to me is, I would guess, on a different scale than most people. In our genre, your lucky to hit the point where someone is even willing to sell your albums on a website. I’m in the Army because I gotta pay the bills, so for me success comes twofold, its that A) someone can relate to my music, and B) that maybe someday someone will want to pay a $3.00 admission to watch us play live. My long term goal is that maybe one day we could play a 1,000 person show. A lot of people would say I have silly goals, but I call them realistic. Our kind of music is a dying breed. I’ve been playing music for almost twenty years and know that we’re just not good enough to sell even a thousand records. It bothers me that others out there seem to feel entitled to some sort of success. My advice (for what its worth) is that if you have a normal day job to pay the bills, maybe music will become fun again, and you’ll do it for the right reason. Maybe that will be more fulfilling in the end? Though this may prove difficult in the current job market too. I’m really not a subject matter expert here, but I just thought that some of the people out there that are hurting in their depths because of rejection might need a little motivation and compassion. I learned a while ago that rejection sucks, but getting shot at sucks more =) so dig in, and good luck to all the struggling musicians out there.

  40. What many musicians don’t understand is that if you want to make money at music, then by definition you’re dealing with music as a business. That means simply that your music is the or part of a product being sold, and people will need or want to buy it, and there are others in the music business whose job it is to decide if your music will help move product; be it a TV show, film, advertisement or song on its own. If you’re performing, will it draw people into the bar, cruise, hotel, whatever, and will it help sell drinks, food, etc.
    So, if your song isn’t chosen, it’s nuthin personal, so to speak. It’s all about if your song helps move product. Period. If you can’t deal with that, then pursue music as a hobby, or something that you will make little to no money at, or relentlessly market your music as art with the hope it will sell on its own merit. But even then, it’s still about will people buy it, and how many people will buy it.
    The article points out that reality. If you can’t check your ego at the stage or studio door, or in your home, you’re in for a very rough ride. You can either use feedback to help you improve, or deny it and see what happens. From my experience and knowledge, the folks that have “made it” at some if not many points in their career were humbled by and paid attention to the feedback they received. And worked very hard at honestly being the very very best they can be. And understood throughout, music is a business, just like any other.

  41. Right on, Nate! One last point I wanted to make about the problem of creating artificial structures to give artists a litmus test for whether or not they are on the right track. I for a long time had a MySpace music profile (see link). I was always bemused and a little disappointed that my music seemed to have many ‘artifacts’ in the MySpace Music player. I take great pride in being able to tell every artist whose music sounds like sh*t on MySpace exactly WHY that is–MySpace resamples your audio! I didn’t deduce this from my great insight and powers of observation. After contacting MySpace support many times and scouring forums, a guy who works for the third party who powers the MySpace music player posted in a forum that MySpace music resamples your 16 bit-depth, 44.1 kHz sampling rate music to 20 kHz. THIS creates artifacts in the music playback. And for a long time, like, FOREVER MySpace was telling me that it was because my audio wasn’t recorded as professionally as some of the other artists on MySpace. Never mind that they not only *could* not but chose *NOT* to explain why I uploaded WAVs to MySpace that had artifacts, but Mp3s at RevebNation and Facebook sounded as I intended! Of course, it was because they were deceiving me into thinking that I was the problem, while they were withholding their process of degrading the quality of my audio posted to their Website, which probably does more for them than it does for me–after all I have, like, 5 artist profiles and an Official Band Website (MySpace is a small piece of my online investment presence). Now you can say I “JUST DIDN’T ‘GET IT’ ” but the truth was that it ALWAYS seemed a little fishy. The Music industry is ALWAYS going to be teeming with shady, seedy individuals looking to profit of the hard-work of musicians. And people may give any reason for not giving you a shot–may say ANYTHING. Yes, the only way to do it is to do it yourself and bust your ass doing it WELL. Now that I resample, actually RESAMPLE and *not* truncate like the MySpace sample rate converter does, my audio to 22.050 kHz before uploading ALL of my problems are solved. In conclusion, false hierarchies for the purpose of writing what otherwise is a really good music business article fall short of the mark and fail to ‘say’ anything because they ignore the contradictions musicians have to face every day in order to produce and sustain a musical effect so the article can make its point. Like Bob Dylan says, it’s all static.

