How to Make Money as a Musician (Volume 2: License It)

Welcome back to my multiple part series on how to make money as a musician:  Volume 2, Licensing.

No point dwelling on the past, making money selling records has gone the way of the 8 track, the ferbie and the Hummer SUV.  The antiquated system of big advances and platinum record sales has died (or is at least on life support) along with the major labels.  So while it is harder to make money the old fashion way, there are new and, more importantly, more ways of making money as a musician.

Performing live at concerts is still the best way to make money.  It used to be that bands would perform to sell albums, now the musicians give away their music to sell concert tickets.   However, not everyone can sell out stadiums, concert halls, or even high school proms.  So, what is another great way for musicians to make significant income or supplement their concert income?  Licensing!

Think of how many commercials you heard or saw today?  Consumer Reports estimates that the average American is exposed to 247 commercial messages a day.  The vast majority of the radio and television ads, as well as a growing number of internet and new media ads, are accompanied by music.  Whether its Budweiser, which spends approximately $90 million a year on advertisements, playing the newest Dodo’s or Santigold (See Above) song or Apple promoting the newest IPhone with Feist, music is an integral part of advertising all over the world.  Musicians can lay their claim to the billions of dollars spent on advertisements each year.

Licensing does not end with advertisements.  One of the most common terms of art used in license agreements drafted by folks like me is describing the use of a song in “any medium now know or hereafter discovered”.  This industry phrase means that a song can be used or synched to movies, television shows, internet programming, video games, radio programs, or any other programming or format which hasn’t even been discovered yet.  Think about, when is the last time you watched a movie that didn’t have a sound track, a television show that didn’t have a theme song, or a video game that didn’t have background music?  Watching old silent movies does not count.

As satellite and cable television expands and internet programming continues to grow the opportunities for music licensing grow proportionally.  Budgets may vary, but mechanical royalties (the statutory rate that must be paid every time a song is broadcasted) must be paid.  Licensing music can be a quick substantial pay day or a long term and consistent money maker.

Music Licensing Avenue

Music Licensing Avenue

The dollar figures for global music licensing are staggering.  According to a 2007 report by eMarketer, the projected budget for music licensing in 2010 will reach $4.4 billion!  How many artists would be happy with just a teeny tiny percentage of that huge pot?

Just knowing that the licensing money is out there does not make it a reality for most independent artists (I’m anticipating your questions).  For independent artists who are not signed to a publisher, it is still difficult to get your music in front of the licensing decision makers.  There are several services out there via the web which offer solutions:  Pump Audio, Taxi and my favorite (bias added) Music Dealers.  These sites allow artists to upload their music to catalogs with the hope that a music supervisor seeking independent music visits the site and selects their song.  Some sites are non-exclusive, meaning you can upload your music to more than one, while other require exclusivity.  Always read the contract (even the click through contracts)!

Other options for getting your music licensed is to attend music seminars, panels, events, conventions.  Research where the industry people are going to be.  Buy a badge to CMJ, SXSW, Midem, etc.  Music supervisors and a&r types are always at these types of events networking and trying to find the right sound for their project.  If you don’t run into the right folks there you can start networking on your own to find managers, lawyers or other independent licensing reps of music.  A lot of times these types have the inside track (which is usually a coveted list of contact info for music supervisors in all types of media like movies, tv, and video games) to the decision makers.  For a split on the fee, independent reps will submit your music for your.  While there is no guaranty, your chances of having a supervisor actually listen to your music is much higher when it is submitted by someone like this.

Just like everything else in your career as a musician, you will only go as far as you and your talent take you.  Having great music alone is not enough.  You have to treat it like a business.  Licensing opportunities will not just come to you.  Go out there and sell it.  Network, meet the right people, create a buzz and capitalize on every opportunity (no matter how small) that is presented to you.



  1. TheVoice

    How are you I hope all is well today. I’m an independent hip-hop artist based in Virginia, specifically the DC metro area. Just to give you a brief background I’ve been doing my thing on the independent scene for quite some time now. Three recent records that I’ve released have finished top 3 in college radio ( and over the last several months, I’ve become a mainstay on several blogs, including popular ones such as, and With the exception of radio promotion done by Foundation Media, everything else, including networking and building relationships, has been done in house. The reason I am contacting you is because I came across your blog in search of finding new ways to do what everyone else has been searching to do over the last couple of years….and that’s make money. I, like many others musicians over the last several years have had to maintain a full time job just so I can generate enough income to put into my craft. I do understand the difficulties it takes to “make it” in the industry but unlike most hip-hop artists I’m not pressed on being a star. Just being able to live comfortably doing what I love is definitely good enough for me. Show-wise I’ve done many, but unfortunately have yet to be compensated. Project-wise I’ve done several, but when the internet/downloading explosion came about I decided to give my projects away in hope of gaining new fans. I will say that this method has been very effective, but the reality is, is that its not paying the bills. To sum it up, I’m a point where I feel like I’m right at the corner but unable to turn it due to a lack of funds for important things such as quality videos and legitimate e-mail blast marketing. I wanted to know if you had suggestions on what I could do to start generating income? I’ve thought about licensing, but not sure on how to necessarily get in contact with the creative directors to facilitate the process. Hope that helped shed some light on myself. Thanks for your time.

  2. lawyer4musicians

    You are not alone. Not that it solves your position to know that there are countless musicians in the same situation as you, but their actions may help you or point you in the right direction. As I mentioned in this post, licensing your music is not easy, but can be really lucrative. Look into the websites I mentioned and search for others that may be a better fit for you. Talk to your colleagues near D.C. to see if there is anyone actively licensing music. Obviously you have to be careful before you just give your music to someone, but anyone legitimate will ask you to sign a license agreement before they agree to work with you.
    The other thing to do is work within your network. See if there is anyone willing to invest in your music. Investors can be the new “label” for musicians. If you approach an open-minded investor, you may be able to launch your own career as well as some other musicians you work with.
    Finding these people are not easy, but nothing in the music business is. You have to keep networking and seeking out opportunities.
    Giving your music away to gain a fan base is a good idea, if you can capitalize by charging for tickets and merch. Also, keeping track of your fan base can lead to revenue. Selling a proven fan base to an investor is a huge key.
    I’d like other artists to chime in. Are you in a similar position as the Voice? If so, what have you been doing?

  3. aarondavison

    Great article. I agree wholeheartedly. I write a newsletter all about how musicians can get their music in TV and Films at I reccomend that musicians first educate themselves as to how the music licensing business works; different types of deals, how publishers work, etc.. and then pro actively look for people in a position to help get their music licensed. Approach publishers, music libraries, music supervisors, etc. If your music is good enough and you take action regularly you will find success.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.