Intro to Music Licensing for Independent Artists
Music licensing for independent artists is a viable and smart method to earn money from your art. Licensing music for TV, film, ads, and other media can create lucrative additional revenue streams. This guide will equip you with everything needed to capitalize on these opportunities.
Introduction to Music Licensing
For independent artists, licensing original music for videos, commercials, TV shows, films, and video games can provide significant income separate from streaming royalties and merchandise.
Rates vary widely based on factors like project budget and prominence of use. But sync licenses can earn indie artists thousands to tens of thousands for placements in major productions. Even minor usages add up over a catalog of songs.
This definitive guide will breakdown all the key concepts indie musicians need to understand to successfully license their work across media platforms and tap into this profitable opportunity.
Understanding Song Ownership
At a basic level, each recorded song contains two distinct copyrights:
1. The Master Recording
2. The Underlying Song Composition
For independent artists who write their own music and fund their recordings, you likely control 100% of both the master rights and publishing rights.
This full ownership makes licensing infinitely easier compared to major label artists who do not control their rights. Major label recordings are usually owned entirely by the record company. And hit songs often have multiple writers splitting publishing ownership.
But as an indie artist, you can directly approve any licensing requests rather than jump through hoops tracking down and getting approvals from co-owners. This ability to “flip” licenses quickly is a major advantage.
DIFFERENT MUSIC LICENSES EXPLAINED
There are two primary types of licenses required to legally use a song in film, TV commercials, video games, and other productions:
1. MASTER USE LICENSE
- Grants the right to synchronize and reproduce the specific sound recording of a song.
- Essentially allowing the use of your recorded version.
- Master rights are controlled by whoever owns the sound recording – typically the label or artist.
2. SYNCHRONIZATION LICENSE
- Grants the right to use the underlying written musical composition itself.
- This allows usage of the songwriting – the lyrics, melody, rhythms, song structure as composed.
- Controlled by whoever owns the publishing rights – normally the songwriters.
For indie musicians who fully own their master recordings and publishing rights:
You have full authority to approve requests for both licenses as needed for syncing your music to visual media.
While the licenses themselves have different purposes, the key point is that both are required to legally place your song in TV, film, ads, video games, or any other productions.
The licenses also determine who receives compensation – the owner of the master recording and the owner of the publishing. We’ll dig into royalty payments and Performing Rights Organizations (more later).
But by understanding the two distinct licenses and rights involved, you can smoothly navigate any licensing deals that come your way as an independent artist.
DEFINING OWNERSHIP SPLITS IN BANDS
For any bands or collaborations with multiple members contributing to the songwriting and recordings, having unambiguous agreements on copyright splits and ownership is absolutely crucial for handling licensing smoothly.
Ideally, authorship splits and publishing shares should be defined upfront in a formal band agreement. Common arrangements include:
- Equal splits – each member gets the same share.
- Percentages based on writing or creative contributions.
- Primary songwriter receives largest share.
The band agreement should outline:
- The split percentages for master rights, publishing rights, and songwriting authorship.
- Criteria for how splits are earned – writing, recording, producing.
- Whether splits vary song-by-song based on individual contributions.
- Terms for members signing separate publishing administration deals.
- Which party handles licensing and registers copyrights.
Sorting out ownership splits early on avoids a plethora of issues later when opportunities arise. For instance:
- Sync licensing deals must pay the correct master and publishing rightsholders.
- Performance royalties from PROs need to be divided accurately between members.
- Unclear splits can slow down or derail licensing deals when supervisors can’t obtain necessary approvals.
Any ambiguities or disagreements on splits can hinder opportunities or worse. Do the work early on to define ownership stakes and control rights within your collaborations. Revisit splits whenever band membership or roles change.
Common Media music Licensing Placements
Now that you understand the two core music licenses, where can they actually help you place your songs and generate revenue?
music licensing for TV Shows & Films
TV and movies frequently license music for…
- Opening credit sequences.
- Closing credit rolls.
- Driving scenes.
- Emotional moments.
- Highlighting time periods.
- Underscoring dialogue.
- Scenes needing rhythm, tone, or energy.
In any show or film, music plays a huge role in setting mood, pacing, establishing context, and augmenting key moments. Music supervisors are constantly looking for new tunes to place.
music licensing for Commercials & Ads
Brands and agencies license music for:
- Television commercials.
- Radio spots.
- Online video ads.
- Commercial trailers.
- Branded content.
- Background music in stores.
- Trade show booths.
- Sales reps hold music.