  42. I agree completely with Nate. I find it astounding that the music pros can write an article blaming the CUSTOMER for having a negative reaction when they have paid good money to submit songs to a contest, get rejected, and then wonder if they will get any feedback as to why. Not only do some of these so-called “music promotional sites” take your money for each submission, they then also charge a monthly or yearly fee for their “service.” There is no other industry I know of that runs this type of scam. Can you imagine if your DOCTOR took your money and then told you that your illness was your own fault so you should come back once you’re cured?

    1. Nara, I think you’re confusing two very different models.

      Companies need music. It requires a lot of time from trained ears, and therefore money, to screen through hundreds of songs to find the right one for each need. That’s where intermediaries like TAXI and Broadjam. come into play and offer the service of finding music and narrowing down the submissions for each need. Musicians submit their music for listings for each opportunity and their music is considered for it. They’re providing the service of listening to the music and linking up music supervisors / libraries with songwriters / composers when they believe it’s a good fit.

      Your doctor analogy would make more sense if we were talking about a service where you were paying someone to critique your song and give constructive criticism. If that were the case and they told you to figure it out for yourself then you’d certainly have the right to be upset.

  43. Thank you for Telling the “TRUTH” This business is a Hell Hold Made on Earth. so much is changing so fast that what was right in the business today is foolish in the business tomorrow. Thank you for this information every person that think he want to get into this business need to read this. With the New Media every thing is changing at the speed of light. The Records business as we use to know it is fighting for it life. Every body is own there own. Some record companies are using what is call 360 “Tactic” to get money out of an artist any way they can. Thank you Scott James. We also Request Permission to use you Information on our Howcee Productions Gospel Blog Talk Radio..
    Freddie Collins Howard
    Howcee Productions gospel

    Freddie Collins Howard.

  44. “musicians THAT use his services …” Incorrect. Musicians are people. It would be: “musicians WHO use his …”

  45. I totally agree, Nate. I think many of these pay-to-play sites are complete ripoffs. I think they’re just taking musicians’ money – and I wonder if half the gigs or licensing opportunities even exist. I’d love to see a serious investigative report on this “industry.”

    1. I was thinking the same thing….a dateline investigation into this new industry of Pay to play….Pose as a promoter and see how much money you make off of hopeful people when really you’re only going to pick your friends band to play

      1. I can tell you without a shred of doubt that both TAXI and Broadjam are legitimate businesses that are run by people who care. I know a number of people from both companies and I have worked for a licensing company that’s done business with TAXI on the other side of the equation. There’s no perfect system for doing what they do, but believe me, they care about doing the best they can. This isn’t an appropriate forum to sling dirt about other companies, but I can tell you first hand that not all of them operate with as much integrity as Broadjam and TAXI. I think you’d be surprised to see what they have to contend with to provide the services that they do. If you have suggestions for them to improve, then that’s one thing. If you think that they don’t care about providing a legitimate service are are laughing their way to the bank then you’ve got the wrong idea.

  46. I have sneaking suspicion that he met with the owner of Broadjam. I am an artist manager. My client spent thousands of dollars on that site and got one licensing gig, 2 $50 dollar bonuses for having a top rated song (that I was aware of anyway. They didn’t agree to pay him until I inquired as to why we weren’t notified of the top rated songs. It’s been 4 months and they still haven’t sent the measly $100. My client also won 2 spots in the 6-pack contest. It took them 3 months to finally announce the breakdown of over $100,000 in supposed prizes to be distributed to overall winners. They SAID he would receive another prize for the 3rd Pack, but of course they won’t say they will pay unless I ask. Broadjam is horrible and an absolute scam. This is based on proof of their repeated software glitches that saved screenshot images of. It is also based on the fact that when the same songs were submitted to Sonic Bids, my client spent about a third of what he spent at overall at Broadjam and he was accepted to hundreds of ACTUAL & UNRIGGED opportunities. So if you are stating musicians who aren’t selected tend to complain about software glitches, etc. they are actually delusional and can’t admit they suck. What about scenarios where financially able musicians are lied to and taken advantage of in real life. There is at least one or more fraudulent sites \ per industry on the internet. What makes you think that fraudulent licensing sites don’t exist in the music business. Such a claim seems a bit presumptuous to me. If you are sharp, savvy, and are able to tell the difference between a scammer web site, and safe one, you will have a one up when it comes to making money through licensing opportunities online. Don’t assume you must fit the description of an whiny and oblivious musician as described above, just because you are feeling used and taken advantage of. In this day and age, and with all the scammers on the internet, it would be mere stupidity to blame yourself. Especially when you are doing great submitting the sames songs to similar opportunities and other sites, that are actually providing you with tangible results. Don’t blame yourself for greedy and dishonest behaviors that take place online. Scammers have always found their easy targets online, despite what industry you are in. The best thing is to just not be dumb and pay close attention to what you are paying for and which songs you submit for your own records. That way they can’t blame it on your “eyes playing tricks on you.” Because that very well be a way for them to dupe you into paying even more money for nothing in return. Just some food for thought.

