If you want music licensing decision makers to take you seriously as a professional and increase your chances getting your music used in their projects, you need to prepare and submit your music in a way that makes finding and clearing your music as simple as possible.
Why? Because getting your music licensed isn’t just about making great music.
Decision makers in TV, streaming networks, film, ads, brands, games, apps, podcasts and other projects require you submit music that includes vital information like how to contact you for a license, how to pay you, and descriptions of what your music sounds like.
Music supervisors, coordinators, brand managers, ad agencies, game developers, sync agents, music libraries, sync experts at labels and publishers, editors, app developers, social media companies and music houses cannot find or use your music without this information, and if you present your music without it, it will be ignored.
So what do you need to do to prepare your music for sync opportunities?
This is the question we’ll answer today by providing you with a checklist of the most important things you need to do to inspire confidence in decision makers and make it easy to license. Some of these points may be obvious to some of you, but it’s important to make this list comprehensive so that everyone derives maximum benefit.
Let’s get started.
- Make sure your music is well produced, mixed and mastered. If the song isn’t ready for uploading to a streaming network or sharing with fans, it certainly isn’t ready for usage in an ad or a film. Do not submit demos or rough tracks unless you are specifically asked to do so, and don’t ever send out anything for the first time to someone that isn’t properly produced, mixed and mastered.
- Make sure you have music in both MP3 and lossless (WAV and AIFF) formats. This is super important. You should have music available in both MP3 format (with a bit rate of at least 192kbps) for promotion, presentation and sharing as well as a lossless file in both WAV and AIFF formats so you can quickly provide music that will actually be used in the project if requested. As MP3s are smaller files, they are perfect for sharing music initially, but for actual usage, the highest quality files (lossless) are needed.
- Only submit MP3s (and do so only through a link) when you send music initially unless you are specifically asked for another format. Sending music as links to MP3s of at least 192mbps is the way to go. It’s the industry standard for sharing, and vitally important, sharing music in the MP3 format also allows you to share your metadata, which is of vital importance to us in finding your music and knowing who owns what and who to pay.
- If possible have instrumentals and stems available. We need your instrumentals and stems to help edit music to picture. Simple as that. Instrumentals should be the basic song, without vocals. And stems, the basics – vocals, bass, drums and instrumentation at a minimum. And if you don’t have stems for a track, just let us know (we know this is hard to provide for older tracks), or try experimenting with a stem-creator service – there are many available – just do a Google search and experiment with them until you find one you like.
- Use a method to deliver your music that allows you to create playlists, and one that creates links to your music that can stream, allows download of your music, and doesn’t expire. We need you to send us links – and ONLY links (no file attachments in an email) to songs that do three things: do not expire, allow us to download the music and allow us to stream the music. Personally, I would advise you to invest in using a purpose built platform like https://disco.ac or https://bridge.audio, which are industry standards, but if you prefer, you can use a platform like https://box.com or https://dropbox.com for sharing. Just make sure the links don’t expire, allow streaming and allow downloads.
- Don’t send links from a streaming network or YouTube. Don’t ever send us links that are from a streaming network like Spotify or Apple Music to introduce yourself. It’s not professional, and moreover, we need to be able to download the track.
- Unless specifically asked, do not submit more than three songs to any request or when you send your music to someone for the first time. Anything more than three songs for an initial response to a brief, a request or an initial introduction to you and your music is too much. It’s overwhelming, but by keeping the initial submission down to a maximum of three songs, you give us enough music to get an idea of you and your art, and if we want more, we’ll reach out.
- If you have multiple owners of your masters, make sure you have signed a split sheet confirming ownership percentages and agree on it before you start making music. Now we start to get into the paperwork. If you are the only owner of the sound recording (master), you don’t need a split sheet. For everyone else, if you are collaborating with anyone who has ownership in a master recording, you all need to sign a split sheet that confirms agreed upon ownership. This is vital, because if we cannot confirm ownership, we cannot license your music. Here’s a split sheet you can use as a template to get you started.
- If you have multiple writers, make sure that you have signed a split sheet confirming ownership percentages of your co-writers. Just like with in the case of the master recording, if you are co-writing a song with anyone, you need to sign a split sheet with the agreed upon ownership percentages between you and your other writers before you start writing. Use the same spreadsheet we provided you for confirming master ownership. If you don’t have these splits written out, we cannot use your music. Simple as that.
- If you have any musicians working with you on a song as a work for hire, make sure your paperwork is signed and in order before you get to work on a song. If you have anyone – from a bassist to a producer to a background singer come in as an independent contractor to sing or play on a track, make sure you sign a work for hire agreement that specifically states that person has no ownership in the song. Here’s a template for you to use if you need a work for hire agreement.
- Make sure that you correctly list the publishing information of you and your fellow writers. We need everyone’s publisher information. It doesn’t mater to us if you are with a major like Warner/Chappell or you’re self published, we need to know your publishing information, so we can both confirm it, and to use it to make sure you are paid any upfront fees and royalties for your work.
