music business

How To License Your Music For TV and Film (11 Steps)

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.

 

Having instrumental mixes makes it much easier to license your music.

Having instrumental mixes makes it much easier to license your music.

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.

 

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.

If you enjoyed her thoughts and want to learn more, be sure to check out part one and part two of our recent full-length interview with Cheryl.

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

Once you have your music professionally recorded, copyrighted and registered with a PRO, be sure to prepare your files in the proper format with embedded metadata.

 

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.

How To Legally Release Cover Songs (9 Integral Tips)

There are a number of reasons why one may want to legally record and release a cover song. First, covering a well-known song, especially a current hit is a great way to capitalize on an already attentive audience and introduce yourself to a larger fan base.


Not only that, but many music supervisors actually seek out cover songs for use in TV or film. This is something we’ve talked about in the past and you can delve a little deeper into the benefits of a cover song in our previous post on the subject here


Although there are plenty of benefits to recording and releasing a cover song, many artists never do. This is usually due to the concern regarding the legalities of releasing a cover of another person’s composition.


However, doing so legally is not as daunting as one might think. If done properly and ethically, the rewards of such a release can really benefit an artist’s career.


Below are some of our top tips to keep in mind if you’d like to record and release a cover song.


1. You Don’t Need Permission to Cover a Song

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A common misconception in the music industry is that you need to receive permission from the original composer in order to record a cover version of their song. However, US copyright law makes it much easier than that for artists wishing to cover a piece of music.


This is thanks to something known as “compulsory licensing.” Compulsory licensing basically states that the owners of a song can’t deny you releasing your own interpretation. There are two things you must do however, if you wish to go this route.


First, you must notify the owner of your intent to cover the song. Once again, this isn’t asking for permission, it simply lets them know what’s going on with their composition.


Second, you must pay a specific royalty rate per song being purchased or downloaded. The current royalty rate, per purchase/download is 9.1 cents for music under 5 minutes. If the song is over 5 minutes the rate is 1.75 cents per minute or fraction thereof.


We’ll dig a little deeper into how to pay this rate and what it covers in our next tip.


2. Obtain a Mechanical License for Online Releases


The royalty rate that you need to pay in order to legally release a cover song is known as a “mechanical license.” This allows you to make and sell “phonorecords” of a song, originally composed by another artist.

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Originally, a phonorecord referred to any physical recording of a song such as CDs, tapes or vinyl. However, with the internet that term now extends to digital downloads such as MP3s sold on your website or through another platform like Bandcamp.


There are plenty of services out there that help you to obtain a mechanical license for a cover song and pay the required royalty rate. The primary organization doing this is known as the Harry Fox Agency (HFA).


HFA is a massive organization currently handling over 100,000 catalogs for some of the biggest music publishers in the US. Their large network and simple online system make it easy for artists to obtain a mechanical license and pay fees.

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This organization requires you to let them know the number of physical versions being pressed or expected download sales. You then pay the fee for that number upfront. So, if you expect to sell 1000 units, at a 9.1 cents royalty rate you would have to pay $91.


For digital downloads, you’re required to keep track of how many downloads have been made. Once you reach the number of unit sales estimated, whether physical or digital, you will be required to purchase more mechanical licenses and pay additional fees.


Although HFA is the most reputable and straightforward way to license a track, there are cases where they may not be able to obtain a mechanical license.


In these scenarios, services such as EasySongLicensing.com will help you obtain a mechanical license for any song. The catch is that in addition to paying the royalty rate, you’re also required to pay the company a fee.


3. Make Sure It’s Actually a Cover


If you want to legally release the song it’s important to confirm that what you’re recording is actually a cover. That is to say, you can’t stray too much from the structure of the original song.


If you want to easily obtain the proper licensing, you have to more or less stick to the original lyrics, melody and meaning of the song.


The tips in this guide are targeted at artists doing just that. Parodying, sampling or making a medley of songs is a different ballpark and the process of legally releasing these differs.


Therefore, before you even begin clearing your song, be sure that what you’re recording is legally considered a cover.


4. Digital Aggregators Handle Heavy Lifting for Streaming Release

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A mechanical license works great for releases where people will be purchasing the music. However, it doesn’t apply to streaming services. In these cases an additional streaming license is required.

Thankfully most major digital aggregators such as CD Baby and DistroKid make this really easy. 


They offer services that for a fee will distribute your song to all major streaming platforms, notify the composer/publisher of its release, pay the necessary licensing fee and take care of all the other legal red tape involved with releasing a cover song on a streaming platform.

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Another really big player in cover song licensing and digital distribution is Soundrop. They’re a digital aggregator and music licensor with a primary focus on cover songs.


Not only will they license and distribute songs for a low one-time fee, they are also a fantastic resource on everything that should be considered when releasing a cover online.


