Excerpted from our latest guide, How To Make More Money With Music: Generating Revenue By Licensing Your Music, authors Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan give an overview of what music licensing is and lay out five things you can do to boost your chances to license your music.
Getting your music licensed is a fantastic way to boost your income and get exposure, and more independent musicians are scoring licensing deals for film, TV, movie trailers, and commercials than ever. To help generate these opportunities, you need to understand how licensing works; learn how music is chosen for TV shows, movies, and other audio-visual works; and get your music in front of the right people.
What licensing is
When other people want to use your song/composition or sound recording for their audio-visual work, they need to ask your permission and obtain a license from you to do it. Most artists are familiar with how cover songs work: you can’t say no if someone wants to cover your song and there’s a maximum amount you can charge. But the law doesn’t regulate the rates when someone wants to use your music in an audio-visual work like a television show or film. In fact, you can refuse to let them use your music or set any price you’d like. If they don’t pay for it, they can’t use it.
This kind of licensing deal is known as a synchronization (sync) license, because the license allows that person or production company to sync your sound recording to visual images. In other words, you’re not selling it — they’re renting it and can only use it for what you allow them to do with it in the license.
Since there’s no limit set for what you can charge for sync licenses, you can ask for as much money as you want. Realistically, what you can get is determined by the market and the budget the interested party has to work with. But you have another advantage: if you own both the song/composition and the sound recording, then you can get two license fees because audio-visual works need to license both!
But it’s not just about the sync fee. As the copyright owner of your song/composition and sound recording, you’re free to negotiate all the terms, including:
- exactly how they can use your music
- how long they can use it
- where they can use it (geography/country)
- how much it will cost them (the license fee)
- how they should credit the song
- whether others can license and use this song or if they are the only ones exclusively licensing it
- any other terms and limitations you can mutually agree to
What licensors will ask for is typically broad, but it’s in your interest to make the license as restrictive as possible and make them pay for each aspect of the license so you can negotiate a fair sync fee.
Boosting your chances to license: key steps to take
To help boost your chances of getting your music licensed:
1. Clear the rights of the all your music
All potential licensors, including music supervisors, only want to deal with songwriters and composers who own all the copyrights to their music. They want to sign one agreement and avoid any legal questions of who owns what. This means that even if your music is the perfect piece for their project, they’ll skip it and go with their “Plan B” song if there’s any hint of risk concerning copyright.
Make sure you own or have cleared all the rights and can prove it. That means if you use loops or samples, you have proof of permission to use them in your sound recording or can prove they’re royalty-free. And, if you’re in a band, make sure to cover all the intellectual property you create within your band agreement. Never use cover songs for licensing — unless specifically requested and the proper permissions have been obtained — since you don’t own the rights to those songs.
2. Make it clear you own “200 percent” of the copyright
When you say you own 200 percent of the rights, it means you can act on behalf of the songwriter for the song/composition rights and the sound owner for the sound recording rights. As mentioned earlier, the biggest nightmare for any potential music licensor is if there are any snags with the rights after releasing their work. If they want your music, they want it free and clear. When you can prove you own all of the rights, they can do business with you much more easily.
3. Create a place where interested parties can learn about and hear your music
Licensors like music supervisors are looking for the ideal piece of music to fit a specific clip of video. Because of this, they focus on certain qualities of a piece of music, such as the overall mood the piece evokes, the genre, the tempo/BPM, whether it’s an instrumental or vocal piece, and even what other artists it sounds like. Any descriptive info you can provide in advance about these qualities makes a licensor’s job easier and could improve your odds of placement. List this descriptive info on a dedicated “licensing page” on your website or post it to the licensing services listed in the next section. Having song/music descriptions at-the-ready will help you when it comes to categorizing your music.
4. Have mastered tracks of WAVs, stems, and instrumental mixes for all of your music
Depending on the needs of the scene or video, the person or production company licensing your music may need to use an alternative mix or just one of your sound recording’s stems. Depending on how focused you are on licensing, you may want to create alternative mixes while you’re in the studio. For example, you may want to create:
- an instrumental mix
- a vocals-up mix (+1 or 2dB than normal)
- a vocals-down mix (-1 or 2dB)
- a radio-friendly mix (if there’s profanity)
You may also want to create mixed-down stems, source tracks, and beats, since some licensors may want just the elements of your music.
5. Always be easy to contact
Make it easy for anyone to get in touch with you by adding your contact info to any MP3s you send to potential licensors and music supervisors. Also, your email signature should include all your contact info, web address, and social media profiles so it’s convenient to find you. When someone needs a song, they usually need it immediately, and you don’t want to miss out on licensing income because they can’t connect with you.
To learn more about what music supervisors are looking for, key steps you can take to boost your chances of getting licensed, and how to supercharge your music income, download your FREE PDF, Generating Revenue By Licensing Your Music, today.
Use split sheets to keep track of your rights and who owns what
Songwriting and sound recording split sheets are easy-to-use, templated agreements that help get everyone who is writing and recording music on the same page. These forms track who created what in a song or sound recording and document, in writing, the percentage of income owed to each collaborator. By using split sheets, you make it easier to register your songs and sound recordings for royalties while also protecting yourself against potential legal disputes should the song or sound recording take off or get licensed.
The best time to capture this information is during or shortly after your songwriting or recording session. Capture this information early and make it a habit in your production process. We created free split sheets you can download, review, and use in our free starter kit.
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.
5 things you should do before you seek a music licensing deal
Maximize your royalties by submitting cue sheets
To make money with music, make sure you’re easy to find
Finding the balance between creativity and business
Focus on making more money from music this year