Music is all around us and plays an integral role in a number of different industries.
Music is used in everything from movie productions to television shows and pretty much anything to do with our everyday need for entertainment.
A lot of the artists that compose music don’t have the ability to reach the masses with their creations for a multitude of reasons.
As the concept of distributing your music continues to evolve, music licensing has been and still is a very useful way for artists to expand their reach and open new doors.
While we have unpacked some very in depth concepts within the topic of music licensing, we are sure that there are some more simple but important questions you may be asking.
Below we cover what you should keep in mind before diving into the world of music licensing.
Should I License My Music?
For starters, this question can’t be fully answered without touching on the importance of ownership and copyrighting your music. Without having this in place and knowing who owns what, you really shouldn’t be heading down the rabbit hole of music licensing.
Having a clear understanding of what portion of the song you own is most important if you’re not writing and producing 100% of all your released music.
Amazing opportunities come with working and writing with other songwriters, artists, and producers, but you have to be clear on the writers and publishers share in terms of what you own. Copyrighting your music and being registered with a PRO are the next steps when it comes to your licensing career.
If you have the authority to make decisions with the music in question then I strongly recommend giving licensing some serious attention. A music license without a doubt brings with it a ton of benefits and can open a number of doors for you.
Granted not all opportunities are created equal and some can even be detrimental to your career. However, building a strong resume of placements will always serve you well. So the question shouldn’t necessarily be a matter of “if you should” and instead come down to a matter of “when”.
There is no way for me to sit here and guarantee you placements in commercials and the next big Netflix Original Film. These opportunities take time, persistence, a commitment to building your network and for the most part great music.
Opportunities are all around you and come in all different shapes and sizes. Don’t be closed minded as you may overlook some great opportunities, but on the contrary, don’t jump on everything that comes your way especially if it doesn’t align with your brand and core values.
Lastly, always know the legal and contractual details of what you are agreeing to. Everyone may have the best intentions in the beginning and verbal agreements may seem like more than enough. However, understanding the basics of what a license is, is also very important so you can ask the right questions around your fee structure and the possible royalties a commercial will generate.
Just because that indie film may not be projected to make any money or achieve much acclaim, you don’t want to be chasing people around when it does. Details should always be very clear in these contracts but ultimately, don’t sign something that doesn’t make sense to you. You can use the services of a professional if you’d like but just make sure that you cover all your bases before signing on that dotted line.
Licensing opportunities can often happen quickly and under a deadline. If you’re not working with a team administering these deals on your behalf, it’s important to be ready to move quickly.
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How to Compete with the Majors and Famous Artists
As some artists embark upon their music careers they may be presented with the opportunity of partnering with a major label and all the other bells and whistles that come along with it.
This may grant them a number of other opportunities and resources that may not be available to more independent artists. There is obviously a trade off that comes with signing any deal. However, if you can’t land such a deal, I don’t want you to think that all hope is lost for you where music licensing is concerned.
Famous artists obviously have a lot more connections and leverage throughout the industry. This can lead to their music being featured in all kinds of places. We’ve all heard some of the top artists being featured on commercials and television shows, whether or not the music was the original track or not.
Not to worry though as there is still a need for new and unique music to be used all over the globe. There is a very big need for independent music in films, TV shows, advertisements, YouTube, etc. as more and more content continues to be produced from major studios, networks, and even user-generated content.
Lower Hanging Fruit Is Still Good For You
When you’re an indie artist, you usually own the majority rights to your music. It’s important to have your music, licensing agreements and billing/invoicing methods prepared to make the process as easy as possible for the production company or music supervisor licensing your music.
A lot of directors and music supervisors are also working with a tight budget. We will all recognize a popular Queen song when we hear it, but think about how much it would cost to use one of their creations in an upcoming project. There’s lots of smaller budget projects you can be considered for.
You can often find a similar sounding song at just a fraction of the cost when you work with independent artists. A unique sound also brings its own vibe to a project and a lot of music professionals like to work with new talent. Just because you’re a small fish in the vast sea of the music industry, doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities out there and waiting for you.
Should I License the Work of Others?
I would assume that most artists don’t want to become known for stealing the work of others however this is pretty prevalent within the music industry.
It is important to note that on the surface it may seem like someone has stolen something when in reality they may have been granted permission or obtained the proper licenses to use the work in question.
With that said if you do things ethically, licensing the work of others can provide you with a number of benefits.
If you think you’d benefit from sampling part of a song for your own project, you can seek a license for this type of use. This is usually referred to as obtaining sample clearances.
People are creatures of habit and are much more accepting of something that is familiar. This is why cover songs, remixes, and sampling is so popular to this day. Many artists have made their mark on the industry by showcasing their talents via cover songs on YouTube for example. These videos go viral and the rest is history.
Ethically Leveraging The Work of Others is Never a Bad Thing
I strongly encourage you to be open to sampling and cover songs because they can help you carve out your niche, increase your content output, improve your sound, and help with your creation process. This does not need to be your entire focus but don’t rule it out completely.
In some cases, this won’t be feasible due to the red tape that comes with clearing a sample or obtaining the right licenses. These can also come with high costs depending on what you are trying to use or whose song it happens to be.
This doesn't mean you need a large record label knocking down doors for you though. Companies like The Harry Fox Agency and Easy Song Licensing have services to help you get the right licenses depending on what you are trying to do.
Key Take Aways
Whether you're leveraging the work of others or allowing others to leverage your work, there are a lot of benefits that can arise from these circumstances. While the transaction of money is usually the first benefit to come to mind, you should also be aware that there are a lot of other benefits that can come from these situations.
Licensing means more exposure, new opportunities for collaboration, expanding your network, and valuable experience from a legal and negotiation perspective.
In all of the scenarios above the benefits greatly outweigh the risks however this doesn’t mean that you should throw caution to the wind. Be smart, don’t blindly rush into things, trust your instincts, and always get things in writing.