Music licensing for film, TV, movie trailers, video, and advertising generates lucrative sync licenses and even boosts your performance royalties — but only if you submit cue sheets.
Getting your music placed in film, TV, movie trailers, video, and advertising can be lucrative. Music licensing deals can create income on the front-end via licensing and on the back-end with song royalties. But this is only possible if you register things correctly and make sure you avoid some of the “gotchas.”
Licensing your original music for use in film, TV, movie trailers, or other videos generates synchronization (sync) royalties. In other words, the production company pays you a license fee to use your music in their work. They have to get two licenses for each song they want to use: one for the sound recording and one for the composition.
Most independent musicians own the rights to both the song and the recording and can make money licensing each (a record label will often collect the sound recording licenses for its artists.) Networking with music supervisors and music directors provides the best way to increase your chances of getting licensed. But if you can’t spend your time or don’t have the resources to build business ties, you can post tracks in music libraries or use services like CD Baby’s licensing tools.
But that’s not all the income you can make from licensing your music. Having your music used in films, TV, movie trailers, videos, or ads also generates performance royalties every time it is played publicly. These royalties come from the Performance Rights Organizations (PRO) but you can only collect if you have registered your songs with the PROs. In the US, that’s usually ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC.
Once you’ve registered your music with PROs, there’s still another job you have to perform to get royalties from your licensed music: have the production company submit a cue sheet. Cue sheets are documents created by production houses to track the music used in their work. These documents list the name of the song, the artist, the publisher, and where exactly it was used in the work (including the start time and duration).
Most professional production houses will fill these forms out and send them to the PROs which then use these sheets to track when your music was played so they can pay you performance royalties. However, some smaller production houses or independent filmmakers don’t know how to create and submit the forms.
How to Get Your Music Royalties:
1. Ensure the production house creates and submits cue sheets
If the production house or independent filmmaker is unfamiliar with the cue sheet process, educate them about how and why it’s important for musicians. It’s best to add a term to your sync license contract that puts the obligation on them to submit a cue sheet. It doesn’t take long to fill out, it’s absolutely free for the production house to submit, and it’s the one way for the PROs to know when your music is being played.
Don’t be surprised if smaller or independent filmmakers who license your music don’t know to do this and avoid it (usually, because they think that it will somehow cost them money.) Instead, you can explain that the royalties are collected from the broadcasters (TV stations, venues, etc.) regardless of whether the cue sheet was submitted and by not submitting cue sheets, all they’re doing is cutting off this additional revenue stream for you. In fact, some musicians license their songs for free in order to generate these back-end performance royalties. (In our own personal experience with less experienced production houses, we went out of our way to help the producer create, fill, and submit our PRO’s cue sheet to make sure that it got done.)
2. Register your licensed song with your PRO
Make sure your song is registered with your PRO and don’t forget to register the song as both a publisher and songwriter (which are just two of the 12 ways to register yourself — all of them are outlined in our book, Making Money With Music).
If you have yet to sign with a PRO — but have licensed a song for film, TV, or video — join and register immediately! Waiting too long to sign up and register your licensed music can jeopardize what you make since PROs generally only pay out for music performed within the year. If you want a service to help you, use the CD Baby Pro Publishing service to register your music and collect these royalties.
3. Review the cue sheet to make sure your info is correct
Make sure the information in the cue sheet is accurate. Check the spelling and make sure the composer (songwriter) and publisher names are listed correctly. Each PRO uses their own preferred formats, so use the one from your PRO. You can get an idea of what they need to track here:
It’s absolutely critical to ensure all the information in the cue sheet is accurate. A misspelled song title in a cue sheet can result in zero confirmed plays and no royalties.
4. Submit the cue sheets to the PRO
Each PRO has its own submission procedures. To learn more about how your PRO wants the cue sheet submitted and when, click the links below:
If you license your music for film, TV, movie trailers, video, or advertising, don’t skip out on submitting cue sheets — otherwise, you’re leaving half the money on the table by not getting your music royalties. One simple form can end up creating additional “mailbox money” for yourself, so it’s well worth your time to get this process right.
Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.
How cue sheets help you get paid for TV and film placements
Why you should use split sheets when writing and recording music
Placing your music in video games: advice from Halo composer Tom Salta
To make money with music, make sure you’re easy to find
3 steps to get your songs in music libraries