To license your music, you need to understand the role of the music supervisor as well as how to prep your music. Follow these steps to increase your chances of getting your music licensed.
Getting your songs licensed for use in TV, advertising, films, movie trailers, and video games is a great way to turn your music catalog into income. If you want to license your music and tap this revenue stream, you should understand the mindset and goals of music supervisors to boost your chances of getting licensed and perform these prep steps to help you move immediately on licensing opportunities when they arrive.
What mixes do music supervisors require?
Although most musicians focus primarily on creating singles, EPs, and albums to sell directly to their fans, the mixes that television and film producers, advertisers, YouTubers, podcasters, and other licensors want from your music are often different than what you’d mix for your album. The best time to prepare your music is while you’re in the studio during mixing, not after the album is done.
Thinking about licensing during mixdown makes sense: it’s easy to make another version of your song while you’re already working with the tracks. Plus, you can often save money by mastering all of your tracks at once. The key is to have what they need ready to go when they ask so you can capitalize on the opportunity.
Because of this, consider making the following alternate mixes while you’re still in the studio:
- Instrumental mix. Removing the vocals and creating an instrumental version of your song is one of the most versatile mixes you can make for licensing purposes. Instrumentals can be used as a bed under a voiceover on commercials or for television, film, radio, podcasts, and video games. If you have to choose just one alternate mix to make, this is the one.
- Vocals-only mix. A vocals-only mix can be useful on its own, but is primarily used to help you create the next three mixes below. A vocals-only mix is typically synced and layered on top of your instrumental mix to make it easy to turn down, turn up, or remove certain vocals such as profanity.
- Vocal levels down mix. Creating an alternate mix with a quieter vocal track can be perfect for television, film, and advertisers to use so they can speak over the music without taking them out of the song altogether. To create this type of mix, turn the vocals down about 1 to 2 dB.
- Vocal levels up mix. Alternatively, it may be the vocals that carry the exact sentiment licensors are hoping to capture. For these licensors, create a mix with the vocals up 1 to 2 dB.
- Radio-friendly mix. If your song is long or uses profanity or other language not suitable for broadcast, creating a radio-friendly mix can earn you royalty income based on radio play and could also be used for licensing that needs music without profanity.
- Stems, source tracks, and beats. While it’s easy to think about licensing to TV, film, advertising, and movie trailers, with the huge number of remixing tools available, many other potential licensors might be interested in your stems, source tracks, and beats. There are entirely new licensing opportunities for beats and hooks since musicians and re-mixers are looking for ready-made sounds for use in their songs. To pursue this type of licensing opportunity, you can present each of your source tracks “as is” and also mix down stems and beats out of parts of your song.
You should keep all these WAV files handy to send at a moment’s notice. And you should also provide 320kbps MP3s and be sure to fill out all your ID3 metadata fields, including your website and contact info. Then, once you’ve prepared your alternate mixes, you can upload them to your website to give potential licensors a sample of what you have to offer. Web pages with instrumental pieces can be especially useful to potential buyers. Or you can sell them through curated marketplaces like Splice, Beatport.com, Beatstars.com, Magnatune.com, and Airbit.com.
If those curators won’t let you in, you can offer your tracks yourself at download sites like Shopify and SquareSpace. And, naturally, you can send them to a publisher or directly to potential licensors to create licensing opportunities for your music.
How to prep your music for licensing and boost your chances
With your sound recordings prepped and ready to go follow these steps to improve your chances of getting your music licensed and placed:
1. Clear the rights of the underlying music. Music supervisors only want to deal with musicians who own all the copyrights to their music, including both the composition and sound recording. They want to sign an agreement quickly and avoid any legal questions regarding who owns what. This means even if your music is the perfect piece for what they’re working on, they’ll skip your music and go with their “Plan B” song if there’s any hint of copyright issues. So, make sure you own or have cleared all the rights and can prove it.
The best way to do this is by using a split sheet, which is an easy-to-use form where you simply fill in the blanks of the information the PRO needs for royalty registration. You can download two free split sheets here to get you started. This also means if you use loops or samples, you’ve got permission or you can certify they’re royalty-free — although they might not use them if they have samples at all, so you’re better off creating your own music. Also, you should never use cover songs for licensing unless specifically requested since you don’t own the rights to someone else’s song and can’t grant a license to it.
2. Tell them you own 200 percent of the rights. When you say that you own 200 percent of the rights, it means you own both the composition rights and the sound recording rights. As mentioned, the biggest nightmare for music supervisors is if there are any snags with the rights (no one wants to deal with a lawsuit). This is the number one reason professional music supervisors are skeptical about working with independent artists. So, if you want to license to them, be ready to prove you own all of the rights so they can do business with you much more easily.
3. Make it easy to hear your music and provide descriptive info so people can find it. Music Supervisors are looking for the perfect piece of music to fit a specific clip of video. Because of this, they focus on qualities 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 improves your odds of being discovered and placed. Your descriptions should go beyond what you’d provide to a music fan and should include the full instrumentation and what the track might be good for, such as a love scene, car chase, or climactic build.
4. Be easy to contact. You should always be easy to contact because you never know when opportunities for booking, press/media, or licensing may arrive. Make sure your contact info is listed in the ID3 tags on the MP3s you send to music supervisors and other potential licensors. Also, your email signature should include all your contact info, website, and social network handles. When someone needs a song, they usually need it immediately. You don’t want them skipping over you because they can’t connect with you.
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Once you’ve done these prep steps, your goal is to get your music in front of potential licensors. You should also consider uploading your music to services that music supervisors use to find music, such as SongTradr (which has a lot of features that can help with the steps above) and Synchtank, as well as distributors like CD Baby. In addition to providing licensing info on your website, reach out to music supervisors directly (films and TV credits often list them). To learn more about licensing and music supervisors, check out our free Disc Makers guide, How To Make Money With Music: The Complete Guide.
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.
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