I saw a documentary recently about the effects of solitary confinement. It was a pretty fascinating look into the human psyche and what makes us tick. I learned that just three days of solitary confinement has the potential to create irreversible brain damage. Being alone, with no way to interact and engage with our environment, is not just an unpleasant experience, but it’s an experience that in just a few days has the ability to actually cause permanent damage.
This documentary really blew away and also got me thinking. Why would this state of being create such agony and even potentially cause brain damage? What is it about being confined to nothing but our thoughts that creates such a sense of discomfort? Well, I’m not a philosopher per se and I’m certainly not a psychologist, but my own take is that it’s not so much that we’re uncomfortable confronting our inner most thoughts and selves, it’s that we as humans are designed to interact and engage with each other and the world around us.
To go even deeper, I think we’re the happiest when we’re engaged in some sort of meaningful pursuit in the world. When we’re deprived of the ability to interact and engage with the world in a meaningful way (as in true solitary confinement) we suffer, both mentally and physically.
Neuroscientist Jaak Panskepp argues that of seven core instincts in the human brain (anger, fear, panic-grief, maternal care, pleasure/lust, play, and seeking), seeking is the most important. “All mammals have this seeking system”, says Panskepp, “wherein dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to reward and pleasure, is also involved in coordinating planning activities. This means animals are rewarded for exploring their surroundings and seeking new information for survival. It can also explain why, if rats are given access to a lever that causes them to receive an electric shock, they will repeatedly electrocute themselves”.
The human desire to seek helps make sense of studies showing that achieving major goals, or even winning the lottery, doesn’t cause long-term changes in happiness. It’s not so much the fulfillment of goals we’re after, it’s the pursuit of the goal we’re really seeking, as seeking is itself a fulfilling activity. In other words, it’s the journey and not the destination.
I believe this sort of innate desire to seek and create meaning in our lives is deeply connected to goal setting. We need to have aims in life, otherwise we’re just, well, aimless. If we have nothing at all to shoot for, we’re sort of just blowing in the wind, rudderless and without direction.
Sometimes it’s nice to just sort of go with the flow and see what happens. I’ve had periods in my life where I wasn’t particularly goal oriented and was more just sort of open to seeing what life presented to me each day. There’s a time and place for this sort of open-ended exploration, and even when approaching life this way, we’re probably still interacting and engaged with the world, albeit in a less focused way.
But over the long term, I find it more satisfying to have specific long-term goals I’m working towards. I find it simply helps orient my life better. It gives my life a structure and a framework. It helps to lay out a direction and clear path I need to take. It helps me avoid getting into ruts and feeling stuck.
When I’m setting specific goals, for something like music let’s say, it helps dictate the way in which I’ll be interacting with the world. It lays out a self-evident course of action I need to take. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of how I’m going to spend my time. It orients me in the world.
As an example, for 2022 I have the very simple and straightforward goal of improving as a guitarist and songwriter. My main goal, in terms of music, is to simply create better music this year, in all aspects. I’m already licensing a certain percentage of my tracks and I have connections and people willing to help shop my music in place, so I know that if I do nothing else but focus on creating better music, I’ll be able to increase the income I generate from music.
This one simple goal pretty much spells out how I’ll be spending a good percentage of my time this year. Of course, I’ll be recording more music, so I’ll be spending more time in one of several home studios I record in, working on laying down tracks. I’ll need more help on post production, in order to release more tracks, so I’ve recruited another producer to help with mixing and mastering a percentage of the tracks I release. And I’ll of course need to write more music, so I’ll be spending more time in my home studio, guitar in hand, writing and composing more music.
When we have goals we’re working towards, it helps us engage with the world in a more meaningful and cooperative way. Very few goals can be achieved completely in isolation. Even something like music, which at least in theory can be done alone, requires team work and people working together to get out into the world. And of course, without an audience to listen and appreciate the music we create, it seems sort of pointless. If I could never share my music with anyone other than myself, I doubt I would be very motivated to create it.
In the final analysis, having goals serves much more than just the practical purpose of helping us achieve our desires and make more money. Having and pursuing goals enables us to create meaningful and purposeful lives and stave off apathy and boredom, and in a literal sense, prevent brain damage.
