On Monday the 18th June, we had a Creative Hangout session with Deane Ogden, Dirk Ehlert, Russell Bell andFrank Herrlinger (Proud Music Library) via Spreecast. It was an awesome discussion and some great questions were brought up throughout the 2 + 1/2 hour talk. I’ve laid out the questions below with my own personal answers to these questions – make sure and check out the Spreecast next week again for more info! Its on every Monday at 7pm GMT or 11AM PST – check out Deane’s website or Dirk’s website for more info!
Before you get into the questions, here are a couple of great books to get you started on the subject:
If you write write vocal music:
If you only get one book on the subject, I’d advise Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting as its FULL of useful tips and info! Seriously, the thing is a freaking gold mine!
Also, you should check out my eBook: “The Business of Music Licensing – Generating Income from Your Music“
So below are all of the questions that popped up and my answers to them. Let me know if you have any other questions in the comments!
What is royalty free music? What does it mean?
This can be pretty confusing for people. Everyone has their own definition on it really – check the library you are selling your music through for a full definition.
Audiojungle.net for example sells Royalty Free Music – as a buyer, you can purchase the music and use it once in your project. You never have to pay any further fees again – they also state that you will never have to pay royalties if the track is used on TV. Audiojungle does not allow composers to submit music that has been registered with a PRO.
Musicloops.com sells Royalty Free Music – as a buyer, you can purchase the music and use it as many times as you like in your project. You never have to pay any further fees again – if its used on TV, you don’t have to pay royalties – the TV station does.
So you can see both sell “Royalty Free Music”, but they have their own definitions on what Royalty Free actually means. Musicloops advises that their music is royalty free as you as a buyer don’t have to pay any further broadcast fees if its used on TV. Audiojungle advises their music is royalty free as all of their music is not registered with a PRO, so no royalties can be generated from TV usage.
Take a look at Shockwave-Sound’s definition of royalty free music and you’ll see they are the same as Music Loops - proof that everyone has their own idea as to exactly what “royalty free” actually means.
How do I get my music into a library?
Go to the music library’s website and click on “Composer Submissions”, or “Contact Us”. Most music libraries have a “Composer Submission” drop down tab on their contact form. Alternatively, look for the owner of the library and contact them on LinkedIn.
Should I use a pseudonym or my real name on music libraries?
First, ask yourself a couple of questions:
- Do you want to be associated with your music library writing, or is it just something small you do on the side that you don’t want or need anyone to know about?
- Is your website domain name named after your name or your pseudonym – likewise with your Facebook page.
- Do you have a very common name that could be confused for others?
Benefits of using a pseudonyms
- You can disassociate yourself from your other work in the music industry easily – if people Google search your name, they won’t find your personal website (NB. some music libraries do have the option to contact the composer directly, but the majority do not).
- You can use multiple pseudonyms if you have music on a number of non-exclusive websites so that people won’t search Google for the track name and find the lowest price for that track.
- People can often remember pseudonyms better than real names. This means if they are looking for music again in the future, there’s a better chance the might remember you as someone they bought music from and become a return customer.
- You’ll increase your online presence when people do a Google search for your name. A small amount of people when they use your music will actually credit you in their project, even if its only music bought from a stock music library. Having your actual name in credits can be quite useful – especially if people are kind enough to credit you on IMDB for “Additional Music”.
- Helps stop/dissuade stalkers.
Downsides of using a pseudonyms
- If people like your music, they won’t be able to find your personal website to ask you to customize a track they bought, or to commission you to write more.
- You’ll decrease your opportunities in online presence when people do a Google search for your name. You might lose out on your name in the credits for some projects.
What’s metadata and why should I use it?
Metadata in relation to music, is the information attached to your tracks providing a wide range of data including Title, Artist, Album, Year, Comment etc. This is the information you see in iTunes when you load up a track and it automatically tells you who wrote it, who performed on it, when it was written etc.
In the Music in Film Summit 2011, it was discussed a couple of times about the importance of including metadata in all submissions to music supervisors – if they use the music in a project, they can easily find out who wrote it and how to contact them straight away. If, however, the metadata is blank and the track is called “Cue 1″, there is pretty much no way in hell its going to be licensed as they can’t clear the rights. In short - include metadata in all of your music!
