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.
Monthly traffic is not the only measure. But it’s a measure you can easily track.
The “Similar Web” Chrome extension is free and can provide you with info on a website’s estimated monthly traffic.
The way it works is you install the Chrome extension called “Similar Web”.
Then, whenever you’re on a library’s website, you can click on the Similar Web icon in the Chrome toolbar and see the traffic figures from that website.
Pro tip: The traffic figures may vary if you compare Similar Web data with the data from some other SEO tool. Make sure you use the same tool when comparing different websites because you don’t want to be comparing apples with oranges 😉
8- Use Pseudonyms To License Your Music
Because pseudonyms give you the freedom to try stuff and make mistakes.
When you’re first starting out and you’re not sure exactly where you’re going, that’s a big bonus.
Even if you do know what you want, pseudonyms give you the freedom to build different brands.
For example, you could build a brand for the folk music you perform live with a band using one name, use another persona to score indie films and create yet another pseudonym to license hip-hop tunes to reality TV shows or work in advertising.
In an industry where people thrive on labels and frown upon non-specialists, pseudonyms give you the freedom to have fun and experiment 😉
9- Take The Time To Figure Out If The YouTube Content ID Program Is Right For You
I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty of how the YouTube Content ID Program works because:
1- it seems to be constantly evolving and,
2- quite frankly, I’m not sure I understand it completely and could cover all the different scenarios without making a fool of myself!
One thing you do need to know before you opt-in to the YouTube Content ID Program is that some music libraries refuse to work with music producers who have their music in the program.
This is because there is a history of YouTube flagging “false or mistaken copyright claims”. When that happens, customers who paid for a license tend to get angry.
Is the YouTube Content ID Program good or bad? I don’t know….
My view is “if you don’t understand it, don’t do it” so I don’t speculate in the stock market and I don’t participate in the YouTube Content ID Program…. Maybe it’s a mistake and I’d be in a position to retire if I did 😉
If you understand it and it makes sense for you to participate, please do and let me know in the comments so I can educate myself on the subject!
Further reading: It looks like YouTube may soon be introducing a new tool called “Copyright Match” that will solve a lot of the current problems by giving the copyright owner the option to do nothing, or get in contact with the YouTube channel directly or ask YouTube to take the video down.