License to Earn

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As record sales continue to decline, songwriters are looking to license their master recordings for film and TV projects. Departmemt store commercials now feature the melodies of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. The music of Imogen Heap and The Who makes regular visits to primetime TV. But you don''t have to be a superstar to get your music on the big—or little—screen. Thousands of songwriters now license their music worldwide.

Opportunities to license your music include films, TV series and commercials, corporate training videos, and multimedia productions for the Internet. The best way to get your music into these projects is by developing personal relationships with producers, directors, and ad executives. However, nurturing these contacts is a full-time job. You''d have to spend a large percentage of your working time finding out what projects need music, making the required business contacts, and staying on top of music supervisors'' changing needs. Most songwriters would rather spend that time making music.

A growing number of production-music companies will promote, license, and administer your pre-existing music for these uses in return for a share of any revenues generated. Some of these companies work only with ad agencies or music supervisors. Others license music to any party, including independent producers and the general public. Some companies are highly selective, offering a small catalog of high-quality music in only a handful of genres, while others offer large catalogs with searchable databases, representing many styles of music. Here''s a brief overview of some popular production-music companies and what they require in exchange for their services. The following information is taken from my personal experience and research. You should always inquire with each company individually to confirm its actual terms before engaging its services.

Audiosocket is a non-exclusive music-licensing agency that represents independent artists for placements to all media platforms, including film, TV, videogames, advertising, online, and social networks. Artists can submit up to four MP3s for review. Audiosocket selects about 20 percent of those to represent on its roster. The initial term of the contract is two years, after which you can remove your music from the catalog with written notice. The company shares equally in upfront revenues with the artist. Artists retain all of their share of royalties for music licensed under the agreement, and Audiosocket keeps 50 percent of the publisher''s share.

Beatpick caters mostly to store chains and the film, TV, and advertising industries. The company takes 50 percent of the licensing revenue, but you get to keep 100 percent of the performance royalties. You can submit music to Beatpick online for free, and the company will get back to you within 16 weeks with a decision.

Broadjam connects artists with industry pros that need music. You sign up for a yearly membership; then, when you submit to a listing, you pay a small fee that varies depending on membership level. Except when submitting to labels, publishers, or songpluggers, artists typically keep all revenue generated from each placement. Web hosting, contests, social networking, and a real-time review mechanism are also included in the Broadjam membership.

Crucial Music is similar to Audiosocket, but it doesn''t charge a fee for music submissions. You initially submit your music online in MP3 format and upload a WAV file if it''s accepted. After a song is approved, Crucial''s staff adds it to the company''s catalog and applies tags and metadata so it can easily be found in a database search. The company offers writers a nonexclusive deal that lasts three years. Crucial Music retains half of any licensing fees it collects. Most of the company''s pitches are to music supervisors working for the major TV networks, but it also tries to place songs in major and independent films.

People registered with production-music company Dittybase can browse its online database of music. Registration is free. Dittybase accepts writers'' music submissions on CD or through file-sending services such as The company also invites songwriters to email information about themselves and their music.

The Film Music Network is a membership-based organization whose website posts solicitations by music supervisors, film studios, libraries, and commercial production houses to place music in films, television, and videogames. All music submissions go directly to the job posters and are available for immediate listening by them—none are withheld or disqualified by the Film Music Network. Nonmembers can also submit music for many listings.

Founded in January 2010, Hello Music gives independent artists access to traditional venues such as film, TV, and advertisements. It also provides connections to companies such as Yahoo! Music, where artists can get their music on Internet radio. Hello Music employs professional A&R staff to provide “real ears” to connect artists with the right Hello Music partners. You can submit your music to the site and then A&R takes over, screening the submissions and determining what Hello resources fit your music. The company takes nothing up front for pairing artists with companies. However, if the partnership yields revenue for the artist, Hello Music takes a share.

Magnatune licenses music for many types of creative projects, including films, TV, websites, videogames, and more. Its catalog is available to the general public through unlimited download memberships for $15 per month. Music supervisors can also license the music for use in a film or TV show. Artists receive half of all revenue from membership and licensing fees, and they can submit their music online free of charge. Magnatune accepts about 3 percent of the music submissions it receives. The company actively showcases its artists'' works, promoting the music through press, web, advertising, tradeshows, and events.

Megatrax mostly produces its music in-house. However, the company indicated that independent songwriters and artists can submit their music for consideration by emailing a link to (MySpace or artist''s website preferred).

