• Artist Resource

License your music for Film and TV

Photo by Victor1558

It is your job to create great music, right? There are people (agents) that will book a tour for you, people (managers) that will handle negotiations for you, people (record companies) that will handle reproduction, distribution, and marketing of your record, people (publicists) that will handle garnering interviews and articles about your band, people (concert promoters) that will promote your events for you, people (radio promoters) that will promote your single to music directors at radio stations, and likely a person for any job in-between. Naturally, there must be someone out there that will take your song to decision makers for placement in TV, Film, Video Games and beyond, right? Yes, this person is called a music publisher

First, you want to familiarize yourself with three types of royalties that may be due to you for use of your copyrighted material:  

Mechanical Royalties: Sale of recorded music (CDs, downloads, etc.)
Performance Royalties: Use of your song in public (radio, TV, nightclubs, etc.) Collected by PRO's (BMI, ASCAP, SESAC).
Synchronization Royalties: Paid when songs are used in conjunction with video (film, advertisements, video games, etc.)

"Syncing", or licensing your music for film or TV, is a big business. Not only does it provide another revenue stream for your band (possibly the largest one), but in some cases it may help the popularity of your band grow. I can't say that M83 exploded because their song was in a Victoria's Secret commercial, but there was certainly a positive correlation. Think about all the great bands out there that you hear in commercials every day: Oberhofer, Fun, Walk The Moon, OK Go. It seems like even the snootiest of the indie snobs won't fault an artist for finding a way to make a little cash on the side by working with advertisers. You can't walk around SXSW without passing a panel on how to sync your music. 

So, how do you get a fat paycheck by allowing your music to be used in this manner? I don't have a magic answer for you, but I can tell you that your music should never be used for free. One of the mistakes that I see a lot of artists make is giving away CD's, allowing their copyrights to be trampled on, and doing anything under the sun to just get their name out there. Many people that have come before you will quickly tell you that if you can't find a way to monetize what you are doing you will not be around for long. Life gets in the way, and you need to pay the bills. A legit marketing firm will always offer you something for use of your music. The benefit for them is that your fee will be low as a relatively young artist. For an ad that is being used for a national campaign you can expect a check of at least five digits. The exact amount is determined by the number of times the ad will be used, the number of eyeballs that will see it, and the length they will be using it. That whole negotiation process should be handled by a music publisher.

Typically, when a music producer at an ad agency needs a song they will call on a trusted music publisher. Sometimes, they may find a great song and perform a search with a PRO to see who owns the publishing rights. However, the publishers are charged with the job of marketing your music to these people at ad firms. The big record labels typically have a publishing arm attached to them:


Who controls your publishing is a negotiable term in a record contract. Some elect to go with an independent agency. Many of these agencies will work with unsigned artists. Some of them even offer management, accounting, and A&R services for artists. Here is a list of a few indie agencies:


Before approaching any of these organizations be sure that your have all of your copyrights in order. Then, create an EPK where someone can hear your music. Be sure to include a link to download music, a band bio, and information on where the band is from, any label you're currently involved with, & your touring activity. Also, include your current sales numbers. Many will tell you that you must have sold at least 1,000 copies of your CD. What they mean to say is that this should not be your first goal as a band. Make your record, get your name out there, tour a bit, then think about licensing. These publishers want mature artists with mature songs. Here are a few tips for you taken from Wixen Music Publishing:


1) Stay away from publishers with only three letters in their name. (Just kidding, mostly...)

2) Separate your advisors. Your lawyer shouldn't be your manager and your manager shouldn't be your sister or handling your accounting.

3) Don't blindly abdicate power and responsibility for your career. Review your bills, and even if your business manager prepares the checks, sign them yourself. 

4) The music industry is full of "commission junkies". Don't let someone get you into a $300,000 up front deal when you could have had $125,000 a year for three years.

5) Make deals which have finite termination dates. Having a mistake expire is a learning experience.

6) Go with your gut.

7) Your first hit record is always a law suit.

8) Don't burn bridges if you can avoid it. It's a "small" business, and today's irritant can be tomorrow's client.

9) Keep a copy of everything you ever sign and know where it is.

10) Many artists and songwriters are insecure and seek approval and reassurance. While we all like approval and reassurance, its usually better to work with people (managers, lawyers, administrators, accountants, etc.) who are good at doing what they were hired to do, and who are not just fawning "yes" men. Resist temptation to work with someone who just tells you how great you are. Find someone who knows what they're doing, even if they're not as "user friendly."

11) Buy Don Passman's book, All You Need To Know About the Music Business. Read it.

12) Here today, gone tomorrow. Do you know how many pathetic broke has-beens we know? Save some money for retirement. "Like A G6" won't be #1 forever.

13) Live within your means. Get help if you can't figure out just what this is.

14) In most cases, ASCAP.

15) Professional managers and song-pluggers are mostly company P/R people. Cuts and song placements are mostly user generated. A lawyer we know (Martin Cohen) once said "The best demo is the hit record on which it was originally released".


There is a whole business of music publishing that can not be explained in a few short paragraphs. I suggest reading Randall Wixen's The Plain And Simple Guide To Music Publishing.

As always, our community is full of knowledgeable people. If you have any corrections to the above or additions please post them below.