Music can be a very rewarding career or hobby, but one thing is for sure, it can be quite difficult to make money in the industry.
One way to be successful is to get your music accepted for a soundtrack in a movie, TV show, video game or commercial. Not only will this bring in some revenue, it can give your career a boost opening doors in the industry.
If this sounds like the right career move for you, we can’t say this will be easy, but it’s worth a shot. Read on to find out how you can get started in the world of soundtracks.
What is Music Sync Licensing?
The first step is getting the terminology down.
Music sync licensing is getting your song placed in a movie, TV show, video game or commercial. If your music is picked up, you will earn a flat fee and you could also have royalties coming your way.
Another option is to get your music licensed to another performer. This works in a similar way with a publisher shopping your music to popular artists.
The nice thing about music licensing, besides the money and the possible perks it will have for your career, is that you can do it at your own pace. You can work from home and write and submit songs at your leisure. Therefore, it shouldn’t interfere with your family life or day job.
Now here are your options when it comes to getting your music placed.
Find a Publisher
A publisher’s main objective is to get your music placed. They will take care of all the legal and administrative mumbo jumbo when it comes to submitting your music and working out the details.
When looking for a publisher, here are a few points to consider.
Make Sure Your Music is Ready
Just like submitting to a record company, when submitting to a publisher, you want to put your best foot forward. When it comes to licensing, you don’t have to worry about having a huge following or commercialism. After all, TV and movies etc. may be open to all genres.
But what you do have to think about is quality. The music should be well produced, and the instrumentation should be flawless. In most cases, a publisher will be looking for something to submit in ‘as is’ condition. So it will really need to be up to snuff.
Do a Bit of Research
Once you sign a publishing deal, you are contractually bound to your publisher. You want to make sure you to retain the rights to your music and that you are getting a fair percentage before you put your John Hancock on the dotted line.
There are several books you can read that will educate you on the ins and outs of music publishing. Randy Poe’s The New Songwriters Guide to Music Publishing is a good choice.
You can also Google publishers to find out about their track record and how likely they are to get your music placed.
If you have your heart set on a specific publisher pick up the phone and talk to them. This will help you get to know them. You can probably go from there to make a gut decision on whether they are right for you.
Another good tip is to get a lawyer to look over your contract before you sign. A good lawyer will make sure all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed and they will see to it that you don’t get the short end of the stick.
Exclusivity May Come Into Play
The deal you have with your publisher will be per song. They may sign more than one song, but each one will be considered separately in the deal you have worked out.
It’s important not to license a song with more than one publisher. You can license other songs with other publishers, but try to avoid making deals with different publishers for the same song.
Even if your deal is non-exclusive, music supervisors (who incidentally are the people who have the final word on whether your music gets submitted) will not like it. If they receive the same song from different publishers, they are likely to pass on it no matter what.
Music Libraries are Another Option
Another option for getting your music placed is to go through a music library. Music libraries can be found online and anyone can submit.
One downside of music libraries is that some are better than others and it’s hard to know which are good bets and which will end up going out of business in three months. You also may come across a good one that isn’t right for your genre. Therefore, it’s best to find a music library that features other musicians that you are comparable to.
You should also find out if the music libraries you are considering do exclusive or non-exclusive deals.
Here are a few platforms that are known for being reputable.
- Audiosparx: Audiosparx is a big player in the music licensing field.
- Jinglepunks: This platform is selective but if you get a deal with them, it can be quite lucrative.
- Premiumbeat: Premiumbeat is pretty easy to work with but they don’t get their artists the best returns and they will want exclusivity with all your songs.
- Railroadtrax: This boutique platform is reliable and easy to work with. They offer a standard 50/50 nonexclusive deal.
Now here are some things to consider before submitting.
- Make sure your music is copyright protected. If it’s not, supervisors won’t be able to use it and they are not likely to wait until you get everything in order.
- Have your music available in a WAV or MP3 format. These are the formats the sites will be accepting. If you are submitting an MP3, go for 320 kbps. If you are submitting WAV, go for 24 bit and 48 kHz. This will ensure your music is high quality.
- Follow the submission guidelines. Every platform will have their own submission guidelines and it is important to follow them if you want your music to be accepted.
- Use Keywords: Most platforms will allow you to enter keywords to make your music findable. Be sure to take advantage of this feature.
Make the Connections Yourself
It is possible to make your own connections yourself. You can go directly to music publishers or even take it one step further by making friends with producers and directors who will have the final say in whether your music is used in their movies, ad, video games, etc.
This is a preferable to some because they will not have to split the revenue with a publisher or music library. However, it also takes a lot of work, especially is you don’t have existing industry connections.
How Much Can I Make?
Music publishers will usually do a 50 50 split with the artists they represent. The same goes for music libraries but some are generous and do a 60 40 or 70 30 split.
Here are the ways you will be bringing in income.
- Sync fees: This is the upfront payment you will get if your song is used.
- Performance Royalties: You will also earn money every time your song is performed or played on TV, radio, etc. A PRO or Performance Rights Organization will be in charge of collecting these fees for you.
- Ad Revenue: If your song is used for a YouTube ad, you may end up getting a percentage of the ad revenue. However, in order to collect, you will need to be a part of YouTube’s ContentID program and things can start getting confusing if you go this route. You may want to avoid it is you are new to the business.
