How to Get Your Music on Television
You’ve been making music for a few years now and you have a sound that would blend in perfectly with a tween drama on streaming TV, or just the right pulsating hook for your favorite video game series. Wouldn’t it be great if it was your music that did the job of putting the exclamation point on a powerful scene of a hot, new drama or indie sensation?
So how do you get your music in front of the people who make the decisions of the music that gets used in today’s TV shows, movies, video games, and a slew of other kinds of entertainment media? Do you have the right file formats and enough mixes of your song to be used in any situation? If your song includes swearing, can you make a clean one for general consumption?
Here comes the business side of making music. You made some music on the independent scene and the music supervisor of a production company caught one of your shows. Or all the stars align and one of the executive producers in the Marvel universe is calling because their kid really likes that one song you did.
After you put your heart back into your chest, stop and think: is your music copyrighted? Do you currently belong to any artist organization or union? Can you keep your wits about you while high-powered executives in a high-rise throw numbers, words like “in perpetuity” and contracts at you?
You might want to think about getting an agent. They’ll have the contact info of decision-makers at production companies, music supervisors, and music publishers. Try to email a .mp3 of your music to these people yourself and you’ll rarely get past the screeners.
You can go it alone, though. Many artists, actors, and professional athletes often eschew an agent. If you decide to go that route, you’ll still need to copyright your music and join an organization/union that looks out for performers right, such as ASCAP. Also, take the time to research what a licensing agreement looks like.
To ensure you’re fairly compensated for the music you create, make sure your music is fully licensed by you. This gives you, or someone you designate, the power to pick and choose how your music will be used. Obviously, if you’ve never been in this position, there’s no real reason to play hardball. But don’t forget about the hard work you put into your music (and the bills you have to pay).
So what is licensing your music? Essentially you are signing the right to use your song in media of some sort. Any song can be licensed in two ways: The composition (lyrics, themes, etc.) and the recording of the song or master. If you’ve managed to secure licensing to one of your songs, beats, or other music, both ends should be licensed.
These agreements usually have five parts: Media, Term, Territory, Exclusivity, and Fee. Otherwise known as placements or sync licensing, the agreements are often limited and non-exclusive. This means your music can be used for different purposes at the same time.
Media: Will it be music in TV and film, video games, social media such as YouTube, advertising, or some kind of combination of all five? In this context, “media” means where it will be seen.
Exclusivity: Will the production company be able to use your music in a TV show, independent movie, and all kinds of advertising? Or can it be used in one particular situation? Perhaps you don’t want your music being used in political advertising. If so, you’ll want to make sure you limit their exclusivity.
Term: This is the length of time your music may be used in TV placements, advertising, on the internet, and so forth. It could be used for a three-month marketing blitz or it could be used in perpetuity, which means forever.
Territory: From local television stations to worldwide access on the internet, this aspect of licensing deals with where your music will be heard.
Fee: Sure, you’re making music for the love of it but it doesn’t hurt to get occasional performance royalties, right? Make sure you understand the fee structure of the music. If independent musicians own the composition and the master, they get everything. However, if a label owns the master rights, the fee is split. If the song was co-written by someone, another split occurs.
One final thing to think about when it comes to fees, a clause known as “Most Favored Nations” or MFN. Music for film usually comes in the form of a score or soundtrack, which means multiple artists will be on board. MFN simply means one artist will get paid just as much as any other artist heard in the film.
Remember, when you license a song or any kind of music, you aren’t giving up ownership. You’re just giving a production company the right to use that song in certain situations for a certain amount of time. It’s still your baby… you’re just lending it out.
Have a Plan
When a production company comes calling, are you prepared to answer? Earlier we touched on some aspects of your music that may need to be changed (such as dubbing over any swear words). Here is a list of items you should have ready to go at a moment’s notice. Consider using the cloud to warehouse your music library, such as a Google Drive or DropBox. Then all you have to provide is a link.
- Have a finished track. Hi-res and professionally mastered takes allow the music supervisors to make any final mixes for the film, tv show, or commercial. A sketchy mp3 won’t cut it.
- Lyrics. If the music supervisor heard a specific lyric or phrase, they may want to call it out. By having lyrics on some kind of searchable document, those words will be easier to find.
- Lockdown the Rights. Your song may have been a huge hit at the club last weekend, but if it contains a sample of somebody else, you’ll need to get permission to use it. Or, you could just remove it.
- Who Gets What? Did you write, perform, and publish the music? Or was it a group effort? Who was the music composed by? All of this needs to be sorted out before contracts can be signed. Not a member of a union? Consider joining one because many production companies are only allowed to use union performers.
- Have Multiple Versions. If just the instrumentals will make a good fit for a TV drama, make sure to provide those. In fact, providing just the lyrics on one track, the instrumentals on another, a “clean” track if there’s swearing, and so on will enable you to meet the needs of a variety of music “shoppers.”
Hearing your music on the big screen, small screen, video game screen, or mobile screen can be quite a thrill. If your music strikes a particular chord with the audience, chances are the music supervisor will come calling again. So be ready.
Have you been making music for a while and want to start making a push into the world of licensing? Consider applying for The Recording Connection Music Business Program. We’ll show you how to research an agent, review contracts, copyright your music, and more.
Ready to amplify your life? Apply today to learn more about our programs.
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