Imagine if you could get your music heard by tons of people, placed in TV shows, and paid thousands of dollars, all without having to do any promotion or build a fanbase! These are just some of the many benefits of stock music licensing.
This article will tell you everything you need to know to get started, whether you’re wondering “What is stock music?” or you’re trying to find the best marketplaces to sell your songs.
I’m Evan, and I run Stock Music Musician, which teaches you how to pursue your passion for music. It’s all based on my experiences licensing my music over the past 4-5 years.
In that time, I’ve earned over $10,000, had my songs streamed 100,000+ times on Spotify, and broadcast on TV, Radio and in Netflix – all from the comfort of my modest home studio while working at it part-time!
So sit back, relax, and let me show you how you can get started licensing your music!
What Is Stock Music Licensing?
In short, stock music licensing involves selling the right to use pre-recorded songs to customers through online marketplaces. The website takes care of all of the hassle – they market the songs, process the payments, and deliver the downloads – for a fee.
All you have to do is compose, upload, and cash the checks.
There’s a lot of different terms thrown about, but the best way to describe what I do is to call it “stock music licensing.” Let’s break those terms down.
Unlike music that’s been composed specifically for a film, stock music is available for clients off-the-shelf. In other words, think of it like a grocery store: it’s music that’s immediately available and “in stock” – no need to special order it.
Now let’s dig into the “licensing” aspect. Under US law (things may be different elsewhere), when you create a song in a fixed form, you have a copyright to it. To protect your copyright, you can register the copyright with the Library of Congress, but even if you don’t, you still own the rights to your song and have the right to dictate how it’s used.
So putting that all together, with stock music licensing you retain all ownership of your songs you’ve recorded: you’re simply granting clients a non-exclusive license to use it in their own productions. Meaning that you can license the same song to multiple clients!
How is Stock Music Unique
If you really want to get a sense for what stock music sounds like, simply turn on your TV! Watch any reality TV show, and you’ll hear a constant stream of music playing under every scene, often for 15 seconds or less.
Unlike film composing, where you watch a scene and try to create a soundtrack for it, stock music is slightly more generic, designed to convey specific emotion that would fit to an idealized scene. The songs need to stick with just one mood, one tempo, and one vibe.
So for example, you could make an energetic upbeat funk song. Or a weepy piano ballad. But you can’t make a song that starts out funky and then morphs into something else.
People ask me all the time whether such and such genre will be successful in music licensing, and my answer is always the same. Genre doesn’t matter.
There’s going to be a client for everything. So while there may not be as many buyers for your Celtic Death Metal, there also won’t be as many competitors.
The important thing isn’t the genre then, but that you stick to the conventions of stock music structure. You need a strong beginning, middle, and end. The song needs to evolve every 4 bars or so, you need to really be sure to play up the transitions between parts, and you want to avoid busy melodies.
Think about it: if a client wants to use your music in a production, there’s a good chance there will be dialog over it. So keep the melody simple, and avoid too much complexity in the treble range that may conflict with dialog.
Most importantly, though, is to make music that you enjoy. This isn’t a get rich quick scheme, and will probably not replace your day job, so it’s important to remember that the main reason you’re doing this is because you love making music, and everything else is just a bonus.
How Do You Get Paid?
There are two main ways you get paid for licensing stock music. The first is through synch fees, aka upfront royalties. This is the price that a client pays to the library for the right to license your song and use it in their productions. It’s a one time payment, and the library will take its cut, which can be between 50-65%. These amounts are instantly paid to the library, and many libraries will pay you your share monthly.
But there’s also something called back end royalties, or performance royalties. In the US (the details are slightly different in every country), the two main performing rights organizations (PROs) are ASCAP and BMI. Their job is to ensure that their members get paid every time one of their members’ songs is publicly performed (for example, broadcast on TV).
They take a nominal administrative fee and forward the rest to you. If you’re a member of a PRO and registered your songs with them, then they will forward you any royalties you’ve earned, but on a much longer time frame. It takes roughly a year from the time your song is included in a production to the time you get paid through your PRO.