Some music libraries won’t allow you to, some will overwrite your metadata with their own, and some won’t mind, so always check what their policy is on it before you start. The best tool I’ve found for editing metadata is the free MP3 Tag software.
How can I find music libraries to work with?
Do a google search for “Royalty Free Music“. Go to the top 20-50 websites that come up on the google search and contact them asking to join. Chances are if they are on the first page of google for “Royalty Free Music”, they will have good sales as thats most likely what buyers are searching for too!
Another option to look at is some services that provide you with music library listings, for example:
Music Library Report is an online repository of hundreds of music libraries, with comments and ratings by composers who work with them. Pretty cool service I think.
How to License Your Music has a Music Library and Music Supervisor directory available to purchase which gives you a massive list of supervisors and music libraries you can contact.
Music Registry – I’ve never used this one, but its another option
Taxi.com can provide you with a way in to some music libraries that are hard to get into.
Film Music Network – I’ve used this a couple of times. You can sign up for the free newsletter at least – they a few times a month and have different job offers – some from music libraries looking for music in certain genres. The big libraries don’t use this though, so bare in mind if you submit your music to this, it will be a low to mid-range library you’re getting into.
How can I approach a library ‘blind’ – ie. when I have no ‘in’ with anyone there?
There’s no easy answer to this, but here’s a couple of ideas:
- Find out who is in charge of reviewing music, find them on LinkedIn and contact them through there.
- Search their music library and find other composers in there. Google search that composers name, find their personal website and email them through there asking them how they got in.
- Taxi.com are an option – I tried them, but they weren’t for me as they didn’t have enough opportunities for my type of music (they’re also $300 per year). They are however, used by many composers and musicians as a way into some of the bigger music libraries.
- Stand out from the crowd – send an email from your email@example.com – don’t send an email from something like firstname.lastname@example.org (example email address). When you send an email from your own email address it looks a lot more professional.
- DO NOT attach mp3′s to your email. They will delete your submission straight away so as to unclog their inbox. Send links to soundcloud or a music player on your website instead.
- If you can’t find music submission guidelines on their website, call them up and ask. If you can at least find the name of the person in charge of reviewing music, then Timothy Ferris has some great advice in his book the 4 Hour Work Week on cold calling a company to get to the person you want:
You: “Hi, this is John calling for Robert (A&R for the library)”. [Said casually and with confidence, this alone will get you through surprisingly often. 'I'd like to speak with Mr./Ms. X, please' is a dead giveaway that you don't knowthem. If you want to up the chances of getting through but risk looking foolish if they call the bluff, ask for the targetmentor by first name only.]Answerer: “May I ask what this is regarding?”You: “Sure. I know this might sound a bit odd [I use this type of lead-in whenever making off-the-wall requests. It softens it and makes the person curious enough to listen before spitting out an automatic 'no'], but I’m a composer and would like to talk to him about his music requirements for the library” [This answers the questions they'll have in their head: 'Who are you and why are you calling now?'] Is there any way you can help me get through to him? [The wording here is critical. Ask them to 'help' you do something] I really, really appreciate whatever you can do.Answer: Hmmm… Just a second. Let me see if he’s available. [two minutes later] Here you go. Good luck.
I’ve never had to call a library as pretty much every library out there has contact details if you look hard enough.
How much do library tracks sell for?
Tracks on music libraries sell for anything from around $9.99 upwards. I’ve had a track sell for $12.99 on one site, and the same track sell for $2,500 on another website – the projects were different, but it was the exact same piece of music. Different libraries sell music for different prices depending on their audience – for example, I’m currently setting up my own music library called Audio for Apps (still in development) and my license prices will be in the range of $19.99 – $24.99 (I still haven’t fully decided on the price yet) because the tracks are for iPhone/Android developers. If the tracks were for Hollywood movies, I would be charging a lot more obviously.
Why should I write library music?
A couple of reasons:
- Its a form of passive income
- You can do it in your spare time to earn a little extra on the side
- Its a lower pressure job than most
- You have more creative control over the type of music you write (to an extent)
- Its location independent. You can do it anywhere in the world
- It can help you get more scoring work – sometimes buyers will come back and ask you to write a custom cue for them if they liked your original track.
How do I stand out from others when submitting my music to libraries?
Similar to the advice I’ve given above:
- Send your email from your professional email address – for example email@example.com. It makes you look more professional compared to firstname.lastname@example.org
- DO NOT attach mp3s to your email as it will be deleted pretty much instantly. Send links to soundcloud, or a music player on your website.
