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Music Licensing and Song Placement: The Future for Indie Musicians?

While the shifts in the music market have made it more difficult for musicians to make a living off of record sales, music licensing and song placement comprise an area where opportunities are increasing, especially for indie artists. As one indie musician put it,  “Music licensing is the new radio.”

To summarize the trend as simply as possible, there is a constant (and increasing) demand nowadays for music to be placed in various media (e.g., television shows, commercials, movie trailers, video games, etc.). Almost any form of professional video requires some music to accompany it—to the point that media companies now have full-time music supervisors on staff to find and license music for placement in their products. While major labels are obviously capitalizing on this trend (you frequently hear top artists’ singles playing over movie trailers, for example), there are many smaller companies who want something that sounds like Nicki Minaj without paying top dollar to license a Nicki Minaj tune. This is where indie musicians get their chance.

The beauty of music licensing and song placement is that if you have a recording that is high quality and doesn’t need to be “tweaked,” you have an instant product that a music supervisor can pick up on the spot. There are several benefits to having songs licensed in this way:

  1. It pays well, and pays quickly. Actual pay usually depends on how high-profile the placement will be (less for a local commercial, more for a national TV spot, for example), but payment is up front for use of the material.
  2. In most cases, you retain the rights to your song. The company is not buying your song; it is licensing it.
  3. Licensing gives your music instant exposure to a wider audience, and can increase sales. Indie artists who have their music on iTunes frequently see a significant surge in downloads when their song shows up on a television show, for example. (Indie artist Christina Perri achieved instant stardom when her demo “Jar of Hearts” was played on So You Think You Can Dance.)
  4. If nothing else, it looks good on your one-sheet. (Industry pros like to see when an artist has had song placements.)

There’s no exact science to getting your songs licensed, but the trend is significant enough that there are now agencies who focus exclusively on helping indie artists get their songs placed in media outlets. For more information on how to get started in this direction, though, take a look at some of the helpful links below.



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About the Author


Jeff McQ is a songwriter/composer/musician with a diverse resume that includes everything from directing music in church to scoring short films. In addition to his role as chief editor for Music Is My Oxygen (and writing our DIY Musician Channel), Jeff also covers the local music scene for Examiner.com in his hometown of Denver, Colorado, and maintains The Developing Artist [http://artistdevelopmentblog.com], a blog dedicated to offering advice and encouragement to indie musicians.

When he's not tinkering in his home studio or blogging for hours on his laptop at the local coffee shop (to the annoyance of the baristas), Jeff McQ enjoys taking in local shows, going on road trips, wandering aimlessly, and talking to himself.

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Posted in: DIY Music


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