    1. Anonymous and Nate,

      Right on! So true. There are way too many of these scam sites ready to take advantage of the oversupply of unpaid musicians, some who are desperate enough to pay-to-play. I’ve always wondered about Broadjam too. This might be a little paranoid, but I’ve noticed each time I update my profile with new genre tags, I soon get an email of an opportunity looking for those genres.

      I’d love to see an investigative reporting piece on all of these pay-to-play sites to shake out which ones are scams and which are legit (and how legit? how much do musicians typically make from them?)

      The reality is that the music industry as we once knew it is gone. No one is making money in the music industry anymore, including industry executives. Popular music sites devalue music by selling $5/mos all-you-can-download/stream offers or simply offering free streaming and downloads as a means of selling something else (ads, apps, devices, brands).

      Think about it, when was the last time you paid for music? And when you did was it even close to the $10/CD of the old days? Licensing seems to be the answer, but again, there are so many musicians out there willing to give their music away free or even pay for the chance of getting it placed in a commercial that it doesn’t seem profitable.

      The way to make money from your music these days is truly to do it yourself. DIY shows, tours, marketing, press.

      Good luck everyone!

  47. Scott, thank you for your keen observation into the musician’s psyche. As a former recording artist, and music lawyer, I found there were two kinds of musicians —those who will succeed, and those who will not. The ones who will wake up each day asking what can I do today to make life better for others. The ones that fail wake up ans ask what can the world do to make my life better.

    To blame and criticize a site operator because your music is not being picked up, is like blaming the dating site because none of the girls (or guys), on it like your profile. The trick is to keep developing your craft and refining your sound. Even MJ did not stay with the same sound that brought him worldwide attention. He kept polishing and refining what he had such that when he left, we all marveled at what he left us with.

    At the same time, musicians can learn alot from the very music they write. Perhaps your role in this world is not to write like Lennon, sing like Boccelli, or dance like Michael. Perhaps you would make a better producer, manager, promoter, or teacher. There is room enough for everyone.

    The thing is…if it’s about your cobtribution to the world, you will succeed. If it is about the world’s contribution to you…consider this lessin #1.

    1. Great post, Steve! I will never forget what Chick Corea said. After playing in an avante garde Jazz ensemble, he woke up one day and wanted to make music that ‘mattered’ to the public — wanted to communicate to people. That has been a guiding force for me. I never try to play indulgently intentionally. I always try to play music I think people will enjoy hearing.

  48. Yes… I think a lot of people’s expectations are unrealistic, but that doesn’t change the fact that people have found new ways to make money off of musicians. I play in an all original progressive-rock band. I play this kind of music because it’s what I love, it encompasses many genre’s, and it challenges me to continually hone my musical skills. Is there a large demand for this kind of music…no…not really….does that bother me….sure, but I try to be realistic about what we can accomplish. We play a few shows a year. Some pay well, others are annual benefits for the “music for more” foundation. At one point I signed up for a SB account (one of these type “services” you mention for connecting musicians with promotional opportunities they would otherwise not have access to)…they didn’t even have very specific genre category’s available…”Rock” is pretty encompassing don’t ya think? An EPK from this site was the only submission format for a local Artscape festival I thought we’d like to play….it cost me $30 dollars to submit my EPK to this festival. After making it through to an intermediate round of selection we were ultimately not selected because it was not the type of music they were looking for…that’s fine…I’m not bitter, but I thought about how many bands paid $30 for a “chance” to play there and it seems like somebody’s making a ton of money off a lot of people’s dreams.

