Getting your songs featured in shorts, films, commercials, or on television can represent a great boost to your career as an independent musician, and it can set the stage for growth and recognition. However, getting your music featured on these media channels can sound like a daunting task, and you might feel discouraged to even give it a shot.
With all the competition in the industry and the myriad of artists hustling for the same gigs, do you even stand a chance as an independent artist? The answer is yes, there is always a chance to land your music on a TV show or film, you just have to know how to go about it and what it takes to get your songs heard and your name on the big - or small - screen.
Submitting your songs for film or TV in 5 steps
There are a few different ways to go about submitting your music for film or TV. You can do the research yourself and try to build connections without any extra help, you could submit your work to music libraries in hopes that your songs will get picked for different projects, or you could sign a publishing deal and have a publisher handle the process for you.
If you’re an emerging musician or you want to maintain control of how your music is used, you might want to avoid signing a deal with a publisher just yet. Besides the fact that all revenue and royalties would be split 50/50, publishers aren’t always eager to sign newcomers, unless you’ve proven that you’ve got potential for success.
Then, submitting your music to libraries is also risky, because you’ll have to wait and hope that your songs are selected, and you’ll also have to be sure to sign non-exclusive deals to explore more options.
The best route for an emerging artist or independent artist would be to try doing it on your own, however time-consuming it might prove to be. This way, you’ll have full control over who you work with and how your music is used, and you’ll also get all the royalties, without having to pay a percentage or split it with a publisher.
Step 1 - Do your research
The first step of the process is to do extensive research, to understand how the industry works, and what kind of music is featured on TV or film. It’s important to also research how music licensing works, how royalties work, how movie or film directors choose the artists they work with, and so on. This might be time consuming and often overwhelming, but it will be worth it in the end. Sending your music to everyone in the media won’t get you anywhere; you need to select your target audience, prepare a convincing pitch, and keep your options open.
The type of music used on film or TV varies depending on the story, the genre of the production, the director, and more, so you’ll want to make sure the films or programs you’d like to be featured on are actually on the same page. If a certain TV show tends to always feature classical-style instrumentals, there’s no point sending in a pitch featuring a drum n bass tune - you’ll just be wasting your time. You have to make sure the movie or show you’d like to pitch has a place for your genre and your style of music. The directors or producers are not going to change anything to accommodate you, it’s the other way around.
To find the right contact to pitch to, you’ll want to do some research and find out who is managing the music for the production. You might find this in the credits, on imdb, or the official website of the movie or show. Then, you can try to find a contact address, look them up on social media, and try to reach out to send some samples and a potential pitch. However, film producers are usually all kinds of busy, and you might not get an answer, so it’s important to have backup options and try to reach out via different channels.
You might also use online platforms like imdb or other websites to stay up-to-date on films or TV shows that are currently in production or in the planning stages. The producers might not have made any definitive decisions when it comes to music, and they might be looking for artists and open to checking out your pitch. You can also follow these producers on social media to see what they’re working on, you never know when opportunity might strike. Having a strong online presence and being active on social media is essential nowadays, even if it is time-consuming.
Step 2 - Copyright your music
Whether you’re preparing to pitch music to movie producers or directors or submitting songs to an online music library, you’ll want to first make sure you own the copyrights to your work. Copyrighting your music is crucial if you want to ensure that you receive proper credit if someone else uses your work without permission, and it can give you the upper hand in case of a legal battle down the line.
You’ll be entitled to receive payments and royalties if anyone else uses your music on the radio, on social media, during a live performance, on a TV show, or anywhere else, without giving you proper credit. Copyrighting your music is not difficult at all, and you’ll only have to do it once for each piece of music you create. You just need to register with the U.S. Copyright Office and follow a few steps, and you’ll be protected. This step will ensure that you will receive proper payment and royalties if your songs end up in a commercial, a TV show, or a film.
Step 3 - Prepare your pitch
Once you’ve got a list of the shows or films you’d like to submit your music for, and a list of contacts to reach out to, it’s time to prepare your pitch. For many artists, this can prove to be the most challenging step in the process, because it can be incredibly difficult to figure out how to stand out from the crowd. Film producers and music scouts receive tens, maybe thousands of emails every month from aspiring musicians, so how can you impress them with your pitch? The answer is that your music needs to speak for itself. There’s no point creating an elaborate, Pulitzer-worthy pitch if the music is not right for the project you’re submitting it for. Make sure your music is of the highest possible quality, have a profile or digital portfolio ready, showing that you’re a true professional and that you’re committed to the career you’ve chosen, and show confidence.
Step 4 - Familiarize yourself with music licensing
Another crucial aspect when trying to get your music featured in film or on TV is to learn the basics of how music licensing works. Even if you don’t have to know all the fine details, you should get the right licensing in place to ensure that you’ll get the royalties you’re entitled to whenever your work is used in the media.
The type of music licensing you should familiarize yourself with in this situation is sync licensing. You need this kind of license if you want to place a song on a TV show, in a video game, in a commercial, or a YouTub video. You’ll earn a synchronization fee upfront, and then get paid royalties depending on how often your music is played for the public. You can sign a publishing deal with a publisher and let them negotiate and sign licensing deals on your behalf, in which case you will split royalties and revenue with them. You can also place your music catalog in online music libraries, or build connections yourself and license your music directly to clients and customers. The main thing is to have a grasp of how sync licensing works, as well as the benefits, downsides, and payments you’re entitled to.
Step 5 - Keep trying
Last but not least, you should be prepared to be rejected, or even ignored by the music professionals you pitch to. In many cases, they will simply be too busy or overwhelmed with pitches from aspiring musicians, and your message simply won’t reach them. Don’t give up, even if you get zero responses or gigs; perseverance and confidence can win the game. Be open and active and keep trying, pitching, and sending your music to prospects, because you never know when an opportunity will come.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who picks music for movies and TV?
Music for movies and TV is typically selected by music supervisors, who are responsible for curating and licensing music to fit the creative vision of a project. They work closely with directors, producers, and editors to choose the right songs and compositions that enhance the storytelling, emotion, and atmosphere of a scene. Music supervisors also negotiate licensing agreements with artists, record labels, and music libraries to secure the rights for the chosen music, ensuring it aligns with the budget and legal requirements of the production. Their role is crucial in creating a seamless and impactful audiovisual experience.
Who hires all the musicians in a film?
In a film production, the hiring of musicians is typically the responsibility of the film's composer or music director. The composer is in charge of creating the original score and may also decide on the need for additional musicians or instrumentalists to perform the music. They work closely with the film's director and producers to determine the musical requirements for the project. The composer then collaborates with a music contractor who can help hire the necessary musicians, whether it's a full orchestra, a smaller ensemble, or individual instrumentalists. The music contractor handles the logistical aspects of securing and organizing the musicians required to record or perform the film's score, ensuring that the musical elements align with the creative vision of the production.
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