helen1

4 Steps to Film and TV Placement

I’m often asked how to get music into film and TV. I owe my small degree of success to a music supervisor from Bunim-Murray who found me on thesixtyone and placed several of my songs in MTV shows (more info on my latest and largest placement here). For a more helpful answer, I turned to my good friend Helen Austin, whose focus and dedication I’ve admired for years. -Brian

Since getting my music licensed on TV, films and ads, I often get asked for advice on how I did it. The first thing I will say is that there is no “easy button” and no magic publisher. It requires a lot of hard work and single-mindedness.

Still reading?… ok :)

Step 1: Lay the Groundwork

After being a songwriter for a many years (while being a comedian for a living!) it was only two years ago that I decided that my next “job” was going to be getting my music licensed. I was already a prolific writer and had learned how to record my own songs in my own style at home (and still learning everyday). If it was to be my job, then I was going to work hard and do whatever it took, all day everyday (around kid’s pick-ups, housework, etc).

So I started writing and producing more, listening to critiques and honing my craft (which turned into a song a week for a year). The learning curve was huge, especially on the technical side. I signed up on various music sites and submitted my songs to every opportunity that I thought would fit. These are the sites that I uploaded music to and monitored the listings that came into my inbox on a regular basis:

Sonicbids
Taxi
Broadjam
YouLicense

I also uploaded my music to every other music site I could find: Last.fm, ReverbNation, OurStage, thesixtyone… It’s all very time consuming but you want people to be able to find you easily.

Step 2: Build Your Team

I found a publisher through Sonicbids that I spent time forging a relationship with, and signed many songs with them exclusively. They have found me placements that have really upped my fan base. It also connected me with a music supervisor who wanted my music for an indie movie and also with a producer who flew me to Sacramento to record Beatles songs. It has gotten me two music business conference showcases and many internet radio play spots and features. So Sonicbids has been the best money spent so far.

Through Taxi I found another publisher who I have also signed many songs with, but non-exclusively, which means I can also pitch these songs to other people when the opportunity arises. Taxi costs the most but that publisher has made me the most money, plus Taxi has a free music conference for its members every year.

I got one of my songs on an ad through Broadjam but submitted to MANY listings to get it. But they are good at showing off the artists that they do get placements for.

I had pretty much ignored YouLicense until I got an email from a Korean Record Label through them, who are now working on releasing a CD of my music in Korea.

All these sites cost money either to join, submit or both. Each has it plusses and minuses but I figured it would cost a whole lot more to go back to school. I have been relentless and found success with all and will continue to submit because you never know where the next placement will come from.

Step 3: Produce Targeted Content

Consistently writing and producing a lot is so important because I can’t be too precious about my songs if I want to make money. If I do make a mistake and sign a contract that I regret then I like having a lot more songs where that one came from. Also, instead of just having songs that I think I can submit, I have started writing with placements in mind. Taxi had a listing that was looking for a song with the word “happy” in it, so I wrote a song called Happy, which was picked up and is one of my most successful songs… and it’s only 1:40 mins long!

Step 4: Make Connections

After reading an article by a music supervisor on how they are okay about getting polite emails with links to music, I then sent out hundreds of individual (no block) emails out to any music supervisor I could find an email for. I was very polite and sent links only (they hate attachments!) and follow-ups when I had new music. I got nice replies from about 10 of them but some have lead to placements and at least a direct contact who knows my music.

And then there’s the social networking. Yup, you have to do Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, because you never know who you will meet there. I read an article on “Be Interesting and Interested” and that has served me well in my interactions. But you have to be genuine. If I can spot fake from a mile off then so can everyone else. There are several supervisors who use Twitter to find music and I have had a few placements just by reading my Twitter feed at the right time.

So that is how I have managed to get my music on TV, movies and ads. In case you are wondering, here are my placements. It all started with the “Insight” ad in September 2009.

MTV – Plain Jane (3 placements)
MTV – Real World (3 placements)
MTV – 16 & Pregnant
90210
Ghost Whisperer
Mayor Cupcake (movie) – 3 songs including opening credits
Seeking Happily Ever After (documentary) – closing titles song
Royal Caribbean (ad)
Insight Communications (ad)

I am sure there are many ways to skin a cat (unlucky cat) and this is just my story of how I am getting my music placed. I love what I do, from the writing to the recording and mixing, and even the social networking and emailing. More importantly is that I am grateful for getting to do what I do every day, and this makes the days that I get an email telling me of a placement even better. Those are the happy dance days!

