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Music licensing/ internet options for your band or project

by  'Scooter' Johnson

So you have a band, a CD, a practice space, a so-so van, a couple of gigs
coming up and an internet connection - what next?  Convergence.  A dirty
word for corporations but a promising term for bands striving to go that
extra mile for exposure and financial independence.  The internet is
proving itself to be beneficial to the newest bands and others who
recognize that they have to reach far beyond the city limits to make a go
of music as a career. 

Your two immediate online needs are a URL or domain name that is
representative of band, preferably
www.yourbandname.com with a main email
address of
info@yourbandname.com that is checked regularly
www.internic.net worldwide or http://www.cira.ca in Canada,
www.yahoo.com). With thousands upon thousands of bands online, doing
searches for indie bands who have lost themselves at the end of a very long
URL - can consider themselves truly lost.  Don't make people fight to find
you!  There are many sites that allow you set-up your presence for free or
for a monthly fee that includes your own domain name, an email service that
allows group emails (ie. regular newsletter or gig/touring announcements),
merchandise sales with e-commerce capabilities (credit card processing and
shipping) and a walk through of all the steps involved in building your
pages (try

After your website our first foray into online money-making was joining
mp3.com.  It was relatively easy to upload our music but we're not making
any money off it and haven't for over a year as the cost to be a ''Premium'
member per month exceeded what we were making off plays. It was enough to
put back into the band for expenses, posters, photocopying press kits,
printer cartridges, postage, recording, gas money, CD dubbing costs etc.

Curious on how to market your site, join mailing lists, book a tour,
contact an A&R rep and get the best deal on pressing CD?  Check out many of
the dozens of websites put together by your peers (
www.indie-music.com is
excellent) that contain many articles, links, resources and directory
listings. What you probably will not find is information on music
licensing.  Licensing? This is the term applied to the process of placing
music on visual creative projects, such as film soundtracks (film, video,
digital), television programs and advertising campaigns. 

As more and more music is being made available online for different uses it
is natural for production people to turn to the internet to find music.
Why?  Because you can buy anything on the internet!  Savvy bands are
spending time on film bulletin boards offering up their music for
soundtrack use, indie labels are offering licensing options on their
websites and composers are banding together and starting their own online
write-for-hire agencies.  If you or your bandmates don't have the time,
effort or expertise to find soundtrack opportunities and successfully pitch
your music there are avenues for you.

Who to trust?
I'm on movie sets a lot and I can tell you how hard it is to approach the
music supervisor or the producer with CD.  They may love it or I might lose
my job.  Not wanting to jeopardize my finances I've found a few online
companies that specialize in indie music licensing and are non-exclusive
(which means you can join as many as you want - no exclusive memberships).
Before signing with any company remember you are entering into a business
relationship that involves your work and payment for use of that work. 

The licensing company should have a legal contract that requires the
signatures of the owners or the authors/composers of the music sent in. If
the company is legit they will want to protect themselves from fraud
artists that will send in other peoples music and profit from it.  Also
there is the final license contract with the filmmakers or whomever to
peruse - is it for a Master/Sync license? or just a Sync license?
www.ascap.com, www.bmi.com or www.socan.com can define these terms if you
are not familiar with the industry jargon).

The contract should also state very clearly the fees (monthly? yearly? by
the byte?) involved and how future licensing income will be split between
you and them and how often you will be paid. 

Pre-Cleared or Restricted?
Also, ask about whether the tracks are required to be pre-cleared or if you
can request restrictions.  Some companies have a standard restriction that
reads something like 'this track cannot be used on scenes depicting racism,
pornography, use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs'.  Requesting a restriction
will obviously limit the amount of interest your music garners and
ultimately the pay-out.  Personally I don't care if a European sausage
company wants to use my music on a television commercial - I'm an indie
musician who can barely pay the rent, who is going to blame me for taking
the money?  I'll take that money and invest it in my bands future.

Where to start?
Start where you begin all your other research - on your favorite search
engine (
www.google.com is huge).  If you want to go the total DIY personal
route based on your location, use your city name and keywords like 'film
production', 'indie movies', 'production companies', 'music wanted', etc.
Most cities and provinces have film associations and unions that keep track
of local shoots and list them on their websites with contact information.
Be prepared to be your own sales agent - you will have to send each of the
interested parties a pitch package (some require two - one for the director
and one for the music supervisor), diligently follow-up, negotiate your
terms and if needed, hire a lawyer to proof your contract. 

