Interesting fact: If you are a music writer, you need to get your song played 1,000,000 times on Spotify to make $3,000 (which very few songs ever hit). Or you can license your song just ONCE and make $3,000!
A lot of starving artist hit me up and ask for copywriting/business advice....and sometimes I'm not super sure how to help them since the music industry is not my specialty.
However I recently came across a woman named Joyce Kettering who is a musical artist that's been able to license and sell a bunch of songs. Like....A LOT of songs.
Here's some of the 2016 full-year stats Joyce had:
- She wrote and produced 110 music tracks.
- 52 of those 110 were placed in music libraries.
- 100+ total licensed songs from just 2016 till mid-2017!!
These are extremely impressive numbers....so I'm gonna get off the keyboard, and let Joyce start typing from here on out:
---Joyce Starts Talking Here---
I’ve written over 100 songs. I don’t perform live, I don’t have a fan base. I don’t know anyone in the music industry.
The point is: I like to sit at home and make music.
I am NOT interested in dragging my gear around the country to perform live and entertain people when I don’t feel like it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love the attention! It just seems like a lot of effort I’m not prepared to put in.
My music is all over the place:
- I write electro-orchestral tunes in the vein of Woodkid and Hans Zimmer.
- I write ambient, atmospheric tunes influenced by Air and Radiohead.
- Once in awhile, I try to write happy music but rarely make it work.
Half the time I just don’t get social media.
So I hate performing live. I don't have a "genre" to stick to. I don't know marketing super well.....
As you can see, I don’t really have what it takes to build my “tribe”, a loyal following of listeners who will come to all my shows, buy my albums and support me in any way they can.
Still, I manage to make lots of money making music.
I license it.
That means that in exchange for the right to use my music in a project, people and companies give me money.
Given my profile as a non-gigging musician, music licensing is my best bet to make a decent living with music.
BUT I’d argue it’s the best bet for 90% of musicians.
Why? Well.... We all know album sales are not what they used to be and the money from streaming platforms isn’t exactly rolling in...
I laughed when I saw my Spotify streaming earnings for the first time!
$0.18 in the bank!
That was in March 2017. I had released 2 EPs and 2 albums in November 2016, 4 months prior:
Over a year later in 2017 I’m up to….
How did I make that huge jump in earnings I hear you ask ;)
Well, from April 2017, I started driving traffic to Spotify:
After over three month of driving traffic to Spotify, I have $1.69 in the bank.
So that’s a $1.51 return on investment for asking my small following (essentially friends and family) to listen to my music on Spotify instead of any other platform.
What a great time to be alive!
Now I can hear you protest that I don’t have any fans and therefore very few streams and that I could try other streaming services to earn more.
Well, that’s incorrect.
First of all, all the streaming platforms pay less than peanuts (literally):
I used the statistics from my distributor (Distrokid) to calculate the average stream earning per platform.
This is what I got:
Whichever platform you look at, it’s a long shot to make a decent living that way.
Second, it’s true my streaming numbers are not very impressive.
9 months after releasing 2 EPs and 2 albums:
15,098 streams = $49.69
They're also pretty average when compared to other indie musicians.
Your streaming numbers would have to be EXCEPTIONAL if you were to count on streaming income to make a living.
1,000,000 streams on Spotify will get you approximately $3,000 in royalties:
I need 1 MILLION plays to make about $3,000!
Can you even hit that target in a whole year? I’m not even sure I could make it in TEN years!
So unless you're Bruno Mars or Taylor Swift, it's unlikely you'll make significant money through pure music streaming.
Enter the Money-Maker Known As Music Licensing:
Here are 6 different ways you could make $3,000 with music licensing. It might take you a whole year when you’re first starting out but it certainly won’t take you 10 years to get there!
By getting a song licensed in just ONE advertisement you can pull in $3,000+.
Now doesn’t that seem much more achievable than 1 MILLION streams on Spotify?
Instead of aiming for a HUGE number and not knowing where to start, you could aim for a much more manageable number of sales.
In fact, they are a LOT of other projects that could use your music AND the sales prices above are fairly conservative (as you’ll find out in a little bit).
So now you know WHY music licensing is a great income stream for musicians.
Let me show you HOW you can get your music licensed.
This is what I did to license 52 songs last year:
I've licensed a lot of my songs and made more money off my music than most musicians could ever hope for. Here's the exact steps I took:
1.) I wrote a LOT of music in a LOT of different genres:
When I first started exploring the world of music licensing, I read or heard somewhere that you needed about 100-200 tracks to make a decent living through production music libraries (I’ll explain what those are later).
At that point, I didn’t have much going for me:
- I had major writer’s block when it came to lyric writing.
- The music I wrote didn’t fit any particular genre of music and varied greatly from one track to another.
- I wasn’t very good at music production.
This is how I solved everything:
- I gave up on vocals and focused on instrumental music.
- I wrote a lot of everything, experimented different genres, trying unfamiliar styles that would “sell.”
