These are the essentials that are necessary to start pitching your tracks. I’ve been asked many times, over the years, what is needed to get started in licensing, so I’ve put together a checklist of requisite things you should have ready to go and things you should do, prior to pitching your tracks.
Download a free PDF of "The Music Licensing Checklist" here.
Ten to twenty, high quality, fully produced, ready to be licensed tracks. There isn’t a hard and fast rule when it comes to how many tracks you need to start licensing your music, but based on my own experience, and hundreds of interviews I’ve done over the last few years, I’d say somewhere between 10 and 20 tracks is ideal to start with. If you only have one or two great tracks, it’s really hard to generate much interest. The chances that you have the perfect song for a specific opportunity with just one or two songs is slim.
The more tracks you have and the more diverse your tracks are, the greater the odds are that something will get placed. Also, if you present two or three tracks to a library or supervisor, and they love them, usually they’ll want to hear more. There’s a considerable amount of paperwork and time involved with signing a new artist, so most places, although not all, prefer artists that have an album’s worth of material at least. There are exceptions though, and in fact, I got started in licensing with literally one song that I signed to my first publisher and built my catalog from there. Either way though, you should work towards building a sizeable catalog in order to license more tracks in more places.
Instrumental & Vocal Versions – At a minimum you should have both vocal (for vocal tracks) and instrumental versions of all your tracks ready to go when you start pitching your music. These two versions you will almost always be asked for. Often times, depending on the company, you’ll also be asked for alternate mixes as well, such as a “vocal down” version, a version with just bass and drums, and different length mixes, such as 30 seconds, 60 seconds and so on. It really varies a lot from company to company, so I tend to approach this on a case by case basis. But again, at the very least, you should always have a vocal and instrumental version of all your tracks ready to go. You can create alternate mixes and edits when they’re requested.
Wav And MP3 Files – It’s a good idea to always have both mp3 and wav files of your tracks on the ready. Often times companies will have you initially submit an mp3 version for them to check out. Then, if they like your tracks, they’ll have you send them a higher quality wav file once you move forward. It’s best to have both formats ready to go at the outset so you don’t have to worry about doing this later.
Register Your Titles – Be sure to register your tracks with your PRO prior to pitching them. In order to get paid performance royalties from your PRO, your tracks need to be registered. It’s best to do this before you start shopping them around and submitting to different companies, to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
One word of caution is that keep in mind some companies will register titles on your behalf when you work with them. If they are not changing the title and they register a duplicate title, that you’ve already registered, it will show up as a duplicate entry in your PRO’s database. This creates confusion since there are now two duplicate entries with different information. So, be sure whenever you’re signing with a new library or publisher, to ask them how they handle title registration in order to avoid duplicate title registrations.
Add Metadata To Your Tracks - Be sure to add metadata to all your tracks that includes the artist name, song title, album name, composer name, cover art and so on. Although you can't add metadata to wav files directly within Windows (for PC users), you can use third party programs in order to embed the requisite metadata into your tracks. MP3 tag is a good, free program that will allow you to add metadata to both mp3 and wav files.
Copyright Your tracks – Although not technically a pre-requisite for licensing your tracks, it’s a good idea to first “copyright” your tracks prior to putting them out into the world. By default, you own the “copyright” to your tracks the moment you compose them. Copyright literally means the write to copy or reproduce. If you wrote a song or composition you automatically have that right, it’s your music after all, but it’s a good idea to “copyright” them by registering with the Library Of Congress, or whatever the equivalent is in your country, if you live outside the U.S. That way, if you’re ever in a situation where someone tries to steal your music, or you need to prove that a song you wrote is yours, you’ll have legal proof that you own the copyright.
More info: https://www.copyright.gov/registration/
Do you have a publisher? If you sign your tracks to a publisher, then you don’t need to worry about this step. But, if you’re going the music library route, it’s important to know that not all libraries take your publishing. Some libraries only take a percentage of your sync fee, or a percentage of your publishing in addition to the sync fee. If you work with libraries that don’t take all of your publishing, it’s best to have a publishing company set up so that you can collect the publishing share of your performance royalty, in addition to you writer royalty.
Anyone can set up a publishing entity, but it works a little differently depending on which PRO you belong to. Check with your PRO for details on how to establish yourself as a publisher, in addition to a writer member, if you plan to license your tracks through companies that don’t take publishing. This way you’ll be sure to get all the royalties owed to you when your songs are used.
