Young woman with guitar recording a song in the studio.
Licensing your music represents passive income. When you take the right steps, you can create a song once and earn income multiple times. — Getty Images/DragonImages

If you’re a musician looking to earn residual income, you may consider licensing your music to brands, filmmakers and television producers. From independent filmmakers to major movie studios, many companies need music to accompany their visual stories. And with so many people making podcasts and webinars today – all requiring background music and music to add excitement to their events – the market is wide open for savvy musicians to earn money who license their music.

There are two ways you can license your music. You can issue what the industry calls synchronization licenses, or sync licenses. Alternatively, you can register your music with a Performance Rights Organization (PRO), such as ASCAP or BMI in the U.S. Then, when companies or organizations download and use your music, you’ll receive royalties.

What is a sync license?

A synchronization license gives a third party permission to use your music in visual media, including:

  • Movies.
  • TV shows and streaming series.
  • Video games.
  • YouTube videos.
  • Webinars.
  • Podcasts.

A sync license typically grants the user a one-time use of your music in exchange for a one-time fee. You want to be sure the licensing agreement is rock-solid and that you are getting the money your music is worth based on how the licensee wants to use it.

Benefits and drawbacks to licensing your music

Before we go into the “how” of licensing your music, let’s explore the benefits and drawbacks.

If you are an indie musician, licensing your music can gain your songs increased exposure. Most artists of every ilk have heard the phrase, “People die of exposure,” which is a play on words implying that you can’t pay your bills on exposure alone.

Although, if you’re receiving a healthy paycheck for licensing your music and getting exposure in a hit movie, TV series, or even on social media, music licensing becomes a win-win proposition.

The other benefit is fairly obvious: Money. You’ll have to spend some time negotiating the agreement, then follow up to ensure that your music is only being used in the contexts you permitted. But apart from these steps, licensing your music represents passive income. You can create a song once and license it multiple times for additional income.

The drawbacks to licensing your music are relatively small. You can’t control the quality of the media where your music is being heard, so you can wind up with your song on a flop of a streaming series. Hopefully, that won’t reflect poorly on you as the artist.

Another drawback is simply keeping tabs on the use of your music. Just because a licensee is using your music for one YouTube video doesn’t mean they have permission to use it on TikTok, for instance. You’ll want to keep a close eye on your licensees to be sure they are adhering to the licensing agreement. If you’re registered with a PRO, you’ll want to make sure you collect royalties each time your music is used.

[Read: How to License Your Artwork]

Musical artists can earn generous income on each of their songs through licensing agreements. It takes some time to build relationships with licensing agencies who can help you sell sync licenses, but the investment could pay off for years.

Licensing your music through a PRO for royalties

Before you license your music, make sure your song and lyrics are copyrighted. Once that’s done, you can create a collection of your music as high-quality MP3s or WAV files. The higher the resolution, the better, especially today, when brands are looking to deliver the highest quality audio and video in all their productions.

[Read: How to File a Copyright]

You’ll want to include metadata, including the name of the song, your name, the album name, the genre, and the recording or release date. Finally, create a spreadsheet of all the songs you have available for licensing, including a brief description and keywords that will help people find your song.

Then, search the web for music libraries and upload your collection in as many places as you can.

Selling sync licenses

While selling your music for royalties can generate passive income for years after just a few hours of set-up, sync licenses can also be a highly profitable way to license your music. Many musicians work through sync licensing agencies to streamline the work they need to do and get expert help marketing their music.

When you’re creating a sync license, you’ll need to be clear on the following aspects, which should be outlined in a contract:

  • Application: Where the licensee can use and distribute the music.
  • Term: How long they will hold the sync license.
  • Territory: What states, regions, or countries in which they can use the music.
  • Exclusivity: Whether you can license the song to other brands at the same time.

Since the internet distributes content globally, most sync licenses today offer worldwide rights. However, even if you’re granting use of a song on the internet, it’s important to clarify how they can share it. It’s one thing for a production studio to use your song in a movie trailer on their website and in social media advertising, but it’s another for them to use it in movie theaters or on Hulu. Remember, the more places you allow the licensee to use your song, the more money you should receive as part of the licensing agreement.

Building a solid future income

Musical artists can earn generous income on each of their songs through licensing agreements. It takes some time to build relationships with licensing agencies who can help you sell sync licenses, but the investment could pay off for years.

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Published November 11, 2021