What music producer hasn’t dreamt of the opportunity to have their music featured in a hit television show or movie? Not only can it produce much-desired moola for your bank account, but visibility gives you the legitimacy and ease with which to score more gigs and opportunities–thus advancing your career. The big question, however, is where to start and how to make it happen? No worries; we’ve got you covered. Although there’s no “one size fits all” formula of perfection, we’ve compiled some tried-and-true strategies that can steer you in the right direction.
#1: Rely On Your Relationships
You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: making and maintaining the right relationships “in the biz” can make or break your career as a music producer. Is there a certain prerequisite for one’s own talent, hard work, and hustle? Absolutely. Nevertheless, the music industry is built upon connections; to an extent, everyone knows everyone. It’s in your best interest to use whatever interpersonal persuasions you’ve got so that you end up with a music supervisor’s personal email, phone number, or first name basis.
First step: be tireless and persistent. You’re likely going to get a ton of “NO”s before you hear a “YES…” and that’s OK. As Thomas Edison once expressed, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Keep scheduling meetings, going to networking events/parties, and even cold-emailing music supervisors. For those of you who don’t know what a music supervisor is, here’s the definition straight from the Guild of Music Supervisors: “A qualified professional who oversees all music related aspects of film, television, advertising, video games and any other existing or emerging visual media platforms as required.”
Second step: get a “feel” for the various television shows or films to which you’re planning on sending your music. For instance, a show like TV Land’s Younger uses music with a bubblegum pop and contemporary millennial flavor. If your specialty is in heavy metal or R&B/Soul, your sound probably wouldn’t be the right fit for that program. Once again, it’s OK: knowing yourself, your sound, and your style not only sets you apart from the rest of the crowd, but it gives you a clearer direction of where you want to go, what your music is all about, and the most advantageous avenues for submitting your music for the right films, shows, and movies.
Finally, consider finding a music producer who’s been around the block to coach you as a mentor. The saying “No man is an island” is one that speaks to our human experience. The truth is that sometimes it can feel isolating to go through certain professional experiences in the music world, rejections and gig hires alike. Having a mentor can be a powerful resource for you as you navigate the highs and the lows of your career. Not only can one help you avoid rookie mistakes, but a mentor can also guide you into becoming the music producer that you envision yourself to be. It helps to have a human soundboard, and with any luck, you could develop a lifelong professional relationship with this person that benefits the both of you.
#2: DIY The Millennial Way
One of the unique advantages of living as a music producer in this day and age is the ability to promote oneself as an entrepreneur through multiple social media platforms. YouTube, SoundCloud, Patreon, and others cater specifically to the musicians and music producers of the world, and are extremely useful because of their accessibility at the touch of an iPhone. (Quick side note on Patreon: for those who aren’t familiar, you can gain subscribers and followers who will donate to your music campaign and pursuits, either monthly or per project. It’s definitely worth looking into if you’d like a sidestream of income.)
With this strategy, you want to build up your music social media profile as much as possible: release new music weekly, continue to build up listeners/followers, and connect with other producers on these sites as well. With SEO (Search Engine Optimization) being the primary way music professionals can Google your work, you want to make sure you’re presenting yourself in the best light and getting the most “hits.” If possible, set up your own personal website and print business cards that you can have on hand at the ready.
#3: Link Up With A Licensing Company
One option that could benefit your career is sending your money to a music licensing company. Considering that most music supervisors–the individuals in charge of music for TV and film–have consistent connections to music licensing companies, it’s not a bad idea. On lawyerdrummer.com, here’s their explanation on how the process works:
“Some licensing companies will take a back-end percentage of your performance royalties and others won’t. Some will work with you on a non-exclusive basis, while the more established ones will require an exclusive relationship. These companies will typically charge 30-50% of the total sync fee negotiated in the music placement, and 30-50 % of the back-end performance royalties flowing from the placement.”
Popular music licensing companies include Rumblefish, SongTradr, BeatPick, Magnatune, and Sentric Music. A word of caution: beware of “pay-to-submit” companies (such as YouLicense, Sonicbids, and Taxi) that end up costing you more than they’re worth. In fact, music supervisors don’t like pay-to-submit, so it’s best you avoid them altogether. It may seem like common sense, but be discerning when you do your research; you want to select the right option for YOU when it comes to maximizing a profit on your sound.
