Sync licensing for musicians

[This article was written by songwriter Cathy Heller.]

Did you know you can make six figures a year licensing your songs to TV, film, and ads as an indie artist? This is a real thing. Artists all over the world are creating an amazing living doing what they love through sync. And yet, so many artists still don’t get what it means.

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Here are the 7 Myths about Music Licensing and how you can get in gear and start making a living doing what you love:


1. In order to license my songs I need to be famous and have a huge following already. I would need to have plenty of fans, albums sold and hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers. False!

Not only do you not need all those things to license your songs but in some instances the fact that you’re an indie artist could help you. For starters, music supervisors love being a part of finding something new and hip that hasn’t really been heard before and being among the first to break a new indie song gives them an edge. It helps them relate more to the hipster, millennial market which is often their target. Also, since it is extremely expensive to license a well known song, it’s often very appealing to utilize an indie song, which can fit the project just as well, but for much less money.

So even if you have sold only a small amount of records or haven’t even put the record out yet, or if you barely have a social media following and only 15 or 20 likes on Facebook, don’t sweat it. If you have a great song and it works perfectly for an ad or TV show or film, it’s just as possible your song will get used regardless of all those other factors. Having a following is a great thing to continue to nurture, but there is strength in being completely unknown as well. It all comes down to the right song and if you have it, you can license it!

The kinds of songs that ads license sound like jingles and if I write something like that I will be selling out on my integrity and creating music I’m not proud of. False!

Songs featured in ads today have become not only some of the coolest songs around, but have become a barometer for where labels should focus their attention in terms of signing new talent. Some of the coolest bands and most innovative indie bands are enjoying the success of licensing their songs to ads.

Jingles are long gone and in today’s world record labels are often listening to hear what brands like Apple, Target, Nike and Carl’s Jr. are using in their campaigns to get a sense of which bands they should be signing. The music heard in ads today is some of the most interesting, groundbreaking and well produced music out there. Having a song in an ad is the biggest slam dunk for any artist and will be something that not only makes you proud to share, but could break your career in the best ways.

Licensing my music means I give away the rights to my song. False!

Most licenses are nonexclusive and the ones that are exclusive are only for a short term while the campaign, show, or trailer is running. For instance, if an ad will run for McDonald’s for 3 months, you may be able to license that song anywhere, except to another fast food eatery during the course of the term. Licensing your songs does not mean you will lose the rights to being able to license that song again.

There are work-for-hire opportunities for artists to write music that a brand or TV show WILL own, but that is different than a license and in my own personal career something I have seen far less of. Most of the time I license my music and I can license the same songs again and again and again. It is awesome!

I sent my first record or EP around to licensing agents and no one was interested in pitching it, so I guess I won’t have a licensing career. False!

First of all, there are certain kinds of songs that work better for licensing than others. Often artists write about relationships i.e break ups, the ups and downs of being in love. These kinds of songs are everywhere so it’s in less demand, but more to the point, there are other themes that music supervisors are looking for when needing a song for an ad or a scene in a TV show or film. When you write with these kinds of lyrics in mind you may find many more opportunities for your music to get licensed. The kinds of lyrics that are sought after a lot deal with: “Togetherness,” “Home,” “On our Way,” “Breaking the Rules,” “Making a change,” and “Having the Time of Your Life.”

Writing with these themes in mind may help a ton when trying to get your music licensed. It’s always great to look for ways to fit your work into the storyline of whatever project you’re pitching to, rather than hoping someone will fit their project to your song.

Music licensing can only be done if I sign a publishing deal. I won’t be able to license my music unless I give away my publishing share and have a publisher pitching my songs. False!

There are plenty of incredible licensing agents who can pitch your music and you don’t have to have a publishing deal to do it. It is also possible that you can learn to pitch your own music. It can often be a plus for you if you don’t have a publisher because it makes the song even easier to clear. If the song is One Stop (which means you control all the rights) you will find it easier to license your songs because there will be less headache involved for music supervisors to clear your song. With or without a publisher there are ample opportunities for you to license your music.

If I have good music it should get licensed. False!

There are plenty of beautiful, artistic, interesting songs out there. The question to ask is are these songs right for the project you’re pitching for? When you’re licensing your music to an ad, tv show or film ,your song needs to support the vision of the project, so it’s important that the production, lyrics and overall vibe be a fit and add to telling the story of the picture your song is featured in. Having a good song is a great place to start but making sure the song fits the picture is just as important and with some basic research you can figure out how to apply certain dynamics to a song to make it fit the project you’re pitching for.

I won’t be able to license my music because I don’t have the money to spend on a great producer. False!

The key to being successful isn’t about having the most resources; it’s about being the most resourceful. There are plenty of great producers today, more than ever before and there are strategies you can take to get the most music made without spending money you don’t have and going into debt. If you’re focused and clear about your goals, you can approach a producer and offer to make a deal with them that entails you giving them some money upfront and the rest on the back end (when the song makes money through licensing etc). In this scenario you could cut your production expenses in half or even 75% and offer to split the master fee with the producer when you get the songs licensed.

I have been so fortunate to have dozens and dozens of my songs featured in ads, TV shows, films and trailers. I don’t think for one moment that I achieved this because I have some level of talent no one else has. I believe that by being resourceful, focused, persistent and approaching my music business like a business, I was able to create music that was both something I really enjoy creating and performing, as well as songs that were perfect for licensing. I know that every artist reading this is capable of implementing these ideas and I hope that you will.

If you want a more in depth “How To” on music licensing join Kevin Breuner and Cathy Heller for a free masterclass: How to be Wildly Successful Licensing Your Music.

Go HERE to register!