Hello Composers, Mike here! =)
Are you interested in making a career as a composer writing music for licensing (for TV, Film, Video Games, Commercials etc.)?
Great, because I have the great opportunity to share an interview I did with Michael Kruk (in the picture).
Michael have had so much experience and success in music licensing that he decided to create a masterclass for ambitious composers like you, who wants to make a full time income (or great side income) from your music.
This masterclass teaches you everything you need to know on how you (and basically any composer) can get into high end music libraries and start to actually make some serious money from your music. Now let’s learn about writing music for licensing! =)
FIRST: Check out this example of a music composition used in a high end commercial, so that you can get a sense for what production music is about:
1. Many composers might be completely new to the world of music licensing. Would you mind giving a general overview of how it works?
Of course! In a nutshell, we’re talking about getting your music to Music Libraries. Music Libraries are companies that often contain thousands of tracks from a whole load of different composers.
Lots of these tracks are in different genres. The Music Libraries then license these tracks to their clients: production companies who need music for their TV shows, films, commercials, etc.
The difference between “license” and “buy” here is important: by licensing, the production company are often only allowed to use that track for a specific show or purpose.
As a composer or producer for Music Libraries, this means that your tracks can be licensed over and over in multiple productions.
The Library either pay you upfront for your track (a buyout), which is often in the $200 to $750 range for bigger libraries, or instead, they share license fees (also known as sync fees) with you as they come in from their clients. On top of this you get royalties too whenever a show containing your track is broadcast.
I’ve actually made a 10min video here explaining all the ins and outs, which might be of use to everyone.
2. How much can I hope to earn per year as a composer focusing mainly on music licensing?
There are a few factors that will determine that. If you’re writing great, usable music for well connected Music Libraries, you can absolutely get to a great full time living, but persistence is the name of the game.
I have friends making 6 figures from Library Music. But that won’t happen overnight! In fact, you’ll likely have to work quite hard over the first couple of years for not a huge return.
There can be a few reasons for these delays: A Library might delay releasing an album and even once it has and a client has selected your track(s), it can be months until the show is broadcast and, at best, a few more months more until those royalties hit your bank account. Even longer if the program airs overseas.
But don’t let this discourage you. You’re building a solid, recurring, passive income base. Successful Library composers can take long patches of time off and not see large dips in their royalty income. That’s amazing!
Also, perhaps surprisingly, most composers and producers I speak to are only aiming to just make a part time income from this. That’s fine and is obviously a goal you can achieve faster than if you want to make doing this your full time career.
So let’s talk money! Let’s say you produce a track a week, that your music is great and all tracks are signed by good libraries. (I’m not saying that is exactly how it will happen, but we need to base this on something!)
So that’s a good start in year 1 if you’re getting buyouts. Those, as we said, make up your “upfront” income.
Then, in terms of royalties, have zero expectations for year 1. Year 2 you should see some murmurings on your royalty account, then by year 3 you should be into the $10,000 (USD) range for the year, because all this is cumulative, right?
By year 3 you have (52 tracks a year x 3 years) 156 tracks in these Libraries. If they’re good, they should be getting usage. Year 4 should see you at around $25,000. Then around $45,000 by year 5. I’ve seen people do both better and worse than this example.
3. Please tell us about your journey and story on how you got into the music licensing industry as a composer.
I was in a band and one of the guys at our record company told me about Music Licensing. I looked into it but didn’t really do anything about it at the time.
A few years later I was trying to get my career going as a TV composer. Library Music is a smart way to do that, in my opinion. It refines your writing and production skills and gives you the ability to say that your music was used on film and TV. Plus you can build up a reel of your music to picture which is always a good thing.
That said, it was only after I started scoring TV shows that I truly realised how much Production Music (Library Music) is everywhere. You’ll find that even the most successful TV composers have lots of tracks with Music Libraries.
4. What kind of music libraries are there, what are our options as composers? And perhaps some advice on what we should “avoid”?
Great question. This is really important. The most common debate is non-exclusive vs. exclusive libraries. Exclusive libraries require you to contract that track with them and nobody else.
Non-exclusive libraries (which are much more prevalent in the US than in the rest of the world), allow you to also contract your tracks with other non-exclusive libraries as well as theirs.