Check out Helen’s follow-up to this article:
Next Steps to Music Licensing

127 thoughts on “4 Steps to Film and TV Placement”

  1. i dont know about sonic bids but don’t the other 3 require you to pay to submit to jobs? i’ve always read that that’s never a good sign. i have music on some other music libraries (and have had about 6 licenses so far), the kind that have to accept you in the first place based on your artistic ability, but once you’re accepted there’s no need to pay to submit for a job or to upload tracks. i think that’s the way it should be, isn’t it?

    1. I believe the submission fee serves as a disincentive for artists to throw everything but the kitchen sink at each listing. Sonicbids is experimenting with zero-fee listings, and I just submitted to one this morning. Normally I’d just pick the song I felt was the best, but since it was free, I went with four songs instead. Why not? :)

      1. yea i can see how it could turn into a huge mess if everyone submits tons of music (and crap music haha) to every submission, but at the same time, if the submission fee is anything more than $1, i don’t think i’d be able to do more than a few a month haha. i mean it’s basically gambling once you spend money on each submission. figure there’s a few thousand people submitting (maybe 10’s of thousands, who knows), figure out what your odds are of getting picked (regardless of the quality of your work, just on a numbers level)… basically gambling…

          1. Honestly, speaking from experience SonicBids and the rest of the places listed are the last places you should be looking to submit your music if you are looking to get your music in Film or TV.

          2. hehe. That’s my comment up there. Not sure how to claim it yet with disqus, as I accidentally logged in using my facebook, rather than my actual profile. Oh well!

        1. I recently cancelled my Sonicbids subscription. There are simply too many artists competing for the same opportunities, most of which are worthless. That said, I’ve had some interest from publishers through the site. If you’re just starting out and looking for those types of opportunities, maybe Taxi is a better bet. At least you’ll get some useful feedback.

    2. I think I need to clear something up about paying for submissions. I had to pay to submit to find my publishers but now that I have the relationship with the publishers it costs me nothing to submit new songs to them. Sonicbids and Taxi helped me find the right publishers (the ones who were looking for the sort of genre I write) rather than just sending my music to every publisher I could google.

  2. If it weren’t for Helen’s success, I’d eagerly drop Taxi, Sonicbids, and Broadjam completely. I haven’t tried YouLicense yet, but it’s on my to-do list. I was a member of Taxi for 12 years with hundreds of forwards and no deals, as I detail here.I got a free Sonicbids membership through the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, and I’ve had a free Broadjam membership forever, since they used to facilitate online submissions for Taxi. I’ve had no luck with either of them either.I think the key differences between my experiences and Helen’s are:1. She records in a more accessible and universal folk/pop style2. She writes for the purpose of submitting to film/TV opportunities, whereas for me it’s an afterthoughtOr it could simply be that she makes better music! Whatever the reason, I’m motivated by her success and grateful that she chose to share her experience with us.

    1. Hi Brian,

      I tried youlicence and nothing has come of it so far (about 6mths) and I’m letting my subscription expire. IMO, the leads aren’t great quality and certainly not great paying. Seems to be more small budget businesses, rather than film/tv/advertising/record labels.

      I’m a member of Taxi (again, only 6mths) and though nothing has come of it yet, the value to me is in the forum and relationships being made there, as well as the constructive feedback.

      My best results so far have come from cold calling with polite, well-targeted emails with links.

          1. It’s definitely worth it! There are few listings that match my style, which is the case across the board with all of these sites. But on the plus side, they offer a fairly detailed written review of your release, for free. My few emails to them were responded quickly and accurately. And I haven’t had to pay a penny, so I don’t see a downside!

  3. Thanks Helen for the insightful and interesting article. As a complete newbie who’s just starting to explore my writing and recording options, I very much appreciate your honest approach, the sharing of your experience, as well as the practical leads.

    1. Just wanted to say hi Abbie. I’ve had Quicksilver on my iTunes for years and still love it. I’m a long time fan. I’m here because I played a track by Helen on my podcast.
      Thanks

  4. This was the most inspirational post I’ve read in years, in terms of the kind of stuff I do. Helen, I think you’ve finally lit a fire under me. It’s not enough to just write and record…time to play the hand! Thanks Helen, great great post. :-)

  5. Congrats on the placements! My band Awake! Awake! has has some success with online sites as well.

    “Ocean” Syllabus Music
    “Distance” Delta Airlines
    and we also were scouted by Bunim/Murray

    We owe it all to the hard work we put in on the web and just lots of posting and blogging. Of course you have to have something worth posting about first and of proper quality. We recorded our new album at my apartment and it ended up on Delta so anything goes these days.

