Once you get the green light from a music library or music supervisor, best be prepared to deliver what they need!
This post will list all the audio files you need to maximise your chances of getting your music licensed.
That’s the promise of this post. If there’s anything you feel I’ve forgotten, let me know in the comments section! This resource is for you. Help me make it as good as it can be!!
The 5 Essentials
Here’s my list of the 5 essential audio files that need to be ready for licensing….
MP3, 320 kbps
WAV, 16 bit, 44 kHz
WAV, 16 bit, 48 kHz
WAV, 24 bit, 44 kHz
WAV, 24 bit, 48 kHz
I’m not including AIFF files here because they’re not requested as often as WAV files but some customers may ask for them every now and then.
If you produce your own music, you will be familiar with the “bounce” option that allows you to export the entire tune into one audio file. All you have to do is bounce the tune several times in the 5 suggested formats.
If you go through a third-party to produce your music, you will need to ask the mixing/mastering engineer for the MP3 and WAV files.
In any case, it’s important that you always start with the highest quality format (WAV > MP3).
Because you can easily convert WAV (no compression) files into MP3 (compressed files), using free WAV to MP3 converters online for example. However, because an MP3 is a compressed file, you cannot convert it into a lossless, no compression file like a WAV or AIFF file.
MP3, 320kbps is the highest quality of MP3 you can export. Some libraries will ask lower quality 128kpbs versions when you first submit but you will need high quality if your track is accepted so you should have it ready.
Kbps stands for “kilobytes per second”. You don’t need to worry about this though…
Just remember that 320kbps is the highest quality (it sounds “cleaner”): 320kbps > 256kbps > 128kbps
Those are just the broad lines by the way, your DAW will give you loads of options for mp3:
24bit is the highest quality possible. 48kHz is for music to video while 44kHz is for CD quality.
Again, different music libraries will ask for different things. If you’re feeling lazy, delete the first 3 WAV options proposed and focus on WAV 24bit, 48kHz (highest quality and music to video).
Some people will argue that AIFF is better because, historically, it retains metadata more easily.
However, the audio quality is the same (lossless, no compression) and most music libraries request WAV. So I’m going with WAV here.
If you want to add the AIFF formats to your checklist, that’s 100% fine and may come in handy once in a while.
Otherwise, you can always go back to the project to export it if it is requested. The purpose of the checklist is to have you prepared with the essentials to get your music into music libraries. I have kept it short and manageable so as to not defeat its purpose and allow you to make progress.
Having 2-4 alternative versions of your song is always a good idea because it gives your customers options.
That can only be a good thing when prospects are browsing a music library’s results page.
Here are some examples of additional tracks and audio files you can prepare to improve your chances of getting your music licensed and/or provide your customers with a better experience working with you….
Alternative instrumentation 1 (e.g. no drums)
Alternative instrumentation 2 (e.g. no vocals)
Alternative instrumentation 3 (e.g. no synth)
If you recorded a song with vocals, it’s 100% guaranteed that a potential customer will want an instrumental version (so they can easily take vocals out of the way of dialogue if needed).
If there’s a very melodic instrument, the same applies. An alternative version without it can help the music department take it out of the way of dialogue.
You can be creative with your alternative versions. For example, you could have percussions replace the drums.
You don’t have to do anything. Music departments can do it themselves.
if a potential customer is hesitating between two songs in the music library and only one of them includes shorter versions, chances are they’ll go with that one.
It just makes their lives easier.
Step 1: identify 30” segments of your tune that stand alone (edit slightly if needed)
Step 2: bounce the 30” version
Step 3: identify if the same can be done with 60” and 90”:
- If yes, bounce those versions as well.
- If no, change the arrangement slightly to make it work
You could do this yourself or, if you’re having your tunes produced by a third-party, ask them to do it (preferably with your artistic input so you can decide which sections of your tune to work with).
Being able to provide your customers with stem files is a huge bonus from your customer’s perspective.
Because stem files give your customers a lot of options and editing flexibility. They can easily pick and choose how to layer the song so that it doesn’t interfere with the visual side of their project.
Ok, let’s back up a little bit…..
In the context of music licensing, a “stem” file is the audio file for one instrument.
Your music project contains multiple tracks and, chances are, you’ve layered a few tracks to make up one instrument sound.
For example, let’s say you have recorded 9 tracks just for your drums. In that case, providing the drum “stems” means you mute everything BUT those 9 drum tracks and bounce them into one WAV file.
You’ll do this for each instrument.
If your track is purchased for licensing, this gives a lot of flexibility to the music department who is working with your tune.
For example, they may like you song but want to adjust the sound of the piano or cut a single melodic phrase. In that case, it’s very helpful for them to have all the stem files. It allows them to edit and play around with your song so that it fits their needs perfectly.
At the top level, this is a requirement, especially in the advertising world.
Side note: you could also create a stem file for a group of instruments instead of just one instrument. For example, larger orchestral projects could have a stem file for 1st violin, a stem file for 2nd violin, a stem file for cello, etc. Or it could be broken down into instrument sections and then you’d have a stem file for all strings, a stem file for brass, etc.
You do NOT edit stem files. One instrument in your song (no matter how many tracks were recorded for this instrument) = one stem file.
Stem files are bounced out of the software used to produce the track (e.g. ProTools, Logic, Ableton Live, etc.).
For music licensing purposes, they should be bounced in 24bit, 48kHz for maximum quality suitable for video.