The secret to making a viable living as a songwriter is learning how to license your music for TV and film. On top of the massive exposure that comes from this, the payment you receive is much higher than you could make through other sources such as streaming royalties.
Music supervisors are the gatekeepers who decide what music makes it into TV and film. They work as the middleman between artists and directors, finding music on behalf of a production’s creative team.
Because of their importance, forming a strong relationship with music supervisors is the best way to get your music synced. However, it’s important to take the necessary steps in preparing your music and approaching them.
It’s not complicated but many music supervisors prefer to be approached in a specific fashion. Failing to do so could mean no response or even worse, getting blacklisted in their email inbox.
This can make the task of licensing music daunting to the indie songwriter. However, if you follow the steps below you’ll have nothing to worry about when learning how to license your music:
Doing this will give you a huge edge on the competition and you’ll be well on your way to sync success!
1. Professionally Record Your Music
If you want to license your music for TV and film you need a great recording of a great song. When submitting to music supervisors, you’ll be competing against some of the biggest names in the business.
Although there’s a small market for lo-fi indie recordings, the market for commercial, professionally produced productions is much bigger.
If you want your music licensed with any production big or small, you have to invest time and money into the recording process.
You may have heard it said that that “the more songs you have, the better.” There’s some truth in this, a large catalog of songs can help your chances of getting synched. However, they all have to be a quality production if you want to be taken seriously by music supervisors.
Thankfully, there are places out there that offer commercial-grade recordings at an affordable rate.
Our sister site, Sundown Sessions Studio, connects songwriters with award-winning engineers and sessions musicians from around the world. The professional edge it gives you is invaluable and the cost is low enough to be made back in your first couple of sync placements.
2. Get Instrumental Mixes
Many people don’t realize how important this is but failing to ask for instrumental mixes early on can mean not licensing your music with certain music supervisors.
Often times a film or TV show may have a dialogue heavy scene but still require music. Because of this, the creative team won’t want something with lyrics that could get in the way of the story.
Your song may be the right energy and the exact sound that the music supervisor is looking for. However, you may be asked to send over instrumentals to cut between the lyrics and music as the director sees fit.
Things move fast in the music licensing world, so if you don’t have instrumentals for your music as soon as they ask for them, chances are they’ll move on to another artist.
To avoid this happening to you, make sure you ask your mixing and mastering engineers for instrumentals when you’re in the final stages of the music production process.
Finally, if you really want to future proof your music against any licensing scenario, ask your mixing engineer to print stems with each element of your mix. This can only give a production’s creative team more flexibility when making a song fit with a scene.
3. Copyright Your Music
This is an integral step whether you’re planning to license your music or not. If you’re releasing your songs in any capacity you want to make sure they are properly protected.
Not only that but you’re not likely to find someone willing to license your music if you don’t have a proper copyright in place. Doing so can take time and once again, waiting until you’re asked by a music supervisor to do so means they won’t have time to wait and will move on.
It’s also important to understand that there are two types of copyright from which you can collect money. Learning how you can benefit from both ensures you make the most amount of money possible when licensing your music.
The first is known as a PA Copyright. This protects the music and lyrics, that is to say the composition itself. The second is called a Sound Recording Copyright, which protects any recordings you make of the song.
Check out the video below for a brief interview with entertainment lawyer, Cheryl Hodgson on the subject.
4. Register With A Performance Rights Organization
When your music is used on TV or film, a licensing fee isn’t the only income you’ll receive. You can also make a certain amount of performance royalties anytime your song is aired.
This is where a Performance Rights Organization (PRO) comes in. It’s their job to collect royalties on behalf of songwriters and rights holders, then pay the monies to the correct parties.
So, if you want to make sure you’re making as much money as possible from your music, you need to register with a PRO right away. The three major PROs in the United States are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. In Canada it’s an organization known as SOCAN. For our international friends, you can track down your country’s PRO here.
We delve a little deeper into this topic in a recent interview with Paul Stillo from SOCAN.
5. Choose The Proper Format
When submitting your songs to music supervisors for consideration, you don’t want to bother them with large downloads or email attachments. Instead export an MP3 of your tracks with a bit rate of between 192/kbps and 256/kbps.
Once you’ve done this, don’t attach the file to your email. Music supervisors don’t want their inboxes littered with attachments and doing so is a surefire way to get your email deleted!
Instead, upload the track to a cloud drive like Dropbox, Disco or Box and include a link to the file in your email. Make sure that whatever service you use doesn’t require the user to make an account or log in. They should be able to easily listen to and then download the music without jumping through any hoops.
Once a music supervisor decides to license your music, then they will ask for a higher resolution file. Be sure to have a master .wav of your music ready for when this happens in at least 16 bit / 44.1kHz.
6. Include Metadata
Another important reason to use an MP3 when pitching your songs to music supervisors is the ability to embed metadata. Metadata is important information on your songs, such as the artist's name, songwriters, copyright holders, genre, BPM and lyrics.