    Additional Great Licensing Sites:
    http://www.Music180.com
    http://www.MusicDealers.com (Free)
    http://www.HelloMusic.com (Free)

  6. Helen, great info for a very inspirational post… for us who are waddling along in the process…

    I have one quick question for you or anyone… if you don’t mind… what level of quality does your songs has to be in order to placed/considered…

    Cause our budget(time & money) won’t allow us to get to the “mastering/broadcast ready” stage for every idea… It would be nice to know if the submissions could be quality “demo-ish” and if it something they’re looking for then we can work towards getting everything solid… what’s your take on this angle?

    1. I record from home am thinking about doing an article on my set-up. I think it depends on the style of music. I produce alt folk pop so can do a lot with just guitars, vocals and some midi. I seem to have hit on a sound that is accepted as broadcast ready (or so I am told). I am careful with accuracy and my songs are all about the vocal.

      If you are doing genres such as rock or country I am thinking that the production would have to match up to the rock and country you hear on mainstream radio, which would be a lot more expensive to produce.

      I feel lucky to have found a style that I not only like to write in, but that is more low-fi and therefore simpler (for me) to produce. I have limits and have tried to embrace those limits rather than fight them.

      I hope that answers you question.

  7. Great article, I’m a member of 3/4 sites you’ve mentioned and so far Sonicbids has been the best one for me as I’ve recently landed a publishing deal as a result of submitting to one of their listings. I totally agree that following the right people on Twitter and checking your timeline at the right time can lead to great opportunities. I’ve seen so many industry professionals asking for songs over Twitter. Personally, I haven’t had any songs licensed yet but I found this article very validating and encouraging. Looks like I’m on the right track. Thank you!

  8. Hi Helen, I left this as the lone on this post appearing on Music Think Tank, but since it seems the discussion is lively here, I will post it again:

    This is a really excellent idea and thank you for the 4-step break down! This has been a topic that I have wanted to cover on my website/ blog (MicControl) for quite some time now but have still yet to take the plunge.

    I do have a question though, and I apologize if it is inappropriate in this forum, but I think it needs to be asked for all of the emerging artists out there: what sort of money did/ do you make from licensing music to ads? Is the pay scale different if that ad is shown during primetime television and day-time television?

    If you are uncomfortable answering these publicly, please reach out to me on Facebook: http://facebook.com/jon.ostrow as I would love to have the chance to pick your brain about this!

    Thank you!
    Jon Ostrow
    MicControl.com

  9. I’m already a few years in business, without any great succes on the net finding new labels a brought . Although local labels are interested in releasing new tracks, they are out of money to take the risk giving new talent a chance.

    As I tried a few things like reverbnation, cdbaby, and so on … I’m not really convinced labels will see new kind of styles and music. They go for what is safe to invest in. So the problem is not making creative things, but getting seen in the mass…

    And whatever’s someone success story may be it’s still like playing the lottery, so for one good story there are a lot of bad ones …

    http://www.myspace.com/verhees

  10. Helen, this is a great post! I’m a music supervisor (mostly do commercial/ad placements which are a bit different) but this advice really is crucial. I’ve posted music searches on our twitter account a few times now and have come across some awesome musicians. You, as an artists, really have to use every avenue available…and when writing the songs for licensing, you can’t be selfish. Be true to yourself, but remember that these songs need to appeal to a much larger audience than just you.

    Thanks again for this post!

    -Jarrett of TheTapMusic

  11. Thank you very much for this post – very helpful, honest and yes you have to do that ground work. Thank you for your contribution to this online madness – much appreciated!

    1. you are more than welcome. The licensing world can seem a little elusive and my trial and error seems to to have gotten me some success which will hopefully build if I keep putting in the work and writing the songs!! Good luck with your music!

  12. Great but it’s a well known fact industry that B-M do not pay anything for music placements nor does MTV – so how much money was actually made here from the placements?

    1. I have had a some placements on MTV Cribs, True Life, Super Sweet 16, etc. I don’t get any money directly from MTV, but my last ASCAP check was $818, and $917 the month before. So don’t underestimate what you can get paid from Performance Rights Orgs!

  13. Hi Helen! Hi Brian!

    I was wondering if you could let me know your thoughts on writing and sticking to a particular niche/genre, vs billing yourself as versatile – when it comes to licencing?

