This post was originally published on the Love Darling website and was written by band member Mike Wolpe.
I recently had an exchange with a friend and fellow songwriter regarding a licensing company that had contacted him about representing/pitching his songs, and while offering my opinion to help guide him through this process, I was inspired to share some of these insights with you.
So for today’s blog-tastic bloggy post I wanted to highlight some of the wisdom I’ve gained, while working with my band, from our own experiences licensing our songs to TV/film soundtracks.
Collectively we’ve placed a good number of songs in TV show soundtracks over the last few years and have had mostly positive experiences, and the last thing I want to do is create any sort of negative expectation of this process. But there are some red flags I’ve learned to recognize and be aware of when dealing with licensing companies/individuals. I wanted to share some of these red flags with all the aspiring songwriters out there, and hopefully prevent some of the potential negative experiences of placing your songs, or being taken advantage of by the less-than-well-intentioned side of the music industry.
Red Flag #1: Upfront or monthly fees
I know this has become a common practice for many song licensing libraries and companies out there, but the simple truth is, whatever rationalization or justification they try to hypnotize you with, there is no reason any songwriter, band or musician should be paying upfront fees to a licensing company, library or individual. There are obviously no hard and fast rules in this industry, and they are changing every day, but I personally believe the artist has every right to negotiate the best possible sync fee/royalty split with whomever places a song for the artist. There is absolutely no justification for upfront fees because of the profit they will be making on the back end of every placement.
(The company that contacted my friend wanted a $1500 upfront fee. I’ve personally never encountered such an exorbitant fee – the most I ever encountered was $300. Both are blatant scams. Even a $5 submission fee is ridiculous, in my opinion.) So always question the reasoning behind this request when working out these deals or deciding whether or not to work with a company or individual. ALWAYS do your research and make sure you’re working with ethical, fair and artist-friendly people, if possible.
Red Flag #2: Excessive sales pitches/”word diarrhea”
Something I’ve encountered many times, not only in licensing, but many aspects of the music biz, are individuals that will try to influence and convince you that their service is essential by subjecting you to an unbelievable assault of excessive talking or “word diarrhea” which is just an attempt to wear you down until, out of sheer exhaustion, you agree to their (usually unjustified, self-serving or ludicrous) terms.
Always be wary of endless sales pitches and non-stop talkers. If they can’t explain the value of their service quickly and with transparent clarity, odds are they are simply trying to hide something, or sell you something you really don’t need. (The same caution could be applied to many other aspects of the music industry, too, such as artist management and public relations companies…)
Red Flad #3: Questionable credibility
Another example to look for: is their list of recent placements and client list credible? When researching their website/business history always check to see if their list of clients includes credible artists and reputable networks that they have recently had songs placed in. Especially if they are requesting any kind of upfront or monthly fees.
Red Flag #4: Did they contact you directly?
Typically, if a licensing company/individual contacts you directly (unless they are simply inquiring about a specific song they heard that they would like to use for a legit placement), they are most likely just trolling the internet for bands and artists that they can sell their (usually ineffective) services. These companies are simply taking advantage of all the desperate and lazy bands and artists that have allowed themselves to be brainwashed into believing these companies provide a valuable service.
It’s usually best for the artist to contact the individual/company themselves and submit their music once they have determined the company is legit and offers fair deals and artist-friendly royalty splits.
Red Flag #5: Exclusive contracts & unbalanced royalty splits
This one is a bit negotiable and I would evaluate this particular aspect depending on the context of each individual deal. But unless a large amount of money is being offered for a “buyout” of a particular song that justifies an exclusive buyout, I would never agree to an exclusive deal with any licensing business or library. It just doesn’t make any sense and cannot possibly have the artist’s best interests at heart, because it limits the amount of times the artist can license a song, which is entirely illogical for independent bands and artists especially.
Also – and this is something that you can adjust and feel out from deal to deal – I would never agree to a placement deal where the licensing company or individual is taking more than 50% of publishing and/or the sync fee, or ANY portion of the writer’s royalties. And frankly, I find 50% of publishing to be questionable, and I always attempt to negotiate a fair and balanced royalty split whenever possible.
But sometimes the opportunity of mass exposure to an independent/unknown artist can outweigh a fair royalty split – something we all have to evaluate as these opportunities come up. Always ask yourself who is really benefitting from the deal, and whether it feels fair and balanced for everyone involved.
These observations are obviously based on my own experiences and hopefully I’ve provided some helpful insights! Don’t get me wrong – I’m not at all implying that the music industry consists ONLY of shady individuals and bad people. But I AM saying they are definitely out there, and it would be naive to believe otherwise. Ultimately, EVERYONE who takes their career seriously should always dig deeper, and if you’ve done your research and it feels right, then go for it! I’ve obviously had many great experiences and benefits because of the songs I’ve had placed in TV/film soundtracks and I hope you do, too!
May the song placement Schwartz be with you,
Mike of the clan Love Darling