Music Licensing: Part 13
As a composer, you should be skeptical of most advice and I encourage you not to think of this post as advice. Think of it more like a Roman Coliseum - I’m in the pit fighting to survive and you’re watching (and hopefully learning) in the crowd. I’m writing this to help organize and remember what I’ve learned so far this year. It’s as selfish as it is altruistic. May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.
Some recurring themes I’ve been told from those who’ve successfully licensed their music for years: BE PATIENT!
Holy shit are they telling the truth. I started licensing my music (123 pieces and counting) to various libraries back in March of this year. To my dismay, I learned how infrequent the payments are. Twice a year is about the avg I’ve encountered, some pay quarterly, some annually. And it takes……...time. Especially if you’re submitting to libraries and not music supervisors. I’ve also only encountered one company that pays up front for music (not very much). But there was a catch. They wanted all of my rights, including the copyright. And they ASKED ME TO LEAVE ASCAP, my performing rights organization (an org that collects performance royalties on my behalf). To each their own, but this is one sentence you should treat as advice: Don’t give away your copyright or royalties, not unless you desperately need the money. Even then, I would encourage you to work part-time somewhere else and not support this destructive practice. Our industry has a lot of sharks. We lone-wolf composers are easy pickings for companies that profit by both our ignorance and desperation. So to combat that, here is a list of 100+ companies I’ve reached out to, with notes and details. Learn from my mistakes, I’ve written them in all caps.
Exclusive vs Non-Exclusive
When I started this in March, I knew almost nothing about licensing. I did the shotgun approach of contacting everyone and their mother seeking libraries that would accept my music. Again, because I’m skeptical of advice, I wanted my own data to base an opinion on. Not forum posts, tweets or jaded attitudes.
Another tip I’ve learned from those more experienced in the industry is that exclusive deals are becoming more and more common. Which, from my perspective, sucks, because non-exclusive licensing companies are appealing to me for three reasons:
- Multiple libraries can host your music, which means you have that many more fail-safes in place for when one of these companies tank. And they will tank.
- Non-exclusive libraries allow me to upload my music on Bandcamp, Spotify, etc as I maintain all rights. In my position of having a small, but loyal group of fans, this is extremely important.
- I enjoy crafting my own albums and then finding an audience for it a lot more than writing generic trailer cues
Now that said, I’ve written several cues for exclusive libraries this year (again, to gather my own data and determine a good future course of action). But I regret the way I’ve gone about this. Between May-Sept, I wrote around 36 pieces of music for different exclusive libraries. I did this all while working on my own record, scoring music for a video game and three short films. And I burned out, hard. My plan was to see which ones performed the best for me, then dedicate more of my time to just those certain libraries. I still think it’s a decent plan, but I would encourage you to be selective. Wasting time writing for libraries that don’t value your work is simply that, a waste of time. What my plan for now is, reach out to every non-exclusive library I can first, then find one or two great exclusive companies and ONLY write for them. My reasoning is this: if you begin to hate writing music because you're writing it for people who don’t value it, you’re ruining the entire reason you became a songwriter in the first place. And I say this entirely out of love, but in 2017, only a fool would get into this industry to make money.
I want to talk about TAXI music. They’ve been around for awhile and if you google them, the first five links that come up (at least for me) are something like “Is TAXI music a scam?”. Which doesn't give you objective data. It tends to attract shitposting (or worse, composers discouraging others from joining to keep competition down). I joined TAXI earlier this year on a friends advice. And I view them as a long-term investment. I wasn’t expecting immediate reciprocation and neither should you. Just planting seeds and I think I’ll revisit this next year to give better data but for now, here are my stats:
21 Forwards to 37 submissions → 57% forward rate. I compared them with TAXI’s own data. 11% of submissions actually get forwarded to libraries and music sups. So I’m doing just fine. But so what, forwards are just forwards. How many deals did this create? I signed up in January. So far, I've been offered two deals by two different companies from those 21 forwards. Again, everyone at TAXI (and virtually every successful licensing composer I’ve met) says: deals TAKE TIME. This is not a quick business. Think of licensing like an investment in your retirement account. So with that in mind, keep writing, keep submitting. Or if you want to save your money and wait for me to post a failure followup (which I absolutely will if it happens), go for it. But these are two licensing companies that don’t accept unsolicited material, so, in the grand scheme of things, one placement from them will more than pay for the annual membership. And I don’t mind taking that risk for my future. If it turns out to be a mistake, I’ll be pissed, but I’ll share that mistake with you.
It’s one of the last available industries that pays introvert composers and songwriters for…...writing music. It’s filled with sharks, zombies, and saviors just like every other part of the music industry. If you think people are icky but you want to make a living as a composer (or in my case, buy groceries and fund future records), it might be a solid option.