- Tell them a bit about yourself and list any high end past placements you’ve had – this will assure them that your music is good enough to be licensed in the first place. Success breeds success etc.
- Lay out your email in a clear and easy to read fashion. Use good grammar, keep the email concise (they don’t want to read your life story), and make sure you come across as a person who is easy to work with.
- Ensure the music you submit has been mastered/mixed properly – pretty obvious one.
Should I diversify, or should I write in one genre?
Different libraries sell different genres better than others. In my experience, you are better to write in a couple of different styles so as to increase the chances of licensing your music. If you only write jazz piccolo fugues, you’re gonna have a hard time licensing your music.
The best selling genre of music on lower to mid-range music libraries is “Corporate Music“. We all know how it sounds – that ridiculously happy upbeat music, with ukulele and claps in the background, or whistling with finger clicks. You should try and write in at least one or two of the best selling genres to boost your income. Some libraries focus on only one type of music – for example Ambient Music Garden which sells relaxation and meditation music, so in these cases there’s no point in diversifying if you are writing for them.
The best way to find what genres of music are selling is to go to whatever music library you are with and sort the tracks by “best selling”, then take a look at which genre each of them is in. For example, if you go to Audiojungle you can see the weekly/monthly top selling tracks - you can hear exactly what kind of music is selling well and write music in those styles.
If your strength lies in writing a particular type of music, then by all means look for a music library that focuses on selling that genre, but don’t completely rule out some of the other genres too.
When submitting music, should I show that I can write in multiple genres, or focus on one good one?
This varies from library to library. Look at what type of music the library sells and if they focus on only one genre, you’re better off only sending them music like that. Alternatively, if they sell music in every genre you can send them music in numerous genres.
Don’t overdo it though – it can sometimes be detrimental to try and write in too many other genres. Show them your strengths and stick with them – they won’t want a composer who is good at classical music to try his hand at hip hop!
What tools do I need to write music for libraries?
You need the obvious music tools – good sample libraries, good mastering tools etc. There’s no real point in going into the music technology side of this as you can find that anywhere on the web. I’ll go into the non-music side of it instead:
- A spreadsheet to keep track of your cues. I use a google docs spreadsheet with a couple of tabs on it:
- General tab - information like my CAE/IPI number,
- Accounts and logins tab - if you’re with a couple of music libraries, you might forget the ftp details/login details, so I keep them all in once place.
- Statements date tab - some music libraries will send you quarterly statements. A small number of these librariesmay forget to send you statements – its useful to know when your statements should arrive so you know to follow up if you don’t receive them.
- Non-exclusive/exclusive tab - to keep track of which tracks are exclusively with certain libraries and which aren’t – this is useful if you can’t remember which of your tracks you can submit to other libraries.
- Descriptions tab - If you upload your music to more than one library, you’re going to have to enter all of the track information each time you upload. Keep track of what descriptions you have used already by writing them down in this tab. I use a couple of columns: Name, Length, PRO work number, description, top 10 keywords, top 20 keywords, instruments. Its helpful to keep all this information as different libraries require different info when uploading – some will ask for a description and 10 keywords, others will ask for a description and instruments used etc.
- Keywords tab - Thinking up of keywords can sometimes be mind numbing – handy to have a spreadsheet with common keywords for each genre of music you write so you can reference them whenever you need to again.
- Alternative titles tab - Some libraries will re-title your music. Useful to keep a track of which tracks are re-titled and what their alternative titles are.
- Income tab - Handy to keep track of how much income you get from each library on a monthly basis. It can help you figure out where you are making the most money, and focus on those libraries more.
- MP3 tag editor - Free mp3 tag editor for Windows. Best one I’ve found so far – can do batch editing too.
- Helium Audio Converter - Useful for batch converting wav files to mp3. Some libraries will ask you for 128kbps MP3s, others will ask for 320kbps MP3s. Throw all your wav files into this and it will convert them in a jiffy for you. And its FREE!
- Filezilla - Free FTP software for uploading tracks to certain libraries who provide you with an FTP account instead of a user interface based upload system.
- Google Drive - I use the 25GB plan to backup my source files. Its only $2.50 per month and well worth it!