Here’s info on how to join as a publisher with ASCAP and BMI:
ASCAP - https://ome.ascap.com/
BMI - https://www.bmi.com/creators
Music Submission Spreadsheet – This isn’t a pre-requisite per se, but it’s a good idea to have some sort of a spreadsheet that you can use to keep track of the submissions you make and to document which songs are accepted by different libraries and publishers. If you have a lot of tracks and you’re pitching and signing them with a lot of different places, it can get confusing fast. You need to organize which songs are where and whether they’re signed exclusively or non-exclusively and so on. Having a spread-sheet you use to document everything will help you stay organized. (We have a template you can use in the resource section of HTLYM premium)
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Music licensing is a long-term game. It’s not something that most artists will jump into and see immediate success right out of the gate. There are always exceptions, but the vast majority of artists I’ve spoken to and interviewed over the years have said that it’s taken at least a couple years to really get going in the licensing business and start earning significant money.
It makes sense if you think about it. Even in the best case scenario it’s going to take time to make connections, sign deals, wait for your music to be pitched and successfully synced and then usually wait to get paid anywhere from 6 to 9 months after the fact. This is just the nature of the licensing business and the way it’s structured.
Again, this would be the best-case scenario and assuming your music is on point and ready to be licensed. This isn’t the case for most artists that are first starting out and trying to break into the business. There are usually adjustments that need to be made along the way to either the music’s production, the music itself, or both.
Most artists that try to break into licensing seem to get burnt out before they succeed because they get frustrated by their lack of initial success. I get it. It can be frustrating when you’re pitching your music over and over and not seeming to get anywhere. But once you understand the nature of the business and the obstacles you need to overcome in order to succeed, it becomes much less frustrating and you can simply focus on doing the work.
I’m a big advocate of musicians spending a lot of time networking and marketing. You have to if you want to go anywhere in the business. If you’re spending all your time making great music, but you fail to successfully connect it with the right people in the industry, you’ll probably simply be making great music for yourself and your friends. Conversely, if you spend all your time pitching your music, but the music itself isn’t great or high enough quality for licensing, your marketing efforts will fall flat.
The key is to strike a balance between these two necessary sides of the music business; making great music and successfully marketing your music. Over the years, I’ve developed a natural rhythm of shifting back and forth between these two necessary areas. I will often spend two to three months immersed in writing and recording music, where the majority of my time is spent focused on making great music. I’ll then go into music marketing mode, where I will shift my attention to focusing on networking, pitching my new music to companies I work with and also cultivating new relationships and signing new deals.
Both making music and marketing music are ongoing parts of sync licensing. You’ll never really stop doing either thing. If your marketing efforts are not fruitful, go back to focusing on the music itself. If your music is great and ready to be pitched, spend time getting it out there and don’t stop until you start to see results.
I like to think of pitching music as launching a campaign. A campaign is an organized course of action to achieve a goal and it’s helpful to think in these terms when trying to get your music licensed.
I will typically start a new licensing campaign when I have between eight and ten new songs that I’m excited about. When I reach this point, I will set about signing these new songs to either existing companies I work with or finding new companies to work with. A licensing campaign will typically consist of pitching my music to upwards of 50 new companies or more. This will usually result in three to four new deals, often with a mix of exclusive and non-exclusive companies.
For example, I recently ended a licensing campaign for ten tracks that resulted in four new contracts, one which was exclusive for three tracks with a highly reputable company, and three other non-exclusive companies, who will all pitch the remaining tracks.
As an experiment for this most recent campaign, I used the exact leads that we have listed in our premium site and saw a great return on my efforts. In fact, two of the companies I’ve signed with as a result of this campaign are two of the most established companies I’ve ever worked with and both focus on high end placements in ad campaigns and films.
Don’t give up before you get the results you want. Understand that succeeding in licensing is going to take time and that you’ll need to fluctuate between making great music and spending time focusing on getting it out there. Licensing isn’t for the faint of heart, but when you understand how the business works and simply focus on doing the work, success becomes not a matter of if but a matter of when.
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I’ve spent much of 2020 focusing on my own music. The quarantine and lockdown served as an unexpected catalyst for a new batch of songs and led to one of the most prolific periods of songwriting I’ve had in years.
I also found myself, due to the extra time on my hands brought on by the lockdown, spending a lot of time “cleaning up” my website, social media and online presence. During “normal” times I am usually very busy with several different things going on. Between running my business, writing and performing, and focusing on marketing and licensing my music, it can be hard to find extra time for things like updating my website, social media etc. But these things are also important and can make a big difference when it comes to prospective libraries and agencies choosing to work with you or not.
