I’ve been having a blast lately connecting with and interviewing so many different people working in different facets of the licensing business for my podcast, Music, Money And Life. It’s one thing to be able to give you my own anecdotal stories and experiences about licensing my own music. But it’s a whole other thing to be able to bring together and interview dozens of people working successfully in different facets of the licensing industry. I feel like I’m able to provide a much broader perspective by bringing so many different people into the conversation.
[By the way, speaking of my podcast, thanks to everyone who has been leaving me positive feedback. Thanks to you, I made it onto the charts as one of the highest rated podcasts in the music category yesterday! I really appreciate everyone who took the time to leave a review.]
By interviewing supervisors, publishers and songwriters all working full time in the business, I’ve been able to get a real “bird’s eye” view of how the business works. The big picture, if you will, of the music licensing industry. The life of a musician can be lonely at times, and one of my main goals with my podcast is to bring as many different people as possible working in the business on to share their stories, so that you can learn from a really wide range of people that work in the industry. So that you’ll get a better perspective on your own journey and hopefully feel a little less isolated and alone.
One of the best ways to learn, is to hear directly from people who are doing what it you want to do. I have some really great guests lined up for future episodes, so be sure to subscribe to my podcast if you haven’t already here:
In today’s post I thought I’d break down 7 key takeaways that I’ve gotten from the last few months of doing my podcast on a weekly basis and networking with a variety of people in the business. These are 7 points that pretty much everyone I’ve interviewed and spoken with has been in agreement on.
1) You can make a full time living, but it’s takes a lot of time and effort – One of the questions I’ve been asking everyone I interview is about the viability of turning music licensing into a career. Is it possible? Feasible? Is it practical to try to make music licensing a full time career? Everyone I’ve spoken with has said more or less the same thing. Yes it’s possible, but it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to get to that point.
Music licensing, most of the people I speak with say, should be approached more like a long term investment. Sort of like a 401k plan for musicians. It’s something that you need to build up over time. You need to approach music licensing like you would investing in the stock market. In other words, think long term and diversify. Write a lot of different songs. Place them in different libraries and with different publishers. Go direct to supervisors if you can. You might get lucky and land a huge placement right away. It could happen. But don’t necessarily count on that happening. Keep writing and pitching and over time the money you make will grow.
2) It’s better to write from the heart than to try and write what you think will work for licensing – Although it’s important to be aware of what works and why in the context of licensing, the overwhelming consensus has been that, at the end of the day, you should just write great songs that are inspired and from the heart. This advice that I’ve gotten, over and over, sort of took me by surprise, in a good way. I hate the idea of trying to force my music into some sort of pre-conceived, pre-determined, homogenized mold. The artist in me cringes at this thought. I went into this business to make art! If I wanted to just create cookie cutter widgets, void of substance and meaning I’d work in a factory or something. So the fact that the majority of people I’ve interviewed, from supervisors to publishers to songwriters, all agree that as songwriters we should, first and foremost, strive to write great, inspired music gives me hope.
Of course, you should still pay attention to things like lyrics and arrangement and make sure they’re not too far out of the realm of what works for licensing. You still need to consider the way in which your songs will be used, if and when they’re licensed. But don’t do this at the expense of the music you’re creating. Don’t forego writing a great song too simply try and make it fit the music licensing mold. Music supervisors are music fans. They’re drawn to the music business because, for the most part, they love music. Don’t forget this when you’re creating music you plan to pitch for licensing opportunities.
3) It takes a lot of pitching and submitting your music to land placements - The music business is competitive. There is a lot of music being pitched. I spoke with one prominent music supervisor who told me that she gets as many as 1,000 submissions a day! Many supervisors simply don’t have time to listen to everything that is being sent to them. Your job as a songwriter, is to rise above this noise and competition and get your music heard. Going through libraries and publishers is a good way to do this, as they can help you do the job of pitching and finding out about projects. They’ll take a cut of what you make of course, but it’s well worth it in my experience to have the extra help.
You can go directly to music supervisors as well and if you catch them at the right time, with the right track they might be open to it. In my experience, supervisors draw from a lot of different sources to meet their music needs and many are open to working directly with artists when it makes sense to do so.
Whatever route you go, if you want to do this at serious level, you need to devote considerable time to pitching your music and finding out about projects. Most writers that do this full time, devote at least two to three days to doing nothing but pitching. It really is where the true work comes in when it comes to landing placements. I wish there was an easier way, but the consensus is that to be successful at licensing, you need to keep pitching and networking on a regular basis.
4) You have to approach this like a job if you want to be successful – I think this piece of advice applies to any aspect of the music industry. You have to approach this like a job or business if you want this to be your job. Songwriters that make a full time living doing this, work full time hours! I think what Sam Beam, aka Iron And Wine, said about the music business sums it up, “if you treat music like a job, they’ll pay you like it’s a job”.
Apply this mindset to everything you do in terms of being a musician. Set up regular hours to write and record music. Have a set schedule you adhere to when you’re pitching music. Be consistent. There are a lot of musicians out there, but in terms of musicians that are really going for this in a serious way, it’s a much smaller pool.
5) You need to have thick skin for this business – This probably comes as no surprise, but the music business is really hard. It’s competitive. You will be rejected, most likely a lot. Don’t even pay attention to the rejection. Keep making music. Keep improving your music and keep pitching your music. If you’re passionate and motivated, eventually you’ll win other people over.
Of course, listen to the feedback you get, if you send your tracks to 20 people and they all say that your vocals are off key, take note and work on improving that. We all have things to improve. But, music isn’t an exact science. What one music supervisors hates, another might love. That’s why I don’t pay too much attention to criticism or rejection in general, unless it points to something specific that I hear over and over. There’s a difference between someone just not feeling a track and someone not liking it for specific reasons. If you know deep down you’re writing and recording great songs, keep pitching them until you find others that agree.
6) There are no guarantees when it comes to licensing, until a track is actually licensed - At the end of the day, there are no guarantees in this business until a song is actually licensed. You might find ten publishers who love your tracks and they all pitch them to no avail. It happens. Until a specific supervisor wants to use your track for a specific project and the song has been synced, it’s all speculation. Don’t let this discourage you, but also don’t forget this reality of the industry.
This is why the ongoing pitching of your material is so important if you want to approach this like a career. You never really know if something is going to happen, until it happens. Unless you are on staff for a network or hired by a production company to write music on a salaried basis, you’re always going to be looking for the next project and the next place to license your tracks. Of course, you’ll be building up residual income too, as some of your tracks will likely be used repeatedly and in different projects over time. But for most writers that are doing this on a freelance basis, in other words, most of us, the pitching never really stops.
7) You might decide this isn’t for you, and that’s ok - With all this talk about competition, rejection and how hard licensing is, you might come to the conclusion that this simply isn’t for you and that’s ok too. I feel like the only real reason to go into the music business in general is because you absolutely love making music more than anything else. If you don’t have that sort of intense passion for making music, than it really doesn’t make much sense as a career path. I believe success is possible for all of us, but if you don’t have an innate sense of passion for music, it’s doubtful that you’ll be able to push through the challenges.
Music, to me, is a calling. It’s almost a religious like calling. Any money and success I may happen to attain is really just a byproduct of my desire to get my music out into the world and have it heard. That’s really what drives me more than anything. At the end of the day, I don’t really care if my music is played in the background of a soap opera or a reality tv show. It’s nice when it happens, but more than anything I just love playing music and you know, I have to like eat and pay bills.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.