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Steps to Music Licensing Success

In 2008, many a teenage heart was broken over indie-rock group The Format's break up. Soon after the split, singer Nate Ruess scored huge with a licensing deal for his new band, Fun. This one deal single-handedly took them from underground darlings to worldwide superstars in a matter of months. The key word? Licensing. Let's explore how to get licensed, and how one little song can change your life.

The Format's story is a prime jumping-off point. They were a group whose success and popularity were a sign of the changing music industry landscape – a band who had a cult following, not really due to their record deal, but because of the influence of the internet and word of mouth. At the height of their popularity, and on the cusp of "mainstream" success, the band announced in 2008 that they would not be releasing more music. And people were pretty bummed.

Later the same year, Ruess formed Fun. In the same vein, Fun was a bit of an underground success, and Ruess's signature vocals brought over many old Format fans. While Fun was a great group and had a few late-night TV appearances, they mostly flew under the radar... until 2012.

During Superbowl XLVI, Fun's song "We Are Young" appeared in a later-acclaimed Chevrolet commerical. Fun shot into stardom. They were played on countless radio stations, featured on an episode of Glee, won a Grammy, recorded with P!nk, and also released a few other singles with even greater success. And they're stil trucking along.

So, how did they go from underground sensations to Grammy winners? What was their secret?

While Ruess's reign as indie king in the early '00s certainly helped, Fun's luck really began around 2009, when their single started making the rounds, and they were invited to play at Sunset Sessions, an annual conference where selected groups are invited to perform in front of label executives and music supervisors. These connections certainly helped catapault them to where they are today.

So, why are we talking about Fun? Because this could be you! Nothing is stopping you from getting your music licensed and raking in some great royalty money, while also gaining some commercial success. The need for music in film, video games, and commericals is enormous! Think about it:

The music played during a commercial or film scene? Licensing.

The music that plays in the background of a video game or app? Licensing.

Even the music on a radio in a particular movie scene can be very lucrative – that's licensing, too.

The first step is to realize how useful getting your music licensed can be. So, here are some tips to prepare.

1. Network, network, network

I really don't like starting the tip list with "networking." Not only is it a vague statement, but hey, you're performing your art, and shouldn't that be networking enough? Yes, absolutely! The film industry, however, is much more closed off (in some ways) than the music biz.

Get involved with local film festivals and meet directors, editors, and producers. Join professional groups such as the National Association of Recording Industry Professionals (NARIP) and of course, performing rights organizations (PROs), like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. These groups offer occasional seminars that put you face-to-face with key decision-makers in the film industry. NARIP actually has an annual pitch session that brings artists and supervisors together to review their work.

Other places for great B2B (business-to-business – because selling your music is a "business") marketing are LinkedIn and Twitter. These social media channels can allow access to groups and influencers you can reach out to directly.

2. Join a PRO and register your music

I am perpetually surprised by how many of my clients or musician friends aren't affiliated with a PRO. Beyond assistance in licensing, PROs help ensure artists get paid for any type of "performance." Therefore, they're also the folks to go to when your work gets licensed, as they keep up with the syncing process for you.

Now, the process of finding a PRO is a process within a process, and there are advantages and disadvantages to all of them, but whichever you choose is your partner in keeping up with royalties and licenses once your work starts getting picked up.

Also, all major PROs often have meet-and-greets and seminars with decision-makers in the licensing industry. These PRO seminars are generally much more accessible than other professional music organizations and are sometimes more frequent.

3. Get an instrumental mix

Plenty of commerical, film, or video game execs will love your sound, but once they incorporate a voiceover, they'll find it doesn't mesh well. Or, they may just want the instrumentation to begin with, so you'll need to have a way to give them just the instrumentals.

This is very common! A lot of TV trailers may incorporate an instrumental version of a track that occurs throughout the season, so it's safe to have on hand. One of my clients was contacted to license his work for the background of a mobile game app. The developers found that the vocals were a bit too distracting, and lucky for us, we had an instrumental version ready to go.

4. Tweak your marketing – all of it

There's nothing worse than getting a pitch as a PDF or a folder full of MP3s. This isn't just in the music industry, it's anywhere! We like our stuff simple – no excess downloads or pop-ups.

Music supervisors, app developers, and producers are no different – cleanliness is key. Be sure to have a place on your website, or an embed in your EPK that allows music supervisors to strum through your catalog quickly. It may even be smart to set up a microsite or a new EPK just for your work that you want to try and get licensed.

Another huge part of your marketing that's overlooked is the metadata. When you get to the point of sending MP3s out to licensing executives, make sure clear meta tags such as genre, year, publisher, and artist are embedded in your tracks. It makes supervisors' lives a lot easier, as you're helping them stay organized.

5. Consider partnering with a firm

A music licensing firm holds the catalog of dozens (or hundreds) of artists, and they pitch your music to supervisors on your behalf. While this surely makes your life easier, the firm will typically get a percentage (depending on the type of deal).

So, much like a PR firm or manager, if you can market your work on your own, by all means do it. If you can afford it, however, find one that works with your budget. If you're lucky enough to already work with your marketing team, the above steps are quite easy for them to integrate, so tweaking your current marketing efforts might be all you need.

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