How to License Music

How to License Music

This interview was originally published several years ago. The issues discussed are still relevant in the current industry climate. 

 

Tanvi Patel is the President / CEO of Crucial Music, a company that places songs for labels and independent artists. Tanvi’s career spans two decades in the broadcasting, record label, and production library industries. She launched her career in Cincinnati, working in promotions and music programming at WLW-FM (News/Talk), WUBE-FM (Country), and WVXU (Jazz). She then moved to Nashville where she landed her first label gig in the media department at BNA Records (a division of RCA Label Group), working with gold-record country recording artists like Lorrie Morgan and John Anderson. Tanvi left BNA to manage publicity, radio promotion, and sales for Jim Long at Honest Entertainment/The Gold Label, a multi-genre independent label distributed by Valley Entertainment. Her achievements there included securing the #1 and #2 positions on the Gavin Jazz chart for Linn Records’ jazz guitarist Martin Taylor and jazz vocalist Claire Martin. She also scored media coverage in Billboard, NPR’s “All Things Considered” and QVC placements for the label’s artists, as well as helping to secure a Grammy nomination for Jack Jones’ Jack Jones Paints a Tribute to Tony Bennett. Tanvi eventually moved into the library business, managing production and securing placements in film and TV for Jim Long’s production library OneMusic Library (distributed by FirstCom). In 2005, Tanvi moved to Los Angeles to manage the Point Classics catalog of over 2500 classical compositions, securing ringtone deals, CD licenses, digital distribution, and film and TV placements that included Oscar-winner Brokeback Mountain, Ocean’s 12, Land of the Dead, HBO’s Classical Baby and more. Crucial has placed songs in A Beautiful Mind and Emmy-winning TV shows like Six Feet Under, Malcolm in the Middle, The Simpsons and national commercials by Sprint and Verizon.

Tanvi talked about what music supervisors in film and television look for when placing a song and techniques artists can use to pitch their songs.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Tanvi, first of thanks for taking the time to speak with me.  One of the most common questions I get asked when working with artists is “How do I get my songs placed in Movies, TV or Commercials?” I often suggest that it is difficult for an artist on their own to get the attention of a music supervisor when cold calling because music supervisors respond better to people calling with a large volume and variety of music – would you agree?

 

TP:

 

Yes, I agree with that point.  It’s really best for the artist to work with companies that have great relationships with the supervisors to get their music heard and possibly used. Companies like Crucial exist because it’s a full time job. The artist needs to be aware of all aspects of the business, but unless they are remarkably gifted and can work 24/7, there is no way one person can manage writing great music, recording, touring, selling CDs, securing film/TV placements, etc.

 

If you can get a fair deal with Crucial or other companies, then making 50% of something is way better than 100% of nothing. Also from the viewpoint of a supervisor, they’d rather work with a company that has the legal stuff with the artist already worked out, then having to chase down multiple parties to get things cleared during a time crunch, especially in television where the deadlines are weekly. Also, they are bombarded with music every day, and I’m not saying most supervisors are like this, but they are probably going to spend their attention on material that comes from respected sources, even in discovering new artists.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

You have had great success in getting to know music supervisors who are notoriously difficult to approach. Do you have any advice on how to do this?

 

TP:

 

Persistence, knowledge of the production they are working on and having the goods to deliver. You’ve got to know what type of music the show or film is using. Then you’ve got to have something that fits within the framework of the production. After that, assuming that the song(s) is (are) lyrically applicable and the production quality is high, then it’s a matter of pitching the music without becoming a nuisance, which is hard to do. Your chances are better if you follow up only once a month, vs. weekly.

 

Also, start pitching at the beginning of the season or when a film is in pre-production; it may take a month just to get the material heard, and then it may take a few months to find the right opportunity for a placement.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

What is it about a song or an artist that makes you think you can get them placed? Is it song craft, or is it more about texture? It seems to be less about the type of song craft that used to get songs on the radio.