- Sync Toy - I have a 1TB drive permanently synced with my production hard drive. At the end of every day, Sync Toy automatically copies any files from my music drive to the backup drive. Coupled with Google Drive, I have a local and cloud based backup of everything I need. Very important for not losing project files!
There’s a lot more info like this on my Resources page.
How can I quit my full time job to compose music full time?
Simple answer – it won’t happen tomorrow for you. Writing library music as a full time job takes a while to build up – its taken me around 3-4 years of doing it part time before being able to move to full time. I was lucky in that redundancy forced me into it full time – it was actually the best thing to happen to me.
If you are looking to move into writing library music full time, build up a nest egg. Figure out how much money you need to live on for a year with no other money coming in, then save that amount. Once you get there, see if you can go part time in your current job and compose library music part time too. Then, once you’re earning enough you can make the move.
The most important thing to do is start now! The sooner you start building up your income from this, the sooner you can do it full time!
Should I mix and master my music myself?
In her book Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting, Robin Frederick advises:
“Although mastering can be very useful for commercial CDs, digital releases and radio singles, it isn’t necessary for film and television uses. Here’s why: The volume level at which a song will be played in a film or TV show will be determined by the type of placement. If a song is played under dialogue, it will be at a very low level. If it’s used to create emotion or atmosphere over a montage of scenes, it might be played at a much higher volume. In other words, it doesn’t need to match surrounding tracks as a CD or radio single does. Professional mastering or excessive compression isn’t needed. As long as you create a clear, well-balanced mix with instruments and vocals that are clearly defined and fill the appropriate space, you’ll be in good shape”.
When writing library music, most of the time you don’t know what type of media your track is going to be used in. Look at the two below examples:
“High intensity orchestral trailer cue with electronic elements” – end usage iPhone Game
“High intensity orchestral trailer cue with electronic elements” – end usage Feature Film
The same track would be mastered quite differently for each of these types of media, so as Robin says, just make sure that its a “clear and well-balanced mix”.
Also, test your track on a couple of different speakers to ensure it sounds well mixed on all of them – not just your expensive monitors!
Why do less libraries offer to pay for live musicians nowadays?
A couple of years ago, if you wrote music for libraries, you were often given budget for live musicians in your recordings. Nowadays you’ll notice its hard to find very many libraries that still offer this – so what’s happened?
- The quality of VST instruments has risen a LOT since then
- There have been a lot of new music libraries popping up everywhere. With so much competition in the area, the slice of the pie for music libraries is getting less and less so they are cutting their costs.
There are plenty of other reasons, but in my opinion they are the two most important ones. However, its not OK that this is happening as its devaluing our entire industry. There are a couple of high end music libraries that do still offer funding for live musicians in your compositions, so if you come across one you generally know you’re onto a winner. Why?Because it shows they believe in your music enough to invest their own money in it, and even better they believe they can recoup their costs with it.
Is there a good structure for library tracks?
- Keep it between 2-3 minutes long (5 – 10 minutes if its meditation music).
- Don’t bore people with 1 minute of a build up – get into the track as quick as you can.
- If its a vocal cue, get to the chorus quickly
- If you’re writing a song, follow this structure: Verse 1/Chorus, Verse 2/Chorus, Bridge/Chorus. (Its used in 70% of song placements)
- Avoid specific names, place names, and dates in vocal music otherwise you’re limiting your licensing opportunities
- Avoid fade out endings – finish on a proper ending with a chord or note ringing out.
- Don’t include sound effects in your mix if possible – buyers can add them themselves if they want
Should I work with non exclusives or exclusives?
In my experience, work with both. Mix your music between different companies – start off with lots of non-exclusives companies and see how you get on. Once you find some decent non-exclusive companies to work with, then spend some time finding a really good exclusive company to work with.
I don’t advise having all of your music with one exclusive company as I don’t think its financially secure. If they were to go under tomorrow, or sell their business, you’re literally out of work in 24 hours. Mix and match between non-exclusives and exclusives. Don’t forget having your music with a couple of libraries also increases the chances of customers contacting you for custom work.
I’ve found over the past couple of years, I make a LOT more money from one exclusive company I work with, but I still wouldn’t place all of my eggs in the one basket.
It can also be a good idea to ask for a reversion clause in your contract if you are unsure about working with an exclusive company. A reversion clause in a music library contract generally means that should the track never sell within a certain period (say 3 years), then the rights revert back to you – ie. your song won’t be stuck with that library for eternity.
