Why is it so frickin’ hard for an artist to license a song these days?

March 20, 2010

I’ve been pitching and licensing songs for film/tv for almost a decade now. (Yikes!)

And boy, a LOT has changed since I since I started.

I wanted to address some of the reasons it’s become SO competitive and increasingly challenging/difficult to license songs these days.

1) So many projects are so specific, the best way to get a song licensed is to WRITE A SONG SPECIFICALLY FOR EACH REQUEST. Sure, you wouldn’t bother doing this for a $150 placement…but you sure should for a $30,000 or $50,000 ad / tv commercial. I’m amazed, simply AMAZED, that when I had a request for a song paying $400,000 only one artist took the time to submit for it. Get off your butt and write and record something people – if you got that spot you wouldn’t have to work for YEARS!!!!

2) If you AREN’T writing songs to specific requests or with film/tv/ads/games in mind, the problem is, you’re now competing with dozens (hundreds) of production companies and music libraries that have composers on staff or on call who WILL write to specific requests. So, you may be pursuing music as a “hobby” and creating your art, which is fine and admirable, but there are some SERIOUSLY big players in the business that have studios and composers and singers waiting around to write and record a song to get that big spot. So if you can’t do this, or won’t, realize your chances of getting a lot of placements is decreasing. Listen, no one ever said this would be EASY. Competition in the music business has gotten FIERCE. Either you step up to the plate or you sit by and watch as others make their living making music…

3) Sheer VOLUME. When there is a slot to fill on a TV show or in a film, know that you are competing with not only EVERY major label in the country (and world!) for that spot, but also every major publishing company (many that own a MILLION + copyrights/songs) and then EVERY indie label and indie publishing company, music licensing company like True Talent, not to mention EVERY indie band and artist in the world and on my space. Oh yes, and every music library that has tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of songs in their library to pull from. There are also labels and artists all over the country and WORLD so you have to be the best fit for the spot to get a placement.

4) Music supervisors – so many right now are either out of work of going “to the other side”. Because of all the budget cutbacks at the studios and networks (hello – one studio made 18 live action films 2 years ago – last year they only made 10!) many music supervisors are literally out of work. I’d say maybe 80% of the supervisors I know either aren’t working right now or are “between” projects. Add that to the fact that many of them have jumped ship to “the other side” and now work for music publishers or music licensing companies. I don’t understand how this is possible as if there were 10 supervisors working (random number to use an example), and now 3-4 of them have jumped to the pitching side, well, do the math. That’s 40% less demand for music and 40% more supply of people pitching music.

5) Competition – in general, too many artists and composers are willing to license their music either for free or cheap. This saturates the market with, well, cheap crappy music but these days, studios and networks and businesses in general care less about quality and more about saving money.

6) Supervisors/editors/composers/tv networks and film studios “double dipping” – It seems like these days EVERYONE is double dipping. Amazingly, the entertainment industry pretty much condones this behavior. I think they call it “strategic partnerships” or something. A TV network or studio may look at all the millions of dollars they are spending each year to license songs and then say, “Duh, let’s start our own record label/publishing company” – not because they usually know the first thing about running one – but because they want to SAVE MONEY. Why pay you, an indie artist, even $1000 or $5000 let alone more for a song when they can sign some artists themselves? If the artist never recoups, the company uses the tax write-off against their profits. And if they can throw those artists into their own films or TV shows, they are literally paying themselves back. Make sense? Grrr, this practice, IMO, while perfectly legal, is incredibly unethical. Why? Because I bet the producers and directors don’t know the songs they are being pitched for their shows are owned by their own studio or network’s label or publishing company. Furthermore, a lot of the people who do these deals are incredibly shady, lying, unethical bastards (not all of them, but some for sure) and they will lie and cheat and steal to sign an artist all in the name of saving their company a few bucks. Who cares if the artist’s original manager or label or bandmates get screwed over in the process.

Besides, if you’re Studio “A” why would you want to license a song for your next movie from a competitor’s Studio “F”?

Or if you’re a network, would you want to go to a competitor to license a song? Doubtful.

Best to stay as an independent, “free agent” and be repped by an outside record label or publishing company, even if it’s an Interscope or Warner Chappell than to be part of a shady set of characters.

And yes, if you sense some hostility and ranting in this particular paragraph, maybe it’s because I’ve had artists stolen by these shady people – years of back breaking hard work and my own money swallowed up by some evil corporation. They didn’t LOVE my artist or promote them 24/7 for 4 years. But they sure did know how to write a check! And where is that artist now? Probably washing windows or waiting tables somewhere again…but I digress…don’t do it. Fight the good fight and stay indie – or go for BIG bucks with a MAJOR publishing company if you do sign your rights away. Because I guarantee you, when you get in bed w/the devil, if he screwed one person over, he’ll screw you over too!

Oh and I almost forgot to mention the part where editors or supervisors or managers – you name it, have a “side deal” with a publishing company so they are more likely to license a song from a company where say, they get a 10-20% kick back on the side than to license from someone entirely indie like you where there’s no kick back.

Make sense?

I mean, if I’m editing a scene, so much easier to throw MY OWN song in there that I wrote and make a few thousand bucks than to ask anyone else out there for one. And this happens more than you realize!

7) Crazy supply – There is just SUCH an overwhelming amount of music out there. Blame myspace but now EVERY artist in the world can pitch their songs for a project. Whereas before, if I knew a supervisor, I could literally just send them my band’s CD and I’d stand a VERY good chance at getting a song licensed. Not so anymore! Now if they need a “sad, poignant love song” they have thousands of mp3s coming their way. Just to give you an idea, one supervisor I talked to told me he gets over 1,000 emails a day. 1,000 emails! Now I don’t know what percentage of those emails are mp3s but 1,000 emails a day! If the song you submit has pitchy vocals or is just “average” what do you think your chances are of getting it licensed? Right…

8) Every music publicist is trying to get into “pitching for film/tv” – I can’t imagine any of them are effective as they simply don’t have the relationships that someone like me does. But, they like to add it as a “service” they provide their clients since every artist under the sun is all about “getting a song in film/tv” these days.

9) Did I mention competition is incredible? Look at a supervisor’s office (or even my own) and you’ll see literally boxes of packages that arrive daily, weekly, monthly.

10) I know I’m probably forgetting 10 more reasons but these are the main ones I could think of.

I want to emphasize, despite what I’ve written above, DO NOT GIVE UP HOPE. Licensing your music is still one of the ONLY ways in the world that you can make money from your living room, bedroom or studio.

Just realize that:

a) You must make the BEST, most AMAZING songs possible.

b) If the vocals are pitchy, your chances of landing a placement are slim to none. Why? Because you’re competing with thousands of other songs that are simply much better!

c) It may be a bit like gambling or getting a winning lottery ticket to get a placement these days.

But if you win, you win big!

Film/TV and ads/video games can still BREAK an artist!!!

I’m sure you’ve heard that Phoenix song in the Cadillac commercial about a MILLION times by now, haven’t you?

You gotta be willing to try hard, try often, and try more than the other artists out there. Maybe you get a placement after one pitch. Or after 10. Or more likely, these days, 100 or even 1000 but if you keep at it you will do well!


Jennifer Yeko
True Talent Management
9663 Santa Monica Blvd. # 320
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

~Music Marketing~Music Licensing~Music Publicity

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
-Yogi Berra

“Don’t bunt. Aim out of the ballpark.”
-David Ogilvy


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