How can I license my music

Published: 24th June 2010
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How Can I License My Own Music?
This is the part you have all been waiting for, no doubt. So you understand what music licensing is and who needs it, but how can it benefit you? Let's go through the main methods of how to license tunes you've written, and what sort of compensation you can expect.
a. Direct Licensing
This is the most simple form of music licensing. It involves the end-user of the licensed music, such as a filmmaker or video game developer, communicating directly with the artist or composer. There is no middleman, and all terms of the deal are defined by the artist and the end-user alone. For any musician who is already somewhat visible (and gaining visibility), this is almost inevitably going to come up at some point. A fan wants to use a song for a YouTube video; a local surf shop needs a theme song for their new commercial, etc.
There are a number of benefits to direct licensing, the primary one being that you (the licensor) keep all fees. Even the most favorable library deals are usually only a 50/50 split, meaning that all other things equal, you'll earn twice as much money for the same songs as you would elsewhere. Being able to present your catalog exactly how you want and control every detail is another perk. The downside to this method is that your potential market of licensees is limited by your own visibility. If you are a relatively unknown artist, it is highly unlikely that Fox will approach you to license one of your songs.
Additionally, you have to deal with all the legal and business stuff yourself. If you're completely inexperienced, you're at a disadvantage for writing up (or understanding) a licensing contract. If someone doesn't pay you on time, you need to spend your own resources going after them. For applicable situations, you need to follow up on people who use your works on TV and get them to fill out cue sheets. Then there's the issue of presentation - do you have an easy-to-navigate page with your licensable works? If a music supervisor is in a rush, he or she might not spend time trying to figure out your site design or the genre of your pieces, and may simply move on.
Luckily, there are tools available to help those interested in direct licensing. One such tool is the Music Licensing Calculator, an embeddable object that can be placed on your site. The calculator allows potential licensees to very easily get a quote based on their type of usage and email it to you, or inquire further about the price (negotiation.) Of course, you'll also want to make an aesthetically pleasing site with an easily navigable layout and clear categories for your licensable music.
If you choose to direct license, the fee you get will be highly variable. The Music Licensing Calculator will help you get a sense for the different kinds of fees you might expect, on average, for different types of usage. I recommend checking out one of the sample calculators to see for yourself.
b. Buyout Library Deal
Another fairly straightforward form of licensing, the buyout deal basically involves you giving exclusive rights to a song or collection of songs to a music library. In return, you are paid a lump sum up front. You can expect 50% of any backend public performance royalties, which again are generated from television usage of your music. These royalties can be tiny - less than $10 per use, if it's an obscure program on cable - or well into the hundreds or thousands of dollars per use for primetime network TV. While backend royalties, over time, can accumulate to a respectable amount, you need to have a lot of music out there, as well as a lot of patience, to reap the rewards; it can take nearly a year for a usage of your song to result in a check in your hands.
Buyout fees range from $150 to $1000, though common fees reside in the $300-500 range per track. As the composer/producer, you are generally expected to make sure your track is fully mastered and ready to go. You will most likely be asked to make edited versions of the song, such as a version without a lead instrument, and 60/30/15 second versions. If the library has to do work editing the track for you, it may result in a reduced fee. $300-500 might not sound like a lot for a song that took months to write and produce, but consider that production music does not necessarily have to be your magnum opus. Mood is often more important than intricate part-writing, so if you've had works in progress lying around where you had a great groove or chord progression but no lyrics or prominent melody, you might consider converting those pieces into library tracks.
Buyout deals are ideal if you can pitch a collection of similar songs. Examples include a CD of adrenaline-filled metal music, a CD of chillout/lounge music, a CD of meditative new age tunes, a CD of tense orchestral underscores, and so on. Again, to get an idea for what's out there and what people are buying, just Google for "music production libraries" (or "production music libraries") and listen to lots of demos in various categories. Chances are, you can write something at least as good as many of the songs you will find.
If you're looking for a deal like this, you can try a few different approaches. One is to go through a service like Taxi, which provides listings on behalf of music libraries (among other companies.) You pay Taxi and submit songs to them - they forward your best material, giving you a better shot at a deal than someone who simply sent an unsolicited envelope with music in it. Many people have achieved success through Taxi, so it's worth looking into if you have a little extra money to invest ($300/yr and $5/submission, to be exact) and prefer to let other people do the opportunity searching for you.
My own preferred method is to simply contact libraries yourself. Compile a list - very easy with Google - then look for FAQs or submission information on each library's website. Some may have a simple process for submitting music for consideration, or state that you can send demos to a certain address. If no such info is available, give them an email or a call. Briefly explain who you are and what kind of music you write. Tell them what you have available, and ask if they are looking to license any new music. With any luck, if your music is good enough, you'll get some interested buyers. Remember: the more songs you have, the better, and the more collections of similar songs, the stronger your pitch will be. Pre-edited music (60, 30 second edits) is also a good idea.
c. Non-Exclusive Library Deal
This type of deal offers little to no front-end compensation, but can nonetheless be potentially profitable, and is a preferred option to buyout if you think you've written a truly desirable song. In this situation, you can provide the same song to as many non-exclusive libraries as you want, and increase the chances that it will get some kind of exposure. Some non-exclusive libraries are selective and will only take high-quality tracks; however, they do more work for the tracks that they do accept, which is better for you.
Other libraries simply make a catalog available to the public, as described earlier, and do nothing to really promote any individual music. They'll accept anything, but you have to rely on their traffic and do some legwork yourself to earn any money. The most popular library of this type is AudioSparx, which allows people to upload music and sound effects and fill out page after page of search terms to help lead potential buyers towards ideal material. While such a site might not sound appealing compared to the instant reward of several hundred dollars through a buyout library, if you can accumulate a good amount of desirable material, it can be a reliable source of income that requires little time investment.
d. Licensing via Agent
Some artists have no desire to deal with the hassles that can accompany any form of licensing, and so having someone operating on your behalf is the best way of obtaining benefit without spending your own time. The downside, of course, is that finding a reliable agent of some kind who actually wants to see you succeed, and isn't simply interested in taking your money, is very difficult. I'll reiterate that Taxi is a wholly legitimate organization that really does achieve success for its members, assuming their music is up to snuff. However, there are many companies imitating Taxi that are actually scams; I strongly recommend reading my guide to avoiding such scams unless you want to risk wasting money.
Any well-connected music industry figure may be able to find opportunities for you, but there is no one way of finding such a person. You must be willing to do some level of networking in order to meet people who can do things for you, and you should try to think about what you can do for them, too. Despite the caricature of the music industry as being corrupt and heartless, if you demonstrate kindness and well-meaning to others, they will be more inclined to help you in return if they have the opportunity.
Anybody can potentially be a valuable contact, not just experienced music attorneys, managers, talent agents, and music supervisors. Your roommate who is majoring in marketing could end up in charge of a $15 million advertising budget for a big company three years from now. The local indie filmmaker with the clever 5 minute animated short could end up directing Pixar's next hit before you know it.
Treat your friends and acquaintances well and don't abuse any connection, no matter how unimportant it seems. This seems like very obvious advice, but nearly every day I encounter some kind of rudeness among fellow musicians. The next time one of my music library contacts says they're looking for a style of music I don't do, and I'm trying to decide who to forward the gig to, I'll pass up the rude ones every time.
If you are a new unsigned artist the time is now for you to act and make your dreams come true. Don't be a slave to the record labels and do all that you can do to live your dreams of music and fame. Your time is now! Check out and get the information you need to make your dreams come to life.

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