10 Music Licensing Tips: How to get your music ready for Film and TV

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Excerpted from Disc Makers new guide, 10 Music Licensing Tips.

If you’re like many independent artists trying to get your music heard far and wide, you might dream of having your music licensed for use in movies and TV shows. Music placement can indeed be a potent career booster – when it comes to visibility, credibility, and getting paid – but it’s a tough world to break into, and many talented artists don’t know where to start. Here are some tips to help you get your house in order before you ever talk to a music supervisor on the phone – so when that precious licensing opportunity comes, you’ll be ready.

1. Get the levels and format right.
"It’s very important to get your tracks mastered," says Lindsay Fellows, music supervisor for movies like The Avengers, Bridge to Terabithia, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. "It’s a good spend. You end up with a volume level that is going to be competitive with major label commercial releases. A lot of indie stuff I get is 30 decibels lower than major releases. It’s flat and it doesn’t pop, which isn’t good."

When it comes to file format, diversity is key. "MP3s are usually fine to start off with," says music supervisor Gary Calamar, who has worked on shows like Weeds, True Blood, and Men of a Certain Age. "If we end up using the song in production, I will need a higher quality WAV or AIFF." Make sure that you have both the low-rez MP3 and higher rez WAV or AIFF files ready to go.

2. Choose your very best music.
"Focus on your strongest material," says Fellows. "Either tag your physical CD with standout tracks or, if you’re sending MP3s, send your three best songs."

But how do you know which tunes are your most powerful? "Choose the ones that work best live, the ones that your friends say are great," advises Fellows.

"Music supervisors look for a mood," adds Cheryl B. Engelhardt, an indie singer and songwriter who has had music placed in shows like The Real World and All My Children. "If a song doesn’t evoke a lot of emotion, it won’t do anything on screen. When I was choosing which songs to push for placement, I asked a lot of people. And even though I took everyone’s advice with a grain of salt, it turned out that my favorite songs to play live are also the most licensable. It just kind of works that way."

Choosing your best songs also means choosing your best recordings – and the vast majority of the time, that means nothing that isn’t the finished, polished master track. "I do want the final version of the song," said Calamar. "Sending me an unfinished demo to check out is generally a waste of my time."

3. Include everything music supervisors need to know.
"Whether you’re sending a hard CD or digital files, make sure all of the info is there," says Fellows. "Publishers, writers, track names, contact info, label – everything should be there, easily accessible." If you’re sending a physical CD, that could mean a sticker or insert in the album casing, or text printed directly on the CD – just make sure it’s readable, easy to find, and hard to misplace. If you’re submitting digital files, make sure that your metadata and ID3 tags (a.k.a. the identifying digital information that comes attached to music files) contain all the above-mentioned info that music supervisors may need. And regardless of whether you’re going physical or virtual with your song submissions, make sure that your album is entered into the Gracenote database. "You wouldn’t believe how many songs I get that come up listed as ’unknown’ or ’Track 1’ when I load them into iTunes," continues Fellows. "I delete them immediately. I just don’t have time."

Michael Gallant’s indie rock project Aurical released their debut album, Something to Say, on March 19th. Michael is also the founder and CEO of Gallant Music, a custom content and music creation firm based out of New York City. For more, visit auricalmusic.com and gallantmusic.com.

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Michael Gallant

About Michael Gallant

Michael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.

7 thoughts on “10 Music Licensing Tips: How to get your music ready for Film and TV

  1. True. When I use to receive tracks (I wasn’t the music supervisor), the format was rarely correct. It was a big red flag for my industry. If someone knew how to package their music correctly, I would listen to it and consider it for an upcoming commercial or TV segment.

  2. Consider also always recording an instrumental version. A lot of the places I get signed to require that.
    Also is try to connect with a company that can help you and is specialized, not like Pump Audio/Getty that eat all your profits but someplace like a music supervision company/licensing/production company.


  3. I agree with Bigtwenty about the decibels. I would add that to this topic that there is a ton of loud crappy written songs on the market today adding nothing redeeming to the sonic and spiritual landscape. I personally would never subscribe to an industry where the biggest stick prevails and creativity, sensitivity, “love” you feel in the music, etc. don’t even matter. That’s not the world of music I grew up in and that’s certainly not the world of music we should leave to future generations. The fact that there is a huge revival of analogue studios and vinyl records shows that a growing number of people are going back to the quality and warmth that they associate with stellar music writing and production. I urge every serious songwriter, musician, engineer to use this “Great Depression” in the industries to get back to basics, scale back, go organic, and do things better. Even if we can’t make much money in music anymore, we sure can make it miles better.

  4. The fact that you have to have your music “loud” or it doesnt “pop” is what made me want to stop reading right away. The VERY BEST music all the way up until the late 80’s cannot be used for movies unless they are remastered according to that philosophy. Cant use any stevie wonder, beatles, dylan, or stones. Nope just cant. What a crock. The rest of the article is good advice though.

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