 

TP:

 

Regardless of the genre, there is a quality that a song has that makes it perfect for audio/visual use. It’s really hard to pinpoint but I (or any film/TV supervisor) can hear it in the first 30 seconds. What makes a song a great album cut or radio single may not make it a great film/TV track. At the end of the day, the song has to be a hit, lyrically applicable (universal in nature), have a great hook, masterful production quality and great vocals. Sometimes you get a song that has all but one of any of the above and it kills it. A song has to have energy, evoke emotions and create a mood. It has to support the visual in all matters. A great placement is when a person is moved by the whole visual/auditory experience.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

Is there anything an artist should be wary of when signing either their masters or the publishing to one or different companies? Can this hinder getting songs cleared and therefore getting placed more often in your experience?

 

TP:

 

If the artist owns its own masters and publishing, its best to assign both sides to one company, that way the company can negotiate for both clearances. It doesn’t make sense to split that up. It’s not unusual to have the song (master & synch) repped non-exclusively by different companies, and the more savvy artists have done that. I’ve come across this on a couple of songs in our catalog, and really it is all down to relationships…whomever has the better relationships gets songs placed. Crucial’s contracts are non-exclusive, so that the artist can work their own material as well as having others work it. When a song has been pitched by more than one person to the same supervisor, I let the supervisor decide who gets the placement. I’m not going to jeopardize a long-standing relationship with someone over a few dollars. This is becoming a common place. Remember, in commercial music, you have the same thing happening… you have labels pitching, publishers pitching, film/TV reps pitching. They are all going for the same spots.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

What should people be vary of when partnering with music placement services like crucial – surely there are some terms in contracts out there that you would consider pitfalls that could harm an artist’s career, what are they?

 

TP:

 

Never ever give up any writers share to a publisher. Publisher receiving Publisher’s share is standard. Sometimes if you are an artist, and have created something specifically for a production library, you may be asked to give up a percentage of the writer’s share. This, in my opinion, is unethical. For placement companies, there is no reason to sign an exclusive deal; there are way too many companies out there that offer non-exclusives. The artist may not make the best choice on the first round so it is better to have more people working for them and see which one really delivers.

 

Also, beware of single page contracts and verbal commitments. Licensing music is a complex procedure, and you want to make sure that you and the company understands the terms and responsibilities each party has. Copyright infringement is not a laughing matter.

 

Musician Coaching:

I am told that many placements for developing artists are buyouts, meaning that the ad agency or their client or the film makers / movie studios collect the ASCAP and BMI royalties. Do you have supervisors asking you for this kind of deal often?

 

TP:

 

No. The only time I’ve come across that is when a studio is looking at theme songs for episodic television. Obviously the performance revenue can be quite large for a series, so it does make sense for the studio to want to have a theme song they own. However, it’s really NOT in the best interest of the artist for the studio to own the publishing revenue on their songs for single needledrop placements.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

I often hear about developing artists getting called from major networks who offer to use their music but want a gratis license. Is there any push back that a lone artist can ask for that you think they could get?

 

TP:

 

I don’t believe in GRATIS licenses. It devalues the music and is degrading to the artist. After all, isn’t the artist trying to make a living as an artist? A TV producer wouldn’t allow his TV show to be used for free by the network. An employee of the network wouldn’t work for free. Why should the artist allow his music be used for free; regardless of how much promotion is promised? Promotion can’t be definitively quantified into revenue. At the very least the artist should ask for $500 for the use of master and synch for broadcast productions and indie films; anything less is not worth your time.

 

Musician Coaching:

 

If you were suddenly to start your life over as a musician and were able to retained all you have learned about music placement and licensing, what would your plan be to get your music placed?

 

TP:

 

As an indie musician, out there working on my own, I would research all of the various placement companies on the Internet and review their credit list, their history in the business, their deal terms, their contract, the look of their site (seriously, the way their site looks is an indicator of their legitimacy) and listen to the songs that the company is representing.  A placement company is only as good as its catalog. I would contract the A players in the market to work my catalog, so that I can focus on what makes me happy, which is creating music.

 

To learn more about Tanvi Patel and the work she does at Crucial Music or to learn about getting your music placed, please visit Crucial Music’s music submission website.