Music Licensing

So you have a band, a CD, a practice space, a so-so van, a couple of gigs
coming up and an internet connection – what next? Convergence. A dirty
word for corporations but a promising term for bands striving to go that
extra mile for exposure and financial independence. The internet is proving
itself to be beneficial to the newest bands and others who recognize that
they have to reach far beyond the city limits to make a go of music as a career.
Your two immediate online needs are a URL or domain name that is
representative of band, preferably with a main email
address of that is checked regularly (
worldwide or in Canada, With thousands
upon thousands of bands online, doing searches for indie bands who have lost
themselves at the end of a very long URL – can consider themselves truly
lost. Don’t make people fight to find you! There are many sites that allow
you set-up your presence for free or for a monthly fee that includes your
own domain name, an email service that allows group emails (ie. regular
newsletter or gig/touring announcements), merchandise sales with e-commerce
capabilities (credit card processing and shipping) and a walk through of all
the steps involved in building your pages (try
After your website our first foray into online money-making was joining It was relatively easy to upload our music but we’re not making
any money off it and haven’t for over a year as the cost to be a ‘’Premium’
member per month exceeded what we were making off plays. It was enough to
put back into the band for expenses, posters, photocopying press kits,
printer cartridges, postage, recording, gas money, CD dubbing costs etc.
Curious on how to market your site, join mailing lists, book a tour, contact
an A&R rep and get the best deal on pressing CD? Check out many of the
dozens of websites put together by your peers ( is
excellent) that contain many articles, links, resources and directory
listings. What you probably will not find is information on music licensing.

Licensing? This is the term applied to the process of placing music on
visual creative projects, such as film soundtracks (film, video, digital),
television programs and advertising campaigns.
As more and more music is being made available online for different uses it
is natural for production people to turn to the internet to find music.
Why? Because you can buy anything on the internet! Savvy bands are
spending time on film bulletin boards offering up their music for soundtrack
use, indie labels are offering licensing options on their websites and
composers are banding together and starting their own online write-for-hire
agencies. If you or your bandmates don’t have the time, effort or expertise
to find soundtrack opportunities and successfully pitch your music there are
avenues for you.
Who to trust?

I’m on movie sets a lot and I can tell you how hard it is to approach the
music supervisor or the producer with CD. They may love it or I might lose
my job. Not wanting to jeopardize my finances I’ve found a few online
companies that specialize in indie music licensing and are non-exclusive
(which means you can join as many as you want – no exclusive memberships).
Before signing with any company remember you are entering into a business
relationship that involves your work and payment for use of that work.

The licensing company should have a legal contract that requires the
signatures of the owners or the authors/composers of the music sent in. If
the company is legit they will want to protect themselves from fraud artists
that will send in other peoples music and profit from it. Also there is the
final license contract with the filmmakers or whomever to peruse – is it for
a Master/Sync license? or just a Sync license? (,
or can define these terms if you are not familiar with the
industry jargon).

The contract should also state very clearly the fees (monthly? yearly? by
the byte?) involved and how future licensing income will be split between
you and them and how often you will be paid.
Pre-Cleared or Restricted?

Also, ask about whether the tracks are required to be pre-cleared or if you
can request restrictions. Some companies have a standard restriction that
reads something like ‘this track cannot be used on scenes depicting racism,
pornography, use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs’. Requesting a restriction
will obviously limit the amount of interest your music garners and
ultimately the pay-out. Personally I don’t care if a European sausage
company wants to use my music on a television commercial – I’m an indie
musician who can barely pay the rent, who is going to blame me for taking
the money? I’ll take that money and invest it in my bands future.
Where to start?

