I’m going to give you a list of 9 things to watch out for when you’re licensing your music but first, let’s get one thing clear: you WILL make mistakes.
There’s not one person on this planet who has lived a life without mistakes, never mind navigated a successful career in the meanders of the music business without getting burned a few times!
If you’re going to enjoy any success licensing your music, you’ll have to put yourself out there and accept that sometimes, you’ll make the wrong decision.
The most costly mistake you can make is doing nothing and keeping your music to yourself.
Ok, this long list of things to watch out for may feel slightly overwhelming so I’ll start by saying that you can reach out to me in the comments if you need me. 🙂
Now, here are a few thoughts.
1- Focus On Non-Exclusive Deals
If you sign a non-exclusive deal with a music library and that music library doesn’t find any placements for you, it’s not ideal but it’s ok because you can still license that same music through someone else.
On the other hand, if you sign an exclusive deal with a music library and that library doesn’t find any placement for your music, you’re stuck for the duration of your agreement with that library.
Further reading: pros and cons of exclusive and non-exclusive deals.
2- Avoid Long-Term Agreements
Because if you sign a long-term agreement that doesn’t work out for you, you’re stuck long-term.
Think of what can happen in three years, five years, ten years….. are you confident you’ll be fine with your music being tied to a deal in that timeframe?
I’m not saying you should never ever sign a long-term deal during the course of your music career.
All I’m saying is that, when you’re first starting out, it makes sense to feel the waters before you commit long-term.
Take the time to understand the market and see what kind of opportunities are out there.
3- Make Sure You Are Only Trying To License Music That You Are Allowed To License
Because you don’t want to get sued!!
Ideal scenario is you own 100% of the composition and sound recording.
If you share the rights with other people, make sure you’ve got paperwork in place that clearly states who owns what, in the form of a split sheet for example.
If you’re trying to license a cover, reach out to someone like the Harry Fox Agency to make sure you’re good to go.
4- Don’t Price Yourself Too Low
– Music licensing is an interesting income stream to explore because there’s still decent money to be made. If you price yourself too low, you’re devaluating the market and shooting yourself (and others) in the foot.
– Pricing is part of your positioning. Low prices are often associated with poor quality. As a musician, being a bargain isn’t a great look.
– If you start low, it will be difficult for you to raise your prices afterwards. But not impossible.
– The higher you can price yourself, the less sales you’ll need to chase to make a decent living.
Pro tip: when you research music libraries, pretend you’re a customer and look at how much you’d need to pay to license a track. As a songwriter, is it worth your trouble? (see point 7 for caveat)
5- Start By Submitting Music To Free Licensing Opportunities
There are plenty of music libraries that are open to licensing your music and accept free music submissions.
I recommend starting with those because, if your music is not ready, they’ll tell you and you won’t have spent money pushing music that still needs work.
If you don’t know where to start, opening a free Songtradr account and uploading a few tracks there is a good first step in my book because:
1- the way Songtradr is set up makes it super easy to understand the importance of keywords and alternative versions.
2- their pricing tool is user-friendly and useful because it shows you the different types of licensing opportunities that exist (e.g. advertising online, podcast, apps, cable TV).
3- they list licensing opportunities with reference tracks which will give you an idea of what the market is looking for.
Further reading: here’s a list that includes another 5 licensing companies that accept free music submissions.
6- Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Lots Of Questions About A Contract Before You Sign It
Because you want to work with people who are patient and understand your concerns.
Don’t worry about looking silly or being a pain.
You’re a professional.
If the person takes offense or gets annoyed, they’re probably not a good person to work with anyway.
Pro tip: you can get free legal advice from a number of places, including the VLAA in the U.S. and the Musicians’ Union in the U.K. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your local P.R.O. for local addresses.
7- Focus On Libraries With Lots of Monthly Traffic
Whatever strategy you choose, licensing your music will take time and effort.
Focusing on libraries with lots of visitors means you’re focusing your energy on platforms that have a proven track record of attracting customers.