There are more TV channels and movies popping up all the time. If that wasn’t enough, Netflix has been creating more and more original content for their platform.
There are more opportunities for you to get your music placed in movies and TV shows than ever, assuming you have the goods music supervisors are looking for.
Even so, there’s no “easy button” when it comes to getting your music licensed. If you don’t have a team working on your behalf, it’s going to require focus and dedication on your part. We've more details in The Academy, but this below guide should get you started.
But first, if it's your aim to do music professionally, you'll want to check out our free ebook while it's still available:
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What Are Licensing & Placement Opportunities?
You may have come here without knowing what the terms “licensing” or “placements” even mean.
You’ll be glad to know that we aren’t on a different wavelength. These are simply the technical terms used to describe the process of placing an artist’s music in films and TV.
Licensing refers to the legal or licensed use of copyrighted music in media. Under current laws, copyright owners must be fairly compensated for the authorized use of their work in various contexts. With music, the most obvious ones are film and TV.
Compensation for the use of your music in visual media can vary. If it’s an independent film or a home-brew video, you shouldn’t expect much (unless these projects happen to blow up).
But licensing and placements can also be huge for artists, and you may have even heard about some success stories. Getting placed in the right TV show can mean earning royalties for months, even years to come, particularly if re-runs are airing all the time.
This is also what makes licensing and placements a competitive field for artists. Many musicians dream of generating huge sums of passive “mailbox money.”
What Is A Music Supervisor?
Music supervisors are responsible for overseeing the use of music in movies, TV shows, commercials, ads, video games, and other visual media.
The use of music is prevalent throughout most TV shows and films because it evokes certain emotions. It can enhance the mood of a scene that's supposed to be scary, funny, sad, and so on. If you think music doesn’t have an impact on what you feel as a viewer, then try watching visual media with the sound off some time. You’ll see what a difference it makes.
You’ve probably noticed how most shows and movies have a resident composer that handles the bulk of the scoring work.
But music supervisors are often looking for additional music that fits the mood of certain scenes. This is where licensing and placement opportunities come in.
From rough demos to independently produced tracks, if it fits the scene, it will be placed. That’s right – you don’t necessarily need professionally produced music to take advantage of placement opportunities. It could be something you recorded in your basement, assuming it’s what supervisors are looking for.
Also know that in most cases supervisors will use the instrumental version of your tracks, not tracks with vocals. There are always exceptions to this rule, of course.
How To Get Started In Licensing & Placements
I’m going to be upfront with you – there is a lot of great advice out there about how to get your music in movies and TV.
But what strikes me about it is that there’s quite a bit of fragmented, unfocused, or conflicting information.
That leads me to believe there are only two possibilities:
- No one has written a comprehensive guide on getting one’s music in TV and films.
- There aren’t any rules – you can make your own way.
I happen to believe option two is correct.
I’ve interviewed Juno award winning songwriter and artist Helen Austin about this, because getting her music placed is primarily how she’s built her career. When you Google “how to get your music in films and TV”, her articles are still among the top ranked.
But since she started working with one publisher exclusively, she hasn’t had to chase after new deals proactively. As you can imagine, quite a bit has changed since she was in “the heat of the battle.”
But based on everything I’ve studied and read on the topic, I would suggest taking the following steps.
Step #1 – Develop A Process For Recording Your Music
If you’re serious about getting your music in film and TV, you must be flexible. Music supervisors are always looking for something specific, and the music you already have may not be a fit for the media they're looking to place it with.
So, what do you do? Do you give up?
Well, some do. But if you’re determined to get your music in visual media, then you should be willing to create the kind of music supervisors are looking for. And when you find listings online, they often have certain requirements, even if they aren’t specific.
So, if the listing says they’re looking for “calm, peaceful music”, then sending in your 12-minute metal opus is probably a waste of time.
So, my tip here is to set up your home studio and start cranking out the tunes. Create a process for yourself so you can do it quickly and effortlessly. You’ll never be able to apply for everything, but you don’t want to be caught with nothing to submit, particularly if you happen upon an opportunity that seems right for you. Plus, deadlines are always tight with submissions.
If you want to take chances with your existing catalog, and see if you can earn a bit of money on the side, that’s fine too. But if you want a career in licensing and placements, then you need to be prolific.
Step #2 – Find Opportunities
You need to get a steady stream of opportunities flowing into your life.
You’ll submit to many listings and never hear back. You must keep trying. And without new prospects constantly crossing your desk, you might feel rejected and discouraged when you don’t hear back from the first three people you send your music to.