While a third to half of your chunk change goes to the licensing companies, it might not be the worst trade-off should your music successfully land as the theme song in the next hit sitcom.
#4: Travel The Globe In Search Of New Soundscapes
Although we live in the age of iEverything, the value of interacting with actual people is of paramount importance for music producers everywhere. You want to evolve with the trends of the times, and visiting or even living in such cities gives you unparalleled access to the immediate environments around you. Allow yourself to soak up and surround yourself with the tastes, cultures, and moments that occur when you’re in these international locales. Whether you catch sight of cherry blossom season in Tokyo, dance at a secret underground haus party in Berlin, or vibe to the rhythm and pulse of New York City’s frenetic-yet-energizing pace, one thing’s for certain: you’ll find the inspiration you’re looking for. And, with any luck, the right people who’ll take a listen to your tunes.
#5: Create Kick-Ass Music Technically and Aesthetically
It’s best that you know the lay of the land when it comes to sending your music to “supes” (i.e. industry slang for music supervisors), so here are a few technical rules for you to follow.
→ Don’t make it difficult to do business with you. Music supervisors receive innumerable files and attachments from producers day in and day out. Make sure your music can be directly streamed or listened to, NOT downloaded. Box.com is an excellent resource for this.
→ Make sure the music is YOURS. You need to be able to confirm, “I own 200%,” as author Ari Herstand puts it. It includes both the sound-recording copyright and musical composition copyright. The best case scenario is one in which you write and record the song yourself, but if that’s not the case, receive all the necessary permissions in writing from any collaborators so that you have the green light to license your song.
→ “Sounds Like (Insert Artist/Song Here).” You don’t want to waste a music supervisor’s time. Period. So, make it easy on yourself and them by writing in the email subject line “Sounds Like (Insert Artist/Song).” For instance, it might be “Sounds Like Sia, Chandelier.” If that’s the sound a supervior is looking for, you have a much better chance of getting heard.
→ Instrumentals + Vocals, Please. Assuming a music producer does want to use your music, there’s a solid chance they’ll only use a couple of lyrics or instrumentals-only. If that’s the case, make sure that you have an instrumental-only version of the song, in addition to the master track.
This tip sounds almost superfluous, but it bears repeating: you became a music producer to showcase your best work. Really, really stay true to that. We think you catch our drift, but show up with enthusiasm to your musical craft. Give it your all. Pour your passion into what you make. Even with the best resumé and the most extraordinary experience, your personal energy is what is most palpable and attractive to music supervisors and other industry professionals. Your unique charisma is your winner’s edge.
#6: Use Popular Lyric Themes
Television and film are powerful mediums because of their widespread capacity to reach masses of people. According to Television Watching Statistics in the USA, 99% of all households have at least one television in them, which translates to nearly 323 million people who are turning on the TV. To have a shot of landing your music on the plasma screen, your sound needs to be universal and relatable to most everyone who is watching. As Jason Blume writes about on Songwriter 101, why do you think some of the most popular lyric themes in TV are “Let’s get started,” “I’m gonna make it,” “Things are gonna be great,” “Feels so good,” and “Enjoying life?” On a deep level, people want to be inspired and to feel better about their lives.
You don’t have to compromise your sound; after all, there are plenty of relatable music/television themes that are NOT geared towards “feeling good.” Just keep in mind that a lot of current shows and movies do go for a positive message, and it’s likely you’ll have a better shot at landing your music that way.
#7: Keep The Hustle Alive
One of the biggest character defects human beings possess is our procrastination on doing what needs to be done. We’ve become inculcated into this culture of “analysis paralysis” where EVERY move and EVERY decision needs to be analyzed. Not only that, but such moves/decisions need to be BIG in nature. The best choice you can make, at any given moment of your career, is to take action–no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. Momentum makes the magic happen, not the other way around. And you’ve gotta be true to your sound and to yourself. Some might love it, some might hate it, some will be indifferent. Do you.
A quick last note on payment:
*Network TV shows pay approximately $3000
*Cable TV shows pay around $750
*Movies, trailers, and commercials pay a whopping $20,000+ for music placements!
These are ballpark estimates, but the bottom line is the same: it’s doable and achievable to get your music placed on television programs or in a film.