Want to learn how to land more music placements?
In 2015, Post Malone was getting grilled by Charlamagne tha God during an interview with The Breakfast Club.
At the time, the viral musician insisted that a major label cosign is the only way to stick out in today’s crowded musical landscape.
This may be true for some but it all depends on what your goals are, and there’s no guaranteed success in this game.
If you really want to succeed, major label or indie, You’re going to need to have a basic understanding of all business elements including sync licensing.
That means educating yourself and doing your due diligence on how to properly make money with your music.
Whether you’re an indie like Tech N9ne hitting soundtracks for Madden NFL 2006 or a major label artist like Post Malone topping the charts through the Spiderverse soundtrack, licensing and placements are a great way to generate revenue as an artist outside of streams, merchandise and touring.
Follow the steps from the guide below to help prepare your music for sync licensing opportunities.
Getting Your Music Right
The first thing you need is great music, plain and simple. Over the years though, the meaning of “great music” has become more and more subjective. Depending on who you ask, the answer you’ll get will vary widely.
It’s really not my place to tell you what “great music” is or isn’t because I’m not the one dangling licensing opportunities in front of you. Knowing that different trends and genres are always emerging, focus on the music you’re inspired to create.
You could focus on producing music to keep up with current sounds or narrow in on your goals as no two musicians’ paths are the same.
Either way my mention of “great music” is more on the side of quality especially on the mix and master side of the equation. Your demos won’t cut it here so make sure you take the extra steps to get that professional sound.
Having the proper versions of the song, mixed and mastered at a TV-quality level, and having an instrumental version ready as well.
Some require a TV mix which is mostly an instrumental but features background vox or adlibs. Spend time researching companies like Landr which is a great online mixing resource.
Determine Your Music Output and Develop a Catalogue of Music
There’s no right or wrong answer in output, but you do have to get the sound of the music right, meaning you need quality recordings. Having a well organized, professionally produced and mixed representation of your sounds is most important.
This means focusing on songwriting, the recording process, learning to mix/master, and keeping an archive of music on hand at any given moment. Your job is to have your tracks ready to share at the time of request.
Anyone on top of their game knows to keep mastered versions of their songs along with instrumentals and written verses on hand for any occasion. The “grind” and “game” you hear about is the artist describing the creation pipeline.
Organization is also Key
Every successful artist or business is organized or has a team in place to support them. Especially if you want to focus on just creating music. Having an organized, properly labeled, and accessible archive of copyrights is key.
Keeping files labeled and sorted with proper metadata makes it easy to automate most backend processes within the industry.
It’s not just a matter of practice – it’s constant repetition and execution. You want high-quality files that are easy to search and listen to. Higher bitrates and larger files are
always better, and you’ll always want to fill out every field of your metadata to make it easy for people to search and find your songs.
Don’t worry about creating that one perfect song, because that’s not how it works. There’s a lot of front-end work that needs to be done to create 100s of songs before you ever land that first real placement that puts you in the public consciousness, so get started now.
Of course, the biggest mistake new artists make is thinking that just because they created the music that they’re entitled to an audience. This simply isn’t true. You need a strategy based on your overall goals.
Create a Strategy and Set Goals
Like we illustrated above, there’s no one path to success in the music industry. Lil Wayne, Tech N9ne, and Post Malone are all successful in their own rights, but they took entirely different courses to get there, at different times, during different eras of technology and musical trends. You need to decide which path is right for you and which niches you want to serve.
If you’re unfamiliar with Necro, he’s a legendary independent Brooklyn-based rapper, producer, and owner of Psycho+Logical Records. His unique styles of horrorcore, rap metal, and death rap are never going to be featured in an animated Disney musical.
His concept albums explore death, murder, gangs, and other criminal cultures that simply aren’t family-friendly, nor were they ever meant to be.
Still – Necro built a record label that released over 40 albums across 300 outlets and toured alongside his brother Ill Bill and other labelmates. He headlined various festivals and performed throughout the 2000s and 2010s, catering to his specific niche of fans.
All of this is just to say that you need to ask yourself…
Where Can I Hear My Music
Do you imagine it being belted by an animated Disney princess, the theme for the next Madden or NBA 2K video game? or blasting on every radio on the planet?
Once you decide who you’re writing for, leverage your strengths, and start experimenting to find the right formula for you.
Failure isn’t a bad thing – in fact, you’re going to continue failing repeatedly in this business, so you need to get used to it immediately. Have patience and continue making the right business moves, and you’ll get where you want to be.
Create your business plan and do your best to make everything as official as possible. You definitely want to incorporate for tax purposes, collecting payment, etc. In the USA, it’s easiest to file as a DBA, doing business as, then an LLC, limited liability company.
This will make it easier to get your foot in the door and get meetings with potential partners.
Furthermore, you should research exactly how much others are willing to spend to license your music – here’s a great chart on price differences when licensing.
As you can see, the amount of sales you need differs with the value of the placement. Of course, this chart is deceptive, because music licensing on YouTube is done in perpetuity, and plenty of advertisement deals pay six- and seven-figures.
These are difficult to land as an indie artist though and next to impossible for one without an established brand.
You’ll also want to register with a performance rights organization (PRO) like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN, etc.
These agencies specialize in getting songwriters, performance artists, and publishers royalty payments when their music is used.
