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5 Savvy Steps to Music Licensing Success

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Think of Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” Wfhat’s the first image that pops into your head? It’s likely an iPod. Did you ever wonder what work is behind the infectious, dancey song that made this commercial so iconic? Creating music that standout for ads, tv and film projects is a lot of fun. It gives musicians a chance to explore different genres and focus on universal themes that catch an audience’s attention. The process makes you dive into the details while discovering the big hooks and melodies. With the increase of online platforms and apps, music licensing is more competitive than ever. Major labels and publishers, and even very well-known artists, are creating music specifically for media placement– and they are well-versed in their craft. So how do you compete? How do you win? Here’s how to slay the media dragon.

1 Research.

Find out what’s popular for tv placement. Look up the songs used in TV shows and commercials. The real licensing gems will start to jump out at you– really cool songs in all kinds of genres. Songs like “Lemon” by N.E.R.D. and Rihanna, “Back Pocket” by Vulfpeck, “Misbehaving” by Labrinth and “You and Me” by Penny and the Quarters are perfect examples. There is some crossover with pop music today, but some big differences too. A lot of songs are quirky and light. Many are really melodic. Some are spacious and grand. Many of these songs aren’t even released via radio/streaming as much of this music is created specifically for ads and tv.

A great resource to research television licensing placements is For ads, the Billboard / Clio TV Commercial Chart is a great resource.

2 Know Your Style, Cultivate Your Edge.

Not everyone has the je ne sais quoi to transition from one genre to the next. It’s okay if you don’t have the finesse to go from Snoop Dogg to Snoop Lion. There are some music styles that probably don’t come easy to you. Don’t try to record an RnB song with your Gibson Flying V. Even with amazing tools like and, an orchestral composer isn’t going to come up with the modern version of “Rapper’s Delight.”

But there are some styles you can do as a musician better than most. I call these your “roll out of bed” styles. Having a real understanding of the ins-and-outs of a certain genre is key. That’s your edge. It’s probably where your heart is too. It doesn’t have to be the most personal song you’ve ever written, but it has to be something you can put yourself into. People can tell.

3 Be Strategic.

Set out with the end in mind. Maybe you were going to write and produce a big Jay-Z style hip hop track with lyrics about perseverance and strength to overcome any obstacle. Maybe you’re going to write and produce a lost 50s jukebox hit song about holding hands.

No matter what you choose to do, know that labels, publishers and other producers are competing against you right now. But don’t give up, stay focused! If you think another repetitive hip hop beat with no rapper is gonna make the cut, you’re in for disappointment.

If you aim for something less expected and think of the kind of songs that could work for a specific show and start there, you can find success. Vintage, obscure, and quirky songs are often used in various contexts. Daniel Johnston’s “Story of an Artist” and “Yakety Yak” by The Coasters are great examples of this.

4 Find Your Secret Weapon and Collaborate.

Think about the kind of musicians you know that could add an unexpected element. Maybe your neighbor has a collection of rare synthesizers and they’re waiting to add Nintendo sounds to your pop masterpiece. Or maybe you’ve played a show with a guy that does ridiculous beats. Be open to possibilities. Put your heads together to do something new and cool. This could be your aunt, your uncle, a former coworker– even a group of kids. Be bold and try to envision the kind of music that could be really fun to make and have a life of its own.

5 Take Your Time…And Maybe Stay Up All Night.

They say the people that do it best, make it look easy. The trick is that while these songs seem easier to make than hitting the salsa button on a Casio keyboard– I’m the first to tell you they’re absolutely not. Most great songs sound very simple. You sing along with a melody and think to yourself, “Oh I could have thought of that.” This is a great example of ‘easier said than done.’ The simplicity came from being focused and mining the details. Everything is very specific; many times you have to revise time and again to reach your end goal with a song. Working all night is a great way to get the body of the track in a good place. However, most times, you need to live with it for a while, comparing it to reference tracks help you to your goal.

So, avoid existing on the bland side by being strategic, focused, savvy, and most of all, having fun. If you remain persistent and hold yourself to a high standard, you’ll find your music in great projects. You’ll find that your skill set has grown tremendously, and this will help in making any music you choose to create. Pretty soon you’ll be able to call yourself the next Mark Ronson– or whatever master you’d like to become.

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