So non-exclusive sounds like a no-brainer, right?! Well, not necessarily. You’ll find that the calibre of libraries where most of us really want our music are nearly always exclusive.
Part of that is that the industry is starting to become worried about non-ex music, especially with the advent of audio fingerprinting, YouTube copyright claims, etc. It can start to get messy.
Several major Production companies have actually said that they want to deal only with exclusive libraries. They feel safer, legally. Plus personally, I’d rather have my music with one great library than several so-so ones. I’m sure there are some great non-ex libraries out there, but I’m seeing the industry and the big players move away from that.
In terms of Libraries to avoid, you’re gonna get burnt at the start of your career. You’re gonna place tracks with Libraries who make you no income. Just don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
See if other composers have experience with a Library and also look around their website – have they had recent placements? If you were their client, would they impress you?
5. When it comes to the actual music, what would you say works best for licensing, in terms of both genres/styles and mood/tempo?
I’ve found that clients seem to like music that drives images and as such, tracks at 120bpm and over seem to be quite popular. Again I’ve noticed a pull to more optimistic and upbeat music than sad, slower stuff.
Of course, in the Library music world there’s a place for almost everything, but you’ve got to think what kind of music is popular at the moment. You might find a Library that wants that harpsichord album you always wanted to do, but is it going to get much usage?!
Remember too that you’re writing music for TV, not for a commercial release. It’s hard to be brave enough to leave space in your music. Most of us want to impress with our music and we add, add, add in the production process!
There’s a high chance that your music will have voiceover over the top of it once in the program. Have you ever tried getting a recording of someone talking and putting it on top of your music? Do it! Then strip stuff out until the voiceover really pops through clearly. I guarantee you’ll be surprised at the new perspectives you gain in doing this.
6. Why did you decide to create a masterclass on “how to become successful in music licensing”, and what topics do you cover in your course?
I’ve actually run a Music Library over the last several years with a team of people. I was hearing tracks submitted from composers and producers all over the world, many of them really talented, but all making the same mistakes, leading to us (and other Libraries) rejecting their tracks. It was heartbreaking.
These guys and girls were so talented, but Music Libraries don’t give you feedback: it’s yes or no. (In fact it’s often yes or no reply!) So I set about putting together a few lessons about what these common mistakes were and how to resolve them.
This snowballed into other questions; How to approach big Music Libraries, how to structure tracks in a TV friendly way that works for any genre, the business and contracts side of things, whether you should write in a specific niche, etc.
I then thought, “I wonder what would happen if I pulled on my contacts to ask the opinions of some of the best in the world who do this day in and day out?” A lot of their insights were incredible! So many little tips and secrets.
So we have in-depth interviews with 3 award winning picture editors on exactly what makes them choose some Library tracks over and over, whilst instantly rejecting others.
We also have two 6-figure-a-year composers telling how they made it and how they schedule time and write music, plus executives from BMG production music in LA talking about the business side and why certain tracks are successful in their catalogue. You even get to watch a live track screening session which is very revealing!
7. Anything else you want to add, words of wisdom and motivation perhaps?
Music Licensing is not a get rich quick scheme – you need to put in the work. However, I genuinely believe it’s the best place for people to make a great part time or full time income from their home studios.
If you want to do it, be smart. Don’t do what everyone else does, which is just write some music and start sending it to every Library under the sun! This is my big tip: Do your research. Music on TV follows trends.
Put the TV on (or find recent episodes on YouTube or catch-up TV), then grab a pen and paper, find current shows and write down what kind of music is being used over and over.
Look around until you find something you feel you can do well. Then write down the recipe: what’s going on instrumentally, production-wise and with the chord progressions? What’s the recipe?
If you can write music that follows that kind of feel and format (but is original to you of course), you can then make a case for a Music Library contracting it off you. Think from their perspective – why is that music going to be great for their clients?
If they can clearly see that, they’ll contract your music. That’s what the great Library Music composers realise: we’re in a service industry in Music Licensing. That’s when the industry can start to reward you handsomely!
8. Thank you so much Michael for sharing your great insights. Where can we learn more about getting our music licensed for TV, film?
You can view my 10min guide to Music licensing here, where you can then go on to get 3 free lessons from the course to see if it’s for you. If it is, great! If not, just enjoy the free stuff!
Thanks for having me!