    If a band is not good enough to land any of the gigs that they submit their EPK to…does someone who’s making money off of them offer constructive criticism…or do they just continue to take their money despite the fact that there is no chance they will ever get picked for some of these high profile gigs? Does anyone reviewing the music ever offer realistic reasons (like “your band is obviously inexperienced and offers nothing unique…try blah blah blah”) Or is it always the generic “we had so many great submissions, it was really tough to decide but unfortunately you were not chosen”. Why Pay to Play?…isn’t it supposed to be the other way around…is our craft not worth more than our gas money? I’ll never forget a promoter who approached me after a local camping/music festival we’ve headlined the last two years. We just finished playing two incredible sets that we spent months rehearsing for this festival and she for some reason thought I’d be really interested in paying to enter a battle of the bands contest at some S**t-hole!…and the prize was a paying gig at that s**t-hole! The price was $50 to enter and you got to play for 30 minutes…She was genuinely surprised that I had no interest….our sets are usually more than an hour long with transitions and musical interludes to piece songs together….sh*t…it takes us an hour to set up sometimes! I think the only way to “make it” these days is to do it yourself, for yourself, and keep doin’ it! If you don’t suck…somebody out there is going to like your stuff, if you do suck, hopefully you can find someone honest enough to tell you who’s not making money off you in the process.

    1. Nate, that is a frustration I’ve had as well, especially for competitions. Usually the commercial placement services like BroadJam, Taxi, etc. are pretty specific about what they’re looking for, and on occasion you even get to open a dialogue w/ the music supervisors and start to understand the style of stuff the industry usually looks to them for.

      However…
      For the competitions, the genres are WAY too general. If I submit my folk rock tune to a competition that only has “rock” as the closest category, and really they were looking for hard rock, nu-metal, etc. and they never specified, there goes my $30, and the “GUARANTEED REVIEW!!!” that they often advertise comes back like, “Dude, your stuff didn’t rock enough, man.” Pretty helpful, eh? I guess I paid $30 to learn (after the fact) that I entered the wrong contest. 😉 Another frustration w/ the contests is that they’re too often run, at least partially if not entirely, by a peer-review process, that becomes more of a high-school election popularity contest than a sincere measure of the music. Again, probably not my contest. Pick your battles wisely.

      I still haven’t placed anything w/ the commercial stuff yet, only working through BroadJam right now, but for a few years steady. I have a couple theories on why, because I’m absolutely certain at least a couple of my songs are ready…
      1. When they say “recording quality doesn’t matter,” it’s a flat-out lie. I listen carefully to the stuff that eventually wins, and while in my honest, objective assessment, the song itself might be oatmeal, it’s PERFECTLY recorded. Big budget sound, hotshot hired guns on the backing tracks, glistening mastering job, etc. I don’t think I’ve EVER heard a rough but effective guitar-and-vocals cut make it through, even for some brilliant songs that fit the description perfectly. (I also do a lot of peer editing on Broadjam, and probably hear at least half of the tracks submitted for each placement I’m in.) Even if it’s a home-studio recording, SUBMIT THE BEST RECORDINGS POSSIBLE.
      2. If you know the formula, you have a leg up on the competition. They’re looking for very specific ways a song is arranged, lyrically focused, and played. Music is too subjective to say that these commercially-viable songwriting qualities make a “better” song, but I’m pretty sure that’s what our esteemed journalist (bless you, Scott, for opening this dialogue) is alluding to. Really, what these qualities make: more commercially viable music.

      Exercise: Put yourself in the position of a music supervisor. You have a commercial for and you need music. Now think about all YOUR favorite artists (without their fame or status factored in) and think about your favorite songs of theirs… are they gonna fit? No. Probably not. No matter how amazing the song is. Because it needs to fit the commercial formula. Different than how it would need to be crafted to hit pop radio, different than AAA, different than sit-down concerts in a nice hall, different than Rocky Mountain honky-tonk in a smoky bar in Wyoming.
      I don’t say this to downplay the importance of some of Scott’s points. But with open eyes, a degree in music, and 18+ years in the industry, I also don’t feel that it’s fair to say “If it’s not commercially viable, it’s because you suck.” The world needs quirky, meditative, naughty, über-original music that doesn’t work on TV and commercial radio just as much as the more widely-digestible stuff– you have to decide what audience to pursue, even if that audience is you. (and doing that means YOU are paying your way… not the masses. 😉

      One concept I’m wrestling with is this– that it’s hard for me personally to write and record music for genres that I don’t generally like, and even HARDER to find a way to like what I’m writing when I feel like I’m fitting these genres. My tastes just don’t run that way.

      I still feel like the best path to continuing my living in this industry is to express myself musically through the best skills I can develop, and hope that it connects with others in a way that makes their life better somehow, gives them a way to explain an indescribable feeling, enhances their environment, helps them communicate.

