Licensing is a great way to make money by placing your songs in movies, TV, commercials and video games. This article explains what licensing is and how it works so you can join the legions of music artists who enjoy extra income from having their music licensed.

What is licensing?

Licensing means giving permission for the use of one’s music for which you own the copyright.

The absolute goal of an artist who writes their own music (a la the copyright owner) is to maximize the revenue generated by the musical composition.

When you license the use of your song, for example in a TV show, you not only get a fee for the use of the license, but it gives the song and the artist greater exposure to the audience who listens, which can increase one’s fame and fortune.

Before we dive into how to get your music licensed, we need to go through some terms that are commonly used with licensing.


Be sure to submit a completed copyright form along with a copy of the music to the U.S. Copyright Office before attempting to license your songs.

You can find the forms and instructions at There are two copyrights for a song; a copyright for the audio recording (Form SR) and a copyright for the underlying song (Form PA). For our purposes here, let us emphasize that we are talking about licensing original music to an independent artist who is not signed to a record company or publisher and who owns both of these copyrights.


Publishing is one of the most complex parts of the music industry, and yet it can be the most lucrative income area for musicians. Music publishing is to own and exploit musical copyrights. A song consists of two equal parts: the author’s share and the publisher’s share. Songwriters are affiliated with Publishers because their main task is to commercially exploit (increase the use and value of) songs. Most independent artists / musicians are their own publisher, and therefore own 100% of the song. If this is you, then this is why you want to be educated on how to apply for a license for your music.


The license to use the audio recording is called the Master Use License. The license for the underlying song is called the Synchronization License (aka synch license), which is used when a musical work is synchronized in time with visual images, whether background, theme or function in TV programs and movies.

Now we know the basic concepts … time to learn what to do next.

Do research by watching existing TV shows and writing down every show you think your songs fit into. From TV shows including reality TV, types of scenes in movies, video games and commercials. Learn to think and listen visually; everything visually has a potential sound accompaniment.

Music and presentation

What you send will be a CD with your music with track list and contact information on both the CD case and the CD label, and a great cover letter that indicates the genre, maybe who you are similar to and which production suits the music. . Do not send a bio, reviews, photo or any irrelevant paper because the music is what is considered, so the rest is just thrown away and does not strengthen your case.

Research and relationships  (DIY licensing)

This side of the business is like any other, driven by relationships. Start networking and reach out with targeted letters, phone calls or emails to those in the film and TV industry.

A really good start for Independent Artist is to work with students who work with independent films. Although it will most likely be too low a budget to pay you, you can start building your resume to get your music placed.

Then you start researching who the music tutors are on the programs you are applying for. Check credits in TV series and movies. Go to film festivals and conventions like The Film & TV Music Conference that music tutors attend and meet them. Other sources for finding them are “The Film & Television Music Guide” ( where you can find contact information for Music Supervisors and Music Publishers who specialize in movie and TV placement. You can also get potential customers by reading trade magazines such as “Hollywood Reporter” and “Variety”.

The music director

Music Supervisors is constantly looking for music by independent artists who release their own CDs. Independent artists are willing to negotiate for a small amount (with the risk that a TV show may not even survive the season, music tutors try to keep costs down) and can make new music without having to get permission from a record company or have a record companies delay the time-sensitive process.

If you are a fan of a particular show and your music looks like it would be perfect, send a letter to the musical guide and let them know that you are a fan and you have a song you think will work for the show. tell them what situation / mood it would be best for.

The better you know the business of licensing and the terms used, the greater the likelihood of establishing a relationship with a music tutor who finds you easy to work with and who, along with your obvious talent, can build a lasting alliance. An insider tip from a music tutor told me about you

write “all sync & master controlled” or “pre-cleared” on the CD label and CD case, that they will know immediately that your music is ready for use, which is invaluable to them when time is an issue, and it alone can help your song beat out someone else’s.

Negotiation and get paid

They want your song! What now? A good idea when you first license your music is to have a manager or lawyer or someone who really understands licensing to help you evaluate the agreement for the use of your music. Things to consider are the purpose of use, scope and fee. When there is an oral agreement, be sure to get it in writing as well.

It is important not to devalue the song by licensing it for what a user offers. But also keep in mind that music tutors can tell you that their budget constraints do not allow them to negotiate; That’s when you decide if the exposure is going to make the deal worthwhile. Think of an unknown group, A3, who place their song “Got Yourself a Gun” in the then unknown HBO pilot, “The Sopranos.”

Get away from any deal that asks for  1.  your publication  2.  exclusive rights to your songs  3. your  music in any way they want and whatever length they want.

Good songs in the right place

There will always be a demand for great songs and music used in all visual platforms, so you, the artist / musician / songwriter, have a great opportunity to make money in this industry through licensing. Continue to educate yourself about publishing and licensing, continue to cultivate relationships with people who place music, and continue to write and record amazing songs.

Kerry Fiero is the Art Director, Director of the San Francisco Chapter of NARIP (National Association of Record Industry Professionals) and Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University who teaches Music Artist Management and Music Marketing. Her company is Strive Management.