Here are a list of things you might not be thinking about, but should be, before you start actively pitching your tracks:
Get your social media house in order – I’ve talked a lot previously about the types of files you need to have and the different mixes and edits you should have before you start shopping your music for licensing. See my “Music Licensing Manifesto” for more on this.
Another area you should have in order, that you might not necessarily think about when it comes to licensing, is having your social media and online presence in order. I spent a lot of time during quarantine focused on growing my Youtube channel and creating new content. When it comes to social media and licensing, there are no hard and fast rules. It’s not necessarily a pre-requisite to have x number of followers or subscribers, and some companies and agencies are more concerned with social media than others. But as a general rule, it will only help your marketing and pitching efforts to be established on at least one or several social media platforms. It will certainly never hurt.
I have close to 5k subscribers on Youtube. In the grand scheme of things this isn’t that big of a following, but you’d be surprised how many artists I see that have very few subscribers and views on Youtube. In some cases, I’ve seen artists who have amazing tracks but have made very little impact on platforms like Youtube and Spotify. Even some fairly established artists have relatively small followings on these platforms.
Again, it’s not really a pre-requisite per se that you have x number of subscribers or followers to license your music, but it helps people in the industry see that you’re actively promoting your music and that you’re consistently growing your fanbase. I personally aim for releasing one new video each week, although there are periods where I fall behind due to my schedule. However, when I am releasing new content each week, I can see very tangible trend upward in terms of subscribers and views.
Update your website – Another thing I did during quarantine, that you might not have thought about, is update my website. When you submit your tracks to libraries and sync agencies, you will often by asked for a link to your website and social media. The places you’re submitting your music are obviously going to check those sites out. Make sure everything on your website is up to date and looks good. I recently went through my website and updated my licensing credits, all the images and the layout to make it look even better than before. It’s a good idea to update your website several times a year to make sure everything is up to date, current and is the most accurate reflection what you and your music are about.
Update your bio and credits – I also recently updated my bio to include recent projects I’ve worked on and ended up re-writing the whole thing. I cut out a lot of the fat and unnecessary fluff that was in my old bio and highlighted more of the important credits over the last couple years. Make sure your bio is up to date and mentions any relevant licensing credits and placements. You’d be surprised how many artists I come across that leave out this vital information.
Create a playlist and/or showreel – One of the other new things I did this year was to create different playlists of my music based on genre; singer/songwriter, rock and instrumental. In my initial submission I usually submit three or four of my recent tracks, with a link to several different playlists should they want to hear more of my music in a specific genre. This has proven to be really helpful as I’ve already ended up signing several new songs, I might not have otherwise, as a direct result of this move.
Update your initial email – One of the other things I did was to update my initial email and what I say when I first reach out to new companies. I made a few minor changes in order to come across more succinct and professional. I also did an a/b test of two different emails, both using different tracks, to see which one got the best results. I would show you the exact email I’ve been using, but I think it makes more sense to find your own voice and communication style. I’m not a big fan of copying and pasting emails templates. It’s better to find your own voice.
With that said, here are a few key points to keep in mind when you’re submitting your music to someone for the first time:
Keep your communication succinct and to the point - Don’t write long emails that take a long time to read. Most people in this industry are busy, so be respectful and keep your emails as short as possible while still effectively communicating key points about you and your music. I usually limit my emails to two fairly short paragraphs.
Mention any relevant credits, experience, etc. – I always make sure to highlight any relevant credits, recent placements I’ve had and so on. This lets people know that your music has a proven track record within the licensing industry. If you don’t have any placements yet, no worries, just skip this part. But once you start getting placements, no matter how small or insignificant you think they are, be sure to mention this in your initial emails to new libraries and publishers you reach out to.
Link to playlist or showreel – Like I said, I’ve started including links to relevant playlists I’ve created on soundcloud, in addition to the initial songs I submit (usually three or four). This gives people the option to peruse more of your tracks if they like the initial ones you send. Start with three or four tracks you feel best represent you and then link to an extra playlist or two of related styles. If you have a showreel that features some of your credits and placements this is also great. I’m in the process of my updating my showreel to include my recent placements and will add this to my emails as well.
Between the tips above and the checklist of things to do before pitching your music in The Music Licensing Manifesto, you’ll have a complete overview of everything you should have in order prior to pitching your tracks. If you do all these things AND you have a great product, you’ll get results.
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