How To Prepare Yourself For Licensing Music: Every Step Listed Is Vital


Music licensing is a very lucrative business and one with no shortage of placement opportunities. Everywhere you turn there’s a company or product that utilizes music to some extent.

As an indie music creator, you have the ability to capitalize on these opportunities, but you have to be organized, flexible, patient, and willing to cater to the market’s needs. This is a different ball game when compared to creating around an artist.

Here are some tips you can utilize today to better prepare yourself for licensing.

  1. Make sure your music sounds good
  2. Know who owns the right to the music
  3. Affiliate with a PRO: SESAC, ASCAP, or BMI
  4. Have Alternate versions of your music
  5. Educate yourself on the business of music licensing

1. Make Sure Your Music Sounds Good.

I’m not speaking in terms of genre or taste, but more so in terms of sonic quality. You want to make sure your music is mixed properly. This means no clipping, good dynamic range, good levels, etc. It must sound good.

If mixing isn’t a talent you possess hire someone to mix your music or start learning how to do it yourself.

I get a lot of questions in terms of who to contact for mastering or does my music need to be mastered. My answer is no it does not need to be mastered, don’t focus on the mastering, focus on the mix because the master is only as good as the mix.

A good thing to do is compare your music to commercial music or a song that you hear being used in the licensing world. If your music doesn’t sound as good sonically then it’s not ready.

2. Who Owns The Rights To Your Music?

Make sure you know who owns the rights to your music. If you working with a band or with multiple writers, then everyone involved with the creation owns a piece of the music.

Here’s a perfect example. If you, Billy, and Casey wrote a song together, then you are all co-owners and have say in what happens with the song, unless stated otherwise in a contract.

What licensing professionals need to know

1. who owns a master recording?
2. Who owns the composition?

Why is this important? Because before your music can be used in visual media, the client needs to obtain two specific licenses.

1. Master license (master sound recording)
2. Synchronization license (the right to use the composition)

And without all parties (writers/owners) onboard, the transaction gets stuck in limbo.

visual media = video games, movies, reality TV shows, etc.

3. Are You Affiliated with A PRO? Sign Up With BMI, ASCAP or SESAC

Make sure you’re signed up with a Performing Rights Organization also known as a PRO. The reason why you want to sign up with the PRO is so you can collect royalty payments.

If your music is used in a TV commercial and it airs several times a day, that’s money in the bank and without being signed up with a PRO, it’s money that you’re missing out on.

Even if the commercial only airs on Saturday mornings between 9 AM and 11 AM, that’s money that you’re missing out on if you’re not signed up with the PRO.

4. Have Alternative Versions Of Your Music

Why? Because it increases the chances of your music being used. A lot of times when you listen to TV ads, you’ll notice that the instrumental plays underneath the dialogue for a few bars, then towards the end, you hear the full song.

This is done because the dialogue for the commercial/TV ad or whatever is important and they need your music to aid the message, and not conflict with their dialogue.

In the event that a music supervisor needs the instrumental version of your song and you can’t be reached or can’t turn it over in a reasonable amount of time, you could miss out on the placement altogether.

There are also times when you have a good song, but it’s not formatted correctly. What does this mean? This means your music isn’t set up to be used in visual media → there needs to be edits and variations

5. Educate Yourself On The Business Of Music.

Make sure you understand the basic terminology of music licensing as they will be used in your contracts. If you can afford legal representation, I recommend going that route, but if not education is required.

Even if you can afford legal representation, it’s still beneficial to understand the jargon and terms being used. In some instances, it’ll save you money, and it makes you a little more marketable (professional).

Big clients like working with people who are professional. Smaller clients will appreciate the Average Joe approach, especially if you can explain things on their level.


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8 thoughts on “How To Prepare Yourself For Licensing Music: Every Step Listed Is Vital

  1. Whaz up Greg. I missed out on a placement for the MTV show Rob&Big back in the day because I got a lawyer to look over the contract. The music supervisor didn’t want to use it once I got an attorney involved. The law firm was just doing their job and looking out for my interest . My attorney back then was a well know entertainment attorney name James Mcmillian and I thought I did the right thing by getting a lawyer to look over the contract . I still had to pay the firm a $500 retainer for their services . I should’ve kept going but I just stop trying. I should get back on it . Seeing your post woke me up. I really need to get back on this music thing. At this point I’ll have to start from scratch and build my catalog before I try it again.

  2. I have a client who has had successful placements in the past in film, but we would like to expand and try to get some potential placements in commercials. Some of his older stuff is pitchable (is that a word?) but he doesn’t have instrumental versions of his music and cannot track down the masters. Short of re-cutting a song, do you have any tips on removing vocals from a stereo track? I recently read that if the vox track is in the middle, you can split the channels, invert the right channel, then mono both and the vocals will disappear. I tried that and it worked to an extent, but there was also some slight loss in sound of the instrumentation as well. Maybe you have some magical engineering wizardry up your sleeve?

    1. Hi Melody,

      Sometimes that works, but you generally run into problems when the vocals and parts of the song share frequencies. I don’t know of any way of getting the instrumentals clean without having the masters. 🙁 I’ll ask around for you.

  3. Good structured and useful advise with quality content – as usual in Greg. Important: the musical advice is the first – later the business part of it. Both are important, but I like to think about their priority. If not, we composres could easily turn into businessmen and forget the pleasure of making music.
    Juan María

  4. Greg,
    I get the idea and purpose of doing multiple versions and variations of a song. But, could you expound a bit more on the variations aspect. Or, you have in another place somewhere direct me there.”

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