Artist Advice Column: Music Licensing 101 Pt. 2 - Magnetic Magazine

Artist Advice Column: Music Licensing 101 Pt. 2

We dive into how to get yourself licensed and writing for film, TV and video games.
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Earlier this month we started talking about the basics of music licensing. We dove into how to best write your music for commercials, gave a few tips for improving your odds when getting them in front of the right people and then dealing with important legal matters. Now it is time to branch out into film, TV and video games, plus diving into the process of getting your music in commercials.

We asked this the last time and started on it, but now let’s really drill down – how do you get your music licensed? How do I as an artist get syncs? There are three main avenues.

1. You work with a publisher or rep who pitches your music to various agencies: 

This is where the aptitude and relationships your representative has matters. Cold-calling a music supervisor, major studio probably won’t get you anywhere. Even if you have a great song, the likelihood they will have the time to get to your track in between everything else o their plate is pretty close to zero. Having someone with relationships and a recognizable name attached to them will work wonders. Also a lot of places simply don’t take unsolicited submissions because they know they can’t handle it. So find the right company that would want to work with you, your music and understands what you want.

2. You get contracted to create a song for a project:

This is exceedingly rare especially if you are a small group, but if it does happen, jump at the opportunity. This could be the chance to score a film, a short bit for a game or for a TV show. Sometimes films will ask a variety of musicians to write music specifically for the movie and this could end up falling in your plate. Knowing how to write instrumental music is key for this because people talk in TV and film. Even making instrumentals for your vocal songs is important because this may be the track that is used.

3. Somebody picks your music from a licensing company:

This is also hit and miss, but can give you a better chance as a new artist. Companies like SoStereo, Sentric Music, Extreme Music, Audiosocket, Rumbefish, Music Dealers, Pump Audio and many others have music libraries that supervisors, content companies and others can pick out to license. This is an opening for you to create tracks that may not be super lucrative, like a background song in an online video on making food, but it can be a way to get your name out there an get a small paycheck. You have to start somewhere.

Before you go about all of this, there are some things you need to do to make sure you are in the best position to get licensed. Like you are pitching your song to a website, have all of your relevant career accomplishments together and ready to show in a one sheet or press kit. Have your social media accounts up to date and professional. If a music supervisor is going to look into you and give you the opportunity with a big sync on a TV, make sure you seem active and care about your craft. Music is number one, but every artist needs to have the complete package – even for syncs. There are likely hundreds of bands like you out there. Being the complete package is necessary.

When making music, put yourself in the shoes of the person you are selling to – the brand or music supervisor. What do they want? If it is for a commercial, a song that is too loud, edgy thematically or erratic, likely won’t make the cut. It will be distracting from the product they are trying to sell. Booming and anthemic tracks do get picked, especially recently with big trap beats by the likes of RL Grime, TNGHT or Bauuer making their way into commercials. If a brand wants something energetic to convey that the brand has energy themselves, this will help. However writing a thrash metal song with that purpose is not the right way to go.

For film and television, this is even more difficult nut to crack. Big films can be entirely scored by individuals, leaving no room for a small artist to get a song in the project. However if you are going to write music for film and TV there are a few notes to know. Many of the same points covered in the last article remain. Write good music that is familiar to the listener’s ear and adaptable. It is likely only a piece of your song will only be used on screen so know how to write for those moments. Did you see Black Panther (probably)? The entire Kendrick Lamar-executive produced soundtrack wasn’t played throughout the movie and even the songs that did get played were played in their entirety. It is how film and TV works.

With video games, there are a few characteristics that make it unique. Unless you have a song that was picked for a sports game soundtrack, composing a score for a game presents its own unique challenges. There is no defined amount of time that the score will be played for or potentially an exact point your song will be played, though Nintendo games have made iconic music for parts of their games. It has to be adaptable for thousands of hours of game play and to many different situations. Your music has to be able to change from an exploring situation to an intense battle somewhat quickly. Music can impact the mood of the game and intensity of in-game situations. Reflect on how you would want the gaming experience to be when writing it. Also note that a decent amount of music is done by in house musicians at studios, so this will decrease your odds of getting a gig.

Syncs are hard to get and can change a career. They may happen towards the beginning of a career or the end. Build relationships with music supervisors and continue to hone your craft at writing music for this genre. If this is the path you want to take with your career, then be ready for some small gigs at the beginning. It is like a regular music career, but without the “glamour” of the road. 

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