The next time you’re feeling complacent and procrastinating, imagine yourself locked in a completely dark room, completely cut off from the outside world, with only your thoughts to help you pass the time, for days on end. Then, when the inevitable wave of gratitude washes over you, as you realize that’s just a fleeting thought and not your actual situation, get back to work on reaching your goals. Your situation could be much worse.
What about you? How important are setting goals in your life? What are you goals for 2022 and your music career?
I’ve been coaching musicians for over a decade, helping them get started in the business of music licensing. I’ve worked with thousands of musicians during this time and I’ve cultivated a really good sense of what holds most musicians back from moving forward.
Although everyone has a different story and different background, there are overlapping similarities in the majority of musicians I work with, in terms of the challenges and obstacles they face and what seems to be preventing artists from moving forward.
The overwhelming thing that seems to be holding most artists back that I work with is what I call “paralysis by analysis”, with also a bit of procrastination mixed in. In fact, I would say these two things are closely related. We often procrastinate or fail to take action because we feel like we don’t have enough information to start moving forward. It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of “I’ll take action when…”. I’ll take action when I better understand the business. I’ll take action when I have x number of songs completed. I’ll take action in the winter when I have more down time. And so on.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s good to prepare and educate yourself to a certain extent before embarking on a new business venture like music licensing. But in my experience, the majority of artists I work with seem to be overthinking things and are getting hung up on relatively insignificant details.
As an example, I frequently coach artists who are enrolled in my member site, HTLYM Premium. One of the questions I typically ask artists I work with is how often they pitch their music, or how many leads they’ve submitted to in the past 30 to 60 days. You’d be surprised how many artists say they either haven’t pitched their music anywhere or they’ve only pitched their music to a handful of places.
Now to be fair, a lot of artists say they’re waiting to speak with me prior to pitching their music because they want to be well informed prior to reaching out to people in the industry. Fair enough. But you don’t need to have ALL the answers or know everything there is to know about licensing before you get started. The most important thing is that you start. A lot of things involved with music licensing you can learn along the way, as different situations and opportunities arise.
One of the best educations you can get in the music licensing space is to be actively engaged with people in the industry. By regularly pitching your music and cultivating relationships with people who work in sync licensing, you’ll get a sense of what kind of music is in demand, how best to reach out and submit your music, the different types of licensing deals that are standard and so much more. All of the resources and courses my team and I have put together in HTLYM Premium are based on our collective experience of working in the industry. We figured out how the business works by taking action.
Again, don’t go in completely blind. It’s good to have a general understanding of how the business works before you put you and your music out there. The reason I’ve created HTLYM Premium and all the resources we offer is so that you’ll have the knowledge and information to move forward confidently. But, don’t get stuck in the “paralysis by analysis” mindset. Once you have a decent grasp on how the business works, start taking action!
I'm creating a five part series of videos featuring a compilation of FAQs related to Sync Licensing that were covered on my podcast, Music, Money and Life.
Watch the first two videos below. I'll be posting new videos each week here until the series is finished.
After that, I'll be launching an entirely new podcast that will feature a variety of up and coming artists in multiple genres.
Sync Licensing FAQs Part 2
1) How To Get Started In Music Licensing - 0:00
2) How long does it take to get started in music licensing? - 4:18
3) The importance of having a niche - 8:08
4) What Kind Of Music Are Music Libraries Looking For? - 10:59
5) Do You Need To Live In A Major Music City To Succeed In Licensing? - 16:19
Sync Licensing FAQs Part 1
1) Is Music Licensing A Viable Career? 0:00
2) Exclusive Vs Non Exclusive Deals 3:14
3) How do you get your songs in Films? 6:03
4) The importance of networking 13:31
5) Should you write specifically for licensing or just write what you’re inspired to write? 17:48
6) Instrumental Vs Vocal Music 21:28
Today’s post is about an ongoing legal matter regarding a publisher/composer I interviewed in 2019 for my podcast and several composers, as well as several music libraries. As this is an ongoing matter, with lawyers involved, and even potentially the FBI, I’ve been advised not to mention any specific names at this point.
This post will serve as more of a cautionary tale about what can potentially happen when you do business with the wrong people and will provide examples of red flags and things to look out for when signing with any new potential libraries, publishers, etc.