What you need to understand is that practically everything in life is a funnel. For instance, you might begin by submitting your music to 100 listings. Only 20 of those listings will show any interest in your music. After initial screening, your music only makes it passed 10 of those 20. Only two out of those 10 supervisors think your music is good enough. And maybe, if you’re lucky, one out of those two will proceed to license your music.
The point is that you must keep the top of the funnel full!
So, how do you find listings?
Here are some sites to create accounts with:
- Directional Music
- Pump Audio
- Ricall Music Licensing
- And so on
Some of these services will cost you money. Now, I’m not going to tell you to spend money you don’t have, because that could ruin you before you even get your first track placed.
But let me put it to you this way. If you were getting into online dating, would you join the free site, paid site, or both? You might find someone great on a free site, and I’ve seen it happen, but generally people take paid services more seriously. It weeds out the crazies.
It’s the same thing here. If you join a free site to see what kind of placement opportunities there are, there are probably thousands of other people seeing and submitting to the same listings. Plus, these probably aren’t the best prospects out there. Does that make sense?
Step #3 – Write, Record, & Produce New Music
What kind of listings are you seeing out there? Does it look like most supervisors are looking for hip hop tracks right now? Are they leaning towards singer-songwriter music?
Trends comes and go, but the way the licensing and placement world works is that one month they want one thing, the next six months they want another, and after that it will be something else.
The good news is that you can write, record, and produce music based on what you see trending out there. Then you’ll have a catalog of tracks you can submit to supervisors.
If you just happen to have a lot of tracks in your archives that match what supervisors are seeking right now, then you already have plenty of content to submit.
But this will not always be the case, and if you need to make money, then you’ll want to focus on producing targeted content on an ongoing basis.
Step #4 – Submit Your Music
I know, I know… It’s relatively obvious that you would need to submit your music to get it licensed.
But some people get overwhelmed at step two, so they don’t make any effort to monitor new listings on a regular basis. There’s a good chance you’ll see new opportunities pop up daily, so you need to stay abreast of what’s new.
Remember how I said most everything in life is a funnel earlier? As you scan listings, it’s important to narrow in on the ones that are right for you. If you primarily record easy listening and jazz music, you should exclude singer-songwriter or rock related submissions immediately (unless you plan to expand into these genres).
So, before anyone else moves you out of their funnel, first, you should move certain listings out of your funnel so you don’t waste any time with them.
Once you find relevant listings, submit your music to them. Do this weekly, if not daily.
Step #5 – Build Connections
Building connections is perhaps the most important step of all. It doesn’t make much of a difference if you don’t have music to submit in the first place, but getting to know people can lead to some great placements and other deals (such as an exclusive publishing deal).
You can create connections with: Publishers, music supervisors, producers, and so on. Again, you’ll find many of these people through the previously mentioned sites (which is another reason to join).
Helen Austin commented that TAXI was among one of the most expensive services out there, but it also helped her earn the most money. Plus, they have a convention that’s free to members. Sounds like a great opportunity to network!
If you think you can get something for nothing, banish your mind of that thought. It just doesn’t happen.
Also, music supervisors are generally okay with receiving unsolicited but polite emails from artists containing links to their music. Keep this in mind if you see an opportunity you know you’re right for!
Social media is also valuable for building connections, but you must be active.
Are you starting to see how this licensing and placement business could turn into a full-time job?
Step #6 – Say Yes!
Derek Sivers says he built his career on saying “yes” to opportunities that came his way, even if other musicians were unwilling to pursue them.
Here’s what’s going to happen as you begin making more music, joining more sites, submitting to listings, and building new connections: Some unexpected opportunities are going to begin showing up.
And when you receive those phone calls or emails, you might think to yourself, “Well, no, my niche is XYZ, and I don’t understand why they’re interested in hiring me for ABC.”
But please stop yourself from sabotaging yourself! Say “yes.” I don’t care if it’s the weirdest sounding gig offer you’ve ever gotten (unless it’s super sketchy, in which case run). If it has anything to do with music, go after it.
Sivers later said he stopped saying “yes” to everything. But that was after he was established. So, don’t stop saying “yes” until you’re established. Then you can choose between “hell yeah” or “no way” as Sivers does.
There’s no right or wrong way to get your music placed. You can pursue it as a hobby or a side hustle. You can also make it your full-time living. It’s entirely up to you.
It’s a pipe dream if you think you’re going to get your music licensed without any work. But if you’re determined to make a go of it, and stay steady with it, it’s inevitable that you’ll see good things happen in your career.