Prepare yourself and your music for music licensing

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Music licensing can be a great way to make money with your music, but you have to be organized, flexible, patient, and educated. Here are five things to help you prepare.

prepare for music licensing

Music licensing is a very lucrative business with no shortage of placement opportunities. Everywhere you turn there’s a company or product that utilizes music to some extent.

As an independent music creator, you have the ability capitalize, but you have to be organized, flexible, patient, and willing to cater to the market’s needs. This is a different ball game when compared to creating music for an artist. Here’s some tips to help you better prepare yourself for licensing.

1. Make sure your music sounds good

I’m not speaking in terms of genre or taste, we’re talking sonic quality. It must sound good. You want to make sure your music is mixed properly, with no clipping, a good dynamic range, good levels, etc.

If mixing isn’t your strong point, hire someone to mix your music or start learning how to do it yourself.

I get a lot of questions in terms of who to contact for mastering or does my music need to be mastered. My answer don’t focus on the mastering, focus on the mix, because the master is only as good as the mix. (The SoundLab at Disc Makers is an affordable and professional mastering option.)

A good thing to do is compare your music to commercial music or a song you hear being used in the licensing world (e.g. a TV commercial). If your music doesn’t sound as good sonically, then it’s not ready.

2. Who owns the rights to your music?

Make sure you know who owns the rights to your music. If you are part of a band or work with multiple writers, then everyone involved with the creation owns a piece of the music. For example, if you, Billy, and Casey wrote a song together, then you are all co-owners, and you all have say in what happens with the song, unless stated otherwise in a contract.

Licensing professionals need to know:

  1. Who owns a master recording.
  2. Who owns the composition.

Why is this important? Because before your music can be used in visual media (video games, movies, reality TV shows, etc.), the client needs to obtain two specific licenses:

  1. Master license (master sound recording)
  2. Synchronization license (the right to use the composition)

Without all parties (i.e. writers, owners) on board, the transaction gets stuck in limbo.

3. Get publishing

Make sure you’re signed up with a Performing Rights Organization (aka PRO) like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. The reason why you want to sign up with the PRO is because they collect royalty payments on your behalf.

If your music is used in a TV commercial, and this TV commercial airs several times a day, that’s money in the bank. Without being signed up with a PRO, it’s money that you’re missing out on. Even if the commercial only airs on Saturday mornings between 9 AM and 11 AM, that’s money that you’re missing out on if you’re not signed up with the PRO.

4. Create alternate versions of your music

Having alternate versions of your music – with and without vocals, for instance – increases the chances of your music being used. A lot of times when you listen to TV ads, you’ll notice that the instrumental plays underneath the dialogue for a few bars, then towards the end, you hear the full song.

This is done because the dialogue for the commercial/TV ad or whatever is important and they need your music to aid the message, and not conflict with their dialogue. If a music supervisor needs the instrumental version of your song and you can’t be reached or can’t turn it over in a reasonable amount of time, you could miss out on the placement altogether.

5. Educate yourself

Make sure you understand the basic terminology of music licensing as they will be used in your contracts. If you can afford legal representation, I recommend going that route, but if not, education is required.

In fact, even if you can afford legal representation, it’s still beneficial to understand the jargon and terms being used. In some instances it’ll save you money, and it makes you a little more marketable and professional. Big clients like working with people who are professional. Smaller clients will appreciate the Average Joe approach, especially if you can explain things on their level.

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Greg Savage is an entrepreneur from California who makes a living producing music and sound designing for various companies without the use of a record label or manager. He started DIY Music Biz because he wanted to create a reliable resource for musicians, producers, composers, and artists that would be useful regardless of their success or skill level. Topics covered on DIY Music Biz include: Marketing Music, Music Licensing, Sound Design, Gear Reviews, Personal Experiences, Income Generation, Case Studies, and much more.

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