Fortunately, in my experience, these types of scams are relatively rare, but like in all industries, there are a few bad apples out there. Composers/artists should always do their due diligence when deciding whether or not to do business with someone.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a composer who had connected with a publisher/composer who I interviewed on my podcast in 2019. In the email I received, this composer claimed that this particular publisher/composer had been essentially stealing his tracks, as well as tracks from other composers, registering himself as the sole writer and selling and placing their songs with a variety of other libraries and sync agencies, all unbeknownst to the original composers of the tracks. The composer wanted me to remove this podcast episode so other artists wouldn’t be exposed and potentially fall victim to this person.
I of course, was disturbed to hear about this and so I offered to get in touch with the publisher/person in question to get their version of events. After all, there are two sides to every story as they say. The person who contacted me didn’t want to be involved any further and asked that I not share their email with the publisher out of “fear of repercussions”. I found this response a little strange. After all, how can I investigate and get to the bottom of something if I’m not allowed to hear from all parties involved? So, at that point I didn’t take any action, since I wasn’t privy to what agreements had been signed and wasn’t really sure exactly what had or hadn’t taken place. An allegation alone isn’t sufficient to prove someone is guilty of anything.
About a week or so went by and I received another email from someone, about the same person, with the same allegations. This email came from the owner of a very established and prominent music licensing agency. This person didn’t want to go into detail via email, so we set up a phone call instead. Over the course of about an hour-long conversation, this person outlined in detail, the extent of the deception of this particular composer/publisher, how many people have been affected and provided documents and email exchanges with the publisher, all indicating guilt.
I was really heartbroken to hear that someone I interviewed and considered a reliable source of information for composers wanting to get started in licensing, would be capable of this sort of deception and outright theft. It’s hard enough to break into the music business as it is, so when I learned that something like this had been going on, well, to say it makes my blood boil would be an under-statement. Utter disgust is what I felt. Especially knowing that I had inadvertently and unknowingly introduced potentially thousands of people to this person via my podcast.
I’ve interviewed well over 200 guests for my site and podcast over the last ten years. I do my best to research and vet everyone I interview and in hindsight there were no red flags or warning signs that I was aware of that would have indicated anything like this was taking place. To this day when I google this person, I don’t see anything that comes up in the search results that would provide any suspicion or red flags about this person. My guess is that only recently have enough people become aware of what’s taking place and are starting to speak out, that only now is the extent of this person’s deception coming to light. Karma has a way of eventually sorting these things out.
Red Flags & Warning Signs
I took a look at the contract that the artists signed and there was nothing explicitly in the contract that would have indicated that what transpired would have transpired. After all, no composer would willingly let someone steal their tracks. However, there were some strange things about this particular contract that should have been seen as red flags that something was amiss.
For starters, the contract itself was clearly cobbled together from several other contracts. Different sections had different fonts and different formats. It looked as if this “publisher” simply copied and pasted parts of several different contracts he had access to into one document that served as his “contract”. I would have been reluctant to sign this particular contract based on that fact alone.
Secondly, the very beginning of the contract states “This is not a legal document but an agreement between…”. What?? Isn’t the whole point of signing a contract to have a legal agreement, in writing, with all the terms of the working relationship spelled out? I’ve never seen language like this in a contract before and to be honest, I’m not quite sure what the point of stating that a signed written agreement is not a “legal” document. To the best of my knowledge, anytime two parties put an agreement in writing and sign it, it becomes a legal document by default.
The whole contract just seemed unprofessional and off. However, I can understand if someone was new to the business and super eager to get involved, they might simply overlook these things and move forward anyway. One of the composers I spoke to about this matter said that’s exactly how he felt. He said that he felt like something wasn’t quite right but that he was new to the business and wanted to do whatever he could to get started.
How To Avoid Falling Victim To Scams And What To Do If Someone Steals Your Tracks
Unfortunately, there was no one thing that would have tipped off composers that something like this was going on. In the same way that in a romantic relationship, if a partner is going to cheat on you, they most likely aren’t going to just outright tell you their plans, if someone plans to steal your tracks, they of course aren’t going to let you know. However, in both cases, there will most likely be red flags and signs that something is not right, as was the case with the contract this publisher used.
When signing any new contracts, be sure to look over everything very carefully. If you have questions about anything, ask for clarification. If you have access to an attorney or someone who is more experienced than you are in the industry, have them look over the contract to make sure everything is on the up and up. I realize this is not always feasible. In my case, when I was first starting out, I had a friend who was an attorney, who looked over the first few contracts I signed, for free, until I was familiar with how the business worked. It’s a good idea to have an attorney or two in your circle of friends!
