How To License Your Music (And Actually GET PAID)
21 March 2021 by Gaetano
Musicians are always looking for ways in which to share their music with the world. One way to do this effectively is by licensing your music for commercial use.
As a songwriter, you can sufficiently release your music and tracks where they will be heard in various programs that include digital media such as television, films, streaming advertisements, video games, or commercials.
But how do you actually do it? The truth is, you’ll need to work on building relationships with licensing companies, or highly connected people in the licensing game. That means you will need to start cold emailing, cold calling, and sending DMs in order to get yourself out there and pitch your music.
This guide will teach you all about music licensing for independent musicians – how it works, what an agreement entails, and how to work with a music licensing company in order to get paid for commercial use of your works.
So, What is Music Licensing Exactly?
Music licensing is a legal agreement by where a composer/author will grant permission for the use of their copyrighted music for various types of commercial projects in exchange for a licensing fee.
If you are the composer/author for that work, then you will earn the sync fee that gets paid out! It’s a glorious way for songwriters and composers in the music industry to receive compensation for their original music.
This introductory video from Chris Small is a simple overview of how this confusing world of music licensing actually works.
How Competitive is Music Licensing?
I won’t BS you – it’s SUPER competitive. There are countless music creators offering an endless supply of music, yet the demand can only reach a certain point.
The harsh reality: you will probably NEVER find a licensing opportunity on your own, unless you know some super connected person who can directly introduce you to the decision makers.
Not even a music publishing company or record label will help you get your music licensed (unless of course, they stand something to gain by helping you).
In order to find companies who might want to license your music, you’ll need to do 1:1 direct outreach to music supervisors on websites like LinkedIn or Instagram.
Alternatively, you can just work with music licensing companies and they’ll help you reduce most of the administrative burden, for a fee of course.
If you eventually find a company that wants to license your music, you’ll end up working with a sound designer, music supervisor, or even a director, depending on who is in charge of securing the music license. I’ll also explain what a music license contract actually looks like.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF MUSIC LICENSING
So first thing’s first – as a musician, you need to be sure that your music is copyrighted so you can receive all of the royalties and fees associated with the contract. One way to be sure that the music is completely owned by you is to cover all costs associated with recording / producing the music.
Every time you write and/or record a song, two copyrights that are formed – the lyrics and melody of the song, and the actual sound recording.
The lyrics and melody are components of songwriting (author), which may be shared with the music producer (composer).
This is important to be aware of because anyone that wants to use your music for something has to license BOTH of these (the ‘composition’ and the ‘master’) pieces to your music – so even if you are the owner of both (which makes it easier to copyright), there still needs to be two separate licenses and separately paid rights for each.
Before you jump into a music licensing agreement, learn about the different types of music licenses that are available (since you can actually license your music in many different ways).
Sync License – This is also more professionally known as the Synchronization License, and is one of the more common forms of music licensing. The music is accompanied by visual media like a movie, commercial, or streamed video ad (like on YouTube, for example.)
Public Performance License: Probably the most common form of music licensing, where business owners will typically purchase the broadcast of music in their store or have it on their jukebox at the local bar. Many performing rights organizations typically manage these types of licenses for their musicians.
Print Rights License: This is where the obtainer would get rights to print the actual sheet music with the song or track in order for use – this can be a bit tricky for musicians because you can’t exactly stop someone who has the music printed from copying it again.
Master License: This is very similar to the sync licensing, which gives the obtainer permission for use of the pre-recorded song without allowing them to rerecord it (like as a cover). Most of the time you would issue this license along with the sync license.
Theatrical License: This is obtained when music is being performed live on-stage, so the licenser can pay royalties to have the music sung or played a specific number of times in front of an audience.
Exclusive vs. Non-Exclusive – If you make it to superstar level, some companies may want an exclusive licensing agreement with you. Just as an example, Fox network may want exclusivity over your digital works, so that you can’t simultaneously license it to competitor networks like CBS. One recent example of an exclusive licensing agreement is Joe Rogan’s $100 million dollar deal with Spotify.
THE MUSIC LICENSING AGREEMENT
Once you’re familiar with the types of music licenses available, you can get into the actual contract, better known as the music licensing agreement.
Here’s a typical breakdown of what you might see covered throughout a typical licensing contract between musicians and those who are obtaining the rights for use:
- Rights to the music – (owner: musician) granting the rights and permissions for use of the music, which also includes:
- The term – how long it can be used for.
- The fees – performance royalties or fees included within the term.
- Exclusivity – whether the contract is exclusive or non-exclusive is also identified within the rights (basically, it’s whether others can use the same track / non-exclusive or if it is only used for this specific contract / exclusive, so it will not be sold for licensing use again).
- The Licensor – owner of the copyrighted music (you, the musician – and any other party who may have any copyrights to things like lyrics or composition)
- The Licensee – whoever needs to use the music for their purposes – this could include a music supervisor, a studio, a producer, filmmaker, etc.