To give you an idea of the way my income has broken down, I’ve made about $3,000 through BMI, mainly from the frequent performance of one song, though I have a couple of other placements that generate a bit here and there. In contrast, I’ve earned the rest of my money through upfront royalties, having licensed hundreds of songs, but generally only earning $8-$15 per sale.
What About Royalty Free Music?
While you may have heard the term “royalty free music” used before, it’s a bit of a misnomer. It typically means that the client doesn’t have to pay additional fees to use the music. But they do pay the upfront royalty. And then, if a song is performed publicly, the channel that the song was performed on owes the PRO the performance royalty.
Imagine it like this. You run a production company making TV shows. You purchase a bunch of songs to include on it for $15 a piece. That’s all you pay out of pocket. But then when the show is broadcast on CBS, your PRO requires CBS to pay a fee, which is probably funded through CBS’s advertising revenue, not through the production company’s budge.
What Do You Need to Get Started?
If you’re already up and producing music, you really don’t need anything else. While your songs do need to sound professional, they don’t need to be Grammy-worthy. Mikael has lots of tips on making your songs sound better, so don’t hesitate to follow his production advice!
The main thing I’d recommend is to just focus on your favorite genre or two to begin with. Invest in instruments, synths, and sample packs that work well in the genre before you invest in other stuff. I can’t make specific recommendations here, because it really does come down to the genre, but simply do some research online and see what tools the pros are using.
You don’t need to get all the latest effects, EQs, and compressors, because if you start with a great sound you won’t need too much processing.
If you haven’t ever produced music, I wouldn’t recommend jumping straight into stock music licensing. Build up some skills first, otherwise you’ll feel pretty frustrated by the whole process.
Where Should You Upload Your Songs?
There’s lots of online marketplace where you can upload your songs. Some are easy to get into, but they lead to so few sales that it’s not worth your time uploading. Others have incredibly demanding quality standards, and just won’t be appropriate for beginners. Finally, others just pay such small amounts that it’s not worth your time (and insulting)!
There’s only one site I unequivocally recommend for beginners to upload their music onto: Pond 5. The reason I recommend Pond 5 are the following: it’s non-exclusive/non-perpetual, the review process is easy, it’s an active marketplace, and it’s simple to use.
So what does that mean?
Well, by non-exclusive, I mean that you can also upload your songs to other sites down the line if you think they’ll be a good fit. By non-perpetual, I mean you can also remove your songs from Pond 5 at a later date if you get a better offer from an exclusive library.
Pond 5 has very reasonable quality standards, and they accept most music that sounds clean. They’re not trying to curate a specific sound, whereas other libraries have a very specific idea of what they’re looking for. So you won’t face unreasonable rejection uploading your songs.
Pond 5 is an active marketplace, so you can get a fair amount of sales. Not only are sales nice for your wallet, they will inspire you to make more music, and give you some guidance on what you’re doing well.
Finally, Pond 5’s interface and upload process is simple to use. Meaning you don’t have to struggle with technology and can spend more of your time making music than uploading it.
At the same time, I’ve noticed a slowdown in Pond 5 over the last year, and I’m not sure why it’s happening. I still think that as a beginner Pond 5 is the best marketplace to get started licensing stock music, but for veterans, it’s probably a good idea to start looking for new opportunities.
What are the Downsides to Stock Music Licensing?
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no real downside. It’s let me achieve things I’d only dreamed of with my music. In my early 30s I’d basically given up on the dream of being a musician. But then I figured out how to get into the stock music world and it’s been incredible.
At the same time, when I first started licensing stock music, I feared I’d become a sell out. But as I’ve continued to do it, and make more, better music than I ever have in my life, I realize that those fears were unfounded. I still make the music I want to make. Now I’m just lucky enough to have people pay me for it – and they take care of all the boring work of promoting it to the world!
Want to learn exactly how to get started licensing you music? Check out my free 5-day mini course that will have licensing your first song in less than a week!