  49. This guy is right on the money. I’m an engineer and see this kind of stuff all the time…

    The great songs are easy to arrange. The great bands are easy to mix. The pros work hard, are objective and humble about their own work, finish projects, and move on to the next.

    peace

    1. Hey Franco,

      Are you an engineer here in L.A.? I appreciate your brevity and clarity here. It seems like you’d be a good guy to work with.

      – J

  50. I’d also like to point out that this article applies to all sorts of other creative artists as well. I’m primarily an Illustrator and Cartoonist (although I do get to play drums in a band from time to time)–but the same principle has proven true of my illustration career.

    I spent an inordinate amount of time blaming others for my lack of success. I now find it’s better to spend the time actually trying to improve my work.

    The good news is that a lot of folks out there do understand and so even if you do blow your cool early on it is possible to come back from a false start (or several false starts). Learning your craft is really the first step–finding an audience comes afterward.

  51. I half agree and half disagree with this blog, although I never would seek licensing for my songs. People tell me it sounds like something that would appear in a TV show or movie, and I totally disbelieve them. Not because it doesn’t sound like, maybe, it ‘could’. Or even because it could but probably shouldn’t. It’s because I know it has absolutely no place in that medium with what my lyricist is writing about and even the music is probably *not* going to be a good fit, unless we’re going back to those Miami Vice days with Jan Hammer’s scoring. But there were a few things in this blog, which came to me totally unsolicited, that I wanted to address before I removed my name from the recipients’ list. Most artists I know talk about how unfair it is that one guy gets a break and another doesn’t. That includes stabl family men who graduated from the Berklee College of Music on merit scholarship, earned an M.M. from a respected university and teach college students, as well as perform killer Jazz music. Calling them “unstable” isn’t going to win you any fans, at least, not my respect. You truly do have to plant 100 seeds to grow a few trees. Some people will *never* get the result they hope for or quite possibly even deserve. Do you know how many people I have talked to thought the Black Eyed Peas halftime show sucked and it’s just one more reason why people who can’t sing shouldn’t, i.e. ‘Fergie’? That includes working artists who teach at Berklee, which, with all due respect, is the premiere school for contemporary music. People who dropped OUT of Berklee have won Grammys. At some point, you have to ask whether what you’re trying to do is even feasible and whether you want to compromise your artistic integrity to do what you set out to do or change your goals. Sometimes what you thought was going to work — like having a certain style on TV — just isn’t. And if you’re overly committed to that style, which you have every right to be, you may just not want to aim for getting your songs licensed. You can always generate revenue from having an album re-sale ready at your gigs. While it does take a *LOT* of hard-work and perseverance to get to a point where you have developed a professional music skill I think it comes from ‘La La Land’ that people are pulling for you. Music tends to be a pretty supportive community, but people have their limits. I don’t think anybody truly takes it personal or cares about each individual submission. That’s about as nutty as taking it personal that you weren’t picked. It’s a grandiose claim, although it may give some people warm and fuzzy feelings. And, as far as “other people being responsible for success or failure,” well, a *lot* of things are outside our control. Forget psych 101 BS internal / external locus of control. The fact is a LOT is going to depend on things you have no control over. All you can do is work hard, get your name out their and hope somebody gives enough of a shit to notice. Don’t forget that even Rolling Stone all time greatest artists / guitarists like Jimi Hendrix were fired from bands and passed up for contracts. It’s practically a miracle that *any* quality artistry reaches the public AT ALL. If your goal is to be commercial or get a licensing deal, you may have to change your aesthetic to fit into the box. But you and ONLY you can judge your artistry. Becoming honest about where you are at is the hardest thing. I grew up liking the same all-time great bands as everybody else, and when I came across truly brilliant artists with unrivaled technical virtuosity I almost returned the CD to the friend who recommended it to me. It took a *LOT* of listens to be able to hear MOST of the best music I have come across, including multi-Grammy award-winning Jazz Fusion artists like, say, Chick Corea’s Return To Forever, specifically the Romantic Warrior album. The first listen I thought the synths were cheesy. I read later that most people credit the success of that recording with the layers of synth sounds he used. Take Birds Of Fire, by Mahavishnu Orchestra. It took me many listens to ‘hear’ that music. And some of this stuff has moved me to tears it’s so beautiful. Over the years, I have accumulated enough material by the artists I mentioned and others that I have to say I consider them to be among the greatest artists on their respective instruments who ever lived, which is more than most people will admit. And I came from the opposite side of the fence: not liking most of the material on first listen. It was only because it came so highly recommended that I gave it another try. So the answer isn’t can you ‘make it’ and ‘break’ to validate your high falutin opinions about your worth as an artist. It’s whether the listener can hear the revolution passing in front of their house like heavy freight. Most great work never sees the light of day, because it takes work to ‘get it’. And people are lazy. That’s what the author of this blog post needs to ‘get’. Although I understand what it takes to put a professional music blog together I find this one to be as uninspired as any other music blog I was summarily subscribed to, unsolicited, and subsequently unsubscribed myself to. People who push this crap and try to segregate artists into different classes, like the ‘get it’s’ and the ‘not get it’s’ or ‘the hipsters’ and ‘the squares’ really do a grave disservice to the music community by creating an artificial structure to sieve artists into different categories where they can be deceived into thinking they’re doing okay. The only person who can define success for you IS you.