Music Library Report
It’s also a good idea to do your due diligence in terms of researching new libraries you sign with. Music Library Report is a great resource for researching different libraries and finding out what composers have to say regarding their experiences with a variety of different libraries/publishers. Conversely, Music Library Report is a good place to go to share both positive and negative experiences you’ve had with different libraries you’ve worked with, with other composers. Of course, if you’re going to share negative experiences, make sure you have a legitimate grievance and not simply a misunderstanding.
One of the reasons I’m not naming specific names in this post, as much as I’d like to, is because I don’t have a business relationship with the person in question, so I don’t really feel like it’s my place to publicly call someone out for something that happened to someone else. Based on multiple conversations I’ve had with the parties involved there’s little doubt in my mind that intellectual property theft took place, but it’s probably best that the lawyers and parties directly involved sort it out themselves.
I highly recommend that all composers/artists involved in music licensing create a Tunesat account. Tunesat will monitor when and where your tracks are being used. You can upload and monitor detections for up to 50 of your tracks for free. For catalogs of over 50 tracks you’ll need a premium account.
Tunesat is a great service and it was a result of monitoring his musics' usage via Tunesat that the composer who reached out to me initially discovered his music was being stolen. By detecting where his music was being used, the composer was able to do a bit of detective work to discover what libraries were securing the placements.
Upon further investigation, this composer discovered he had been completely cut out of the song’s registrations with BMI and that the publisher was listing himself as the sole writer of these tracks and collecting 100% of the writer’s royalty. The libraries securing the placements were also mistakenly under the impression that the publisher was the writer of the tracks as well.
Unfortunately, all industries are going to have a few “bad apples”. The music industry is certainly no exception. However, this sort of outright theft of other composers’ music baffles me. It makes no sense to think that one could perpetuate a scam like this for long and I really struggle to understand the mindset of someone who would do something like this. My guess is that over time the damage this person is doing to their own reputation will catch up with them. Like I said, karma has a way of sorting these things out.
[Suffice it to say I’ve removed my podcast with this person and have cut all ties]
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.
For in depth resources related to licensing your music in tv, films, ads and more, be sure to join HTLYM Premium. Your premium membership includes daily licensing leads, one on one coaching, in depth music business courses, a weekly live video mastermind session, up to date industry directories, a music licensing reference library and much more.
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This week I’ve been doing another massive campaign to license my tracks and score new publishing/licensing deals. As I discussed in a previous blog post, I take an 80/20 approach to music licensing, where I typically spend about 80% of my time focused on writing and recording music, and somewhere around 20% of my time focused on marketing, networking, etc. This usually involves prolonged periods of time in the studio that last 4 to 6 weeks, followed by a couple intense weeks of time spent reaching out to new and existing contacts to sign my new tracks.
This week I started pitching my music aggressively again, hitting up primarily new contacts and new companies in order to expand my reach. I had an interesting experience a couple days ago, I thought would be worth sharing. I sent several emails out to different companies, with a link to several new tracks and a little information about my music and my background. Within a few minutes I received an email back from one of the places I pitched my music indicating they loved my tracks and that I would be a good fit for several projects they have starting in June.
What was interesting is that I realized when looking back at my records that I had already sent this exact same company several of my tracks in December of last year, just a few months ago. I had inadvertently pitched to a company I had already pitched to recently. Two of the five tracks I sent links to were actually the exact same. For whatever reason, I didn’t get any response when I contacted them in December. Yet this time I heard back from them within minutes, expressing interest. I’m expecting a new contract from this particular company this weekend and I’m preparing a batch of files to send over to them today.
The moral of the story is of course, don’t feel like just because you approach a company and don’t get a response that it’s an indication they’re not interested. It might be. It might not be. The response you get, or if you get a response at all, will depend on a variety of factors. Factors including: what projects they are currently working on, how busy they are, what kind of music they are in need of, what kind of music you make, what tracks you send them, what day of the week you approach them, and on and on.
Don’t just pitch your music once to a place and then simply cross them off your list if you don’t hear anything back. Approach them again a few months later. Try sending them different tracks. Try changing up the wording of your email. Don’t stop trying until you get a firm no, and even then, if you pitch different tracks down the road it could lead to an enthusiastic yes.