The international market is another option. Muziko is a new European production-music library that offers opportunities to the independent songwriter and is currently seeking new music (mainly instrumental) for licensing in TV, films, and advertising. The company offers a 50/50 split with the songwriter on mechanical, sync, and broadcast royalties. You can submit tunes via its website.

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Phantom 4 Music pitches songs it represents for nonexclusive placement in movies, TV shows, and commercials.

Phantom 4 Music is a Canadian company that prefers to initially listen to new music online (for example, music posted on your MySpace profile). If the company reps like what they hear, they''ll ask you to email MP3 files of the songs. The company pitches songs it represents for nonexclusive placement in movies, TV shows, and commercials. It also pursues exclusive song placements with A-list recording artists. The company offers its writers an even split of royalties on their songs.

Claiming to own the largest production-music library—with about 80,000 song placements per year—Pump Audio asserts that music accepted for its catalog has a high chance of getting placed. The company''s sales staff of 600 has licensed music in more than 20 countries for TV commercials and shows, in advertisements, and for use on websites and radio. Past clients include MTV, VH1, Oprah, Nike, A&E, and NBC. Pump Audio offers nonexclusive contracts to writers it''s interested in working with. Although the company retains 65 percent of licensing fees it secures, it pays you half of the publisher''s share of performance royalties. Your Performing Rights Organization (PRO) pays all of the writer''s share directly to you.

Rumblefish is an online catalog of music that both professionals and the public can browse. It offers its songwriters a nonexclusive contract with a one-year term. Signed songwriters retain all performance royalties collected for their music. Rumblefish retains half of all licensing fees, paying the remainder to you four times a year. Submit your music online free of charge. Songs may also be mailed on CD provided they include an addendum that lists the included songs and writers along with their CAE numbers and signatures. (A CAE number is the personal identification number assigned to a writer by his or her PRO.) Most of Rumblefish''s success has been in placing music for ads and training videos, although it also does quite a bit of licensing to content creators on YouTube. Rumblefish has deep relationships with companies such as Microsoft and Nike that are based in the Northwest.

Song Street Records accepts music submissions in MP3 format uploaded to its site. There is no fee to submit your music. The company will listen to your submissions within 30 days after they are received. The company offers exclusive deals to writers it is interested in, and it retains half of the money earned by music placements. It pays your royalties in the quarter following their collection.

Songs With Vision pitches its catalog of music to its contacts in the film and TV industries. The company''s writers sign a nonexclusive co-publishing agreement: The company earns half of the publisher''s share of royalties and fees, whereas the writer keeps all of the writer''s share and half of the publisher''s share. You must pay a fee to submit songs. Songs With Vision offers critiques and feedback on every submission it receives, accepted or not.

The Sync Agency works specifically with ad agencies. Although most of its music placements are with firms in Europe, the company also pitches a lot of American music. It is different from most music-licensing companies in that it does not represent any specific artists or catalog but exists to help ad agencies find the music they are looking for. The Sync Agency is open to hearing new music, but it does not have a specific submission procedure.

TAXI, a pioneer in the indie artist/music-licensing field, offers project listings provided by production-music libraries, film and TV music supervisors, ad agencies, and videogame manufacturers. To submit songs to TAXI, you pay a yearly fee. The company''s A&R screeners forward your best material to the industry contacts that requested specific types of music or artists. TAXI doesn''t take any of the publishing-related income.

YouLicense specializes in licensing for small-scale uses such as corporate DVDs and software, webisodes, indie/documentary films, and art clips. Anyone can join and upload their music for free. Music supervisors can browse the online music database, which includes metadata such as genre, style, and mood. You are allowed to upload 10 songs with a free account. YouLicense retains only nine percent of any licensing fees, leaving you with a hefty 91 percent. All payment is done directly between seller and licensee via PayPal.

Only the Beginning
If you''d rather not sign with a production-music company, there are shortcuts to pitching your music yourself. Several subscription-based services provide leads for projects in the film and TV industries that are currently in need of music, and they even include a list of the music supervisors for each project. These services include CueSheet, The Hollywood Reporter, and Songrunner. Sign up on Songrunner''s website to receive free periodic email listings of its projects. The Hollywood Reporter and Cuesheet charge substantial fees for their services. The latter is published by SongLink International and delivered twice-monthly by email.

Dave Tough is a music producer, mixer, and songwriter in Nashville. His songs have been licensed for commercials, major motion pictures, corporate videos, and advertisements.