Not only will they help music supervisors find your music when searching through their catalogue for a specific type song, it will also give them the necessary information on the creator once a song catches their interest.
Because of this, one of the most important things to include in the metadata is your contact information. A music supervisor may come across your song and hope to use it for a project months or even years after you submit it to them.
However, at this point they won’t remember who sent it and without any obvious contact info in the metadata, they’re more likely to use another track than try to find you.
If you own both the publishing and the master to a song this is known as a “one-stop song.” Music supervisors love this as it makes the licensing process much easier. So, be sure to mention that in the metadata as well.
For more information on how to use metadata when licensing your music, check out our previous article on the topic.
7. Network and Build Your Reputation
This part of the process takes plenty of time and never really stops for your entire career. Once you have a great song and all the prep work is in order, you need people to send it to.
Forming relationships in the industry takes time and it can make or break your success as a songwriter. Go to as many industry events as possible, whether that be conventions, music or film festivals, or even online conferences.
When you’re in these environments, make an effort to get to know the people involved.
In the case of licensing for TV and film you want to network with music supervisors and build a strong reputation for your music with them.
This is easier said than done but the more you do it the easier it gets. The more people you know, the better chance you have in building credibility through mutual connections.
The video below has some great tips on how you can build credibility as a songwriter early on in your music career.
Although there’s no shortcut in the networking world there are some key environments that can really expand the people you know.
In our course, The Art of The Song Pitch, not only do we teach songwriters how to approach music supervisors and pitch their songs, we also personally introduce you to some of the industry’s biggest players in the music supervision realm.
8. Research Who You’re Pitching To
Once you’ve gathered a list of potential music supervisors to approach, you’ll want to do a little digging into who they are.
Find out what shows they’ve worked on in the past and what type of music they tend to sync. It’s also integral to find out what projects they’re currently working on and what music style the project requires.
This information may require a little digging to uncover. However, if the music supervisor happens to be on IMDb it’ll make things a whole lot easier.
Once you know more about who you’re pitching to, you’ll be able to approach them with songs that are best suited to their niche. Not only that but it will be easy to write effective, personalized emails which leads us to our next tip.
9. Write Personal Emails (Don’t Spam)
Music supervisors can receive hundreds of emails every day. So, it’s easy for them to spot impersonal, cookie-cutter emails that you’ve copied and pasted to every music supervisor on your list.
In the case of pitching your songs, the quality of the emails sent is much more important than the quantity.
Once you’ve researched a music supervisor, this part shouldn’t be too difficult. Take the time to compliment them on their past shows they’ve worked on and acknowledge any current projects your music may fit into.
Mentioning a song they’ve licensed in the past that is similar to your own music can be a great segue into introducing your catalog.
Above all else, don’t spam them with irrelevant music! If you know that a music supervisor primarily works with indie rock or folk music for their current projects don’t send them a bunch of hip-hop tracks.
Doing so is a surefire way to get yourself blacklisted in their inbox. If this happens they’ll never see any future emails you send them and you’ll have ruined what could’ve been a great industry relationship.
10. Respond Quickly
Once you do get a response from a music supervisor whether it be to license your music or just ask you a question, respond right away!
As previously mentioned the sync world moves fast and music supervisors don’t have time to wait around. The better you are at communication, the more likely you are to have your songs placed in TV and film.
You want to build a reputation with music supervisors as being quick to respond and easy to work with. Once you do, there’s a good chance they’ll want to work with you more in the future.
11. Be Patient!
It’s rare that a songwriter has their music licensed to a TV show or film in the first few attempts. It can take months to even get a response and more time to actually get a placement.
As with any area of the music industry, it takes time to make contacts, learn the process, and build a reputation. The good news however, is that it only gets easier and quicker the more you do it.
So, don’t get discouraged if your first few pitches don’t pan out to anything. What’s important is that you’re consistent, committed, and have a positive outlook on the process.
This is the real secret to success when you’re learning how to license your music. Watch the video below for some additional thoughts on what it means to be consistent in your music licensing efforts.
Conclusion: How to License Your Music
The process of getting your music licensed to TV and film is a long but rewarding process.
After your music has been properly prepared, start networking and researching music supervisors who deal specifically with your genre. When you’re finally ready to reach out, make your emails personal and don’t spam them with unnecessary music.
If they reply to you, be sure to respond as quickly as possible and above all else, be patient. Getting your first piece of music licensed can take a lot of hard work and it’s easy to get discouraged.
However, once you finally have a piece of music synced it’s an awesome feeling and the process will only get easier from then on.
If you liked the tips in this article, be sure to check out the rest of the Sync Songwriter blog for more songwriting tips and industry insights.
We’d love to hear your thoughts below! Leave us a comment and let us know if you have any questions or think we missed something important. If you know others that could benefit from the tips in this guide, hit the share button and help us spread the word about how easy it is to license your music to TV and film.