What is music licensing?
To put it in basic terms, music licensing consists of one party paying money for the rights to use a piece of music or song on TV or radio show, web or corporate video, or some other public use. The most lucrative examples of music licensing are when popular songs are licensed for a TV show or commercial. In those situations, the advertiser is paying top dollar for the rights to use the music. For instance, the producers of Mad Men reportedly paid the Beatles $250,000 to use "Tomorrow Never Knows" during an episode of the show back in 2012. On the low end of the spectrum, an anonymous track from a low-end music library could net the composer only a few dollars, depending on your contract and the type of usage.
What kind of music?
If you check out a website that offers music licensing opportunities, you’ll notice that while pop styles are certainly in demand, there's call for many different types of music. If you’re a band, and your music is trendy, it could be appealing to music supervisors of TV shows or films. If you write good instrumental music, in almost any style, there is a call for it somewhere.
A very loud library
One of the ways in which you can get your music licensed for TV, radio, film, corporate video, and other potential usages, is through an entity called a music library. If you know how a stock photo agency works, a music library is similar. It will offer a variety of music to its potential clients, arranged in an online catalog according to various genres, categories, tempos, moods and so forth. The clients listen to samples online from various pieces and pick what they want. Some music libraries’ websites even facilitate clients testing different pieces of music synced against video from their project, to see what works best.
A music library might be a standalone company, or a division of a larger music production or music publishing company. Many companies offer their clients both custom composed and library music options. The former is much more expensive than the latter.
Libraries can be very general, and offer a huge range of music, or be more narrowly focused. Some music producers and boutique libraries work directly with music supervisors, directors or editors from TV shows, and ask writers to submit music to be considered for specific series that are in production.
These days, it’s very difficult to get any kind of money up front from a music library, especially if you’re unknown. You’re generally expected to submit your music on spec, that is, is, you’ll only make money if a client chooses your music. As a writer, especially an unknown one, you have very little leverage. With the amount of writers submitting music, the law of supply and demand is weighted heavily in the libraries’ favor, and allows them dictate the terms of submission.
Where to look
There are a few different ways to track down licensing opportunities. Searching online for "music licensing companies" or a similar term will net you a list of music licensing sites that have their own libraries. They allow you to submit material for consideration, and if it’s approved, then you’re offered the opportunity to sign a contract so that they can add your songs to their libraries.
Another way to get instant access to a lot of licensing opportunities is through sites like Taxi and Broadjam, which charge you an annual membership fee for the right to make submissions to their constantly updated listings. Many of these listed opportunities come from music libraries looking to add specific content to pitch to TV shows that are in production. (You don't need to be a member to check out the listings, so it's worth looking before deciding whether to join. Both sites also offer plenty of other useful services to members.)
Indaba Music is a free music community site that also offers some licensing opportunities among its services. Youlicense.com offers a novel approach that allows composers to submit their licensable music to a general collection that can be searched by those seeking to license music for film, TV, web or any situation.
When you submit
Whether you're submitting directly to a music library, a music supervisor, or through a third-party site like the ones just mentioned, your submission needs to be of good quality, both compositionally and production wise, and you also need to own all the rights to it. If your not sure if you own the rights free and clear to a piece of music, the library won’t want it, for fear of getting tangled up in lawsuits. In fact, almost every music library contract has a clause in which you warrant that you own the music outright, and agree to pay legal fees and damages if there’s a lawsuit arising from copyright or other ownership issues of the music you submit. It’s not likely that the library will be negotiable about that clause, so before you submit it, make sure nobody else has a claim on your music.
In the next part of this series, we’ll talk about exclusive vs. non-exclusive deals, and the different ways in which you can make money from licensing.