They also have great connections throughout the industry, so simply being listed in a PRO’s archive can gain you exposure on its own. Domestic PRO’s BMI and ASCAP specializes in collecting in US territory. Every territory has a different PRO and artists must register to collect in that part of the world, Canada’s is SOCAN.
Market Yourself and Make Connections
From there, you need to refresh your marketing strategy. Figure out who your existing fans are and find ways to build on that foundation.
Contact and make connections with music bloggers, vloggers, DJs, and other professionals in the industry to stay front of mind.
Paul Porter and Wendy Day are great social media follows who constantly dole out music industry advice to up-and-coming indie artists. We also tune into MG The Future, Craftmaster Productions or Busy Works Beats on the production side of things. Listen and learn from those who understand the business and focus your efforts in the right directions.
Finally, get a public relations agent if possible or partake in the DIY route. PR reps (reputable ones that is) are experts at promoting your music 24/7 through pre-built funnels but this will come with a cost.
They can reach fans, influencers, and media outlets to get your music and brand name in front of people. If funds are an issue however there is a lot you can do on your own in the time being. As you build an audience, you’ll start to find more opportunities to license your music in bigger and better places.
So, let’s dive into the meat and potatoes of how to license your music.
How to Land More Music Placements
At its core, music licensing is a B2B (business-to-business) marketing strategy. This means instead of marketing to your core fans (music consumers) in a B2C (business-to-consumer) environment, you’re marketing to corporations with entirely different needs.
Genre and sound quality is a given by this point, but they’re also seeking a return on their investment. This means having an impact and a brand can add value to their public image by using an up-and-coming or unknown artist. Focus on making the best music you can.
Your target when seeking licensing opportunities boils down to three business types:
How to License Your Music with Music Supervisors
A music supervisor is a high-level managerial role that oversees any and all music-related tasks for a given media project that includes music uses. This includes TV shows, video games, commercials, movies, corporate ads, YouTube videos, and more.
Any visual medium has one, and you can even find music supervisors in the musical theater industry. In fact, there can be music supervisors for an individual show or season (seen in “Mad Men”), an entire series (“The O.C.”), or overseeing all these supervisors through the production company or ad agency itself.
Music supervisors are the decision-makers in the companies you want to be picked up by, so you need to reach out to these people. Here are extensive lists of production companies for TV, movies, and online, along with advertising agencies.
These resources will help you track down the name, email address, and phone number of music supervisors. The lists are not by any means exhaustive, as there are essentially endless production companies and agencies of all sizes seeking music. Don’t just contact them out the blue without a proper pitch though! That’s a quick way to get blocked.
Practice your elevator pitch and focus on the value you can bring to their productions. What moods can you create, how will your music help create more sales of their movie, and what is the return they’ll see for purchasing and using your music?
Come to these music industry professionals as a professional yourself, and you’ll gain much more interest in what you’re selling. They may even be willing to forgive your lack of a large audience if you have the right artistic feel they’re looking for.
You never know if you have a hit until you step up to the plate and take the swing. Do keep in mind that these supervisors get a large number of pitches regularly. If you can, I highly suggest networking face to face with these individuals.
You’d be surprised how easy it can be to link up with these people as they are always at events and shows. Don’t stalk them by any means but start to build a natural relationship with them gradually over time.
How to License Your Music with Music Libraries
Music libraries are exactly what they sound like, and getting listed with them can get your brand seen and music heard.
It’s because music licensing is so complicated that many places will simply subscribe to a music library for full access rather than source each song individually through a contract. Think of it as Shutterstock for music.
Many of the PROs listed above also act as music libraries, and they’re competing with a slew of tech startups, like Music Vine, Artlist, Musicbed, Soundstripe, and Marmoset.
Like the Google Play or Apple App marketplaces, getting listed doesn’t automatically end in placements, but it makes you easily accessible to the audiences you wish to reach.
Even after listing with a music library, you’ll still need to continue contacting music supervisors. If you’re listed with their pre-existing library, your pitch is going to be a much easier sell.
Of course, not every musician wants to spend the time doing all this backend work that interrupts the creative process. That’s what a team or record labels are for.
How to License Your Music with Music Licensing Companies, Publishers, or Record Labels
Depending on your situation, you can sign directly to a record label or simply use a music publisher or licensing company.
Each piece is necessary, and how much you do in-house versus how much you outsource creates the dividing line that balances how much revenue you generate per sale and how much time you can dedicate to creating and/or performing your music.
Keep in mind that an independent like Tech N9ne is putting in a lot more work (and spending a lot more money up front) to put on 100+ shows around the globe each year while releasing a handful of albums and running the business end for the rest of his label roster.
Meanwhile, Post Malone has more time to spend giving interviews and doing promotions because he has the combined manpower of Universal Music Group behind him. Malone makes less revenue than Tech does per sale, but Malone potentially makes more sales.
The difference between licensing, publishing, and a full-suite record label is the ownership you retain on your creative content.
Each has a different level of control over your master recordings and their publishing rights. From John Fogerty being sued by Fantasy Records for sounding too much like himself to the beefs between Lil Wayne and Birdman or Taylor Swift and Scooter Braun, the music industry is full of tales of the battles waged in this war.
Selling your music to a record label will ultimately take the backend business operations and marketing out of your hands in exchange for a piece of your income. Negotiating these terms is the foundation of music industry contracts, and you’d do well to learn them.