The 80/20 Approach To Music Licensing
Over the years, one of the things I’ve struggled with is developing a workflow/rhythm that allows me to fully immerse myself in my creative life, without the business demands of the licensing business creeping in and pulling me out of my creative state for prolonged periods of time. Put another way, I’ve struggled at times to find a really good sense of balance between the business of being a musician and the actual enjoyable, creative part of being a musician. I think this is a struggle most musicians working in the licensing business can probably relate to.
One thing is clear to me after all the interviews I’ve done with successful songwriters, and my own experience of working in the licensing side of the music business all these years: if you want to succeed at licensing, you have to spent a considerable portion of your time dedicated to the “business” of making and licensing music. The “business” part of music licensing includes things like networking and reaching out to new companies, metadata, getting your files organized, making edits of songs, reviewing and signing contracts, following up with companies, getting your website and social media in order, etc.
There is no one right approach when it comes to how you manage your time in terms of what percentage of your time goes towards writing and recording music, and what percentage of your time goes towards the business side of music licensing. I’ve talked to some writers who choose to spend a day or two each week solely devoted to the business side of things and spend the rest of the time working on music. Other writers will work on music during the day and then devote a portion of the afternoon or evening towards answering emails and dealing with the business side of licensing. Neither approach is right or wrong per se, it really depends on your schedule and what works for you.
This year, in large part due to the lockdown and quarantine, I stumbled upon an approach to my workflow that has proven really successful so far this year. This isn’t a set-in stone approach and it can be modified to fit your own lifestyle, schedule and what fits your overall situation best.
Here’s how it works….
The 80/20 Approach
What I’m calling the “80/20 approach” to licensing consists of prolonged periods of time where 80% of my energy is focused on writing and recording music, and 20% of my time is devoted to the business part of licensing. Followed by a prolonged period where I flip this ratio and spend 80% of my time devoted to the business part of licensing and 20% of my time devoted to writing and making new music. By prolonged period, I’m referring to periods of at least several weeks, or even months.
Again, there are no hard and fast rules and you can play around with this however you want. But here’s a pattern I seemed to fall into this year that has led to great results:
1)A period of two to three months where my primary focus is making new music (80% music making – 20% business) – I had at least two really great stretches of time this year that lasted two to three months each, where my primary focus was writing, recording and producing music. I find that when I’m able to really focus on music for prolonged periods of time, with minimal distractions, I can get into a really cool, creative space where ideas and songs just keep flowing. If I’m constantly stopping this process to worry about business stuff throughout the day, it can really throw me off and interrupt this process.
Of course, there are always at least some “business” things to tend to, whether it’s answering emails, pitching music, etc.. But by making the focus of these periods the music, it allows me to really get into a more creative space, which is the entire reason I was drawn to making music as a profession in the first place. I didn’t become a musician because I was passionate about filling out metadata spreadsheets!
2)A period of time lasting several weeks where I’m spending 80% of my time focused on the business side of music and 20% on the actual music – After a nice long stretch of writing and recording new music, I then shift to a period where I basically flip the equation and focus primarily on the business side of licensing. These periods are shorter than my songwriting/creative periods, but they are equally necessary to move forward in licensing. This balance works out well, because I usually find that after a month or two of focused songwriting, the ideas and inspiration start to slow down a little naturally. It’s almost like I’m priming my creative pump for an extended period of time and then the well starts to naturally run a little dry. When this happens, it’s a good idea to shift back to the business side of things and give your creative side a break.
This also feels very natural and logical to me because after an extended period of writing and recording I usually have a batch of new songs that I can turn around and start pitching to new and/or existing contacts. So, after I finish a prolonged creative period, I’ll then spend a couple weeks or more where I’m focusing on pitching the music and reaching out to new companies and people.
I’m at the tail end of one of these periods now and I ended up signing with three new companies, all of which I’m really excited about, as a result of this approach. Two of the companies I signed with required considerable administrative work in terms of metadate, file editing, asset delivery, and so forth.
When I’m offered new contracts and sign with new companies I want to be in a position where I can really focus on delivering all the necessary assets and files as quickly as possible. By setting aside the majority of my time to focus on business stuff, I’m able to deliver everything quickly, without it distracting from my creative process. Of course, just as in my creative periods I’m still dealing with a small percentage of business tasks, during my periods of focusing on business, I’m still working on a music to a certain extent, picking up the guitar each day, developing new ideas, organizing my existing catalog and so forth.
Like most things in music and music licensing, there isn’t a one size fits all approach to time management and workflow. You’ll need to experiment and try different approaches to find out what works best for you and your personality. Some writers/composers do really well with simply having different days set aside for the business side of licensing. Part of this will also depend on what types of projects you’re working on. If you’re working on projects with really fast turn around times and deadlines, then you might not have the luxury of putting off the business side of things for long.
However, if you’re like me and you’re primarily writing the kind of music you’re inspired to write, to a large extent you can dictate your own workflow. To me, this is one of the great joys of being a freelance musician.
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10/30/2020 04:46:29 am
Can totally relate...
10/30/2020 05:42:09 am
So true, you've summarised it perfectly, & the way you described is pretty much my life, too. There are so many tasks associated with running a business like this, & I always complained about the 'business/admin' side (I still dont love it!), but it helps me to think of it as like being the captain of a cruise ship...it's hard work, but there's lots of fun, AND you're in charge...it's about the journey as much as the destination.
10/30/2020 09:45:56 am
What a truly useful approach. Thanks Aaron, I am going to apply this.
10/30/2020 08:16:07 pm
Brilliant, flipping your focus to balance art and business!
7/31/2022 06:00:20 pm
I enjoyyed reading this
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