- I embraced the notion that quality comes with quantity (i.e. the more I produce music the better I will be at producing music).
This is what I learned:
- There is a LOT of demand for instrumental music and ZERO need for songs with mediocre vocals.
- I can write happy advertisement-ready music but I don’t enjoy it and I’m more prolific when I write electro-orchestral trailer music or sci-fi atmospheric music.
- I can write really good music really fast. Knowing that is really helpful when there’s a big deadline looming.
Could I make more money if I wrote great lyrics and performed great vocals?
Possibly. A colleague who has all that now only submits instrumentals because he realized his versions with vocals never sell.
Could I make more money if I stuck to one genre?
Probably. It’d be easier to market my work and stand out from the crowd (provided I went super-niche).
Could I make more money if I persevered in writing happy music?
Maybe. Happy music is perfect for high-paying advertising jobs BUT it’s hard enough earning a living as a musician. Might as well enjoy it and write music you enjoy!
With my music recorded, mixed and mastered…
... I started looking for places who might be happy to use my music and...
2. I got 50+ tracks working for me in production music libraries:
If you’re just starting out and have ZERO experience and network in the music industry, getting your music in a production music library is a great first step.
Production music libraries are platforms that curate music with licensing opportunities in mind.
So their role is not to promote music to venues or potential fans, they don't really care about that, it's not their business.
The focus of music libraries is to make your tracks available for licensing to potential customers like ad agencies, YouTubers that need music for their video, videographers, indie filmmakers, music supervisors on TV shows (a LOT of reality TV shows out there! :p ), etc.
Navigating production music libraries can be tricky because they’re all different and you never really know which ones you can trust or not.
When I first started trying to get my music licensed, I just submitted lots of music to lots of music libraries, without really paying attention to anything except making sure I didn’t tie down my entire catalogue (about 10 tracks at the time) to an exclusive deal.
Note that I still manage to make a big mistake a tie down 4 of my best tracks to a 5 year exclusive deal. I have gotten ZERO licensing $$$ from these 4 tracks. 1 of those consistently outperforms all my other tracks on streaming platform so I KNOW it’s good :)
Overtime, I’ve refined my approach and have gotten better at identifying serious music libraries that can get me good licensing opportunities.
I ask myself 3 questions when I submit music to a library:
1.) Can being associated with them damage my “brand”?
In truth, at this stage I have no “brand” BUT I don’t want my best music on crappy royalty-free platforms selling tracks for $1 a pop.
For those libraries, I’ll use a pseudonym and submit music I’m not especially proud of. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s usually just meh.
Why the pseudonym when nobody knows my name?
Well… if I ever do make it to the next level and get some bigger opportunities, I don’t want to be perceived as low-quality.
2.) Do they require exclusivity for the tracks I give them?
I don’t necessarily mind granting exclusivity on some tracks (you tend to get paid more for those) but I always make sure that I have plenty of tracks left available for non-exclusive deals.
3.) Are they worth my time?
Basically, do they pay well.
For one track accepted to a music library, it'll take about 10-15 minutes to set it up properly (with a good description, relevant keywords and track information).
I want to make sure the music library will be worth my time before I submit 50 new tunes.
Let’s take a few examples:
Now that I know a few musicians who are also pursuing music licensing, I also ask around to find out if anyone has anything good or bad to say about a particular library.
Here are a few examples of production music libraries that will hopefully give you a better idea of what I'm talking about :D
- Audiosparx.com (fairly big player that will give you a good idea of all the admin that comes with licensing, i.e. writing a description for your song, finding the right keywords to increase its chance of appearing in the search results, etc.)
- Jinglepunks.com (big player, lucrative but selective).
- Premiumbeat.com ("race to the bottom" type of library in the sense that they really sell their catalogue for cheap...)
- Railroadtrax.com (small boutique library, competent & super friendly)
This is what I didn’t do (which saved me a lot of time licensing my music):
I DID NOT Get my music copyrighted.
I don’t waste any time, money or energy getting my music copyrighted.
There are more than 10 hours of music being uploaded onto Youtube, Spotify, Soundcloud and other listening platforms every MINUTE of every day.
What are the chances of MY music being exactly what some little leach needs?
2. Even if I did copyright all of my music and someone stole one of my songs, I’d only start to care if they made a shit ton of cash with it and I didn’t get a dime.
In fact, it’d have to be so much money that spending years in court making advance payments to lawyers would be worth it.
Again, highly unlikely.
3. If someone is making shit loads of money with my music, that’s good news!
If Beyonce’s next hit single uses one of my instrumentals, here’s what will happen:
- I’ll get my head out of my ass and realize SHE made it a hit and the music has very little to do with it.
- I’ll record a video demonstrating that the instrumental Beyonce’s singing to was actually written by little me.
- I’ll post the video everywhere to promote my music licensing platform, basically saying: Beyonce loves my music, it must be good!
