Flux Summit 004: How to get your music licensed in video games, film, and television

by Kara Murphy on August 3, 2010

This past Thursday, I attended the fourth installment of Flux Summit – a free, single-evening event that unites up-and-coming electronic and hip hop artists with professionals for an open discussion on the evolving dynamics of the industry. Hosted at Pyramind Studios, the session featured three panelists doling out expert advice on how you can get your music licensed in television shows, video games, and film.

From left to right: Laurence Trifon, Brian Trifon, and Brooke Wentz.

INGrooves partner and Test Press founder, Jeff Straw, introduced Laurence and Brian Trifon, of Trifonic Music, followed by award-winning music supervisor Brooke Wentz, to the standing-room-only crowd. The first order of business was a showcase of clips that demonstrated how selecting the right track for a television show or commercial effectively enhanced the message.

Whether it’s placing Phoenix’s hit track “Love Like a Sunset Part 1” in a teaser clip for an action film or creating your own music to add some introspection, like the Trifonic team did for a recent segment of a CSI: Miami episode, when the audio complements the visual, it transcends serving a purpose.

Where is the Business Going?

These days, most songs get licensed to TV shows followed closely by video games. A bulk of what Trifonic does, as far as composing is concerned, are one-offs for compiliation CD’s and advertising spots.

Laurence and Brian Trifon.

A vast majority of the music licensing business is relationship-driven and that’s how Brooke and the Trifonic guys thrive. There are third-party sites such as Pump Audio, Rumble Fish, and INGrooves to aid with the submission process. However, the most successful people in this field develop connections with directors, composers, and music supervisors on a continual basis.

Getting Started

When you’re an artist starting out, your best bet is to place your music on as many online channels as possible to maximize exposure. The Triton team initially gave out music on many fronts, free of charge, with the intention of gaining enough recognition that income on the licensing side would soon follow. It worked and now they have more than enough lucrative projects.

Brooke Wentz.

Brooke Wentz openly admitted that she’s found some of her material for licensing by engaging with other users on Twitter (you can follow her here). As recently as this morning, online music creation/distribution platform SoundCloud retweeted an announcement encouraging electronic artists and labels to submit their work for consideration.

E-mail is still a powerful medium when it comes to pitching your work. Just make sure you’re not attaching a 30MB file to a message. Services such as YouSendIt are great for transferring large quantities of data that can easily be accessed anywhere. Be mindful that the introductory message is short and to-the-point. Supervisors are busy and don’t have the time or patience to read an 8-paragraph-long diatribe explaining who you are and what your music represents. A great anecdote came from Brooke who was intrigued by a non-sensical, single sentence intro. She ended up downloading one of the tracks for potential future placement.

One really effective, if not slightly costly, method is to attend industry conferences such as the Billboard Film & TV Music Conference (where the music supervisors who matter can be found), film festivals of any size (directors never have enough time to seek out all the music they need from composers making this is an ideal opportunity), the Game Developers Conference, and so on. Do your homework so you know the players are and bring money to buy someone a drink rather than a CD to shove at them (business cards with a prompt follow-up are the preferred method). Find out where the after parties are and show up for the long haul. As mentioned before, this is a relationship-driven business so you have to put yourself out there.

Another interesting angle that Jerry Straw pointed out is even though networks like VH1 and MTV are infamous for their “dollar deals,” a low-cost licensing arrangement that favors them financially as opposed to the artist, getting songs placed on their reality shows is still extremely beneficial in terms of increased downloads and exposure. Not only are episodes syndicated repeatedly, the Website lists all the track information for quick and easy reference. It’s definitely a great entry point for budding musicians.

What are They Looking For?

First off, it’s imperative that you know exactly what your clients have in mind and possess the ability to direct the correct material to the right people. According to Brooke, love songs are the toughest to place as the only reason that renders them necessary is for 1) lyrical content that sets the mood for a scene in a film or 2) historical reference (such as a movie taking place in the 1960s, for example).

Besides ensuring that your music is mastered to the highest standard of quality possible, it’s also important to have an instrumental on-hand. Supervisors will always request the accompanying instrumental (even for a lyric-driven group like Of Montreal) for any track so it’s always in your best interest to be prepared.

Treat it Like a Business

When licensing your music to a film, it can take up to a year to receive confirmation of use and get paid. Be patient. You may also find yourself negotiating terms of a track that’s going to the mixing board in a matter of hours. In music, everything happens after the fact.

Finally, set up your studio like a business. When negotiating the terms of a contract, the last thing you want to do is run to-and-fro from a Kinko’s if conditions of an agreement get altered repeatedly. As unglamorous as it sounds, a fax machine, printer, and scanner are mandatory necessities aside from the ProTools, mixing boards, and other instruments needed to create the product. Putting forth as much effort into the marketing materials, metadata, and tagging of your tracks is also mandatory if you want to be taken seriously.

On the Horizon…

The next Flux Summit will take place on Thursday, September 30th. A panel of speakers will impart their wisdom on the subject at hand followed by a Q&A session. After a brief networking session and complimentary demos of the production equipment at Pyramind, Test Press will take place. All aspiring composers are encouraged to submit their material for constructive feedback from a select group of professionals. Until next time…

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