    1. Excellent, Adam–

      I think the most important concept you voiced was the fact that it takes energy and understanding to appreciate the deeper stuff. Sadly, this energy and understanding is becoming more and more devoid within the American culture. Hence, you have artists who don’t really “play” (instruments, that is) and you get pap-pop, the likes of Black Eyed Peas, playing the biggest gigs. It’s lowest common denominator land in America now, and yes, it is up to the artist to define his or her own PERSONAL success.

      Niall McGuinness

    2. My take on this is: it doesn’t matter how well you play your instrument, and I’ve known some really good musicians, if the audience doesn’t like the songs you write, they’ll never support you. The Dixie Dreggs opened for a band called “The Winter Brothers Band” (not Johnny or Edgar) one gig (somewhere back in the early 80s), and my drummer friend from TWBB told me he stood off stage and watched them play with his jaw hitting the floor and asking himself, “These guys are opening for us?” But, he said, the audience was not into what they were doing (DD’s), and that they were there to see The Winter Brothers Band.

      If they don’t like it, they won’t come!

      1. I hear that! You have to decide whether you are doing it strictly to gain someone else’s approval or for yourself first. There are all sorts of ways to make a living doing the latter, if you know how to play.

    3. Wow, you’ve expounded greatly on a more real-time experience based point of view which I appreciate. Just the day before I’ve been disappointed for the umpth-teenth time (usually, I dust off my pride and go right back to what I love doing again), but upon reading your article it really verified some of the frustrations I feel but could never verbalize.

      I hate to categorize what kind of artist I am. It feels very limiting and in some cases a little misleading.
      Also, I have come to realize that there ARE forces way beyond on our control that sometimes lead into why some artists get their big breaks and others don’t. Look at the few people on youtube who were plucked from obscurity to having their dreams come true: Justin Bieber, Greyson Chance, etc. But then again, these are kids/preteens and that makes me feel like my aspirations as a middle age gent can seem more than impossible.

      No matter how many times I’ve felt discouraged by all this and so much more, I keep coming back to doing music because it’s one of the things I love. If doing what I do excites my little nieces, nephews & cousins into wanting to learn and do something positive with their lives, then I am gratified doing music & making videos inspires them in that kind of way and makes what I worth it on that end.

      – Fuzzy Soul Tiger
      http://www.youtube.com/FuzzySoulTiger

      1. That’s all that matters. A guy once told me the industry rewards youth, but some of the most rewarding stuff I have seen is on the late night programs where some guy who looks like he’s pushing 60, totally unheard of and who doesn’t look anything the part of a “rock star” is just let loose on an unsuspecting audience on one of these locally produced shows, say, NY TV or something. And they give him a few minutes to play and cut to credits, with this guy going off as the show fades to black. I don’t know who he was. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again. But, for some people, that can be the highlight of a career. Who is to say that is less rewarding than playing to a stadium of 100,000+ people with autotune?

  52. Patience and perserverance do pay off, but artists who are looking for licensing oppurtunities should research the companies that they are thinking of giving their money to. Go online, check the Better Business Bureau to see if the company has any complaints filed against them. I was roped into giving A&R Select out of Hollywood $499.00 to have my music licensed. It never happened. I called the company, filed a complaint with the BBB and still had no services
    to justify my $500.00 expense. Just be careful! There are companies out there willing to help independent artists, but unfortunately there are just as many who want to exploit them. An expensive lesson for me, and it also had the effect of me giving up on trying to license my music. So, fellow musicians, do your research and good luck!