If you are willing to let go of a lot of control, a full-service online
licensing agency like Realia Music Inc. (
www.realiamusic.com) may be worth
looking into.  One of the larger agencies online, their online catalogue
consists of indie music from around the world and it's pre-cleared and
priced by a sliding scale that caps at $5,000/world-wide usage.  They have
restrictions available but only a special case basis (pre-existing
contracts between musicians and other parties - I asked) and provide a
one-stop service for people who have limited budgets, tight schedules and
credit cards.  They have a one-time $5 membership fee and a $1/song
submission fee, 50/50 license split and a $2/song shipping fee for songs
licensed. Your songs are represented for as long as you wish and if you get
an exclusive deal with a publishing company or label, they promise they
will remove your songs within 24 hours.

If you have a good idea of what your music is worth and prefer to wrangle
your deals yourself try SongCatalog Inc. (
www.songcatalog.com).  Their
system provides a virtual middleman for your negotiations.  You submit as
many tracks as you wish for placement in their online 'Active List' or in
the 'Vault' and pay per track.  Fees are billed monthly and start at $4.95
for up to 25 audio files stored in the 'Vault' and $9.95  for up to 25
songs featured on the 'Exchange' (site search engine) and increase by
smaller increments every 50/100/200 songs registered. There are different
levels of search capabilities that have a separate fee rate but you can
check out there website for more details. People who wish to license music
register at no cost, browse the catalogue and when a suitable track is
located, they send an email - through the website - to the owner who then
responds. Dialogue and negotiations ensue and you are ultimately
responsible for finalizing your deal.

I would advise to check out the smaller companies, they appear to have more
staying power than the large online music companies (licensemusic.com - one
of the first and definitely the largest - shut down business abruptly
months ago and is currently being auctioned off on the internet through a
bankruptcy trustee).  Many have forayed into licensing but the complicated
traditional licensing system (long protracted negotiations, complicated
territorial and usage structures, clearances, exorbitant fees, favored
nations, and script/scene approval) has not translated well online. There
was no immediacy, no click through satisfaction that everyone has come to
expect from the web.  Once the costs of software development, technical
support, hosting fees and high-priced management were factored in the
license fees were unaffordable and potential buyers were back in the
nightclubs chatting up bands after their sets.

Online there is a market for indie music even if the band has broken up,
doesn't tour, is brand new or not commercially friendly, and it requires
hardly any work on behalf of the band. You fill in an application, get the
appropriate signatures, mail it in and wait for the money to arrive.  It is
the agency's business to market their catalogue, customer services and
bring the buyers in.  

With record labels setting their standards higher and higher for new
signings, showing up with a portfolio of licensed tracks in your package
just might be the wedge you need to get in the door.  It really doesn't
matter where the track was used or for what product, the fact that your
music can be sold for hard cash is the attractive quality they are looking

Always remember to be realistic with your expectations and tell everybody
that you have a 'licensing agency' (it does sound impressive and looks even
better on your bio). There are hundreds of thousands of bands in the world
with at least one album under their belts.  That's a lot of competition for
the same dollar.  It's also unlikely that directors Steven Spielberg or
Kevin Smith are cruising these sites for music for their next big project -
they have budgets that afford them just about any song they want.  As an
indie musician with an indie agency, your music will be marketed to
projects without a great deal of exposure attached to them.  Focus will
usually be on the catalogue not the individual bands, there are fees and it
is a relatively new industry - it may take years for it to take off and
compete with traditional process. 

But don't despair, it only takes one new digital filmmaker with a vision
and a few thousand dollars to help pay off the band van or press those
extra 500 cd's. It's a cheap and viable new way to get your music heard by
a larger and potentially lucrative audience ­ and that's what you want.
Isn't it?

Article by Gregory S. Johnson a.k.a. Scooter (



(all fees referenced are in Canadian dollars)

Bio: Gregory (Scooter) Johnson  started his illustrious career in the
entertainment industry by studying the cello in elementary school, soon
dropping the cello in favour of the far more romantic (and simpler)
instrument - the gut-bucket bass. As the premier "bucket-master" in Canada
he spent 5 years touring the country with his Hillbilly band The Hard Rock
Miners and has created 5 internationally distributed albums with his
ssychobilly band The Deadcats. Living in Vancouver (Hollywood North) also
afforded him the opportunity to engage in the business of acting. A regular
(background performer) on the Chris Isaak show and having worked in films
and TV with such luminaries as "Sly Stallone", Greg "BJ and the Bear"
Evigan, Isabella Rosellini, and musicians Paul Stanley, Thomas Dolby,
Stuart Copeland, and Sheila E (amongst many others); his search for fame
and immortality has almost been concluded and it is time to pass on his
knowledge to the next generation of seekers after the flame.

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