Can I sell my music through other companies or my websites?
Look at the license agreement. If you sell non-exclusively with a company then yes, you generally can. If you sell exclusively through a company, sometimes they allow you to promote that music for a project, but not sell it directly on your website (sometimes called semi-exclusive).
How much can I make from writing music for libraries?
This is one of the most asked question about music libraries – “how much can I earn, and how quickly can I earn it?“.
The simple answer to this question is that you can earn anywhere from $0 – $100,000. You can earn more, but this is the highest that I personally know of someone earning in the music library industry. Its also worth bearing in mind that when you’re writing music for libraries, you need to be in for the long haul – you won’t be able to live off the income right away. Its taken me about 3-4 years of doing it part time to build up enough of an income to move into doing it full time (I was made redundant from my full time job last year so my redundancy package helped keep me above water while I built up my music library income more)- for some it might be quicker, but this seems to be the average for most.
Here are some stats gathered from a few websites I sell on.
- An average track will have a listen/purchase ratio of 0.25%
- A good track will have a listen/purchase ratio of 0.50%
- An excellent track will have a listen/purchase ratio of 0.80%
- A “best seller” track will have a listen/purchase ratio of 1.00%
These percentages probably look pretty meek but they’re actually quite good. Generally people will listen to your track a couple of times/add it to their favourites/send it to others before deciding to purchase it. If you’re on a website that shows your track views, you can usually figure out how much you’ll make from it per month (its not a mathematical certainty, but it gives you a good idea.):
Lets say your track is an “average track” and its getting around 200 views per month:
- 0.25% (listen/purchase ratio) X 200 (listens) = 0.5 sales per month.
- $19.99 (track price) X 0.5 (sales per month) X 12 (months of the year) = $119.94 income per year
Don’t forget however, most libraries take 50% commission on all sales:
- $119.94 / 2 = $59.97
So there you have it – you’ve just discovered that on average, you’ll make around $60 per year from that track on that website. Like I said, this is not a proven mathematical formula, but it will give you a good idea on how much you can make. Next, if you want to figure out how many tracks you need in order to live on each year, figure out the least amount you’ll need to live on. If you’re single it might be around $10,000 (I know that’s not a lot, but you have to start with a reachable number first):
- $10,000 / $60 = 167
If most tracks will make you $60 per year, you need at least 167 tracks to be able to live on your income. Don’t forget though, this is only per music library. You have to start the formula again for each library you are with, and add up the totals.
In my first year writing music for libraries I earned around $3,000, then $5,000 the next year, and $8,000 the year after. I’m now earning considerably more than that and living fairly comfortably on it – I do however supplement my income with writing music for apps/games/scoring films etc. In my opinion, that’s the best thing about writing music for libraries – you’re under no real pressure, so when a project does come along, you can take it and enjoy working on it.
How can I earn more from music libraries?
A couple of quick wins are:
- Include an instrumental version of any vocal cues
- Include a 15 sec, 30 sec and 60 sec edit of every cue
- Include around 5-10 loops of each cue.
- Include a stinger version of each cue
- Don’t write very specific music. Simple piano music sells well as it has hundreds of different uses. Indonesian gamelan music, has less possible end uses so will sell less.
- Spend some time on writing a decent description for your track. You need to capture the buyer’s attention as quickly as possible so keep it simple and straight to the point. They want to know what instruments are in it, when the chorus comes in, and any other important information.
- If the music library you are with allows you to set your own price, don’t price it very low to undercut everyone else. Price it mid-high compared to everyone else. Generally when people see a higher price, they think higher quality (not always, but it can definitely help).
Some useful resources
http://getyourmusiclicensed.com - Sarah Gavigan provides some great videos and articles on licensing your music.
http://www.howtolicenseyourmusic.com - Aaron Davison sends a free monthly email on music licensing with some really useful tips in it.
Music Library Report – is a service provided by Art Munson which is a directory of hundreds of music libraries with ratings and comments from composers who sell their music through all of them. Very useful if you want to find decent libraries to join!
Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting is a great book on the subject, full of useful tips and information. I learnt a lot from this book about the licensing industry and how to increase your chances of getting your music licensed.
Check out my Resources Page for more information, books and links to handy tools and websites. Also, don’t forget to check out my other post on music libraries
Do you have any other questions? Ask me in the comments below!