It’s easy to understand why so many songwriters and composers have jumped on the music licensing bandwagon.

Music licensing is one of the few areas of the music business that provides some decent monetary opportunities. As traditional avenues for recorded music have become less lucrative for the creators, the advent of services such as Netflix, YouTube and more have created a greater need for licensed music. While much of the traditional music business has imploded, the world of music licensing has exploded.

On top of that, music licensing has morphed into a new kind of A&R function.  Artists are breaking into commercial success through placements in film and t.v. like never before. Think Feist (Apple’s iPod Nano commercial), Ingrid Michaelson (Grey’s Anatomy and Old Navy) or The Lumineers (Hart of Dixie).

So with all of the commercials, online content, t.v. shows and films being released daily, how hard can it be, right?

Well, I’ll admit, when I first shifted my focus to writing for film and t.v. a few years ago, I had some expectations about the process which, as I quickly learned, just didn’t equate to reality.

Writing for film and t.v. is very different than writing for bands and artists. Writing music for film and t.v. has certain requirements. You’ll need to follow some guidelines you might not be accustomed to in order to be successful at it. But the challenges can be overcome with a little bit of knowledge, the proper mindset, and a lot of drive.

To give you a head start, I’ll share with you some of the knowledge I gained when I first started out. Here are five obvious (and maybe not-so-obvious) things I didn’t realize about writing music for film and t.v. licensing.

Make sure to check back for my next post which will include five more.

1. Your song won’t be front and center when it’s used for film or t.v. It doesn’t stand alone in this medium. Your song will be used to support the visual and/or the dialog of the scene. Even if your song is featured in a montage or in the opening or closing credits of a song, it’s still not king. I’ve had placements where I could barely hear my music. The visual is always the star. So don’t take it personally if you can barely hear your music, or it’s edited down to fit the visual.

2. You’ll have to write a lot. You should have hundreds or even thousands of songs in the pipeline if you want to make a career out of music licensing. This isn’t a one album or a one song game. You’ll have to be a song writing machine if you want to build and maintain a steady royalty stream. Create content constantly.

3. One sync placement does not a career make. Sure, it can boost your exposure and lead to new opportunities, but don’t make the mistake of sitting back and relaxing after one placement, or expect that one will magically turn into two, and so on. You’ll have to keep at it if you want to keep getting placements. Let me reiterate: create content constantly. Write, record, pitch, repeat.

4. After you’ve written a song, you’ll need to record it, and it’s optimal if you can do this yourself in a home studio. Why not rent a studio and hire musicians? The amount of money you’ll be paid for your placement might not even be enough to cover the costs associated with recording it if you’re outsourcing. The more you can do yourself, the more money you‘ll net from your sync. So if you have a home studio, use it. And if you don’t, then co-write with someone who does. And make use of your co-writing and business partnerships; you might be able to trade services so you can fill in the production elements you’re missing and vice versa.

5. We’ve all heard music we know and love by major label artists used in film and/or t.v, and yes, those artists make big money for the commercial use of their song. But it’s important to be realistic: as an indie songwriter, you won’t make as much money on a sync license as a major label artist. But here’s the good news: one of the reasons music supervisors like working with indie artists is that they often have limited budgets for any given show or film. So while a supervisor may spend a good portion of their budget on a big act, there are still plenty of opportunities for indie artists. But keep your expectations realistic. Sync licensing fees have been decreasing due to a glut of music in the marketplace.

I’ll share five more things I didn’t realize about writing music for film and t.v. in my next post.

Questions about music licensing? Comment below.

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