- Sign up with a Performance Rights Organization (PRO). For most of you I realize this is redundant advice, but since I get so much music solicited and shared with me that isn’t registered with a performance rights organization (PRO), I need to say it because we cannot pay you royalties if you don’t have a PRO. Make sure you sign up with your local PRO (here in the US the big three are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, and we advise you sign up with BMI) before sending any music out to anyone you want to use it for a project. The hard truth is, if you send us music that isn’t registered with a PRO, it won’t get listened to and it goes straight into the trash can. Don’t do that to yourself.
- Register all your songs with a performance rights organization. Now, once you have your PRO, make sure all your songs are registered. I know, again, this sounds like redundant advice, but it’s important. We don’t want to get a great song and have no way to pay you royalties, because again, if the song is not registered, we won’t listen to it and it goes straight in the trash.
- If you do not have a publisher, make sure you’re registered as self-published with your PRO. Or start your own publishing company. Now, here’s another tip. Every artist should either have a publisher, and if you don’t have a designated publisher, set up your own publishing company or at the very least, set up yourself as a publisher with your PRO to make sure you are paid your publishing share as well as your writers share. Get in touch with your PRO for more details on how to set yourself up as a publisher – it may cost a little money but it is vital for your long-term income.
- If you have joint ownership with other writers or performers, get permission from your fellow co-writers (composition/lyrics) and co-owners (master) to present your music for licensing opportunities. A pro tip for you is to either designate that one or all of your co-writers have permission to promote and license your masters and compositions for sync for your songwriting lyrics as well as your master rights if jointly owned. This will greatly ease the business process when you’re in the middle of promoting and licensing your music.
- Know the difference between a one-stop, an easy-clear license and one that is more difficult, like a cover or a song with samples. Here’s the brief definition as I see it:
>>> One Stop: You are 100% in control and ownership of your masters and compositions – both the sound recording and the publishing. That’s it.
>>>Easy Clear: You are in touch with all the other writers and owners, have good relationships with them and can quickly confirm the ownership and licensing of a song (3-48 hours for confirmation). Anything else is not easy clear of one stop, and while that is not at all a deal-breaker, you need to know the difference and represent the type of right accordingly.
- Make sure all your metadata is correctly filled out. Use our guide to help you fill out your metadata. Metadata is everything, especially in our digital world. You need to have it in your MP3s, and it need to be correct and include all the vital information that we’ve detailed in this article, along with more information that will allows us to find, know more about, license and pay for the track. For more information on how to enter your metadata in your MP3s, download our free Metadata Style Guide and use it to populate your metadata.
- If you are presenting your music for the first time, research the people and projects you’re reaching out to. Don’t just blindly send out music to people. Research who they are and their projects. For TV/Film, use Tunefind, IMDB (and spend the money on an IMDBPro account) and the trades like Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Search social media (esp Instagram), LinkedIn and Google. And for ads, use ispot.tv and for trailers, YouTube. This way you’ll be able to better connect with people and their projects in a way that is relevant to them.
- If the song doesn’t fit, then don’t submit. If you are responding to a brief or request, be sure the music you are sending matches what is being asked for. If it doesn’t, then don’t submit the music. This is SO important. If you get a brief, read and re-read it. And if you get a song reference, pay attention to it. When we give you a specific detailing of what kind of music we need, don’t think of this as a chance to send music just for the sake of sending it and introducing yourself. The best policy is to either send music that is right for the brief, or, if you don’t have music that works for the project, you’re better off not responding to the brief, or by sending a quick note stating you don’t have music that fits this one and thank them for the opportunity to submit in the future.
- Make your correspondence brief and to the point, and don’t ask if someone has listened to your music. Don’t tell us your life story, and don’t tell us you have the perfect song for a project. Instead, send a brief, personalized letter with a link to your music and a subject line that is sort and to the point like: “George, I’d like to introduce you to my music.” That’s it. Here’s a template you can use to get you started.
- When you do follow up, send a completely new letter, and wait about three weeks before you send it. Don’t succumb to the temptation ask us if we’ve listened to you music yet, and certainly don’t use the function on Disco that tells you if we have listened to your music as an excuse to tell us that you can see that we have yet to check your music out. No one likes that and it doesn’t built positive long-term relationships. Instead, if you don’t hear from someone after submitting music, send a completely new (brief) letter where you introduce your music again.
- Remember that people you submit music to are people, not inboxes, and have an attitude of being of service. This is a little interpersonal advice. No one likes to get the same letter that was sent to 200 people with the same music when you are introducing yourself. Use all the techniques that we’ve listed to briefly personalize the music and the letter you send and it will go far in helping you make a real connect that can lead to success.
- Be responsive when asked questions, and don’t be afraid of asking questions if you need clarification on anything. If you get a brief, or get a deal, don’t be afraid of asking for clarification on any of the points. Doing so makes you look like a professional and it helps you to deliver the best results.
- Don’t be afraid of asking questions before signing any deal. And if you need help, get a lawyer. If you don’t like, don’t understand or have questions about any aspect of a deal, make sure you ask people you trust about the business aspects of the deal, or better yet, as an expert like us, or if it’s a legal question, ask a lawyer like our friend Wallace Collins – here’s his email.
Keep all these points in mind and execute on them in your work and in preparing and presenting your music and you’ll set yourself up with a firm foundation for success in licensing your music.