If you want new leads to pitch your music to every single day, as well as in depth courses and webinars on how to succeed at sync licensing, be sure to join our premium site and access all of our great training and resources, including a different lead of place to submit your music every single day throughout your annual membership.
We also offer one on one coaching packages where we work with you during monthly coaching sessions in areas including music production, music marketing and writing music for tv and film.
Get all the details here: https://www.htlympremium.com/
In this post, I’m going to discuss one simple thing you can do, that if you haven’t already done, could potentially double your licensing income overnight. This is something that is super easy to do and that will only take an hour or two to completely set up, depending on the size of your catalog. What’s that? Creating your own publishing company of course.
As a reminder, whenever a performance royalty is generated from a song or composition, the royalty consists of two halves: a writer’s half, and the publisher’s half. If you don’t assign the publishing royalty to someone else, you as the song’s creator, are by default the song’s publisher and entitled to any publishing revenue the song generates.
However, in order to collect the publishing share of the revenue that you are owed when one of your songs generates a performance royalty, you need to have a publishing company in place with your PRO (Performing Rights Organization) to collect this revenue.
For the sake of this post, I’ll be using ASCAP and BMI as examples. If you’re outside of the US, or belong to a different PRO, like SESAC, check with your PRO for details on how to get set up as a publisher, as they all function slightly differently.
To become a publisher with ASCAP, you simply sign up for a publisher membership. I’m with ASCAP and setting up my publisher account took all of about 10 minutes and cost 50 dollars. If you’re completely new to ASCAP, you can join as both a writer and publisher when you sign up initially, or if you’re already a writer member you can join as a publisher too.
Here’s more info on why and how to register as a publisher with ASCAP:
With BMI it works slightly differently and if you're only licensing your own tracks, you don't technically need to register as a publisher to collect publishing royalties for tracks you also compose. With BMI, the fee for setting up your own publishing company is higher; $150.00 for individuals and $250.00 for corporations.
Here’s more information on joining BMI as a publisher:
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that there’s really no good reason to not set up your own publishing company if you’re actively pitching and licensing your music. In fact, even if you’re not licensing your music and only making it available to stream online, you should still set up a publishing entity, as there are additional monies you’ll earn as the publisher of music that is streamed online. You’ll be leaving money on the table, that you’re entitled to, if you don’t, and if you publish your own music, you’ll essentially be doubling the amount of income you make on the back end.
It’s important to point out that if you have already registered titles prior to setting up your publishing company and you didn’t assign your publishing rights to anyone, you’ll need to revise your song registrations and list your publishing company as the publisher, otherwise you’ll continue to not earn the income you’re owed as the song’s owner/publisher.
So, if you haven’t already set up your own publishing entity, what are you waiting for?
I have a relationship with my producer, Gary Gray, where I essentially give him carte blanche to make any changes he deems appropriate to the tracks he produces for me, for licensing, with the goal of creating tracks that have the highest chance of being synced. Sometimes that involves subtle changes to the arrangement. Sometimes that involves getting a different vocalist to sing a track that fits the song better. Sometimes that might entail changing the instrumentation. Other times, as in the case of our latest collaboration, it entails completely re-imagining the track, changing the tempo, arrangement, instrumentation and vocalist, to make it a better fit for the needs of our clients.
Let me explain…
A few months ago I sent Gary a few new songs I wanted him to produce. Right around the same time, a publisher Gary and I work with, sent us a playlist of reference tracks that were similar to the types of tracks they are in need of. Based on this playlist, Gary took my latest track, called “Things I Left Behind” and created a completely different version more aligned to the needs of my publisher and their clients.
Here’s the original demo version of my track that I sent Gary.
Here’s the version Gary created based on the reference tracks we were sent.
I have to be honest, the first time I heard the new version, I was a little taken aback. It was so different, and so much slower, that it almost felt like a completely different song to me. But after repeated listening, the new version has really grown on me. The production is great, the vocals are powerful and emotive, and most importantly, our publishing company loved it and requested more songs from me in a similar vein.
There is a time in place to let go of a portion of creative control over your songs. I don’t always know what the right move is production wise when it comes to the tracks I write, especially when it comes to something like making money in sync licensing, where production plays such a critical role. I do know though that since I’ve started working with Gary, the amount of syncs I’ve gotten has gone up about 200%.
A producer is like an extra member of “the band” and the decisions a producer makes can be the difference between getting your songs licensed or not. Choose your producer wisely. If you're self producing, make sure to learn from producers who are actually working in sync licensing and actively licensing tracks.