Ads aim to resonate emotionally and memorable music is key. Popular songs spur instant nostalgia, but licensing original compositions allows brands to own a unique identity.
music licensing for Video Games
The gaming industry licenses music for:
- Menu/UI background music.
- Level themes.
- Gameplay underscores.
- Promotional videos.
- In-game cinematics.
- Immersive environmental ambience.
Games envelop players in expansive worlds where music defines tone and enhances engagement across every scene.
Live Events & Venues
Live productions license music for:
- Corporate events.
- Retail spaces.
- Trade shows.
- Stadium music.
- Themed attractions.
Promptly produced tracks allow brands to commission custom, on-strategy music for live happenings.
music licensing for Digital Media
Websites, YouTubers, and social apps license music for:
- Online videos.
- YouTube product reviews.
- Website background audio.
- Branded podcasts.
- Social media videos.
- Interactive experiences.
- Digital education.
- Website themes.
Beyond traditional placements, digital creators need effective scores to bring their online content to life.
This landscape highlights the immense need for music across every visual medium. By understanding where licensing opportunities exist, you can deliberately craft music suited for these uses and maximize placements.
music licensing gatekeeper: Music Supervisors
Music supervisors function as the gatekeepers and connectors who facilitate the licensing process between productions who need music and artists/publishers who own rights.
Their core responsibilities include:
- Communicating with productions like TV shows and ad agencies to understand specific music needs for certain scenes, commercials, or projects.
- Sourcing and selecting appropriate tracks from catalogs based on those creative needs, tone, licensing budgets, and deadlines.
- Contacting rights holders, often indie artists or publishers, to access masters and negotiate reasonable license terms.
- Managing all contracts and paperwork between the productions and indie artists. Drawing up agreements.
- “Clearing” all the licenses by ensuring any co-owners also approve the use and sorting proper payment to individual artists, publishers, and writers.
- Compiling accurate cue sheets so artists get their due performance royalties from PROs.
By developing positive working relationships and connections with music supervisors, you increase opportunities to get your music in front of the right folks at the right time for licensing placements across a spectrum of productions.
You can nurture beneficial relationships by making a supervisor’s job as easy and with minimal friction as possible – smooth approvals, all necessary paperwork, accessible track stems, reasonable terms, prompt communication. Provide value, avoid headaches.
Knowledgeable supervisors intimately understand the productions they work on. When your skills match up with their needs, you get opportunities. So, understanding how licensing works from their side helps maximize your appeal.
The Importance of Instrumental Mixes for more music licensing oppurtunities
One incredibly useful tip for maximizing licensing opportunities is to record quality instrumental mixes for all your songs – besides the main vocal versions.
Instrumental-only mixes of your tracks give supervisors much more editing flexibility and options to fit your music to the specific scene or commercial. Ways instrumentals pave the way for licensing:
- Allows placement under dialogue or voiceover narration. Removes vocal distractions.
- Avoids any licensing issues stemming from lyrical content. Instrumentals sidestep rights concerns.
- Provides options to truncate, loop, or extend sections as needed to fit edits.
- TV and film editors can more easily pitch or slow down instrumentals to match footage, mood, and pacing.
- Creates freedom to add external vocalists if needed for commercial spots.
Whenever you complete a new track, be sure to mix down a polished instrumental version alongside the main mix. Keep them readily accessible for supervisors so your catalog presents no barriers.
Having readily available quality instrumental mixes makes your music much more valuable from a licensing perspective. Well worth the minor additional effort.
Metadata & Audio Delivery Formats for music licensing
To further boost your music’s appeal for licensing and make your catalog easy to navigate, you must also provide complete song metadata and deliver professional audio file formats as requested by supervisors.
Include key details like:
- Full official song and album/project titles.
- Songwriter names and ownership splits.
- Publisher names.
- Song length/duration.
- Music keys and time signatures.
- Artist name(s).
- Genre tags – mood, era, descriptors.
- Licensing contact info.
- Label catalog number.
Embedded metadata is ideal. But spreadsheets also work. This data makes your content discoverable.
- Have both high-quality master WAV/AIFFs along with compressed MP3s available for each track.
- Be ready to deliver 320kbps MP3s or specifications required.
- Offer instrumentals, edits, stems and separate vocal/instrumental mixes.
- Ask the supervisor if they have delivery specs, naming conventions, or other required formats. Then supply music assets accordingly.
Meeting requested technical requirements and providing comprehensive, organized metadata will make you a go-to, dependable resource for music supervisors.
