When you think of making it as a career musician, what do you think of? Do you think of touring the world, performing in front of tens of thousands of fans? Do you think about fans sending you heartfelt messages about the difference your music has made in their lives? About making an impact? What about driving around town only to hear your song come on the radio? Or pop up in a TV show you love?
While there are so many ways to make an impact with your music, it can sometimes feel daunting to find the ones that let you be who you are, share your story with the world, and make some money while you’re doing that. And while we’re on the topic, don’t feel ashamed for making money off your art. Having the cash flow you deserve from the work you’ve poured your heart and soul into isn’t anything other than well-deserved and exciting. It allows you the freedom to continue making what sets your soul on fire and putting more of that goodness and inspiration into the world. So feel great about it.
One of the most popular ways to combine impact, exposure, and a get a little moolah is licensing. For so many artists this can be the most sought after way to find exposure while earning a paycheck. Today, we’ve put together a quick guide to get you on started. It’s designed for artists who are seeking to hire someone to help them, as well as those looking to go the DIY route.
Whatever you do, don’t sleep on this. Licensing is one of the most powerful ways to earn income from your music, so you’ll want to make time for this asap!
Know the basics
Before you dive in, there are a couple basics you’ll want to get out of the way. First and foremost, make sure you’re registered with a Performance Rights Organization (PRO). These are the people who act on your behalf to collect and distribute royalty payments for the use of your songs. You’ve probably heard of the majors—ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.
Next, you want to make sure you have your metadata all sorted. This is something you really ought to do anyway, but when it comes to licensing, it becomes even more important because the keywords you include will help the searchability of your song. More keywords= higher chance of being found and potentially chosen.
Stay on topic, but include as many words as you can that describe your song. Throw them all in there. IE: if your song is about falling in love for the first time, don’t just use a few variations of the word “love” also use: affection, tenderness, warmth, intimacy, attachment, endearment, romance, romantic, smitten, passion. It’s as simple as Googling synonyms for a couple main descriptors and voila! You’re instantly growing that keyword list.
Pick your strongest tracks
This one seems obvious, but you’ll want to figure out which songs you want to submit for licensing opportunities. Make sure you’re choosing strategically. For instance, that catchy song that your fans seem to love and keep sharing would probably be a good choice. Songs with universal themes/emotions, are also a good choice. But a song that is full of swears or samples another artist’s work? Not so much.
Researching music libraries
If you’re submitting to music libraries yourself, rather than working with a company that specializes in licensing placement, you’ll want to start by doing some research into which libraries to submit to.
A couple things to look for: what kind of opportunities do they submit to? Film? Video games? TV?) Are the exclusive or non-exclusive? Do they specialize in a specific genre and does that genre vibe with what you’re currently putting out?
For better organization, consider making a spreadsheet of each library, what they specialize in, if they’re exclusive, the date you submitted, etc. It’ll help you to keep track of where and when you’ve submitted your songs.
Think outside the box
It can be tempting to only think about the biggest opportunities—the ones that get your music inside every store or blaring through every TV set. But don’t forget about those less traditional, just as effective avenues like YouTube channels, podcasts, or indie video games. Partnering up with a growing YouTuber and offering your track as the background to whatever they’re doing (bonus if it’s brand aligned for you), or being the theme song of a new podcast can be a really great avenue for getting your music to a completely new audience while building your connections.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placement on Alternative Press, Noisey, Substream, and more, as well as the Director of Community and Events for Music Launch Co. She’s also the owner of music blog Infectious Magazine. She loves baked goods, a good book, and hanging with her dog Sawyer.