For in depth courses, webinars, daily licensing leads, a weekly mastermind with producer Gary Gray and much more, be sure to go premium and join us inside the member's area.
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To learn more about working directly with producer Gary Gray, visit his website: http://learnaudioengineering.net/
For the last couple months my songwriting partner, MJ, and I have been working remotely, once a week, with producer Gary Gray. Gary has been helping us mix and master our tracks remotely using an amazing technology called "Audio Movers" that allows Gary to access our DAW remotely, enabling Gary, in real time, to assist in the mixing and mastering of our tracks.
We recently recorded an entire 90 minute session where Gary masters our latest track, Oh My Love, remotely. The entire 90 minute session is available inside the member's area here.
You can watch the first 20 minutes of the session where Gary goes into the basics of mastering music for licensing below.
Listen to the track we mastered during our session before and after mastering below.
Oh, My Love (Pre-Mastering)
Oh, My Love (Post-Mastering)
Whenever a song is licensed for use in television, a performance royalty is generated every time the song airs. Performance royalties consist of two halves, a writer’s share and a publisher’s share. Half of the royalty goes to the writer and the other half goes to the publisher. Unless you assign your publishing to someone else (a publisher or library), by default you are also the songs publisher and are entitled to the publishing royalty as well as the writer’s royalty.
However, in order to receive the publishing half of the performance royalty, you need to set up a separate publishing entity, apart from your writer membership, with your PRO (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, etc) in order to receive the publisher’s share of the performance royalty. This is easy to do and anyone can become a publisher. If you’re an ASCAP member it will cost you a one-time fee of $50.00, separate from your writer membership. If you’re with BMI, it will cost you $150.00. It's free to create a publisher account with SESAC.
Join ASCAP as a publisher here:
Join BMI as a publisher here:
How to become a publisher with SESAC:
When To Set Up A Publishing Company
If you’re licensing music through a publisher who takes 100% of your publishing income, you don’t necessarily need to register as a publisher. I licensed music for years through one publisher who took all my publishing income. During this period I didn’t have a publishing company to collect my publishing royalties, since 100% of my publishing royalties went to my publisher, since I worked exclusively with one publisher for many years.
Since then, I’ve signed with a variety of different libraries and companies, including several other agencies that don’t take any publishing at all, and strictly share in any upfront sync fees my tracks generate. For these placements, I’ve set up a publishing company to make sure I get both the writer and publisher’s share of any royalties my tracks generate.
If you’re licensing music through any agencies or libraries that either don’t take any publishing income, or only take a percentage of your publishing income (eg. 50%), than you should set up a separate publishing entity to collect your publishing royalties owed to you. If you don’t do this, your PRO won’t know who to distribute these funds to and you’ll be leaving money on the table.
Registering Titles As A Publisher
When you function as your own publisher, when you register your titles, you’ll also need to list your publishing company as the designated publisher when you register the titles with your PRO. If you don’t list your publishing company as the publisher and simply leave this field blank, your PRO will have no way of knowing who to send the publishing royalties to, so be sure to list your publishing company as the designated publisher for titles that you are planning to self-publish.
Picking A Name
When you sign up as a publisher, you’ll have the option of choosing whatever name you want for your “publishing company”. I simply went with “Aaron Davison Music” (ASCAP) for my publishing company. Most of the music I publish is my own, so I decided to keep the name simple and straightforward. You could certainly be more creative than this if you choose, and if you plan on representing a variety of artists and building a brand around your publishing company, than it would make sense to put more thought into your publishing name and choose a name that’s more representative of your brand. You’ll have the ability to check the availability of any name or names you come up with for your publishing company when you’re setting it up with your PRO.
Anyone can set up a publishing company. It’s easy, painless and the cost is minimal (or free in the case of SESAC). Filling out the application and registering with ASCAP took about five minutes and 50 dollars. I was approved instantly and received my publisher account number and info immediately. If you’re planning on licensing a lot of music through a variety of channels, then setting up your own publishing company is a no brainer.
For in depth resources related to licensing your music in tv, films, ads and more, be sure to join HTLYM Premium. Your premium membership includes daily licensing leads, one on one coaching, in depth music business courses, a weekly live video mastermind session, up to date industry directories, a music licensing reference library and much more.
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