If pursuing licensing is your main focus, you need to plan this out long before you write your first song, let alone record it. The fact of the matter is, not every song or every genre works for licensing.
If your chorus is all about Sarah, but the main character of the show is named Amy, they aren’t going to use your song, no matter how perfect it may be musically. And because TV moves so quickly, they aren’t going to ask you to go replace “Sarah” with “Amy.” It either works or it doesn’t. For the most part.
A good rule of thumb: The more universal your songs are, the better chance you have at getting placements.
Lyrics are huge in the placement world. Sure, many times the spot will just use the instrumental version of the song, but often they want the option to use the full version, with vocals. If the lyrics don’t work, the song doesn’t work.
And production style is also huge.
Once you feel your songs are ready to pitch to music supervisors (and/or licensing companies) there are certain things every music supervisor wants in a pitch. Make sure you do your research and only pitch music supervisors who need your kind of music for their current project.
If you pitch Lindsay who is working on a TV show requiring electronic music with female vocals your indie rock song with male vocals, not only will it absolutely not be used, she will be upset that you wasted her time and probably never open an email from you again. Do your research and only pitch the right supes (that’s short for music supervisor) the right music.
If you’re going to pitch supes at all.
Most supes don’t take music from people they don’t know. They get too many pitches from too many people. Supes may get pitched hundreds of songs a week. They don’t have time to listen to everything. And if they don’t know you, your email will most likely go straight to the trash. I recommend going the licensing company route (more on this later in the chapter).
That being said, independent, unrepped artists have had success pitching supes on their own in the past (including me). To increase your chances, start with supes at new shows. They’re going to be scrambling for music. If it’s an established show, do your homework. Every show has a style of music they place. Many shows will have websites devoted to just the music. Some shows even have Spotify playlists of all songs placed. Above all, do not, I repeat, do not hit up a supe without knowing exactly what kind of music she is looking for.
So, if you’re absolutely certain that your music will fit the project, you can try to cold-email.
8 Things Every Music Supervisor Wants in a Pitch
1) No Attachments
Do not clutter up their Inbox with attachments of mp3s. Only include links to where they can stream or listen to the song.
2) Box.com Links
Most supes prefer Box.com for songs. This is not to be confused with Dropbox.com. Box.com links allow supes to stream or download the song. Most don’t have time to download the song. So just send them the Box.com link and they will be able to stream the song. If they think it will work, they will download it and try it out.
3) Tagged Mp3s
Many times, supes will have a bunch of songs they are trying out for a certain spot. Once they land on the song they want to use, they will need to “clear” it. That means to get the rights to use the song. But they will probably have forgotten where the song came from. But if you added your contact info to the metadata, they can find you easily.
So, first, create a 320kbps mp3 from your original WAV file. You can do this in iTunes. In preferences, make sure you select “Custom” 320kbps. Then command click the song and select “Create MP3 Version.” Then open the newly created mp3’s info (Command i) in iTunes and type your info in the comments. Include contact email, phone number and “I own 200%” if you actually own all of the rights to your song.
4) “I Own 200%”
In other words, you have the right to license both the song and the recording. Supes like placing music that is easy to clear. That’s why they love working with licensing companies. They are one-stop shops for the music. Instead of having to go to a publisher and negotiate a synch license fee and then going to the label and negotiating a master use license, they’d like to just talk to one person and negotiate an “all-in” fee for the use (The sound-recording copyright and the musical composition copyright are actually totally separate copyrights, but “200%” is the term that supes like to hear).
So, if you wrote and released the song yourself (or with your band), without a label, you own 200%. If you cowrote the song with someone else, you do not own 100% of the composition—unless your cowriter(s) signed off on these rights. But be careful, if your cowriter is signed to a publishing company, she may not know that she doesn’t have the rights to clear the song. However, if you cowrote the song with an unrepped songwriter and you got permission from her to be able to place the song without her direct consent and you recorded the song with (or purchased Beats from) a producer who gave you full permission to place the song without further consent, then you’re fine and you can say you “own 200%.” It’s good to get in writing from every collaborator that you have full permission to license your song.
5) Subject Line: Sounds like _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ (artist you sound like).
Supes don’t have time to open every email, let alone listen to every song. But, if they know what they’re going to get when they open your email, you have a much better chance of getting a listen. So title your subject line who you sound like: “Sounds like Coldplay, Imagine Dragons.” If they need a song that sounds like that, you’ll definitely get a listen—even if they don’t know you.
6) Only Mastered Tracks
Do not send demos. They only want high-quality, mastered songs.
7) You Must Have Instrumentals
Often they will want to use only a few lyrics of your song, or none at all. They will typically want the instrumental sent over in addition to the main master. So, before you give your mixing engineer the final check, make sure you get instrumentals for every song. It’s also good to get stems (vocal only, drum only, etc.). These can be helpful for remixes as well.
8) Work with a Licensing Company
This all being said, most supes prefer to work with people they know and trust. Find a licensing company to rep you.