Pitching Your Music Effectively
Researching and reaching out to relevant music supervisors is the essential first step in getting your music licensed. How can you pitch your catalog effectively?
Identify Target music Supervisors
- Figure out supervisors placing music in genres or projects kindred to yours. They’ll be most receptive.
- Use IMDbPro to find the licensing contacts for specific shows or films. Leverage credits.
- Publisher and label sites sometimes list their supervisors.
- Check PRO directories for members with supervisor role.
- Talk to other composers and artists who they’ve worked with successfully.
- Send brief, polite emails referencing projects they’ve supervised that resonate with your music.
- Include links to hear your music online. Offer to send a Dropbox with MP3s.
- Say you’d be open to discuss licensing rates if they’re interested.
- Note your rapid turnaround capability if under deadline needs.
- Thank them sincerely for their consideration. Short and sweet.
Avoid mass blasts. Personalize each inquiry. Show you did your homework on their catalog and productions. Demonstrate genuine interest – not just fishing expeditions.
Follow up politely if needed, but don’t harass. Respect their busy workload. Nurture actual connections that could benefit future opportunities.
Patience and persistence pay off. With research and care, you can grow your music’s exposure with the right licensing pros.
Contacting Music Supervisors
Beyond outbound pitching, having channels to directly contact music supervisors also helps increase the odds of licensing placements. Here are top resources for getting the contact information of prospective supervisors to reach out to:
IMDbPro- IMDbPro contains contact information for many music supervisors involved in movies, TV shows, and other productions. You can search for specific projects. Provides emails and representation details to reach out. Invaluable for identifying target prospects.
LinkedIn – Search for individual supervisors on LinkedIn to potentially find contact info or connections in common that can facilitate an introduction. Great for relationship-building.
Music Industry Directories – Services like Songlink and Taxi provide directories of music industry contacts, including supervisors open to submissions. Useful for expanding your list.
PRO Member Directories – ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC allow you to search their membership databases which include many supervisors. Helps expand prospects.
Publisher/Label Sites – Some publishers and labels will list their music supervisors publicly on their websites. Check sites for useful contacts.
Industry Events – Conferences like SyncSummit connect artists with supervisors. Great way to network in person and exchange contact cards.
Look for consistent contact data across resources to verify accuracy. Then integrate personalized outreach. With some diligence, you can build up a solid contact list of music supervisors to pitch for placements.
Registering with Performing Rights Organizations (PROs)
Beyond upfront sync licensing fees, your music earns backend royalties whenever it is publicly performed in media. Radio, TV, streaming, live events, YouTube, Netflix — these all require royalty payments to rights holders.
This is where Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC come in. Joining a major PRO as an independent artist is essential.
What do Performing Rights organiztions (PROs) do?
- Monitor public performances of members’ music.
- Collect performance royalty payments from media outlets.
- Pay royalties directly to registered members.
Without membership, you won’t see a dime of royalties.
- TV networks when your music airs.
- Radio stations when songs are played.
- Venues using your music publicly.
- Online streams.
- YouTube videos.
- Podcast sponsors and more.
Once you land a placement, PROs ensure you actually get all the performance royalty money owed from:
Research which PRO makes sense for your licensing activities and sign up early. Registration takes time, so get it squared away before your first big placement. Don’t leave money on the table.
As an indie artist who owns your publishing, you have the flexibility in which PRO to join. Make an informed choice. But the key is – register with one. Don’t miss out on royalties.
Music licensing presents a highly rewarding avenue for monetizing your work as an independent musician. But understanding key licensing concepts is mandatory for success. Do your homework on ownership rights, music supervisors, PROs, pitching methods, and more covered in this guide.
With proper relationships, music assets, and licensing knowledge, you can tap into profitable sync opportunities in TV, movies, advertising, and beyond. Dig in and start actively pitching your music for placement today.
Want More Infromation?
Sync licensing can seem complicated, but it offers huge opportunities for indie artists to get their music heard. If you want to learn more about placing your songs in film, TV, advertising, and other media, be sure to check out the Sync Summit.
Created by sync licensing expert Mark Frieser, the Sync Summit provides a wealth of resources to help musicians navigate the world of licensing. From ebooks and online courses to networking events and personal coaching, Sync Summit has something for artists at every level.
Whether you’re just getting started with licensing or you’re looking to take your existing music placements to the next level, Sync Summit is an invaluable resource. Visit https://syncsummit.com/ to explore their library of training materials, tips, interviews with industry experts, and more. Unlock your music’s potential in sync – start learning today!