Now for the bottom line, here is the market value of what you can expect to make if your music is picked up for the following broadcasts.
- TV Advertising: $9,999
- Film Trailer: $5,999
- Film with a Budget Under $10 Million): $3999
- Video Game: $3499
- Radio or Online Ad: $1999
- Network TV Show: $1499
- Online Ad: $799
- Cable TV: $749
- App: $349
How to Write Music That’s Likely to Get Used
The nice thing about getting your music licensed is that a wide variety of genres may be accepted. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about fitting in with what’s currently ‘hot’ or ‘in style’. However there are things you can do that will make your songs more likely to get picked up. Here are some tips.
Listen to Other Artists Who Have Been Placed: Pick a show or movie and make yourself a soundtrack of all the songs it has used in the past. Start listening and absorbing the writing techniques that have been used. Then move on to the next.
Write Universal Lyrics: If you listen to most commercial and movie soundtracks, you’ll find that the lyrics to the song don’t tell a specific story. Usually they are focused on something universal like overcoming, victory, togetherness, positivity and home. Songs about heartbreak may work in certain circumstances but they won’t be the best choice.
Focus on Instrumental Aspects: Oftentimes, when a song is used, it will be the instrumental version only. This is because the supervisor, or the person responsible for how the music will be placed, may want it to be played under a narration or dialogue. In these instances, they may ask for vocal and instrumental versions of the song so it’s a good idea to be prepared with both.
To make sure your song works as an instrumental, pay attention to dynamics. These will be important as they can help to move the show or commercial along.
To test if your music passes the instrumental test, try playing it along to a commercial or TV show when the sound is muted. See how it works with the action taking place on screen.
Production is also very important if your song is being used as an instrumental. You will want to hear all the instruments as they come in and out of the piece. Different soundscapes will also make it easy for the editor to cut the picture to the music.
There’s a Market Outside the United States
Earlier in the article we mentioned that another way to make money by placing music is to sell it to another artist. This is not easy to do in the United States, but there may be a greater market for your music outside the country.
The best way to find these markets is to subscribe to publications like Songlink or Songquarters. These will list indie and major acts shopping for music and it will also provide specific directions on how to submit to each. Make sure to follow these directions carefully.
If you have time and money to travel, you may also consider attending the MIDEM conference in Cannes, France. This will give you a good idea of what type of music you will be writing to get your music accepted and you may also make some valuable connections.
In terms of what you should be writing, here you will want to go back to the universal theme discussed previously. Avoid anything too specific and go with more general topics like success, positivity and togetherness.
However, when writing for a foreign market, you will also want to avoid using anything location specific. For instance, writing about an American business like Dairy Queen or Macy’s can get your music lost in translation.
You will also want to familiarize yourself with music genres that are popular all over the world. For example, boy band music is a little dated in America, but it may go over well in Asia where K-pop and J-pop is big.
Country music is also conceptualized differently in different parts of the world. In America, modern country is defined by artists like Carrie Underwood and Luke Combs. But in other regions, they are still listening to Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton.
There is really no overriding rule when it comes to writing songs for a foreign market. It’s best to listen to different styles of music being played around the world and aim to write for various regions. But generally, up tempo music that’s easy to dance to will score big points with artists outside of the U.S.
Note, it’s also a good idea to have a manager or publisher representing you if you are trying to shop your music for foreign markets. This will increase your chances of landing a deal.
Now that you know more about submitting your music for TV, movies, commercials, video games and other markets, will you be trying this strategy to make money with your songwriting skills?
What are the two types of music in a film?
Music in film is generally categorized as diegetic and non-diegetic.
Diegetic music comes from a fictional source within the movie. For instance, you may hear it when a character turns on the radio or when he or she goes to a concert or show. This type of music helps set the scene in terms of the era when the movie occurs and the film’s cultural setting.
Non-diegetic music is atmospheric and comes from the film itself. It reflects the psychological state of the character and helps the viewer become more deeply immersed and emotionally invested in the plot.
How do you make your music emotional?
Because music is often responsible for setting the emotional tone of the movie, it’s important to create music that is moving, especially if you want to get it placed. Here are some helpful tips.
- Long Notes: Driving rhythms can be effective in moving the plot forward, but those long soaring notes will be the ones that truly resonate.
- Pair Sustained Notes with Expressive Passages: While sustaining notes will be effective in communicating emotion, combining them with dynamic elements will add even more meaning.
- Vibrato Always Works: Vibrato is a great way to integrate emotion into your music.
- Stringed Instruments are a Go To: Besides the human voice, there is probably no type of instrument that brings meaning to music better than a stringed instrument.
- Smooth Transitions: Music that flows seamlessly between transitions will work best.
What musicians have become famous from writing songs for TV and film?
Getting a song placed can do wonders for your career. Here are a few artists who became famous, or more famous, after their songs were placed.
- Sonny Curtis who wrote Love is All Around for the Mary Tyler Moore show
- They Might Be Giants who wrote the theme song for Malcolm in the Middle
- Gary Portnoy who wrote the Mr. Belvedere theme song and also co-wrote and performed the theme song from Cheers