Start where you begin all your other research – on your favorite search
engine ( is huge). If you want to go the total DIY personal
route based on your location, use your city name and keywords like ‘film
production’, ‘indie movies’, ‘production companies’, ‘music wanted’, etc.
Most cities and provinces have film associations and unions that keep track
of local shoots and list them on their websites with contact information.
Be prepared to be your own sales agent – you will have to send each of the
interested parties a pitch package (some require two – one for the director
and one for the music supervisor), diligently follow-up, negotiate your
terms and if needed, hire a lawyer to proof your contract.
If you are willing to let go of a lot of control, a full-service online
licensing agency like Realia Music Inc. ( may be worth
looking into. One of the larger agencies online, their online catalogue
consists of indie music from around the world and it’s pre-cleared and
priced by a sliding scale that caps at $5,000/world-wide usage. They have
restrictions available but only a special case basis (pre-existing contracts
between musicians and other parties – I asked) and provide a one-stop
service for people who have limited budgets, tight schedules and credit
cards. They have a one-time $5 membership fee and a $1/song submission fee,
50/50 license split and a $2/song shipping fee for songs licensed. Your
songs are represented for as long as you wish and if you get an exclusive
deal with a publishing company or label, they promise they will remove your
songs within 24 hours.
If you have a good idea of what your music is worth and prefer to wrangle
your deals yourself try SongCatalog Inc. ( Their
system provides a virtual middleman for your negotiations. You submit as
many tracks as you wish for placement in their online ‘Active List’ or in
the ‘Vault’ and pay per track. Fees are billed monthly and start at $4.95
for up to 25 audio files stored in the ‘Vault’ and $9.95 for up to 25 songs
featured on the ‘Exchange’ (site search engine) and increase by smaller
increments every 50/100/200 songs registered. There are different levels of
search capabilities that have a separate fee rate but you can check out
there website for more details. People who wish to license music register at
no cost, browse the catalogue and when a suitable track is located, they
send an email – through the website – to the owner who then responds.
Dialogue and negotiations ensue and you are ultimately responsible for
finalizing your deal.
I would advise to check out the smaller companies, they appear to have more
staying power than the large online music companies ( – one
of the first and definitely the largest – shut down business abruptly months
ago and is currently being auctioned off on the internet through a
bankruptcy trustee). Many have forayed into licensing but the complicated
traditional licensing system (long protracted negotiations, complicated
territorial and usage structures, clearances, exorbitant fees, favored
nations, and script/scene approval) has not translated well online. There
was no immediacy, no click through satisfaction that everyone has come to
expect from the web. Once the costs of software development, technical
support, hosting fees and high-priced management were factored in the
license fees were unaffordable and potential buyers were back in the
nightclubs chatting up bands after their sets.
Online there is a market for indie music even if the band has broken up,
doesn’t tour, is brand new or not commercially friendly, and it requires
hardly any work on behalf of the band. You fill in an application, get the
appropriate signatures, mail it in and wait for the money to arrive. It is
the agency’s business to market their catalogue, customer services and bring
the buyers in.
With record labels setting their standards higher and higher for new
signings, showing up with a portfolio of licensed tracks in your package
just might be the wedge you need to get in the door. It really doesn’t
matter where the track was used or for what product, the fact that your
music can be sold for hard cash is the attractive quality they are looking for.
Always remember to be realistic with your expectations and tell everybody
that you have a ‘licensing agency’ (it does sound impressive and looks even
better on your bio). There are hundreds of thousands of bands in the world
with at least one album under their belts. That’s a lot of competition for
the same dollar. It’s also unlikely that directors Steven Spielberg or
Kevin Smith are cruising these sites for music for their next big project –
they have budgets that afford them just about any song they want. As an
indie musician with an indie agency, your music will be marketed to projects
without a great deal of exposure attached to them. Focus will usually be on
the catalogue not the individual bands, there are fees and it is a
relatively new industry – it may take years for it to take off and compete
with traditional process.
But don’t despair, it only takes one new digital filmmaker with a vision and
a few thousand dollars to help pay off the band van or press those extra 500
cd’s. It’s a cheap and viable new way to get your music heard by a larger
and potentially lucrative audience – and that’s what you want. Isn’t it?
(all fees referenced are in Canadian dollars)
Bio: Scooter Johnson started his illustrious career in the entertainment
industry by studying the cello in elementary school, soon dropping the cello
in favour of the far more romantic (and simpler) instrument – the gut-bucket
bass. As the premier “bucket-master” in Canada he spent 5 years touring the
country with his Hillbilly band The Hard Rock Miners and has created 5
internationally distributed albums with his psychobilly band The Deadcats.
Living in Vancouver (Hollywood North) also afforded him the opportunity to
engage in the business of acting. A regular (background performer) on the
Chris Isaak show and having worked in films and TV with such luminaries as
“Sly Stallone”, Greg “BJ and the Bear” Evigan, Isabella Rosellini, and
musicians Paul Stanley, Thomas Dolby, Stuart Copeland, and Sheila E (amongst
many others); his search for fame and immortality has almost been concluded
and it is time to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of seekers
after the flame.


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