A lot of musicians see music licensing as this big, super-intimidating goal.
Maybe you feel like you need to have a publisher before you can start. Or perhaps it seems like you need to have a catalog of at least 50 songs before you can even think about submitting anything to licensing opportunities. Or you may even think that you need to hit a certain level of popularity before your music will be “in demand” enough to get licensed.
Let me tell you right off the bat that those are all just excuses that hold you back.
You only need 3 things to start licensing your music successfully:
- The music
- A strategy
That’s it! In the music licensing industry, you’re going to get a whole lot further if you START.
So start prepping the tracks you already have, start researching music libraries and other placement opportunities, and start actually submitting.
To help you get that initial momentum going, we’re going to go through each of those three things one by one. Use this as a checklist for yourself to start moving towards your licensing goals.
1. The Music – Preparing Your Music and Your Catalog for Licensing
When it comes to your musical approach to licensing, you have two options (note that these are not mutually exclusive).
Write a LOT of Music
The more music you have to sell, the more earning potential you have. Seems pretty obvious, right?
The big question is: how do you become a prolific composer?
My tip is simple: embrace imperfection and work under the assumption that quality will come through quantity.
What do I mean by this?
I mean that if you challenge yourself to write songs faster than ever before, you’ll come up with some crappy tunes and some great tunes.
One exercse that has worked wonders for me is working with an artificial deadline.
Here’s how it works. Set a 30 minute timer for yourself and write a new song with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It doesn’t have to be a long song or even a very good song. The only rule is that when the timer goes off, you stop what you’re doing and bounce the MP3.
The goal is not to finish the track in 30 minutes. The goal is to create SOMETHING, whatever that is, in 30 minutes.
This exercise ensures that you always have a lot of raw material to work with. By forcing yourself to just write you’ll stumble upon a lot more ideas. Some may not be that great, but some will be gems that you can come back to and refine.
THIS is how I manage to write dozens of songs in a year.
Write in a Niche
Another approach to building out a licensing catalog is to write in a particular niche.
There are many advantages to writing in a niche:
- It’s easier to brand yourself and your music
- You know the market better
- You can position yourself as the go-to person for that genre of music
Now of course, the less crowded the niche is, the more this applies.
The thinking is that if you just jump on the latest trend, you’ll be part of the cattle herd. It will be your song in a sea of thousands. But if you focus in on a particular (less crowded) genre or sub-genre, you’ll be able to shine.
I think this is a little easier to illustrate with an example:
Let’s say you love reggae and it’s something you’re really good at writing.
In the grand scheme of things, there really aren’t that many people specialized in reggae. And that means the music production libraries are not flooded with reggae music.
If someone types in “reggae” in a music library, you’ll be towards the top! If someone asks a small boutique library for reggae available exclusive, the staff will get in touch with you and ask if you can write something for them.
Of course, there are less licensing opportunities for reggae tracks than there are for EDM or happy quirky corporate tunes, BUT (and this is important) you’ll get a look-in almost every single time there IS a reggae opportunity.
2. Creating Your Music Licensing Strategy
Now that you have the music and know you can write quality new tunes whenever you want, it’s time to put together a strategy.
Musicians don’t always like this part. They think there’s something immoral about “selling out.”
But here’s the simple truth: music is your career, your job, and your business. If you don’t want to make money with your music, stop reading this and go get a job.
If you DO want to make money from music, you need to realize that you’re not the only one. Especially with music licensing, it’s bit of a competition.
Now I don’t want you to freak out. It’s a competition with the potential for a LOT of winners. The demand for great music is SO high today that there’s room for lots of musicians to be very successful.
Here’s a few general tips to help you stay focused, motivated, and ahead of the curve:
- If you enjoy what you do, your music will be better for it and you’ll have more energy to stay persistent longer (that means DON’T write in a genre you hate just because you think there’s more financial opportunity. That’s how you burn out.)
- If you strategize and focus on the activities that will yield the highest results (whether that’s exposure or financial gain), you’ll have more energy to stay persistent longer. This will take some time to figure out, but over time you’ll start to realize what your big winners are. Focus on what works and cut everything else out.
Understand Your Strengths – SWOT Analysis
In order to strategize, you need to know yourself and your music.