Now, of course, it’s your call and it’s your responsibility. I’m just spouting off my opinion here. I’ve decided that, for my music, copyrighting is not worth my time and money. I may live to regret it.
By all means, get every single one of your songs copyrighted if you like. Just make sure you’re not using this step as an excuse not to move forward, like a wantrepreneur creating an LLC before having a product.
I DID NOT I Pay to get my music heard.
Another no-no for me is paying to get work.
I don’t pay any subscription service like Taxi, Songtradr or Music X-Ray.
These are what I call “opportunity platforms”: websites that curate music licensing opportunities.
The difference with a production music library is that a library will take your tracks and put them on their website where potential customers can browse, search and find them.
On the other hand, opportunity platforms are letting you know about what their customers are CURRENTLY looking for and YOU can put your own music in front of those customers.
It goes a little bit like this...
Opportunity platforms can be great because you know exactly what kind of tune to pitch.
The flipside is they know it and most have you pay them for their service.
Fair enough I guess, they ARE providing you with information you don’t have easy access to.
There’s also an argument that by asking for a small submission fee, they ensure the quality of submissions are VERY GOOD.
My view is there are a LOT of businesses out there taking advantage of people’s passion projects. One of the most common passion projects is music.
Until you have a really good idea of what kind of music you want to write and you can clearly see in what type of project that music would work, I suggest staying away from paid opportunities.
I think you’ll learn a lot more by doing it yourself and looking for opportunities yourself:
There are others that are less expensive (for example Music Clout offers unlimited submissions for the platinum members who pay $179/year).
Songtradr is another one. The free plan gives you 35 credits per months. For $7.99/month, you get 250 monthly credits. One submission usually costs 2-5 credits so that’s about 840 submissions for $95/year.
I only use free stuff. Maybe that’s a mistake but I don’t think so.
I’ve asked musicians from varying backgrounds and at various stages of their careers to share their experience with these services....
Most have been bitterly disappointed. Many feel like they’ve been scammed after spending more than $200 with nothing to show for it.
In fact, only 2 out of 30+ musicians who got back to me got a paid gig through these platforms.
Both are very experienced and accomplished musicians. One of them I know has also landed plenty of other licensing opportunities without paying a dime.
All of this suggest to me that you are better off submitting your music to free opportunities, at least until you have proof that your music is good enough by landing your first placement.
It seems these paying “opportunity platforms” can be lucrative but you’ll mostly be wasting your money if you start out that way.
One of the free platforms I use is Songtradr. They got me on 4 small licenses in the past few months.
Let’s have a look at Songtradr’s pricing tool. Songtradr are a curator of licensing opportunities. They’re basically a platform where music composers can upload their tracks and submit music to licensing opportunities.
If you’re a little geek who likes playing with figures like me, you can go ahead and register to Songtradr for free and have some fun with their pricing tool!
What I’m GOING to do (to license even more music):
1.) Get up to speed:
Too many tracks that are not working for me in music libraries yet. Need to upload and set up new tunes.
2.) Transition from amateur to pro:
In the past few years, I spent a lot of time experimenting with music and exploring different genres.
I didn’t care about quality too much as I focused on writing, recording and producing a maximum number of tracks possible.
That has served its purpose. I am now VERY confident in my music production skills AND I know I can write good music in different genres.
Now is the time to niche down and focus on high-quality only.
I’m taking down all the mediocre tunes on my licensing platform, keeping only the really good ones that wouldn’t sound out of place on a TV show, in a documentary, in a video game.
I am raising the prices, showing how hard I worked instead of how desperate I am for my music to work :)
3.) The Direct Sales Approach
With my tunes set up and working for me in production music libraries, I feel going direct to the customer is how I will get to the next level.
If you’re just starting out, you might want to try that approach at the same time as you contact music libraries. I really do think that we all underestimate our network and you might very well have a few rapper friends or Youtubers that could use some music and wouldn’t mind paying $20 for the privilege. You might know someone who works in an ad agency and can put music in front of a supervisor.
It’s not the approach I started with but it’s definitely the approach I’m going to be focusing on in the next few months.
Well, no more splitting 50/50 for a start :)
No, really, my music is already set up in a few key libraries that I trust. I’ll be adding a few new tunes here and there to show I’m still active and avoid dropping down their internal SEO ladder.
With my catalogue working for me in production music libraries, I’ll be focusing on getting deals over the line by going direct to my customer.
After a couple of years writing a LOT of music to make sure I had 100+ tracks for production music libraries, I’ve figured out what I enjoy writing and what I’m best at.
With that question finally answered, I have a clear idea of who my ideal customer is.
And with THAT question finally answered, I’m ready to go direct and license more music!
In a year’s time, if Neville’s up for it, I’ll let you know how that went ;)
My Music Website: Madlassmusic.com
My Teaching Licensing Website: CreativeAndProductive.com
My SoundCloud Channel: SoundCloud.com/madlassmusic
P.S. Joyce shares even more in-depth instructions on licensing music (and her step-by-step process) over at MadLassMusic.com