    1. Kellianna,

      You did things in reverse. You paid someone to get your songs licensed. It should have been the other way around. That’s what licensing is all about; getting paid for your music. If anyone is at all interested in what you do, THEY will pay you; you shouldn’t have to pay them. If they ask you for money, it’s a scam. I guess you know that now. Sorry it happened to you. :0(

  53. God I hope I never get this neurotic about my work.
    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder too.
    There is no getting around that no matter how good you are.

    There is so much music in commercial use that I personally can’t stand and would never choose if it was up to me.
    I have turned down the sound on some it is so grating on the nerves.

    It’s a given to record and do the best possible with your work as you can
    But….
    It’s all so subjective too.

    1. I understand what was said in the article – but I whole-heartedly agree with Linda.
      The sole reason I create music is to please myself.
      Music is subjective – like wine, or beer or your favorite football team.
      I do submit music to the above mentioned online A&R company, but it doesn’t bother me when something is returned.
      Although I’ve often thought, I would gladly pay twice the amount to submit something, if two screeners listened to it instead of one.
      Just my subjective thought.

    2. Music is, in a very real sense, an amoral applied psychology.

      How true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Trying to find out what is behind that eye is much of the struggle to create music that sells. You might find out that you hate what is behind that eye so much that you would not want to compromise your sense of good and evil to please it. Or you might find it’s acceptable but boring, and might compose for it and make sales, but never consider those pieces to be your best.

      Don’t quit your day job unless you literally have no other choice. Sometimes finding niche outlets for your music can help — things that would never please the critics of a national label might sell like hotcakes in a specialty market.

      1. Indeed, the best thing that has happened to my music was by getting a day gig. By doing so, I was able to pick the gigs I wanted to play instead whoring after every gig that was available and playing the top 40 B.S. In this pick ‘n choose manner, I was able to land and nurture a house gig that’s going on ten years now, and that has allowed me to hone both my originals and my general musicality/leader chops. Meanwhile, I’m sticking to what I think is valid, while making it listenable to the audience. Life is funny– and ironic. Less can be more.

        Cheers,
        Niall

  54. Great article! My observations, success and experience I have had with music is to understand that music is a commodity and nothing more. It’s not how great you are or how much effort you put into your projects, it is how much money you spend on companies that can help you get your music into the few hands of people that can make money from it. Brutal facts is this, “it’s not about the talent, it’s not about the skill, it’s all about the silly stupid horse##t deal”.

    1. Glad you liked the article, but I can’t say I agree with much of what you said. Talent and skill will get you far. Unfortunately if you have a poor attitude then you may never actually develop your talent and skill as far as you need to. With a little persistence you can find places to submit your music to directly for free. If your music is good enough and you’re persistent enough then you will find opportunities. If your music isn’t good enough or isn’t appropriate then you’re not going to buy your way into success.

  55. I can agree with this artical. As a hip hop artist It’s hard to get the ears of A&R. I feel as thou if you get denied take to the chin and move on. It’s hard to judge yourself but with the hard work you put in your craft, the better the outcome can be. Never be afraid to change your ways if it’s not working. Keep putting out new material until you win the world over.

  56. This article is so true. I own an artist management company and I can’t tell you how hard it is to get new artists to understand how much work is ahead of them. They have such stars in their eyes that it doesn’t take much to derail them. They want it now!! They never put the blame where it belongs, which is usually with them. They are usually unable to hear objective feed back about their work. The ones who make it are the ones who slow down enough to keep a clear head and are usually able to make better decisions. Treating people with kindness goes a long way in getting what you want……..be cool.
    Good luck.

  57. I can really relate to this blog. It took me years to realize that I wasn’t as awesome as I thought I was LOL! Luckily, I’ve trained my ears to be more honest. It means more work, but I’d rather become great at this, than spend a lifetime putting out crap music.

    I’d love to know which licensing website you are referring to in your article. Are you able to disclose it? Thanks for writing this!

    Sending love your way,
    Heather Renee

    1. Heather,
      I don’t know which one the writer was referring to but Youlicense.com is pretty good. They have a starting platform that’s free with one submission allowed per month. I haven’t placed anything yet. I And I know why I haven’t. I’m a big lazy poop! LOL
      Jason

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