Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
You’ve written a song. Congrats! That’s not an easy thing to do. But the question is: Now what?
If you’re a competent singer and musician, you can perform, record, distribute, and promote the song yourself. But what if you’re a songwriter but not a performer? What if you think the song you’ve written would be better served being recorded by someone else?
Another option is to consider selling your song to an artist or publisher. Selling a song can be a great way to make money in the music industry, even if you are not a great singer or musician.
Understanding the song selling process
“Selling” songs can take various forms, and understanding the different avenues available is important. Let’s delve into some of the key options available to you.
But first, this is important: “Selling” is often used as a shorthand for “licensing and publishing” your songs. But even if you enter into a licensing or publishing deal, you still own the copyright of your song. Knowing how to copyright a song and understanding your rights is critical for your musical career. In no case should you ever sell your copyrights. Before signing any deal, be sure to hire an entertainment lawyer to make sure your copyrights are protected.
Song licensing isn’t technically “selling” your song; you are granting permission to others to use your music in different contexts, like films, commercials, TV shows, and video games, in exchange for a licensing fee. By licensing your songs, you can earn royalties and increase your exposure to a broader audience. Companies like Musicbed, Artlist, and Epidemic Sound provide platforms where musicians can license their music for various purposes. With song licensing, you still own the song, you are just getting paid to let others use your song in their projects.
That said, you’ll need a recorded version of your song for it to get licensed. In most cases, licensing involves the end user using a recorded track, not re-recording or recording a song.
Music publishers, like Universal and BMG, represent songwriters and make sure they get compensated for the commercial use of their songs. Publishers try to maximize the commercial potential of your songs by securing placements, sync licensing deals (for use in video), and other revenue-generating opportunities. They will pitch your music to established artists in an effort to get them to record your songs. Publishers also handle the collection and distribution of royalties on your behalf.
Copyright and legal considerations
Before you try to sell your songs, it’s crucial to understand the copyright laws and legal considerations to protect your creative work and ensure fair compensation.
Legally, your songs are automatically protected by copyright as soon as they are created and fixed in a tangible form (such as a recording or written sheet music). However, registering your songs with the US Copyright Office (for US-based artists) provides additional legal protection and strengthens your ability to enforce your rights if infringement occurs.
Performance Rights Organizations (PROs)
PROs like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC play a vital role in collecting performance royalties on behalf of songwriters and publishers. When your songs are performed publicly, such as on the radio, in live performances, or on streaming platforms, PROs ensure you receive proper compensation for those performances. Publishers affiliate with PROs to collect royalties on your behalf, but you don’t have to be published to join a PRO.
Royalties and fair compensation
Understanding the different types of royalties is essential for selling songs effectively. Mechanical royalties are earned from the sale and reproduction of your songs, while performance royalties are generated when your songs are publicly performed.
Additionally, synchronization (sync) royalties are earned when your songs are used in visual media, such as TV shows, films, or commercials. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these various royalty structures so you understand these terms before a music publisher expresses interest in your music.
How to prepare your song for selling
You can make money with music by selling songs, but there’s a lot to consider to ensure you and your song are ready. Here are some key steps to take:
Record a demo
In order to pitch your music to anyone in the music business, you’re going to need a demo. This demo does not have to be professionally produced, but it does need to capture the energy and feel of what your song is about.
Your demo also doesn’t have to have a complex arrangement. It can just be one person accompanied by a guitar or piano.
But your demo does have to be played and sung well. Pitchy vocals or bad instrumental tracks will sink your song’s chance of getting sold.
If you are unable to sing and perform this demo, consider enlisting the services of a band/artist or hiring session musicians to perform it for you. Once your demos are done, upload them to YouTube or SoundCloud.
Building an online presence
Even if you aren’t a performer, it’s still important to have a strong online presence for selling songs — you need to look professional and show that you are driven. Create a professional artist website and be active on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Pitching your songs to publishers
Now we arrive at the Catch-22 portion of our program. Unless you have a direct connection to a famous artist, you will not be approaching musicians directly. Instead, you will try to pitch your songs to publishers. But, publishers typically don’t take unsolicited material, so you can’t send them a CD or a file. So, what’s an indie songwriter supposed to do?
When you get a list of contact names and email addresses, send out pitch emails. Include a short bio, provide info about the size of your fanbase, number of streams and downloads, and any other things you can brag about. Was your song used in a movie or TV show? Have you embarked on a regional tour? Here’s your one shot. Make yourself look good. Most importantly: link to your website or YouTube channel where the publisher can hear your music.
Another avenue for seeking publishing and song placement opportunities is to join an organization like TAXI. TAXI’s model works as a membership where you receive information about licensing opportunities and a portal by which to submit. It’s a streamlined approach that takes a lot of the leg work out and provides detailed information about the type of music the end-user is looking for.
Tips to connecting with music professionals
In addition to online promotion, connecting with music professionals and industry experts can create valuable opportunities for selling songs.
- Live performances, gigs, and events as avenues for selling songs. Live performances provide an excellent platform to showcase your songs and connect with industry professionals. If you’re a performer, seek opportunities to perform at local venues, festivals, conferences, and industry showcases. If you’re a songwriter, try to get local bands to play your songs. Networking at these events can lead to collaborations, licensing deals, and other avenues for selling songs.
- Build relationships with industry professionals and music venues. Actively network with music industry professionals, including talent scouts, A&R representatives, and music venue owners. Attend industry conferences, workshops, and networking events to establish relationships and gain exposure to potential buyers.
- Showcase songs at music conferences. Music conferences are essential gatherings where industry professionals gather to discover new talent. Submit your songs, and if selected, take advantage of the exposure and networking opportunities they provide.
- Check out industry publications. Stay informed about the latest industry trends, news, and insights by following reputable industry publications and websites. Platforms like Billboard, Hypebot, Music Connection, and Music Business Worldwide offer valuable resources for staying updated on the ever-changing music industry landscape.
Before entering into any licensing or publishing agreements, hire a music lawyer. Too many artists sign away their rights by not properly understanding what they are agreeing to.
Release your songs on CD
One sure way to boost your professionalism is to have a CD made of your original recordings. Whether you’re pitching your band or your song demos, having professional CDs with artwork and your contact info makes it easy for interested parties to get in touch.
How to copyright a song (in 9 easy steps)
Seven facts about music copyrights
Understanding music rights and royalties
8 ways to make money playing music
5 steps to building your online music brand