- The Broadcast – how, when, and where the music will be used, as well as if any modifications to that music will be made during the process.
- The Where – the ‘media’ portion of the contract. Will the music be used for a tv show, film, ad, commercial, video game? etc.
The contract does contain a lot of legal jargon, so this is where you should rely on companies that can do the licensing portion for you. Music licensing companies are great for simplifying the whole licensing process.
For example, I know of an agency called Marmoset that licenses music for videos and they take all of the annoying admin work off your plate. They even make sure you get paid when your music finally gets licensed for commercial use. There are tons of music licensing companies out there, so be sure to ask around and do your due diligence before deciding which licensing agency to work with.
In the past, I’ve written about how some music companies run schemes and untruthful marketing programs in order to confuse and take advantage of musicians. Be sure to check out that guide if you need to refresh your memory on that.
BENEFITS OF WORKING WITH A MUSIC LICENSING COMPANY
Typically with a music licensing company, you will pay an upfront fee to be a member. Alternatively, you could also pay multiple fees if you option to share your music through more than one company.
A lot of musicians get pissed here. Yes, licensing companies will charge you a fee. Why? Because this is the music business.
Most licensing companies will store your digital works in a music library. This is where record labels and music supervisors can search, locate and use your tracks for their commercial projects.
This is an easy route for most indie musicians, as you probably haven’t expanded your network enough to build relationships with actual music supervisors on your own.
Music supervisors also don’t like to license music from independent artists they aren’t familiar with, since they don’t know what to expect, so utilizing a third-party licensing company is a beneficial stepping stone to building that creative-musician relationship.
This also eliminates the need to create the actual agreement yourself, since these companies will take care of all of that for you while getting your music visible by creatives.
Just be sure that you review the agreements in-depth when you receive them so that you can clearly understand what is going on – you may even want to consult with an attorney to be sure you have an understanding of it before signing that dotted line. You wouldn’t want to assign an exclusive deal if you planned your music to stay non-exclusive and used over multiple projects.
ORGANIZING YOUR MUSIC LIBRARY
This is an important last step to licensing – get all your digital music files (with metadata included) in order before you start showcasing it.
Consider maintaining a spreadsheet with all your available music for licensing, or something along those lines, so that you can stay on top of it.
Anything you send to a music licensing company needs to have the completely finished, mastered recording of your music. Zero exceptions!
Demos, unmixed tracks, incomplete songs, half-baked ideas, and unfinished song concepts are NOT the music that you want to pitch here, since music supervisors and producers are looking for already finished, polished, hi-res tracks.
Mastered audio also needs to have instrumentals ready ahead of time – these are crucial for mixes especially, in case there are instrumental versions of the song that companies want to license (without the vocals). The highest quality audio file is typically a WAV audio, so make sure it’s encoded in WAV format.
You will need to break out all of the instruments and vocals within the audio as well, so that when the licensee can easily take out what they won’t be using. You’d be shocked at how precise the music licensing requests can be! Sometimes, a TV commercial may only want to clip 5 seconds of your track, and that’s it.
Your job is to be prepared with all of the knowledge of your own music – things like where you made the recording, disclosing any samples of the earlier stages within the music. It seems trivial, but guess what? Music supervisors do not want to jump through any extra hoops when it comes to working with indie songwriters.
It helps to register your songs with a Performing Rights Organization – A couple of PROs in the United States that are great for this are BMI, ASCAP or SESAC (invite only).
Finally, you should have a website, social media and press about yourself that you can market when it comes to your music.
Things like headshots, background about you and how you got started within the music business, where any of your other music might have been featured, upcoming gigs or live concerts, anything that can give you a leg up on any possible competition, as well as helping you look as legitimate as possible.
OTHER TIPS FOR GETTING YOUR MUSIC LICENSED
Some other guidelines you will want to be sure to follow when preparing your music for licensing abilities:
1) Don’t use anything that could be considered plagiarizing, or anyone else’s work, and claim it as your own.
2) Make sure audio files have the correct metadata required – which includes the track name, arctic name, album name (if applicable), the musical genre, and the actual recording (and release) date(s).
3) Do your research on music libraries before submitting, so that you can choose a place where music in your genre gets the most action – or, it may even benefit you to take an online course or training program so that you can further educate yourself in the music licensing world.
4) Market yourself! Create a music website or even just a webpage with information on how/where to find you. You can keep it simple and just open up a social media account attributed to your band or solo music career – this helps to gain attention in the online world for your music. You can share snippets of live shows, create hype around a new song coming out, or take pictures of your awesome recording studio. Half of the battle to getting noticed and having loyal fans is through effective branding and marketing.
5) You won’t get your music licensed unless you put yourself out there. You have to do the work, there’s no way around it. The bottom line: make great music and figure out a way to get noticed so that you can make money and continue paving your way to a promising music career.