    Looking at both myself, I see that the first would be easier to market, but the second may lead to more opportunities. Thoughts?

    Thanks! – Mary Hamer

    1. For licensing, it’s important to be versatile with broad appeal and universal lyrics. If you can record a catchy song in multiple genres, you’ll have even more opportunities.

      Of course, I’ve never done this myself. I stubbornly stick with my own unique sound and vacant niche, hoping the world will someday adapt. ;)

    2. sorry I am so late in replying to this!! I am like brian… I stick to my own genre. I am bad at writing in other genres. That said, my publishers have another producer remixing some of my tracks in a different style… so that is one way to go about being versatile.

  14. Greetings! Reading this post was very helpful for me and thank you for providing the info! I don’t write lyrics or sing but I compose professional quality music in the genres of classical (orchestrated), pop, dance, urban & r&b. For the past year I’ve been researching music licensing sites and submitting my music (Taxi, MusicDealers, Smashsongs & a couple others). What’s frustrating for me is that almost all of the listings requests ‘full songs with vocals.’ I compose at my home studio and I’m alone 99% of the time… so trying to get someone to write lyrics and/or sing to my music is not happenin’. Three years ago I had a contact who worked in television and he got 68 of my ‘instrumentals’ placed with a number of TV shows (American Idol, MTV Teen Cribs, Bad Girls Club, Brooke Knows Best, Access Hollywood, and others). I still receive the royalty checks! Unfortunately our relation lasted just 2 years and I know no one else on that level. So for the past year I haven’t had any luck with getting my instrumentals placed… and mainly because I keep running into licensing sites requesting songs with vocals! Does anyone have information regarding the placement of ‘instrumental’ music? Thanks a billion!

    1. Hi

      I went to the Taxi road Rally last year and most of their success stories were people who wrote instrumentals. I know that they have listings for a large company that does a lot of instrumental placing so maybe try and submit there and see what happens. But it sounds like you’ve already had a lot of success that you can build upon.

      1. Thank you Helen for the info and response! I will direct more attention to Taxi but are there any others without a submitting fee?

        Also, it may sound like I’ve had a lot of success that I can build upon… but what went on was this: As soon as I was done with a track, I would e-mail it to my contact and then start on another. My contact would then place my tracks accordingly and also fill out the necessary paperwork. I never left my studio to go network and meet the people my contact was dealing with.

  15. Great article! I’m curious, though. Where can I find the “Be Interesting and Interested” article you reference? Thanks!

  16. donno if you're still answering questions but…suppose I pitched a song to broadjam and they offered me an exclusive publishing deal, will I get paid immediately or only when an artists actually records it and starts selling it?

  17. As far as I know, Broadjam doesn't offer exclusive publishing deals, but if they did, you'd almost certainly get paid only after they licensed one of your songs. If you've got a really strong catalog, it's possible that a publisher could offer an advance.

  18. old style exclusive publishing deals do pay upfront but are very rare now. It would be a publisher offering that… Broadjam is just the middleman. Publishing 'agreements' don't pay until you get a song placed. I hope that is clear :)

  19. Not exactly. Like Helen said, Broadjam is only the middleman. They connect you with entities looking for music, by allowing you to submit to their listings for consideration by said entities. That's it. They don't actively seek out placements on your behalf.

  20. Tapiwa Mapani broadjam doesn't 'sign' anything. They are the introduction to whichever publisher is looking for music. And yes, that publisher could draw up an agreement to 'pitch' the song and get no placements, although it's in their best interest to get a placement, as that is how they make their money.

  21. Oh I get it…thanks…that definitely clears things up…I've got this amazing songwriter Im working with but his singing talent isn't great so I was looking into publishing for him as Im sure our songs will be able to get placements as some of the "record" listings on broadjam are right up our alley…(pop/rock)

  22. Tapiwa Mapani make sure all recordings are great quality. I keep hearing at conferences that 'demos' are not really acceptable anymore now that good home recording is so accessible. Good luck with it all!!

  23. Yeah, and I don't think they'll be able to look past mediocre singing either. You might have to hire a singer, preferably someone who sounds like the artist(s) you'd love to pitch the song to.

  24. Great info, best regards and good luck. I have a question, if I hear a song on the radio, and want to use that song in my TV commercial, in background music, do I contact the Publicist? I hear famous Bands can charge massive amounts of money to do this.