5. Obtain an ISRC


When distributing an original or a cover song, systems need to be able to differentiate your version from others. On top of that, you don’t want your song getting confused with others of the same name.


This is where it can be very important to obtain an International Standard Recording Code or ISRC. An ISRC is the primary system in the recording industry for identifying a specific recording, not the composition itself.


Outside of cover songs, artists may use this to differentiate between a studio recording and a live recording, for example.


Digital distributors will require an ISRC code to make sure everyone who should be getting paid from a recording is. In addition, it’s important to embed an ISRC into the digital download files being sold.


There are plenty of people claiming to issue ISRCs online. However, you don’t want to mistakenly receive the same ISRC as another song. Therefore, only acquire ISRCs from official ISRC managers. 

Check out the video below for a quick run down on ISRCs.

6. A Music Video Requires a Sync License

Although obtaining a mechanical or streaming license is great for releasing an audio recording, it doesn’t clear every situation. If you want to legally release a music video for your cover song there’s some more red tape you’ll have to go through.


Placing a song to video, even if it’s a cover song requires a sync or synchronization license. Obtaining this can be quite more involved than the mechanical license. You need to go straight to the music publisher or composer for their permission.

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You then submit a formal request and get quoted a licensing fee to use the song. Even if they do agree to allow you to release a video, the fees can be quite high.


There are services out there to assist you in this process but this may be the least of your worries, depending on the situation in which a video is being released. More on that in the next two tips.


7. YouTube and Its Content ID Are Your Friends

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If a sync license is required to put a cover of a song to video, you may be wondering how all the artists made famous from covering pop songs on YouTube obtain one.


The short answer is that they don’t. There technically is a risk to posting a cover song on YouTube. However, the artist who releases the cover would have to make a lot of money from that song before a publisher would consider taking legal action.


That doesn’t mean the label or original artist can’t have your video removed from YouTube however. Thankfully, YouTube has a system in place known as Content ID that rewards publishers for having artists cover their songs.


Through Content ID, YouTube has blanket publishing deals with over 95% of song publishers. This allows the owner of the original song to find out when a song of theirs is being covered.


They can also choose whether a cover is removed or monetized and more often than not will choose the latter. When this happens, you’ll get a cut of the revenue made through advertisements as well!


This system has been working great for YouTube, songwriters, and the cover artists. It’s greatly reduced the number of conflicts that could arise from cover videos.


So, when YouTube’s Content ID system asks you if what you are releasing is a cover, say yes! They are there to help, not make things harder.


8. Let a Music Supervisor Worry About TV & Film

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As mentioned in previous posts, music supervisors love using cover songs for TV and film. This is for a number of reasons, but primarily it’s cheaper for them to pay you what’s known as a “master use fee” to use your version, rather than use the original version often owned by a major record label.


A sync license and fee payable to the publisher is still required to place (or “sync”) the music to any form of video; however, in this scenario it’s the job of the music supervisor to negotiate with all parties involved and pay the necessary fees.


The great news about this is that legally placing your cover song in TV or film will cost you nothing. As long as you own the master recording of your cover version, the placement could actually make you a fair amount of money!


9. Harder Areas to Release a Cover


A lot of the laws surrounding copyright were put in place in a time before the internet or before society had a full understanding of its relevance in the industry. Because of this, there are some grey areas when it comes to using a song on certain online platforms where licensing can be tricky.

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These include platforms that don’t pay out any royalties to the artists such as SoundCloud, Facebook or Instagram. In addition to this, if you intend to stream the song on your personal website or wish to use it in a podcast, further licensing and permissions are required.


We could dedicate an entire blog post of its own to this topic so we won’t delve too far into the details. If you don’t want to jump through all the extra hoops to legally clear a cover song for these scenarios, stay away from releasing them on these platforms. At the very least, educate yourself on the risks that may be involved when doing so.


Conclusion


There are plenty of benefits to releasing a cover song but it’s important to consider all the legal matters before you do. Although it may seem like a lot at first, the process of clearing a cover is really quite simple.


Remember that anyone can cover a song without permission as long as the proper license is obtained. A mechanical license is required for selling songs online or in physical format. When releasing a cover on streaming platforms, let a digital aggregator take care of the legal matters. 


All of this is awesome for music releases, but there are additional things to consider when releasing a song with a video. In this case you would need to obtain a sync license. However, if the video is being released on YouTube, their Content ID system may have you covered.


Finally, if the cover song is being sent to a music supervisor for TV or film, you probably don’t have to worry about the sync license. In this case it’s the music supervisor’s job to take care of the negotiations with you and the publisher.


For more advice on music licensing and approaching music supervisors, check out the rest of the Sync Songwriter Blog or sign up to our mailing list.