Let’s start with a SWOT analysis! The acronym stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
The exercise is simple:
- Identify your strengths and weaknesses as a music composer and business person (because your music is your business).
- Identify opportunities for your music and what threatens to derail your progress in the licensing industry.
Here are a few questions that may help you analyze your strengths and weaknesses and identify threats and opportunities:
- What’s my production profile? Can I record a lot of music at little cost or am I limited in the number of tracks I can put out every year?
- Is my music catalogue very specific and niche or could I benefit from focusing on a sub-genre for a little while?
- Am I good under pressure? Do I like working with really tight deadlines?
- Will the last minute cancelation of a project frustrate me?
- Am I more productive working alone or with a team?
- Who in my network can help me? This is SO often underestimated (by yours truly as well!). Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’m not suggesting you ask everyone for money all the time but reminding people you’re trying to make a living as a musician and you can help with this and that goes a long way! That’s also how you start getting referrals and more gigs coming in!
- Is this strategy going to bring enough money in (in the long term, you can’t expect immediate results)? For example, if you’re a beatmaker competing with $1 beats, you’re in trouble. You’ll burn out in no time.
Think about how you could sell ONE beat for $20 and you can focus on getting 1 customer instead of 20, 5 customers instead of 100.
You need to be as honest as you possibly can when you answer these questions. There’s no point in the exercise if you’re not!
Music licensing is a looooooong game and you’ll sometimes be spending months without anything major happening.
You still need to keep going when you’re in that hole.
That’s why you need to take the time to put together a strategy that makes sense for YOU. Then you can trust the process when you’re going through a period that’s not bringing you a lot of obvious results.
If you choose a path that’s not well aligned with your personality and strengths, it’s going to be extra tough to make it.
Follow a Path That Makes Sense for YOU
You don’t enjoy writing happy quirky corporate tunes? Don’t spend 6 months trying to close deals with Apple and Ikea.
You can’t stand classical music? Don’t set out to make orchestral trailer music because you’ve heard it’s lucrative.
I know it sounds obvious, but you couldn’t guess how many musicians nail them down to goals they HATE because they haven’t taken the time to really think about what they want and enjoy doing.
Set and Track Your Music Licensing Goals
The only way to persevere is to set goals that you can reach. And here’s the key – set goals around things you actually control.
So as an artist trying to get your music licensed, you shouldn’t be aiming to get 4 placements in the next 6 months.
It’s not that it’s impossible for you to get 4 placements in that timeframe. It’s that you can’t CONTROL if you do or not.
Here are a few examples of goals that could work:
- Each year I will to record and release X number of tracks.
- I want to have X tracks ready for licensing (complete with alternative versions, keywords and attention-grabbing description) by a certain date.
- I plan to submit to X number of music libraries
- By next month, I will have contacted X amount of film students / rappers / videographers / fill-in-the-blank (Note you’re not aiming for a number of projects to work on. You’re targeting a number of potential customers you can reach out to to get a project)
- I’ll attend X amount of TV / film networking events you attend.
From personal experience, and I’m sure it’s the same with you, efforts bring results.
Every time I’ve thrown myself wholeheartedly at something, I’ve made progress.
Be Gentle With Yourself
Don’t set yourself up to fail.
By all means, stretch your comfort zone. You’ll grow and make progress.
But don’t aim too high too fast! That’s the easiest route to burnout!
If you don’t really like networking, don’t spend 1 grand on a large live event. Instead, start online in a small Facebook group.
If you’ve never scored music to video before, don’t try to convince a short-film director featured at Sundance to hire you, get in touch with film school students first.
I’m not saying you should not aim high. If you can and you know you’ll follow through, congratulations, you’re exceptional! Keep doing what you’re doing! 🙂
For the more neurotic reader out there: yes, of course, aim high BUT if after a few weeks you notice you keep putting off the same thing over and over again…. Dial it back a bit 🙂
By all means, if you have the energy and endurance, sprint out of the starting blocks!
Just know that there’s nothing wrong with slow and steady progress to finish the race.
Joyce Kettering (creativeandproductive.com) is a songwriter, composer, music licensing expert, and teacher of the Get Your Music Licensed! program. The music licensing methods she teaches has allowed her to quit her day job at a Fortune 500 company and be successful on licensing alone.