  25. Great info and very inspiring. I had given up for a while but am giving it another try. I just got a call on mycell phone from a guy saying he wants to 'buy' some music for TV background. How do you make sure they are on the up and up?

  26. I personally don't worry about it too much. If someone asks to use my music, I almost always let them. On the other hand, it doesn't sound like he knows what he's talking about, and it could turn out to be a big waste of your time. You could always point him to another site where your music is available for licensing, if you've got one. For example, my stuff is in Vimeo Music Store because of my relationship with Audiosocket.

  27. Man did you ever LIGHT MY FUSE~~~Bottom line it seems is~~~If you want it done ~~do it YOURSELF!~~~http://www.isound.com/brian_henly_lordson.

    PLEASE CK ME OUT~~~~~~~ONE LOVE~~~~~.

  28. Hello, great article! A few quick questions I hope I can get answered, though: When you submit songs, how important is it that the song is already professionally mastered? And my other question: All submissions already have to be copywrited, correct? Wouldn't that make it difficult to write songs with specific placements in mind, due to the time it would take to copywrite them? Any help to these questions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  29. very interesting thanks for all the info. I do music publishing for a record label in Montreal and this gave me some good info I can use.

  30. I know your questions are directed toward Helen, but I'll chime in too.

    As a mastering engineer, I have an obvious bias, but I think it's crucial that every pitch sound like a finished record. You can bet they are comparing your submission to a major label reference that they'd prefer to license if they had the budget.

    Copyright exists once you put the song in some tangible form, which includes a file on a disk. You don't need to register the copyright to be protected. More info here: http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html

  31. that's must have been a very hard work for you, I am a singer, song writer, raper, and I do a whole lot more. and reading this helped me understand more and more about music. congrats on your big break.

  32. Very encouraging advice and information. I am close to graduating from the Los Angeles Recording School and like everyone else, I am looking for the right path. you have encouraged me to try several at once. thank you

  33. Helen, this article is so helpful and informative. Your wisdom is pointing me as well as other songwriters in the right direction. Every since I made the goal to have my songs in movies and television I've been networking and researching trying to find out how. I'll definitely refer this article to others who have the same goal. Thank you!

  34. I have learned that as a musician or artist you shouldn't have to pay anything to submit your music and that these people shouldn't get any fees from you until after your songs actually gets placed. Is this not true?

  35. The models vary from company to company, and many don't charge any fees. Instead, they usually split any up front payments and collect the publisher's half. I think it's reasonable to pay $5-10, or a flat monthly fee, to submit to listings. You absolutely shouldn't pay hundreds up front to any individual or service that promises placements, because if they can really promise that, they should just collect on the back end.

  36. I really appreciated this article and thank you Helen for taking time to share. I'd like to also add that LinkedIn is a very good resource on finding music supervisors. I have found a few there who were kind enough to give me the time to discuss licensing, one in particular took an immediate interest in my originals. Best of luck to you all.

  37. Thank you so much for such a useful article! After sifting through 100s and reading mostly spam and "sign up here for your free course" this was the first that was genuine and realistic.

  38. Nice article thanks for sharing, something that bothers me is this idea of paying to submit music.I just cant do it. I don’t care if its for a contest, taxi (taxi places about 6% of entries?! so you must be very talented to have success with them) or for an agent or music publishing company (some do charge to submit as well). After years of submitting music and demo’s etc a policy I learned early on to avoid scams are NEVER pay to submit music period.Your music is the value\currency.

    1. when it comes to agents/ publishers … yes, you should never pay up front for them. They should get paid when you do. But on contests etc, that’s up to the individual and everything has an admin price. Paying to submit some of my music ($5 per submission) has been more than beneficial. In the old days people would have to mail a music package, so $5 for the convenience and not having to send CDs to me is worth it.

  39. Hey all. Strange, either i missed it or then no one mentioned Musicxray.com which personally I feel is probably right at the top of the list. The prices on there will range. However in most cases responses will come within 24 hours, or max 45 days. SonicBids in my opinion aren’t all that great at least if your looking for solid tv & film op’s, seems they have more of these “you’ll get great exposure” type deals, with no money attached as well as live gig op’s. I tried Youlicense for a few months and wasn’t very impressed. Broadjam is not too too bad, a lot of their op’s take a while before you hear anything back. But it is a legit service nonetheless, not a scam site.

  40. This was just the info I was looking for! Having worked with a few hip hop artists on both the independent and major side of the music industry, I have been currently looking toward getting music placement within commercials, films, and video games.

    Thanks, great post!

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