I’ve coached a lot of musicians on how to get started in sync licensing over the last decade. I did the math recently and estimated that I’ve probably coached, one on one, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 students at this point. Even more have gone through my programs and taken my courses. I’ve received hundreds of emails over the years from musicians who have gone on to placements and syncs as a result of going through my training and coaching. It’s been incredibly rewarding to help so many musicians pursue their love of music and figure out how to monetize their passion of making music through music licensing.
As you can imagine, as a result of working with so many artists over the years, there has been a lot of overlap in terms of the types of questions I’ve been asked and the types of issues and concerns musicians typically have related to getting started in licensing. In today’s post I thought I’d address a list of frequently asked questions I’ve received related to getting started in licensing. These are the questions that seem to come up again and again.
Here we go…
How many tracks do I need to get started in licensing? There are no hard and fast rules in terms of how many tracks you need to get started in licensing. You could hypothetically start with one track and license it, if it was the right track for the project being pitched to. But, generally speaking, the more tracks you have the better, as the more tracks you have, the greater number of projects your music will potentially be a good fit for.
I’d say somewhere in the neighborhood of ten to twenty tracks is ideal to start with. Often times, if you pitch a few tracks to someone and they like your initial submission, they’ll ask for you to send them more. So it’s good to have more ready to go in the event someone is interested and wants to work with you.
How to find places and people to pitch music to? If you’re a member of HTLYM Premium, then you’re probably already aware we post new leads every single day of places to pitch your music. But even when coaching members of our site, I’m surprised how many people don’t seem to take advantage of our leads, or seems confused about where they should be pitching their tracks. I’ve signed with six new places over the last eight months or so using the exact same leads we post in our site. So I know firsthand that pitching to our leads works.
With that said, here are some general guidelines in terms of how to find relevant places to pitch your tracks: Using either an industry directory, or a resource like HTLYM Premium, go through and find places that seem related to the kind of music you make. Check out each company’s website, look at their credits, and listen to the artists they work with. Find places that seem to work with artist similar stylistically to the music you make. Pitch your music accordingly. There is of course an element of timing and luck involved. Sometimes you just happen to pitch the right track or tracks to the right person at the right time. Which leads me to the next question…
How often should I pitch my music? To be honest, I’m sort of surprised how often I get asked this question as the answer seems fairly obvious. In terms of how often you should pitch your tracks, you should pitch them regularly until you start getting results you’re happy with. If you are licensing enough music and making so much money from licensing your music that you’re content and you don’t want to license any more of your music, then you should stop pitching your material. Until that happens, you should keep pitching your material!
Connecting your music with the right people in the industry is really where “the rubber meets the road” so to speak. Nothing happens until you get your music in the right hands. So, the answer to the question is that you should be regularly pitching and promoting your material if your aim is to make money via licensing. There are different ways to approach pitching your music, you can pitch a little every day, or perhaps set aside a day or two a week to focus on the business side of licensing and things like pitching your material, or you can even have concentrated periods of time where all you do is pitch your material, preceded by periods of time focused on making and recording music. How you manage your time is up to you, but the bottom line is that you have to work on getting your music out there if you want to get syncs and generate income from licensing.
How long does it take to start generating money from licensing? This question is hard to give a set in stone answer to, as it really depends on a lot of variables. Factors such as how good your music is, how many tracks you have, how determined you are, how hard you work, etc., will all determine how long it takes to generate income from licensing. With that said, licensing is by no means a get rich quick scheme and it takes time to build any sort of stable stream of income from licensing. In my experience, and the experience of many other artists I’ve worked with over the years, it can take several years to build income from licensing up to something substantial. Due to the nature of the industry, how it’s set up, and how artists get paid, it generally takes time to build up a significant revenue stream from licensing.
That’s the bad news if you will, the good news is that once you do establish a revenue stream from licensing it’s essentially a passive revenue stream that will keep growing and generating revenue year after year. I get checks and payments all the time for songs I wrote years ago that keep getting placed. I’ve often used the analogy that music licensing is sort of like a 401k plan for musicians. Which is nice to have, because as a self-employed freelance musician, I don’t have a 401k plan!
Should I sign my tracks exclusively or non-exclusively? Exclusive or non-exclusive, that’s the question. This is another question that doesn’t really have a one size fits all answer. I’ve had both good and bad experiences with signing tracks exclusively. The advantage to the publisher, if you go this route, is that it gives them a unique catalog of tracks to license. If you can only license certain tracks through publisher X, and you really want to license a specific song they publish, then you have to go through them, and it gives them a competitive edge in the licensing space. The downside as a writer/composer is of course the fact that if you sign your tracks exclusively, there’s really no guarantee that anything will happen. Maybe the tracks you sign exclusively will get licensed, maybe they won’t.
At this point, I veer away from signing exclusive deals in general, but I still will under the right circumstance. If I feel that by signing with someone exclusively there’s a strong chance something will happen with the track or tracks and that they’re really excited about pitching the material and believe in it, and have a solid track record of placing music, then I will sometimes sign a few songs exclusively here and there. The rest of my tracks, these days, I have signed with several different non-exclusive libraries and boutique sync agencies.
Should I pitch directly to music supervisors? I tend to steer musicians getting started in licensing in the direction of pitching their music to libraries, publishers, sync agencies, etc., as opposed to going directly to music supervisors. I give this advice for several different reasons. For starters, music libraries and publishers tend to already have established relationships with music supervisors. Their entire business model is dependent on developing and nurturing these relationships.
Music libraries and publishers are also generally more open to hearing music from unknown and unestablished artists. In general, in my experience, it’s simply easier to get started via the route of publishers, libraries and the like. This isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t also try pitching your music directly to supervisors. Some supervisors are open to receiving music directly from artists. However, keep in mind that the music needs of music supervisors will vary depending on what project, if any, they’re currently working on. If you don’t know what projects they’re supervising or what kind of music they’re in need of, submitting your music randomly is a bit like shooting in the dark. You might get lucky and just happen to pitch the right song at the right time, but the chances are pretty slim. When you license your music via libraries, they’ll only pitch music to any given project they feel is the most relevant and has the best chance of getting selected, based on briefs they get about each project they’re pitching to.
How much will I get paid? How much you get paid for licensing your tracks varies so widely, depending on the song and the project, that this is another one that’s hard to give a one size fits all answer to. In my own experience, the money you can generate from syncs varies from tens of dollars for an instrumental track used in the background of a cable television show, to tens of thousands of dollars for a song used in a commercial on prime time tv, and everything in between. What you can make from music licensing really runs the gamut. When you’re first getting started, I wouldn’t even worry or focus on how much money you’re earning for the first couple years. Instead, focus on building up your catalog of music and pitching your music and developing connections. If you do this enough, the money will come in a variety of ways and through a variety of different placements that are impossible to predict. If you build it, the money will come.
What kind of music should I write? This is another question I get asked a lot. Usually when I get asked this question, what the artists I coach are really getting at is whether it’s better to write whatever kind of music they happen to write, or if it’s better to try and write specific styles of music that have a better chance of getting placed. Again, it’s hard to give a perfect answer, but my take is that it’s better to start by simply writing the music you’re most inspired to write and putting your heart and soul into your tracks. Once you start pitching your material, maybe you’ll be asked to do more music in the vein of one of your specific songs or perhaps you’ll discover, over time, that certain songs you write get placed more than others and you can double down on those types of tracks. But first and fore-most you should write music that you love. That passion will come across in your tracks and improve your odds of supervisors resonating with your material, and ultimately getting more of your tracks placed.
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